THE SOVERNIGHTY OF GOD
The Author’s Preface
By Elisha Coles
An account of the study and publication:
The main points of the following study, (generally believed by the churches of Britain,) the author was somewhat instructed in from his childhood. Until recently, a few years ago, many have introduced a new doctrine that says that the grace of God in Christ is generally designed and dispensed to every man in the same way. As a result of this, the whole virtue and success of salvation is set on the human will. There is no special respect or assistance given to any man in particular, but all men are given some common aspects of grace. This doctrine might better be termed “general,” referring to the generality of men in nature, since they are patrons and abettors of it. Not that he thinks that all who hold it are in their natural state, for, as of most, their judgment is better than their practice. So of some he hopes their practice may be sounder than their judgment. If a man were to hold the doctrines then practically apply them to himself he cannot think that men are in an extremely perilous situation in respect to their souls. The Author had a number of meetings with these men, accidentally. In all of them he found their position to insinuate that principle. They really did not care to talk about the subject at length, and they were always poor exegetes of the Bible. That has reminded this author applies that ironical speech of Job to his friends as something too applicable to them, “No doubt ye are the people, and wisdom shall die with you,” (Job 12:2). He also found their points to be mere opinions and not grounded on the text. They quoted many Scriptures that seemed as though they would support their position. Not that any Scripture is doubtful in itself, or inconsistent with others. This would be seen even on a simple study. But, these men disregarded the same word being used on different occasions to a different purposes and did not give any attention to the context. Obviously this causes any verse quoted to lose its proper intention.
It is true that the author found a general agreement among them against our doctrine of election. But they differed as much in the midst of their own opinions as they all did from ours. Though they disagreed with each other, they bear each other’s dissent more quietly than our own. Some of them hold election on foreseen work. Others hold that men are elected when they actually believe, and not before. Others hold that no man is elected until he has persevered in believing to the very last moment of his life. Others believe that there is no election of particular persons at all, but of the entire species of men from eternity. This moved the author to search the scriptures more freely concerning the doctrine of election. The further he went, the more he was confirmed in what he had first believed. And as he proceeded, he found those other points of particular redemption, effectual calling, and final perseverance interwoven with that of election, and completely dependent on it. As preparatory to understanding all this, it seemed helpful to preface the whole study with the doctrine of God’s sovereignty together with his righteousness. The reason for doing this, and applying it to the life of the Christian, will be seen while reading the book itself. It also seemed good to the author to observe what useful instructions came up from these doctrines over and above those of the opposition. He hopes they will not prove too difficult to those who have their senses spiritually exercised to discern the truth.
This work was frequently suspended and laid aside with the intention of not proceeding in it. This was not because he did not want to do it, but found it difficult to organize the whole book and cause it to flow freely. But after a while of slowly picking at it and studying it diligently, it came to fruition. And when this happened, many good theologians and preachers got wind of it, read it, and thought it would be helpful for the Christian community at large. One who read it before it was published thought, because of its simplicity, it would be a great help to the Christian, since so many books had been written that were too difficult to understand (especially surrounding “free-will”). Another consideration to publishing this sprung from thinking about the young Christian professor who is just learning. He has barely been a Christian for a short while and he begins thinking about, and acting, as if he must earn his salvation by his own works.
It was recommended to be published a number of times it gained recommendation from some worthy theologians. From the other prefaces, this work has received their recommendation. However, this author retains a deep sense of his many insufficiencies for writing such a book, and he prays that his personal weakness and obscurity may not prejudice the truth.
This being the account formerly given, some later occurrences have induced this farther addition. After the first impression, the author was frequently encountered by persons of the contrary persuasion; by which he came to know more of their spirit and principles than before, but not to his better liking of either. He speaks but of each as he himself conversed with.
So many people believe they can work for their salvation, and that their natural ability affords them some special power to react to grace. Where does the Bible say this? If those who assert this have such a “talent,” they should not hide it in the earth. It is no point of honor or prudence to boast of possessions, and all things at will; and live at the rate of an underling tenant, who holds his all at the will of another. It is a rational thing, that, “to whom much is given, of him the more should be required.” It should move us to ponder these serious questions: “What singular thing do ye?” and, “What do ye more than others?”
When Scripture is pressed upon those of the opposition, they cannot answer, and they do not understand. It mostly bears the name of unintelligible notion. The vanity of avoiding disputes like this is obvious to anyone who will consider it. If you do not know the basics of the Biblical record, how will you be able to present the harder things? Another thing is that they seem to mix and confuse secret things with those revealed. While they cannot be ignorant that the eternal decree is God’s rule (which cannot be known to us but by the event) the law and the testimony is ours. All the doctrines men come up with are to be tried by the revealed will of God. The whole course of a Christian’s life, both of judgment and practice, is to be regulated here and judged by God on the last day. We acknowledge dark sayings in Scripture and things hard to be understood. But the difficulties rise not so much from the word, as a natural unbelief, prejudice, and darkness within; with those crooked, wrinkled, or discolored mediums, men commonly look through at spiritual things, and which must needs, render the object they look at unlike to themselves.
There is also another snare, as catching as any other, and a worthy to be cautioned against. The doctrine of free grace, being so illustrious in the scriptures as not to be spoken against, they will talk as highly for it in general terms, as any other, and tell us what great pretensions their doctrine has to magnify grace, and that they design nothing more than the honor of it; while, indeed, it is not grace, but a contrary thing set up with that name; for, follow the stream, either upward or downward, and as it all rises from, so it also runs into, freedom of will, and advancement of self, as is obvious to any impartial observance
I shall farther only notice at present, certain seemingly accidental queries, modestly pretended, for argument’s sake, to clear up obscurities, and reconcile contradictions; which, though a good work in itself, if orderly managed, they follow so far, and in such manner, that they do, in effect, bring principles into question, and erase the very groundwork of religion.
These things are mentioned, not to uncover the weakness of persons, but of principles, and that only as they derogate from the honor of free grace, and tend to subvert the mind; and the end of it is, to prevent such as may be hovering about, as not knowing where to settle, from being caught by the enticement of words, contrary to the simplicity of the gospel.
What remains then, but that we bless God, adoring his glorious wisdom and grace, that matters of present duty, and greatest importance to us, are so plainly revealed, and eternal salvation so little concerned in the present conciliating of seeming discord. There is enough manifested to take up our time and strength; and our living up to that we know, is the readiest way to know more. “He that will do his will, shall know of his doctrine.” And, in the filings of time, those seeming discordances shall have an illustrious reconcilement; and they that have most firmly believed now, against all their carnal reasoning, and: unreasonable contradictions, shall not have the weakest reflections and rays of glory from the luster of that day: and this, I suppose, he had an eye to, (a person of no ordinary rank for human accomplishments,) who, treating of God’s decrees, did freely confess, “That he could not indeed comprehend them, but would captivate reason to the obedience of faith.” With this I close, subjoining only a word of religious exhortation; namely, that though it do not confer grace, it may prove, as it has proved to many, a good preservative from evils in practice, and errors in judgment, which others, who had not that gracious privilege, have more naturally fallen into. Besides, when God comes to work effectually, those notions of sin, of Christ, and of grace, of which before they had but the form, have proved of singular use to facilitate the work. That the Lord will vouchsafe his blessing with it is the prayer of his servant.