Milne on the Puritans & Dreams

GMilne-WestminsterConfessionFaithCessationSpecialRevelationCareful studies that cut past stereotypes are incredibly useful today, and G.H. Milne’s The Westminster Confession of Faith and Cessation of Special Revelation: The Majority Puritan Viewpoint on Whether Extra-Biblical Prophecy Is Still Possible (Wipf & Stock: Eugene, OR, 2007) is of terrific use on the cessationist issue. As I’m preaching through the Jacob toledot on Joseph and the dreams God gives him, Milne’s points about how the Puritans saw dreams have been very useful. I might be able to post more on this topic in the future, but here is some raw data from the pages of Milne’s monograph for general use. Pick up his book! Tolle lege!

p. 93
More commonly, as [James] Usher highlighted, God divulged his mind through dreams and visions, such as those granted to Joseph and Daniel, which were instances of “Revelations whereby God signified his will”. Yet, just as with the Urim and Thummim, those divine revelatory dreams which were given to pagans or non-Israelites had a “temporal” salvific significance for the people of God. The dream given to the pagan soldier in the camp of Midian, for example, made Gideon confident of victory, inviting the comment from the Annotations, “Divine dreams are always either clear and evident of themselves, or else opportunity interprised for the benefit of God’s people.”

Since the Urim and Thummim and other obsolete revelatory media for conveying salvific data are grouped as joint supernatural means for discovering that salvation, the information conveyed by dreams, visions, or the Urim and the Thummim should tell us something of what was meant by “salvation”.

For English and Scottish Puritans, the Scriptures now functioned to provide the same assistance to the modern Christian nation as dreams, visions, and the Urim and the Thummim once had for ancient Israel. Therefore, these revelatory devices were not thought to be only vehicles of special revelation to teach the way of personal redemption. Neither was the divine revelation mediated through these former modes considered only as types of shadows of spiritual matters. Certainly, the Puritans did teach that Old Testament promises foreshadow spiritual things, but they were far from spiritualising [sic] every concept in the Old Testament because they held that God gave temporal deliverances to the modern Christian nation, just as he had to Israel.

While William Gouge teaches that “[t]emporall good things” prefigure “spirituall and heavenly good things”, he also makes it explicit that he regards the contemporary availability of divine advice through Scripture as analogous to the function of the Urim and Thummim, or the role of dreams and visions. He contends that the Scriptures have replaced other now obsolete means of supernatural illumination as a source of effectual divine direction in the difficult non-doctrinal choices which still confront the new covenant church, individuals, and nations. This guidance, now available in the pages of holy Writ, is still a valid experience of God’s saving will and purpose. In a sermon on a pressing matter of physical suffering that afflicted his society entitled Dearth’s Death: Or, A Removall of Famine Gathered out of II Sam. XXI.1., Gouge poses the question: “How may we now seeke of God the meanes of old used, are now no more of use”. He makes it clear that he does not believe in the efficacy of any prophecy, dreams, visions or the Urim and Thummim and believes that he can demonstrate that the WCF and Catechisms‘ proof-texts, 2 Pet 1:19 and Isa. 8:20, teach the availability of guidance through Scripture, which is “as sure and certaine a meanes for enquiring of God, as ever the Church had”. In other words, the Scriptures have now taken over the function of imparting guidance for life’s varied circumstances, which was previously the prerogative of the other modes. These former modalities have now ceased, though they were once ordained vehicles of immediate divine disclosure.

Gouge acknowledges God’s equal interest and involvement in the seventeenth-century national and political context, while clearly relegating the older channels of dreams and the like to past. He is therefore far from sanctioning the contemporary use of those archaic ordinances for temporal guidance. He concludes his advice by an appeal to David:

Let this therefore be the generall use and close of all, that in famine and other judgements [sic] we do as David is here noted to do, enquire of the Lord; enquire of him in and by his word; and withall [sic], as David here also did, follow the directions prescribed by the Lord in his Word’; then shall we be sure to have such an issue as David had, expressed in these words, God was intreated for the the land.

p. 119-120
In the allusion to 2 Cor. 5:16, the Protestant hermeneutical principle of the analogy of Scripture comes into play. Bolstering the interpretation of one text by identifying supporting texts elsewhere in Scripture is an appeal to the infallible witness of the living voice of God in the Word itself. Arguing from the general to the particular, [Thomas] Goodwin builds on his insight that there are to be no more visions, and asserts that there can be no extra-biblical revelation as an aid to biblical exegesis…

Thus Goodwin concludes that this text supports the notion that no further immediate light divorced from Scripture promises is to be expected from heaven. Goodwin was representative of a standard Reformed orthodox view that neither such ability as the prophet Daniel utilized to interpret divinely inspired dreams through revelation, nor the use of a “Gideon’s fleece” to confirm the mind of God was any longer possible in the modern church. Goodwin probably would have rejected any claim to an “Abrahamic” type of revelation or to any “immediate” divinely inspired exposition of Scripture, and dismissed it as enthusiasm.

p. 133
These two key texts, Joel 2:28 – 32 and Acts 2:17, talk about the effusive activity of the Spirit – a torrent of prophecy, dreams, and visions – in the “last days” of the New Covenant dispensation. Not surprisingly, those who accepted ongoing revelatory visions and oracles often appealed to both passages. In marked contrast, most of the Reformed orthodox were of the opinion that the literal fulfillment of these texts, insofar as they were interpreted to promise miraculous and immediate revelation, was confined to the apostolic era. It is true that some Puritan contemporaries of the Assembly such as Ed Hyde did restrict the prophecy in toto to the days of the apostles, but this was the exception rather than the rule.

Reformed orthodoxy solved the paradox, that a text which overtly prophecies “immediate” extra-biblical revelation could also be used to lend support to cessationism, by moving in a surprising direction in its exegesis. Joel 2:28 and Acts 2:17 were still considered relevant prophecies for the seventeenth-century Christian, because they were understood analogically or typologically. They were commonly taken to be a promise to the contemporary church of non-miraculous gifts, including, for example, the ability to interpret Scripture. A brief survey of this exegetical tradition is instructive, because it demonstrates that this view was not an anomaly.

fn 103
David Dickson, a later commentator on the WCF, is able to embellish the Westminster view that immediate revelation ceased in the “last days” of Heb 1:2 by using Acts 2:17 as a supporting text. Dickson, Truth’s Victory Over Error, 27.

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