Page images
PDF
EPUB

ther. Shall the man that commits those sins, which are contra. ry to nature, say, That his natural temper and disposition is so much inclined thereunto, that he could, by no means, avoid them? If our natural constitution be so depraved and vitiated, that it leads us, with an uncommon and impetuous violence, to those sins that we were not formerly inclined to : whence does this arise, but from the habits of vice, being increased by a wilful and obstinate continuance therein, and many repeated acts which they have produced ? and might not this, at least, in some degree, have been avoided? We must distinguish between habits of sin, that immediately flow from the universal corruption of nature, and those that have taken deeper root in us, by being indulged, and exerting themselves, without any endeavours used, to restrain and give a check to them.

And if it be supposed that our natures are more habitually inclined to sin than once they were, might we not so far use the liberty of our wills, as to avoid some things, which, we are sensible, will prove a temptation to those particular acts there, of; whereby the corruption of nature, that is so prone to comply with it, might be in some measure, restrained, though not overcome: this may be done without converting grace; and consequently some great sins may be avoided. To deny this, would be not only to palliate, but open a door to all manner of licentiousness.

(2.) Man has a power to do some things that are materially good; though not good in all those circumstances in which actions are good that accompany or flow from regenerating grace. Ahab's humility, 1 Kings xxi. 29. and Nineveh's repentance, Jonah iij. 5. and seq. arose from the dread they had of the divine threatenings; which is such an inducement to repentance and reformation, as takes its rise from nothing more than the influence of common grace. Herod himself, though a vile person, feared John, knowing that he was a just man and an hely: and when he heard him, did many things, and heard him gladby, Mark vi. 20. And the Geptiles are said to do by nature, the things, that is, some things contained in the law; insomuch that they are a law unto themselves, Rom. ii. 14. Therefore they did them by the influence of common grace. And these things, namely, abstaining from grosser sins, and doing some actions materially good, have certainly some advantage attending them; as thereby the world is not so much like hell as it swould otherwise be and as to what respects themselves, a greater degree of punishment is hereby avoided.

3. We are now to consider the design of God in giving this common call in the gospel, which cannot be the salvation of all who are thus called: this is evident; because all shall not be saved; whereas, if God had designed their salvation, he would

certainly have brought it about; since his purpose cannot be frustrated. To say that God has no determinations relating to the success of the gospel, reflects on his wisdom: and to conclude that things may happen contrary to his purpose, argues a defect of power; as though he could not attain the ends he designed: but this having before been insisted on, under the heads of election and special redemption, I shall pass it by at present, and only consider, that the ends which God designed in giving the gospel, were such as were attained by it, namely, the salvation of those who shall eventually be saved, the res straining of those who have only common grace, and the setting forth the glorious work of redemption by Jesus Christ; which, as it is the wonder of angels, who desire to look into it; so it is hereby designed to be recommended as worthy of the highest esteem, even in those who cast contempt on it: and here. by they are convicted, who shut their eyes against, and neglect to behold that glorious light which shine's so brightly therein.

Object. To this it is objected, that if Christ invites and calls men to come to him, as he often does in the New Testament; and when they refuse to do it, mentions their refusal with a kind of regret; as when he says, Ye will not come to me, that ye might have life, John v. 40. this, they suppose, is no other than an insult on mankind, a bidding them come without the least design that they should; as if à magistrate should go to the prison door, and tell the unhappy man, who is not only onder lock and key, but loaded with irons, that he would have him leave that place of misery and confinement, and how much he should rejoice, if he would come out; and upon that condition, propose to him several honours that he has in reserve for him : this, say they, is not to deal seriously with him. And if the offer of grace in the gospel, answers the similitude, as they suppose it exactly does, then there is no need for any thing farther to be replied to it; the doctrine confutes itself; as it argues the divine dealings with men illusory.

Answ. This similitude, how plausible soever it may appeat to be to some, is far from giving a just representation of the doctrine we are maintaining: for when the magistrate is supposed to signify his desire that the prisoner would set himself free, which he knows he cannot do; hereby it is intimated, chat though God knows that the sinner cannot convert himself, yet he commands him to do it, or to put forth supernatural acts of grace, though he has no principle of grace in him: but let it be considered, that this God no where commands any to do. (a) Our Saviour intends as much as this, when he speaks of the tree's being made good, before the fruit it produces can be so, Matt. xii. 33. or that it is impossible for men to gather grapes

(a) Vide Fuller's - Gospel worthy of all Acceptation.”

of thorns, or figs of thistles, chap. vii. 17. implying, that there inust be an internal disposition wrought, before any acts of grace can be put forth : this is supposed in the preaching of the.gospel, or the call to sinners to repent and believe, which they have no reason to conclude that they can do without the aids of divine grace, and these they are to wait, pray and hope for, in all God's instituted methods.

