Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God’s elect? It is God that justifieth.—Rom. 8.33

[Concerning Writing, by James Durham.]

by James Durham

Excerpted from his
Commentary on the Revelation.

IN reference to this, we say,

1. That men may by writing communicate what light God gives them, for the good of the Church. It’s true, the Gospel was at first spread and planted by Preaching, that is more properly the mean of conversion. It’s true also that all the Apostles Preached; but all did not write: yet we will find, that the Apostles made great use of writing, for the informing, reproving, strengthening, and every way edifying of Churches and Persons brought to the faith; for, they wrote the Epistles, not only as Scripture, for the Church in {38:B} general, but also for the edifying of such persons, in particular and for clearing of such and such particular Doubts, or Truths, which the state of such times, or Churches did most call for. There is reason also for this, if we consider, (1.) The relation that is amongst all the members of the Catholick Church, whereby all are tied, to be edifying one to another, &c. (2.) The end wherefore God hath given men Gifts, which is to profit withal: and yet, (3.) That a man cannot by word make his Gift forth-coming in the extent that he is obliged; there is therefore {39:A} a necessity of using writing for that end, it being a singular Gift of God for promoting edification. It’s upon this ground, as we said, that many Epistles are written, to be useful, where the Writers could not be, and when they were to be gone. It’s upon this ground also, we conceive, that many Psalms, and Songs (as that of Hezekiah’s, Isa. 38.) are committed to writing by the Authors: that by it their Case of Gift might be made useful to others, for their instruction, as the Titles of sundry Psalms bear.

This way, for many Ages, hath been blessed, for the good of the Church of Christ, who have reason to bless God, that put it in the hearts of many Ancients and others, thus to be profitable in the Church. And it may be, some able men have been but too sparing to make their talent forth-coming that way to others. And as we may conclude, that Ministers may Preach the Gospel who are called, because the Apostles did it, even though Ministers are not gifted with infallibility of Preaching, as they were, because that was for edifying the Body: so may we conclude, that men called to it, may write for the edification of the Church, although they be not gifted with infallibility in their writing.

2. We gather from this, that none should take on them to write anything, as the Lord’s mind, for the edification of the Church, without a Call to it: I mean not an extraordinary Call, as John had; but this I mean, that as there is an ordinary Call needful, to the Preaching of the Gospel, (and we may conclude from God’s extraordinary way of calling the Apostles to Preach, the necessity of an ordinary Call) So, in the general, that same consequence will hold in respect of writing, for such an end. And if we look through the Scripture, we will find a Call for Writing, as well as for Preaching; and readily he who was called to the first, was also called to the second, as being a Prophet of the Lord. Though this particular we do not absolutely and simply press, seeing men may be called to write, and not be fitted to Preach; yet I conceive, Solomon is called the Preacher from his writing. And to warrant writing, we would conceive so much to be necessary as may, (1.) Satisfy the man himself, as to his being called to such an eminent duty by God, and therefore there must be somewhat to hold out to Him, that it’s God’s mind he should undertake such a task. (2.) That men walk not by their own satisfaction alone; but that there may be so much, as to convince others, that God put them on that work: and therefore though we would not press an authoritative mission to write, as to Preach; yet, considering that John’s warrant to write, is also a warrant to others to make use of it, and that people would have a warrant for making use of writings, as well as a man for his writing. There is some orderly thing necessary, as to point out to the man his duty in writing, for his peace; so also to point out to others their duty in use-making of it. So that neither any that pleaseth may write (but he would give some reason, beside his pleasure) nor would every one sue the writings of all, as they please.

Reason 1. A Call is necessary for everything; and men in lawful duties are to walk by it: otherwise, all lawful duties would lie upon all men as their calling, or be at their pleasure: which stands not with God’s putting the task, even of particulars, into men’s hands.

Reason 2. To write of the holy things of God, is to take on us, to tell what God thinks, and what is His will, which is a most concerning thing; especially to do it solemnly in writing, lest it prove, at least, a taking of God’s Name in vain: when without a Call we do it.

Reason 3. This may clear it, That neither publick Preaching, nor private edification by word, can be discharged rightly, but when men walk according to God’s Call in these, which is also necessary in writing.

Reason 4. There is no promise to be guided in it, or of success to {39:B} it, without some clearness of a Call to it; and so it cannot be comfortably undertaken nor prosecuted.

Reason 5. All the Saints had their Call to write, who took that way: hence some Apostles have written, others not; some Saints have recorded their case, others not. The reason of this difference is, because some were called to write, and others otherwise employed; else we must say, they failed who wrote not. Neither will it simply warrant one, that he writes truth: there was doubtless truth in the Preaching of the Sons of Thunder, and also of the Son of consolation; yet God thought it not good to call them all to write. And experience hath often made this truth out, that many have taken on them to write, whose writings have been exceeding hurtful to the Church; so that had all men walked by a Call in writing, there had been fewer errours, at least, they had not come unto such an height; and the Church would have been free of many subtle Disputations, that have more prejudged than advanced Godliness in it. As therefore some may fail in not writing, when they are called to it, so others may in going about it, whiles they are not called to it.

If we might enquire in the general (for particulars cannot be pitched on) what may evidence a Call to write? We shall shew, (1.) What is not needful. (2.) What will not satisfy and be sufficient. And (3.) What is needful and may be satisfying.

