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inasmuch as we are first favoured with the word and ordinances, and then they are made effectual to salvation.
1. Therefore we shall consider what we are to understand by this common call.
It is observed, that it is by the ministry of the word, in which Christ is set forth in his person and offices, and sinners are called to come to him; and in so doing, to be made partakers of the blessings which he has purchased. This is the sum and substance of the gospel-ministry; and it is illustrated Matt. xxii. 1, & seq. by the parable of the marriage-feast, which the king made for his son, and sent his servants; by which is signified gospel-ministers, to call or invite, and therein to use all persuasive arguments to prevail with persons to come to it: this is styled their being called. And the observation made on persons refusing to comply with this call, when it is said, Many are called, but few are chosen, ver. 14. plainly intimates, that our Saviour here means no other than a common or ineffectual call. And in another parable it is illustrated by an householder's hiring labourers into his vineyard, Matt. xx. 1, & seq. at several hours of the day: some were hired early in the morning, at the third hour ; others at the sixth and ninth; which denotes the gospel-call, that the Jewish church had to come to Christ before his incarnation, under the ceremonial law; and others were hired at the eleventh hour, denoting those who were called, at that time, by the ministry of Christ and his disciples : that this was only a common and external call, is evident, not only from the intimation that they, who had borne the burden and heal of the day; that is, for many ages had been a professing people, murmured, because others, who were called at the eleventh hour, had an equal share in his regard; but also from what is expressly said, (the words are the same with those wherewith the other parable before-mentioned, is closed) Many are called, but few are chosen, ver. 16.
Moreover, the apostle intends this common call, when he speaks of some who have been called into the grace of Christ; not called by the power and efficacious grace of Christ, as denoting that the call was effectual; but called, or invited to come and receive the grace of Christ; or called externally, and thereby prevailed on to embrace the doctrine of the grace of Christ: these are said to be soon removed unto another gospel, Gal. i. 6. And elsewhere, chap. v. 7. he speaks of some, who, when the truth, or the doctrines of the gospel, were first presented to them, expressed, for a time, a readiness to receive it; upon which account he says, Ye did run well, or, ye began well; but yet they did not afterwards yield the obedience of faith, to that truth which they seemed, at first, to have a very great regard :
upon which occasion the apostle says, This persuasion cometh not of him that calleth you, ver. 8.
They who express some regard to this call, are generally said to have common grace, as contradistinguished from others, who are under the powerful, and efficacious influences of the Spirit, which are styled special. The former of these are oftentimes under some impressive influences by the common work of the Spirit, under the preaching of the gospel ; who, notwithstanding, are in an unconverted state ; their consciences are sometimes awakened, and they bring many charges and accusations against themselves; and from a dread of the consequences thereof, abstain from many enormous crimes, as well as practise several duties of religion; they are also said to be made partakers of some great degrees of restraining grace; and all this arises from no other than the Spirit's common work of conviction ;. as he is said, to reprove the world of sin, John xvi. 8.
These are styled, in this answer, the common operations of the Spirit: they may be called operations, inasmuch as they contain in them something more than God's sending ministers to address themselves to sinners, in a way of persuasion or arguing; for, the Spirit of God deals with their consciences under the ministry of the word. It is true, this is no more than common grace; yet it may be styled the Spirit's work : for though the call be no other than common, and the Spirit considered as an external agent, inasmuch as he never dwells in the hearts of any but believers, yet the effect produced, is internal in the mind and consciences of men, and, in some degree, in the will; which is almost persuaded to comply with it. These operations are sometimes called the Spirit's striving with man, Gen. vi. 3. but inasmuch as many of these internal motions are said to be resisted and quenched, when persons first act contrary to the dictates of their consciences, and afterwards wholly extinguish them ; therefore the Spirit's work in those whom he thus calls, is not effectual or saving; these are not united to Christ by his Spirit, nor by faith ; and this is generally styled common grace, in speaking to which, we shall consider,
(1.) That there are some things presented to us, in an objective way, which contain the subject matter of the gospel, or that call, which is given to sinners to pursue those methods, which, by divine appointment, lead to salvation. As faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God, Rom. X. 17. so do common convictions, and whatever carries in it the appearance of grace in the unregenerate. In this respect God deals with men as intelligent creatures, capable of making such improvement of those instructions and intimations, as may tend, in many respects, to their advantage. This must be supposed, or else the preaching of the gospel could not be reckoned an universal blessing to them who are favoured with it, abstracting from those saving advantages which some are to receive hereby. This is here called the grace which is offered to them, who are outwardly called, by the ministry of the word.
Offers of grace, and invitations to come to Christ, are words used by almost all who have treated on this subject: though some, of late, have been ready to conclude, that these modes of speaking tend to overthrow the doctrine we are maintaining; for they argue to this purpose; that an overture, or invitation, supposes a power in him to whom it is given to comply with it. Did I think this idea necessarily contained in these words, I should rather choose to subtitute others in the room of them: however, to remove prejudices, or unjust representations, which the use thereof may occasion, either here or elsewhere, I shall briefly give an account of the reason why I use them, and what I understand thereby. If it be said, This mode of speaking is Dot to be found in scripture; this, it is true, should make us less tenacious of it. Nevertheless, it may be used without just offence given, if it be explained agreeably thereunto. (a) There fore let it be considered,
(a) That the invitations of the gospel are not restricted to a few amongst a larger number who hear them, is clear, from various considerations.
The term evangel, or gospel, importing good tidings, evinces, that it is designed not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance and salvation.
