I never uttered such a sentiment as this. Borrius has said something like it, though not exactly the same, in the following words: "It is possible that God, by the inward revelation of the Holy Spirit, or by the ministry of angels, instructed the wise men, who came from the east, concerning Jesus, whom they came to adore." But the words "undoubtedly," and "great numbers of persons," are the additions of calumny, and is of a most audacious character, charging us with that which, it is very probable, we never spoke, and of which we never thought; and we have learned that this audacity of boldly affirming any thing whatsoever, under which the junior pastors generally labour, and those who are ignorant of the small stock of knowledge that they possess, is an evil exceedingly dangerous in the church of Christ.
1. Is it probable, that any prudent man will affirm that "something is undoubtedly done in great numbers of persons," of which he is not able, when required, to produce a single example? We confess, that we cannot bring an instance of what is here imputed to us. For, if it were produced by us, it would become a subject of controversy; as has been the fate of the sentiments of Zwinglius concerning the salvation of Socrates, Aristides, and of others in similar circumstances, who must have been instructed concerning their salvation by the Holy Ghost or by angels. For it is scarcely within the bounds of probability, that they had seen the Sacred Scriptures and had been instructed out of them.
2. Besides, if this saying of Christ had occurred to the recollection of our brethren, "Speak, Paul! and hold not thy peace: For I have much people in this city," (Acts xix.9, 10,) they would not so readily have burdened us with this article, who have learned from this saying of Christ, that God sends the external preaching of his word to nations, when it is his good pleasure for great numbers of them to be converted.
3. The following is a saying in very common and frequent use.
"The ordinary means and instrument of conversation is the preaching of the Divine word by mortal men, to which therefore all persons are bound; but the Holy Spirit has not so bound himself to this method, as to be unable to operate in an extraordinary way, without the intervention of human aid, when it seemeth good to Himself." Now if our brethren had reflected, that this very common sentence obtains our high approval, they would not have thought of charging this article upon us, at least they would not have accounted it erroneous. For, with regard to the FIRST, what is extraordinary does not obtain among "great numbers of persons;" for if it did, it would immediately begin to be ordinary. With regard to the SECOND, if "the preaching of the word by mortal men," be "the ordinary means," by which it is also intimated that some means are extraordinary, and since the whole of our church, nay, in my opinion, since the whole Christian world bears its testimony to this, then indeed it is neither a heresy nor an error to say, "Even without this means [without the preaching of the word] God can convert some persons." To this might likewise be added the word "undoubtedly." For if it be doubtful whether any one be saved by any other means, (that is, by "means extraordinary,") than by human preaching; then it becomes a matter of doubt, whether it be necessary for "the preaching of the Divine word by mortal men," to be called "the ordinary means."
4. What peril or error can there be in any man saying, "God converts great numbers of persons, (that is, very many,) by the internal revelation of the Holy Spirit or by the ministry of angels; "provided it be at the same time stated, that no one is converted except by this very word, and by the meaning of this word, which God sends by men to those communities or nations whom He hath purposed to unite to himself. The objectors will perhaps reply, "It is to be feared, that, if a nation of those who have been outwardly called should believe this, rejecting external preaching, they would expect such an internal revelation or the address of an angel." Truly, this would be as unnatural a subject of fear, as that a man would be unwilling to taste of the bread which was laid before him, because he understands, "Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God." But I desist; lest, while instituting an examination into the causes of this fear, I should proceed much further, and arrive at a point to which our brethren might be unwilling for me on this occasion to advance. A word is sufficient for the wise.