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"When some of the Jews asked Jesus,
" What shall we do, that we might work the works of God?” he answered, “ This is the work of God, that ye believe on him whom he hath sent.” If God had decreed that the Jews should not believe, it could not have been said, that it was his work, that they should believe on him whom he hath sent. Upon another occasion Christ. declared to them, “ These things I say that ye might be saved :" How could Christ endeavour to promote the salvation of men, in opposition to the decree of his father, whose will he came down from heaven to fulfil?' 1
Whether decreed or not, in what sense could it be " the work of God” that those Jews should believe in Jesus, who eventually did not believe in him? Commentators indeed generally agree, that “the work of God," in the text referred to (being an answer to the question of the Jews, “ What “shall we do, that we might work the works of “ God?”) signifies that work, or act of obedience, which God required of them, and would accept; and without which all other works would be rejected. 2
“ This is my beloved Son-hear ye “ him :" “ This is the work” most acceptable in the sight of God, “ that ye believe on him whom “ he hath sent." 3 There is, however, nothing said about these Jews, or of any divine decree respecting them. It was their duty to believe: and had they truly believed they would have been saved. These are “revealed things, which belong “to us :" but who are, or who are not decreed to salvation, is “ a secret thing which belongs to
Ref. 191. 2 John vi. 27-29. Whitby.
God," and of which we can know nothing except by the event. Did ministers, who believe the doctrine of the divine decrees, really know what these decrees were, they could not consistently preach to those, concerning whom they ' knew it was decreed that they should not believe, ' in order that they might be saved:' but, as they know nothing concerning this, they must adhere to the revealed truth and will of God: and, really loving all men with cordial good will, and praying for the salvation of all, they must address them as sinners, and invite them to partake of salvation : and God will give what success to their labours he sees good. It may however be said, that, if such decrees do really exist, our Lord knew what they were, though we do not. But, as Man and as a Preacher, he acted not from his divine knowledge of unrevealed things, but as we ought to act in like circumstances ; and he hath left us an example for our imitation. It may indeed be supposed he knew that some whom he addressed were “ chosen unto salvation ;" for probably Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea were present when he spake the words referred to.' In general, he used proper means for the salvation of those who heard him. But, supposing no such decree to exist, how does this alter the case? Did not our Lord foreknow who would, and who would not believe? who would, and who would not be saved: In
endeavouring to promote the salvation of those’ who he foreknew would not be saved, he would have acted as much in opposition to his own foreknowledge, as supposing a decree to have existed, he
would have acted in opposition to that decree. But, doubtless, in what he said and did, he did not act in opposition to either the one or the other. As for us, we take it for granted that God has
some people' in our congregations, in the same sense in which he had “much people ” at Corinth." We are charged by the bishop, when ordained priests, 'to seek for Christ's sheep that are scat• tered abroad, and for his children who are in the
midst of this naughty world, that they may be ' saved through Christ for ever.'? And we have no fear of being condemned for opposition to a secret decree, while diligently obeying a revealed and express command.
Our Lord's questions imply that the Jews had a power of understanding and believing, and cannot be reconciled with the doctrine of a divine decree rendering their conversion impossible.??
Had the Jews possessed a disposition to believe, their conversion would have been certain. But
it is acknowledged, that man has not the dispo'sition, and consequently not the ability, to do
what in the sight of God is good, till he is influ'enced by the Spirit of God.'4 Now this is the only thing which renders any man's conversion impossible, except he be influenced by the Spirit of God: and why might not the divine decree respect this very point, namely, the producing, or the not producing of this disposition in one who had it not, and could not have it, 'till influenced by the Spirit of God?'
Acts xviii. 10. · Ordination Office. Ref192. • Ref, 61,
' It was possible, therefore, for every one of the * Jews to abandon his wickedness, and be converted and saved.'1
Nothing was wanting but the disposition before spoken of
• The rejection therefore of the gospel, by the ' Jews, was their own voluntary act, and not the 'consequence of any decree of God.'2
It was certainly their own voluntary act; and so was the act of Judas in betraying Christ. None of them did wickedly as compelled by a divine decree, but as instigated by their own sinful passions ; nor as induced by a divine decree, of which they neither knew nor thought any thing : but this does not prove that God did not decree to
give them up to their own heart's lusts,” and “ to send them a strong delusion,” as a punishment for their preceding crimes, of which he foresaw they would be guilty. The same answer suffices for several other instances adduced. It is that want of disposition, before acknowledged by his Lordship, (that is, a moral inability, and not a want of physical power, which renders the conversion of sinners impossible, except by special grace “ working in them to will and to do, of his
good pleasure.”—Instead of eager disputation, therefore, it behoves us to pray for ourselves, and for each other, in the words of Solomon, that the
“ incline our hearts unto him, to walk “ in all his ways, and to keep his commandments, “and his statutes, and his judgments."3
* Faith, being the condition upon which sal1. Ref. 192.
31 Kings viii. 58.
vation was offered both to Jews and gentiles, ' and it being inconceivable that a just and mer'ciful God would propose any but a practicable 'condition, it follows, that all to whom the gospel • has been made known since its first promulga
tion, have had it in their power to obtain eternal * life through the precious blood of Christ. Those who deny this conclusion must maintain that
God offered salvation to men upon a condition 'which it was impossible for them to perform ; ' and that he inflicts punishment for the violation ' of a command which they were absolutely unable to obey. Would not this be to attribute to God a species of mockery and injustice, which would 'be severely reprobated in the conduct of one man towards another?’I
Repentance, faith, and obedience, are the gifts of God, and “ the fruits of the Spirit : "2 because, however active we may be in what is good, (and very active, and indefatigably diligent we ought to be in every good work,)“it is God that worketh “ in us to will and to do, of his good pleasure.” It is in respect of the same kind of inability, that God “ cannot deny himself;” not for want of power, but from his infinite perfection in holiness. Let a man be found earnestly desirous of complying with the requirements of the gospel ; diligently using every appointed means; submitting to every needful privation and self-denial ; exceedingly afraid of coming short of salvation from sin, and all its consequences; who yet is excluded through some impossibility, independent of his own disposition and conduct, and which nothing he might
Ref. 193, 194.