Part 1

Section 23ŚMatthew 5:13.

Ye are the salt of the earth; but if the salt have lost its savor, wherewith shalt it be salted? It is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men.

This is one of the places which, it is said,[1] "do plainly suppose that saints, or true believers, or men once truly good, may cease to be so; for sure, good salt must signify good men; nor can this salt lose its savor, and become good for nothing, but by ceasing to be good salt." To which I reply,

1. That the text speaks not of men as saints or true believers, comparable to salt, for the truth and savor of the grace of God in them: but as ministers and preachers of the Gospel, who, by their savory doctrines and conversations are the salt of the earth, the means of purifying and preserving the world from corruption. Now some men may be good preachers, and so good salt, and yet not be good men, or true believers; and therefore, when any of these drop the savory truths of the word, and fall off from the seeming conversation they have maintained, they are no proofs nor instances of the final and total apostasy of real saints. If it should be said, that those who are here called the salt of the earth, were the disciples of Christ, and therefore good men, as well as good preachers; it may be replied, that there were many who were called the disciples of Christ, besides the apostles; and some there were who, in process of time, drew back from him (John 6:66), and walked no more with him. But allowing the twelve apostles are particularly designed, there was a Judas among them, whom Christ might have a special eye to; for he knew from the beginning who they were that believed not, and who should betray him (John 6:64, 70); that one of those whom he had chosen was a devil; that he would lose his usefulness and his place; that he would be an unprofitable wretch; and, at last, be rejected and despised of men. Admitting further, that the true and sincere apostle of Christ are here intended; yet this of losing their savor is only a supposition, which nil ponit in esse, puts nothing in being, proves no matter of fact, and may be only designed as a caution to them, to take heed to themselves, their doctrines, and ministry, to which they are advised in many other places; see Matthew 16:6, 12, and 24:4, 5; Luke 21:34-36; though there was no possibility of their final and total falling away

2. The savor here supposed, that it may be lost, cannot mean the savor of true grace, or true grace itself, which cannot be lost, being, an incorruptible seed; but either gifts, qualifying men to be good and useful preachers, which gifts may cease; or the savory doctrines of the gospel men may depart from; or their seeming savory conversations they may put away; or that seeming savor, zeal, and affection, with which they have preached, and which may be dropped; or their whole usefulness, which they may lose; for all these things men may have and lose, who never really and truly tasted that the Lord is gracious: and, generally speaking, when such men lose their usefulness, it is never more retrieved; they become and remain unprofitable, are despised and trodden under foot of men: but these instances are no proofs that saints, or true believers, or men once truly good, may cease to do so.

The similitude in which our Lord saith, that a piece of new cloth is not to be put to an old garment:, lest the rent be made worse; nor new wine into old bottles, lest the bottles burst (Matthew 9:16, 17); no more plainly supposes this, than the former metaphor of salt: for be it that the design of this to show,[2] that Christ's "young disciples must not presently be put upon severe duties, lest they should be discouraged and fall off from him." It shows indeed their weakness and danger of falling, and yet, at the same time, the care and concern of Christ in the preservation of them; and therefore ought not to be improved into an argument against their final perseverance: though the plain design of the similitude seems, from the context, to be this, that it would be equally as absurd for the disciples to fast and be sad, while Christ, the bridegroom, was with them, as it would be to put new cloth into an old garment, or new wine into old bottles.

Nor does the commination against them, who shall offend one of Christ's little ones believing in him, viz. that it were better for him that a mill-stone was hanged about his neck, and he cast into the midst of the sea (Matthew 18:6), plainly suppose that saints, or true believers, may cease to be so; for the word skandalizein, here used, does not signify an offending of them, so as to be the occasion of their falling off from the faith to their eternal ruin, but stands opposed, to receiving of them, in verse 5 and is explained by despising them, in verse 10, and at most, can only mean the laying of an offense, scandal, or stumbling-block in their way; which might be of bad consequence, considering their weakness and the wickedness of men, were it not for the care, power, and grace of God, which are concerned for them: and since the angels, who are their guardians on earth, always behold the face of Christ's Father in heaven, verse 10; and seeing the Son of man, who also is the Son of God, is come to save such lost ones, verse 11, and especially since it is not the will of our Father, which is in heaven, that one of these little ones should perish, verse 14. It is not false but true, that they who do truly believe in Christ, are of the number of those whom God would not have to perish, cannot be so offended as to fall off from the faith to their ruin: nor do the pathetic discourses, and dreadful woes and punishments denounced, imply the contrary; seeing they are used to show the care of God over his people, and the natural tendency to ruin such offenses might have, was it not prevented by his power; and consequently their attempts that way are not less sinful and criminal. As for Romans 14:20; 1 Corinthians 8:9, 11; Psalms 125:3; which are urged to the same purpose; see in sections 8, 36, and 37.


[1] Ibid. p. 435; ed. 2. 424.

[2] Whitby, p. 435; ed. 2. 426.

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