Moreover, as for those promises which are made to us, if we would release ourselves from the chains of sin, and the account given, how much God would rejoice in our being set free, when the thing is, in itself, impossible; this is no otherwise true than as it contains a declaration of the connexion there is between conversion and salvation, or freedom from the slavery of sin, and God's conferring many spiritual honours and privileges on those who are converted; not that it does, in the least, denote that it is in our own power to convert ourselves: but that this may be more clearly understood, we shall consider it with relation to the two branches before mentioned, and so speak of God, either as commanding, calling, and inviting men to do what is out of their power, namely, to repent, and believe; or else, as holding forth promises of that salvation which they shall not attain; because these graces are out of their power, which contains the substance of what is usually objected against the doctrine we are maintaining, by those who are on the other side of the question; who suppose that this method of procedure is illusory, and therefore unbecoming the divine perfections. And,

1. Concerning God's commanding, calling, and inviting men to do what is out of their own power; as for instance, bidding a dead man to arise, or one that is blind to see, or those that

in prison, to come out from thence. This is to be explained, and then, perhaps, the doctrine we are maintaining, will

appear to be less exceptionable. We have, elsewhere, in defending the head of particular redemption, against an objection not much unlike to this, considered how Christ is said to be offered in the gospel,* or in what sense the overture may be said to be made to all that are favoured with it; and yet the efficacy thereof, only extend to those whom Christ has redeemed, and shall be effectually called. But that we may a little farther explain this matter, let us consider,

(1.) That the gospel contains a declaration, that God designs to save a part of this miserable world; and, that in subserviency thereunto, he has given them a discovery of Christ, as the object of faith, and the purchaser and author of salvation.

(2.) He does not therein give the least intimation to any, while in a state of unregeneracy, that they shall be enabled to believe ; and, as the consequence thereof, be saved. Their

See Pol. II. poge 333.

are shut

up

names, characters, or places of abode, or their natural embellishments, who shall attain this privilege, are no where pointed at in scripture ; nor is the book of God's secret purpose, concerning election to eternal life, opened, so as that any one can discern his name written in it, before he be effectually called ; for we have no warrant to look any farther than God's revealed will, which assigns no evidence of our interest in the saving blessings of the gospel, till they are experienced by us, in this effectual call.

(3.) God plainly discovers to men, in the gospel, that all those graces, which are inseparably connected with salvation, are his work and gift, and consequently out of their own power; or that it is not of him that willeti, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy, Rom. ix. 16. Therefore he IJO where tells the man, who is tied and bound with the chain of his sin, that he is able to set himself free; but

puts
him

upon expecting and praying for it, from the pitifulness of his great mercy. He no where tells him, that he can implant a priuciple of spiritual life and grace in himself; or that he ought so much as to attempt to do any thing to atone for his sins, by his obedience and sufferings, but suggests the contrary, when he says, Surely, shall one say, in the Lord have I righteousness and strength, Isa. xlv. 24.

(4.) He gives none the least ground to expect, or lay claim to salvation, till they believe ; and as faith and salvation are both his gifts, he puts them upon seeking, and desiring them, in their respective order; first grace, and then glory.

(5.) The gospel-call is designed to put men upon a diligent attendance on the ordinances, as means of grace, and to leave the issue and success thereof to God, who waits that he may be gracious ; that so his sovereignty may appear more eminently in the dispensing this privilege; and, in the mean time, assigns it as their duty to wait for him, chap. xxx. 18. And while we are engaged in this duty, we are to acknowledge, that we have nothing that can give us any right to this privilege : So that God might justly deny success to his ordinances. Nevertheless, if he is pleased to give us, while we are attending on them, those earnest desires of their being made effectual to our conversion and salvation, we may conclude this to be a token for good, that he designs us some special advantage thereby; and we do not know but that even this desire of grace may be the beginning of the Spirit's saving work, and therefore an earnest of his carrying it on.

(6.) When God commands persons, in the gospel, to do those things which cannot be performed without his special grace, he sometimes supposes them, when he gives forth the command, to have a principle of spiritual life and grace, which VOL. III.

D

in

[ocr errors]

is, in effect to bid one that is made alive, to put forth living actions; which respect, more especially, the progress of grace after the work is begun ; in which sense I understand those words of the apostle, Work out your salvation with fear and trembling; for it is God which worketh ; that is, hath wrought,

you both to will and to do, of his good pleasure, Phil. ii. 12.

2. If we consider the gospel as holding forth promises of salvation, when, at the same time, it is not in our power to exercise those graces that accompany it; which gives farther occasion to those that except against the doctrine we are maintaining, to conclude, that it represents God as offering those blessings which he does not design to bestow : This may give us occasion to explain what we mean, when we consider salvation as offered in the gospel ; whereby we understand nothing

else but a declaration, that all who repent and believe, shall be Why then saved ; which contains a character, or description of the percall it an

sons who have ground to expect this privilege : not that salvation is founded on dubious and uncertain conditions, which depend upon the power and liberty of our wili ; or impossible conditions ; as though God should say, if man will change his own heart, and work faith, and all other graces in himself, then. he wiil save him : but all that we mean by it is, that those graces, which are inseparably connected with salvation, are to be

waited for in our attendance on all God's ordinances, and when how absumed he is pleased to work them, then we may conclude, that we

have a right to the promise of salvation. Thus concerning the gospel-call, what it is, how far it may be improved by those who are destitute of special grace, and what is God's design in giving it: we now proceed to consider,

3. The issue and consequence thereof, as it is farther observed in this answer, that many wilfully neglect, contemn, or refuse to comply with it, with respect to whom it is not made effectual to their salvation. This appears from the report that Christ's disciples brought to him, concerning the excuses that many made when called to come to the marriage feast, in the parable : One pretended, that he had bought a piece of ground, and must needs go see it; and another, that he had bought five yoke of oxen, and must go to prove them; and another had married a wife, and therefore could not come. It is elsewhere said, that they all made light of it, and went their ways; one to his farm, another to his merchandise ; and the remnant took his servants, and entreated them spitefully, and slew them, Luke xiv. 18-20. compared with Matt. xxii. 5, 6.

And the prophet introduces our Saviour himself as complaining, I have laboured in vain, I have spent my strength for nought, Isa. xlix. 4, 5. And the reason hereof is, because Israel is not gathered; which words are to be understood in a

ار

« PreviousContinue »