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But some perhaps will urge; suppose such an one should repent, change his life, and break off his sins by a sincere and constant devoting of himself to the duty of piety and mortification, would the purpose of God stand still in force against such an one ?
I answer, no; but I add, withal, that this in the present case is both an improper and an impossible supposition ; for supposing that God once commences such a purpose against any sinner, he always withholds and denies that grace which should render the means of repentance effectual, after that: so that it is certain, that such an one will never have a will or an heart to repent and turn from his sins. And therefore in the foregoing discourse, I shew, that God puts this purpose in execution chiefly by withdrawing the secret converting energy of his word : for to me it seems clear, that the word does not convert by any mere suasive force naturally inherent in it; but by a divine power concomitant to, and cooperating with it. It being otherwise hard to imagine how a man can be barely persuaded out of his nature, or, at least, out of that which sways him as strongly. I shew also, that God took away the convincing edge and impression of his providences; so that they never became effectual to reduce such an one.
From all which it follows, that upon these grounds the foregoing question is impertinent. For though God promises salvation upon a certain condition; yet if he alone, by his grace, is able to effect that condition, and
upon great provocation refuses to effect it; it is evident that he may, upon failure of that condition, irreversibly purpose to condemn a sinner, and yet stand firm to the truth of his former promise.
This is most certain ; that both these propositions
may, and are, and must be unalterably true; namely, That whosoever repents, and leaves his sins, shall be saved ; and yet, That he, whosoever God has sworn shall never enter into his rest, can never enter into it: and all pretences to the contrary are but harangue and declamation, and fit to move none, but such as understand not the strength of arguments, or the force of propositions. And thus much in answer to the first question. The second is, whether a man may know such a purpose to have passed upon him antecedently to its execution ?
In answer to which, we must observe, that the ordinary ways by which God imparts the knowledge of his will to men are only these two:
1st, God's declaration of it by his word. 2dly, Men's collection of it from its effects.
Now, for the first of these, I shall lay down this assertion : That every peremptory and absolute declaration of something to be done by God, does not always infer God's absolute purpose to do that thing, as to the event of it.
The due consideration of which is of so great moment, that without it we cannot rightly understand many of the promises and threatenings of God, which run in terms absolute and peremptory, and yet never come to be fulfilled. As for instance; in that first great threatening made to Adam in Gen. ii. 17, In the day thou eatest thereof, thou shalt surely die; we find that the execution did not reach the letter of the denunciation : forasmuch as Adam long survived the violation of that precept to which this threatening was annexed.
And then, in the next place, for promises. Let us take that eminent one made by God to Elijah, in
1 Sam. ii. 30, where God repeats his own promise in terms very absolute: Wherefore the Lord God of Israel saith, I said indeed that thy house, and the house of thy father, should walk before me for ever; yet he adds in the very next words, Far be it from me. Strange! that when God had promised a thing absolutely, he should add afterwards, Far be it from me to perform it. How are these things reconcileable to, and consistent with his immutable truth and veracity ? For the explication of which,
1st, We must observe, first particularly, concerning God's threatenings; that frequently they do not signify the event of the thing threatened, but sometimes declare only the merit of the action and the will of God, that such a punishment should be due to such an offence; not that it should be eventually inflicted for it: so that those words in Genesis signify only thus much, In the day that thou eatest, thou shalt certainly be obnoxious and liable to death: and so Adam really was, and might have been proceeded against according to the tenor of that sentence, had God been pleased to take him upon the advantage.
2dly, We must observe jointly both promises and threatenings, that they often run in absolute terms, when really they imply a condition. So that the promise made to Eli and his family implied the condition of their obedience and pious behaviour towards God; which failing, and the promises thereupon not being performed, it appeared, that however in words it was absolute, yet in sense and design it was but conditional. From all which I affirm, that promises and threatenings, though expressed in never such absolute terms, yet cannot be known to be absolute or conditional, till such time as they are put in exe
cution. And yet therefore upon this ground no sinner can conclude that God has took up such a purpose against him, till he finds it actually fulfilled upon him. To which I add further, that God nowadays makes no such declaration of his purposes to any particular persons.
In the next place then, if any will pretend to gather the knowledge of such a purpose of God against him, it must be from some effects of it. Such, as I shew, were God's withdrawing his grace, and that secret, convincing power that operates in his word and in his providences : but this cannot immediately be known by any man ; since it is (as we here suppose it to be) altogether secret. Or, further, he must gather this knowledge from some qualifications or signs, accompanying those persons that are in such a wretched condition. Such, as I shew, were sinning against particular warnings and admonitions from God; as also against frequently renewed vows and promises of amendment and obedience. But these I mentioned not as certain, infallible marks of such a forlorn estate, but only as shrewd signs of it. For besides that the scripture declares no man absolutely and finally lost, as soon as these qualifications are found upon him, unless they continue so till his death; so it is further manifest, that the grace of God is so strange and various, in its working upon the heart of men, that it sometimes fastens upon and converts old overgrown sinners, such as to the eye of reason were going apace to hell, and almost at their journey's end.
From all which it follows, that no man, in this life, can pass any certain judgment concerning the will of God in reference to his own final estate; but ought,
been hitherto discoursing of, and that which the
with fear and trembling, to attend God's precept and revealed will; and so gathering the best evidence he can of his condition from his obedience, with all humility to expect the issue of God's great counsels and intentions.
But here, to prevent all mistakes about what has been said, you must observe, that there is a wide difference between the purpose of God, that I have
schools call God's decree of reprobation; concerning which I shall only remark this by the way. That there is so much to be argued, both from scripture and reason, grounded upon the actuality and immutability of the divine nature for it; and so much, on the contrary, from the difficulty of its seeming to some to make God the author of sin, and to cross some received principles of morality, to be urged against it, that had not authority most wisely and justly restrained all discourses of it from the pulpit, I think none could shew a better understanding of it, than by not presuming to determine any thing about it. And therefore my business rather is only in a word or two to shew that the purpose of God, that I have been hitherto speaking of, is quite another thing from that decree considered according to the hypothesis of the schools, and that in a double respect.
1st, Because that decree is said to commence entirely upon God's good pleasure and sovereign will, and not upon any compulsive cause from without him: but this purpose commences upon the provőcation of the sinner, as an impulsive cause moving God to make such a determination against him.
2dly, Because that decree is said to be from all