1. An extraordinary Call by revelation, or immediate impulse of the Spirit, such as John and the Apostles had, is not needful: It might make a Writer as well as a Preacher to be suspected, if they should pretend to any such Call.

2. We think not an authoritative mission in the person who is writer, simply needful: One may be fitted to edify by writing, whose Gifts lead not to edify by Preaching; yet ought not the Church to be frustrate of the benefit of his Gift.

3. We think not a pressing inclination simply necessary; seeing often, inclination thwarts with duty; and men’s modesty, laziness or other respects, may much divert the inclination, as in Moses, Jeremiah and others, when called to God’s Work.

4. We think it not necessary, that there be any singular or extraordinary measure of Gifts beyond others: Some may be called to write by particular providences, when others of more understanding may be spared; even as some may be called to Preach, and others of more learning and ability, are passed by.

On the contrary, It will not be sufficient to evidence a Call to write, (1.) To have an inclination. (2.) To have Gifts: Or, (3.) To be sound in truth: Nor, (4.) To have a good meaning and end. These will not serve in other duties; and so neither in this, without respect had to the particulars after mentioned.

That a man therefore may have peace, as to his undertaking, we conceive there is a concurrence of several things needful, to be observed: As, (1.) There is a necessity of a single end, to wit, God’s glory, other’s edification; and in part may come in, his own exoneration, as to such a duty. It’s not self-seeking, nor getting of a name, nor strengthening such a particular party or opinion that will give one peace in this matter. (2.) It is necessary, not only that the thing be truth; but that it be edifying, profitable, and pertinent, at such a time: God’s Call to any thing, doth ever time it, and tryst it well, as most subservient to the scope of edification. Hence, that which is Error, or impertinent, can never plead a Call in writing, more than in preaching; yea, we conceive, the writing of many light, frothy subjects, or of speculative janglings, and contentions about words, is exceedingly contrary to edification; which ought to be the end and also the rule of our practice in writing. (3.) Besides these, there are circumstances in the concurrence of providences trysting together, in reference to the person writing, to the subject written of, the time wherein and occasion whereupon, and such like: which being observed, may contribute to give some light in the thing. As,

1. If the person be called publicly {40:A} to edify the Church; if he be of that weight, as his testimony may prove profitable in the Church, for the strengthening and confirming of others, or the like considerations; though no new thing be brought forth by him: which ground, as a moral reason, Luke gives to Theophilus of his writing the Gospel, Luke 1.1.

2. Considerations may be drawn from the subject. As, (1.) If it be a necessary point, that is controverted. (2.) If the Scripture opened be dark, and obscure; and possibly not many satisfyingly writing of it. (3.) If the way of handling it, be such, as gives any new advantage to truth; or, to the opening of that Scripture, (though it be not so accurate every way) that is, if the manner be more plain, or more short, or more full; or, touching at some things, others have passed, or clearing what they have mistaken, or confirming, what they asserted only, or such like cases wherein they may contribute, and be useful, for the understanding of what is already written; or occasion others, to form and mould their invention, and what God hath given them, for better advantage to others; seeing some hath the faculty of inventing, others of improving what is invented: thus both are made use of, for one end, when they are brought forth together: even as in building, some are useful for plotting, or contriving, some for digging stones, some for hewing, others for laying by square and line; yet must be furnished by the former: So is it also in an edifying way of writing, every one hath not all; yet should none refuse to contribute their part.

3. The time would be considered, if such a truth be presently controverted, or such a subject necessary to be spoken unto now; if such a person’s interposing may be useful, if such a duty be neglected, or if such a Scripture be not made use of, and the like. These may have their weight to put folks to it, even though they should say little more than what is said by others: because then all are called, to put to their hand to help; that is the time of it. And there is this advantage, that when many {40:B} do write, it serveth not only to confirm and strengthen what another hath said, but it occasions some to read that subject, that readily would never have read it, had not such a man written thereon, seeing another book of that subject might possibly never have come to their hands: and withal, this is advantageous when more are engaged in the same subject. This consideration is alleged by Bellar. prasa. in Tom. prim. out of Augustine, as a reason to put men to write, who were not of the most excellent parts; that it was edifying, and better than nothing; yea, that it was beseeming at such a time, to see many armed in the Camp of Christ, against His adversaries, although all be not leaders and captains.

4. Occasion also may be, from God’s putting one to have thought of such a subject when others are otherwise taken up, some not having access to be edifying otherwise; as when occasion of study is given, and the thing by publick delivery, or secret communication is known to others, and called for by them to be made publick: or that they would set themselves to it, God giving occasion of health, quietness, means, &c. for it: the thing getting approbation from such as are single, and intelligent, judging such a thing useful; in this the spirits of God’s servants would be subject to others. Such considerations are frequently mentioned by worthy men, in their prefaces to their Books. And it’s observed in Vita Pellicani, as swaying him to publish his writings, though not accounted (by himself at least) to be of accurate learning, that, mediacriter & simpliciter scripta, mediocriter doctis placitura videns, & quod illorum major sit copia, quam, eximit doctorum, gratificari petentibus voluit. For, as the most learned Preachings, do not always edify most; so neither is it in writing: and though (as a learned man observeth in a preface) that which is accurate, edifieth most intensively, and best explaineth the thing; yet often, what is more popular, edifieth most extensively, and proveth profitable to many more who are but of ordinary reach.