CAUSE OF GOD AND TRUTH.
Section 17—Isaiah 55:7.
Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts, and let him return unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.
I. These words are represented as a promise of pardon, on condition of forsaking sinful ways and thoughts and turning to the Lord; which, if not in man's power to perform, is to promise on an impossible condition, and that is, indeed, to promise nothing. To which may be replied,
1. That forsaking sin, and turning to the Lord at first conversion, or returning to him after backslidings, which perhaps may be here meant, are not owing to the power of man, but to the efficacious grace of God. None can truly forsake sin, or heartily turn to the Lord, but such who are influenced by the Spirit of God; hence says Ephraim, Turn thou me, and I shall be turned (Jer. 31:18).
2. That the promise of pardon is free, absolute, and unconditional, not depending on any condition whatever to be performed by men; forsaking sinful ways and thoughts, and returning to the Lord, are not here proposed as conditions of obtaining mercy, and receiving pardon; but the declarations of pardoning grace and mercy here made, are made on purpose to encourage souls sensible of the wickedness of their ways, and unrighteousness of their thoughts, to return to the Lord, who is a God of grace and mercy,
3. Though faith and repentance are not conditions of pardon, nor in the power of man, of himself, to perform; yet as pardon is promised to such who repent, believe, and turn to the Lord, so all such, to whom God makes the promise of pardon, he gives the graces of faith and repentance; hence his promise is not vain, empty, and delusory.
II. It is said, that "if conversion is wrought only by the unfrustrable operation of God, and man is purely passive in it, vain are the promises of pardon, such as this; for no promises can be means proper to make a dead man live, or to prevail upon a man to act, who must be purely passive." To which I answer,
1. That these words contain no promise to dead men, but a declaration of pardoning grace to sensible sinners; who were wicked and unrighteous in their own apprehensions, being represented as thirsty (v. 1), seeking after the way of life and salvation; though they took the wrong way, and had their thoughts wrongly turned to spend money for that which is not bread,and their labor for that which satifieth not,(v. 2), and therefore remained oppressed with a sense of sin; hence they are here encouraged to quit their own way of salvation, and all thoughts of their own righteousness, and alone to seek the Lord for mercy and pardon; since his thoughts were not as their thoughts,nor his ways as their ways.
2. Admitting them to be a promise of pardon made to dead men; it may be thought to be a proper and sufficient means in the hand of God, under the mighty influences of his Spirit and grace, to make dead men live; since the gospel is the power of God unto salvation, the ministration of life, yea, the savor of life unto life (Rom. 1:16; 2 Cor.2:16; 3:6); and especially when it is observed what is said in verses 10, 11. For as the rain cometh down, and the snow from heaven, and returneth not thither, but watereth the earth, and maketh it bring forth and bud. that it may give seed to the sower, and bread to the eater; so shall my word be that goeth forth out of my mouth, now at this present time delivered, in verses 7-9; it shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it.
3. Though man is passive in regeneration, yet he is active in forsaking sin and turning to the Lord. Promises of pardon may, through the grace of God, prevail on such to act in these instances, who have been passive in the work of regeneration; for regeneration antecedes these; forsaking sin, and turning to the Lord, follow upon, and rise from regenerating grace. No man can truly do these, until he is regenerated by the Spirit of God. It follows, then, that men may be prevailed upon, by the promises of pardon, to act, who have been passive in regeneration.
III. It is intimated, that such who are in the Calvinistical way of thinking, say, that God promises pardon and life to the non-elect, on condition of their faith and repentance: and it is asked, "How can a God of truth and sincerity be said to promise to them pardon and salvation, seriously and in good earnest, who are, by his own act of preterition, infallibly and unfrustrably excluded from it?" I answer,
1. Who the men are that say so, I do not know, and must leave them to defend their own positions, who only are accountable for the consequences of them; for my own part, I utterly deny that there is any promise of pardon made to the non-elect at all, not on any condition whatever. The promise of pardon is a promise of the covenant of grace, and which is made to none but to such who are in that covenant, in which the non-elect have no share; to whom the blessing of pardon belongs, to them only is the promise of it made: the blessing of it only belongs to such for whom Christ died, whose blood was shed for the remission of sin; and these are the elect of God only: and though the gospel declaration of pardon is made in indefinite terms, to every one that believes; the reason is, because all those who are interested in the covenant of grace, and for whom Christ died, God does in his own time, give faith and repentance, and along with them forgiveness of sins.
2. This passage of Scripture now under consideration, is no promise of pardon to the non-elect; for the words wicked and unrighteous,are not peculiar to them; God's elect are so in their state of nature, and in their own sense and apprehension, when the Spirit of God convinces them. Besides, the persons spoken to, appear from the context, to be such towards whom God's thoughts had been from everlasting (vv. 8, 9); and who were to partake of the blessings of joy and peace for ever (vv. 12,13).
 Whitby, p. 242; ed. 2. 236.
 Whitby, pp. 237, 242; ed. 2. 231, 236.
 Whitby, p. 243; ed. 2. 237.