« AnteriorContinuar »
power: and this is what we principally intend by gospel-overwres or invitations.
(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, supposed 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 nece'ssity 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
ther. Shall the man that commits those sins, which are contrary 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 thereof; 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 acLions are good that accompany or flow from regenerating grace. Ahab's humility, 1 Kings xxi. 29. and Nineveh's repentance, Jonah iii. 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 yohn, knowing that he was a just man and an holy: and when he heard him, did many things, and heard him gladly, Mark vi. 20. And the Gentiles are said to do by nature, the thing's ; 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 would 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 sayed; 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 restraining 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 hereby they are convicted, who shut their eyes against, and neglect to behold that glorious light which shines 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, mention 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 a magistrate should go to the prison door, and tell the unhappy man, who is not only under 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 appear 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, that 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 wortby of all Acceptation."
of thorns, or figs of thistles, chap. vii. 17. implying, that there must 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 arcount 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 are shut up 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 sayed. Their
• See Vol. II poge 353.
wames, 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 gospeh, 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 willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy, Rom. ix. 16. Therefore he no 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 principle 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 toden 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 i 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.