The blessings, which it announces, lead to the same conclusion ; liberty is of. fered to the captives, and the opening of the prison to those who are bound; those who labour and are heavily laden, are invited to seek, and obtain rest : those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, are assured that they shall be filled ; the riches of grace and of glory are promised to the poor in Spirit; sight is offered to the blind; and bowsoever diseased, those who are afficted are invited to come to the great Physician; and even those who are dead in sin are revived by his life-giving word. Such are the circu:nstances of the worst of men, who are consequently the objects of the mercies proffered in the gospel.
The unregenerate elect, who stand amongst those who will not be saved, are like them, possessed of prevailing inclinations to sin, and equally impotent to good: they are all equally guilty of an aversation of heart from Goil, and so pos, sess in themselves nothing which can evidence a right to gospel blessings more than others.
The invitations of the gospel are in universal terms, and although such terms are sometimes restricted by the sense, yet where no such restriction appears, they are to be taken in their own unlimited extent; the ransom is asserted to have been rendered for all; the Lord willeth not the destruction of any, but that all should turn and live; Christ proclaimed to sinners, if any man thirst
, let him come unto me and drink; and directed his disciples to go and teach all nations; and it is his will, that the gospel should be preached unto every creature.
It in the day of final account, the abominable crimes of Sodom and Gomorrha shall evince less guilt than the impenitency of Chorazin and Bethsaida; the ag gravation of guilt, which the gospel produces, demonstrates that its messages are directed unto the worst of men, as well as others.
Those who are guided by the light of nature, are guilty, because they violate the rule of conscience : such as possessed the law of God were still more guilty;
(2.) That the presenting an object, whatever it be, to the understanding and will, is generally called, an offering it; as Gad says to David, from the Lord; I offer thee three things, choose thee one of them, &c. 1 Sam. xxiv. 12. So if God sets before us life and death, blessing and cursing, and bids us choose which we will have ; this is equivalent to what is generally called, an offer of grace.
And as for invitations to come to Christ, it is plain, that there are many scriptures that speak to that purpose; namely, when it is said, In the last day, that great day of the feast, Jesus stood and cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto me and drink, Juhn vii. 37. And, Ho every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, Isa. lv. 1. And elsewhere Christ says, Come unto me all ye that labour, and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest, Matt. xi. 28. And, Let him that is athirst come ; and whosoever will, let him take of the water of life freely, Rev. xxii. 17.
(3.) When an offer, or invitation to accept of a thing, thus objectively presented to us, is made, it always supposes the valuableness thereof; and how much it would be our interest to accept of it; and that it is our indispensable duty so to do; which are the principal ideas that I intend, in my sense of the word, when I speak of offers of grace in the gospel, or invitations to come to Christ. Nevertheless, taking them in this sense, does not necessarily infer a power in us to accept them, without the assistance of divine grace: thus it may be said, that Christ came into the world to save sinners; and that he will certainly apply the redemption, which he has purchased, to all, for whom this price was given ; and also, that a right to salvation is inseparably connected with faith and repentance; and that these, and all other graces are God's gifts; and that we are to pray, wait, and hope for them, under the ministry of the word ; and if we be, in God's own time and way, enabled to exercise these graces, this will be our unspeakable advantage: and therefore it cannot but be our duty to attend upon God in all his holy institutions, in hope of saving blessings : these things may be done ; and consequently the gospel may be thus preached, without supposing that grace is in our own power: and this is what we principally intend by gospel-overtures or invitations.
but sinners under the light of the gospel, who trample under foot the blood of Christ, and despise and reject the mercies of the gospel, are guilty in the highest degree. It is just that they should not receive the offered pardon, but remain under the condemnation of the law, the dominion of iniquity, the slavery of Satan, and be left in their beloved darkness until they sink in despair. Yet nothing but their own aversion rejects the invitation, or prevents their salvation : they are straitened in their own bowels, and are the causes of their own destruction, Thus salvation is offered in general, and God is just, though the application of It is plainly special
(4.) Nevertheless we cannot approve of some expressions subversive of the doctrine of special redemption, how moving and pathetic soever they may appear to be; as when any one, to induce sinners to come to Christ, tells them, that God is willing, and Christ is willing, and has done his part, and the Spirit is ready to do his; and shall we be unwilling, and thereby destroy ourselves ? Christ has purchased salvation for us : the Spirit offers his assistances to us; and shall we refuse these overtures ? Christ invites us to come to him, and leaves it to our free-will, whether we will comply with, or reject these invitations : he is, at it were, indeterminate, whether he shall save us or no, and leaves the matter to our own conduct; we ought therefore to be persuaded to comply with the invitation. This method of explaining offers of grace, and invitations, to come to Christ, is not what we intend when we make use of these expressions.
2. We are now to consider the persons to whom this common call is given. It is indefinite, not directed only to the elect, or those, with respect to whom God designs to make it effectual to their salvation ; for, according to the commission which our Saviour gave to his apostles, the gospel was to be preached to all nations, or to every creature in those places to which it was sent : and the reason of this is obvious; namely, because the counsel of God, concerning election, is secret, and not to be considered as the rule of human conduct; nor are they, whom God is pleased to employ in preaching the gospel, sup. posed to know whether he will succeed their endeavours, by enabling those who are called, to comply with it.
3. We shall now shew how far the gospel-call may, without the superadded assistance of special grace, be improved by men, in order to their attaining some advantage by it, though short of salvation : this may be done in two respects.
(1.) Gross enormous crimes may hereby be avoided : this appears in many unconverted persons, who not only avoid, but abhor them; being induced hereunto by something in nature that gives an aversion to them. And it may be farther argued, from the liableness of those who commit them, to punishment in proportion to their respective aggravations, which must either suppose in man, a power to avoid them or else, the greatest degree of punishment would be the result of a necessity of nature, and not self-procured by any act of man's will ; though all suppose the will to be free, with respect to actions that are sinful. It would be a very poor excuse for the murderer to allege, that he could not govern his passion, but was under an unavoidable necessity to take away the life of ano.