THE DOCTRINE OF EFFICACIOUS GRACE,
ASSERTED AND VINDICATED:
IN TWO SERMONS.
MR. SAMUEL WILSON.
MINISTER OF THE GOSPEL.
It is God who worketh in you, both to will and to do, of his own good pleasure. Philippians 2:13.
The doctrine which we endeavored to state and establish, in the preceding discourse, was to this effect: that when a sinner is born again, there is a mighty change wrought in his soul, by the efficacious working of the Holy Ghost. His being quickened, and made spiritually alive, is the effect of God’s power, which works in him, as well to will as to do, of his own good pleasure. This we attempted to prove from the Scripture representations of the work itself, in which it is called a new creation, a resurrection, and a being born again; terms expressive of power; in the exertion of which the Almighty is, and cannot but be alone, and the creature manifestly passive. Again, we observed, from the said infallible oracles, that the state of man before this change passes upon him, is such, as will by no means admit of the supposition of an ability to renew himself, since he is described as “dead in trespasses and sins, having his understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, through the ignorance that is in him, because of the blindness of his heart;” inasmuch as he is said to be darkness itself; and it is affirmed of him, that he “receives not the things of the Spirit of God, but accounts them foolishness.” On these accounts, our Lord might well say, “That no man can come unto me, except the Father, who hath sent me, draw him.” Further, we observed, that God challenges this work as his own, and speaks of it in the Old and New Testament, as brought about by his power; and the promises which he has made concerning it, conclude him to be equal to the work, as well as gracious to his chosen; and are as entirely silent, as to the agency, as they exclude and set aside the merit, of the creature. Moreover, we hinted that this must be the case with infants dying before the exercise of reason, supposing them to be under the pollution of original sin, unless we exclude them all from salvation. If they are regenerated, it cannot be in the way of moral suasion, but of internal and almighty efficacy.
We now proceed to another consideration, to prove the necessity of efficacious grace, in the renewing of a sinner; and that may be taken,
V. From the difficulty of the work, as it consists in conquering the strongest prejudices, mortifying the most corrupt habits, and in the implanting of a principle of grace and holiness to which the sinner is entirely averse; and, in opposition to which, Satan; who maintains the throne in his heart, uses his utmost endeavors. There is a greater distance between the terms, sin and holiness, corruption and grace, than betwixt those of something and nothing. In creation, something is formed out of nothing; but in regeneration, (as one strongly expresses it,) hell is changed into heaven. In creation there is no assistance, but then there is no opposition; but regeneration is like the stemming of a rapid stream, and turning it into a contrary course; in which as there is nothing to help, so there is everything to hinder. The sinner is not barely destitute of the divine image, and without strength for the performance of what is good, but “every imagination of the thoughts of his heart, is evil continually,” (Gen. 6:5). He is so far from the fear of the Lord, and any concern about communion with him, that the language of his heart unto God is, “Depart from me, I desire not the knowledge of thy ways. What is the Almighty that I should serve him? and what profit should I have if I pray unto him?” (Job. 21:14). And, whilst he is willfully pursuing a course of rebellion, and strengthening and enlarging his vicious habits, we may well ask, with the prophet, “Can the Ethiopian change his skin or the leopard his spots?” Then, and not till then may the sinner, “who has been accustomed to do evil, learn to do well,” (Jer. 13:23). Can any created finite power, at once, in a moment, change the fierceness of a devouring lion into the meekness of a lamb? If this calls for omnipotence, how much more to reduce the stout-hearted sinner, who is far from righteousness, to the obedience of faith, and a delight in the law of the Lord, after the inward man. Go and try the experiment, treat with the rebel, who, for a course of years, has had pleasure in unrighteousness, whose heart is in league with Satan, and strongly attached to sin; use the most moving and persuasive arguments to convince him of the folly of his way: see whether he will be brought by all your reasoning, to quit his darling lusts, and walk in the ways of the Lord; no, after all your advice, though mingled with tears, he loves his idols, and after them will he go. Satan has such an interest in the hearts of the children of disobedience; he leads them captive to that degree, that none but the Almighty can dispossess him, and break the chain: and therefore, when the apostle is speaking of this mercy, he uses a word strongly expressive of power; “Giving thanks unto the Father, who hath made us meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints of light: who hath delivered us from the power of darkness,” hath snatched us out of the power or hand of the devil, “and translated us into the kingdom of his dear Son,” (Col. 1:12-13).
An excellent and most judicious divine has a passage pertinent to our purpose, in his discourse on Regeneration: “The new birth,” says he, “is a change of nature; of a nature, where there was as little of spiritual good, as there was of being in nothing before the creation. It is the change of a stone into flesh, of a heart, that, like a stone, has hardness and settledness of sinful parts, a strong resistance against any instrument, an incorporation of sin and lust with its very nature; where the heart and sin, self and sin, are cordially one and the same. None can change such a nature but the God of all grace. No man can change the nature of the meanest creature in the world: Now, to see a lump of vice become the model of virtue; him that drank in iniquity like water, to thirst after righteousness, to crucify his darling flesh, to be weary of the poison he loved, for the purity he hated, speaks a supernatural grace, transcendently attractive, and powerfully operative.” So that as he somewhere else observes, “We have no reason to wonder that creation is only ascribed to the hand of God, when, in regeneration, his arm is supposed to be revealed.” But to proceed,
VI. If we consider the different success of the gospel, as dispensed by several persons, or by the same person, at different times, it will be evident that there must be the power of God attending it, or it will not be successful to salvation, or prove a savour of life unto life. Peter’s hearers, and those to whom Stephen ministered, appear to be equally ignorant of and alike prejudiced against the gospel; the apostles deliver themselves with the same plainness and faithfulness, upon the subject of the guilt contracted, by shedding the innocent blood of the Son of God: three thousand are converted, baptized, and added to the church, from a single sermon, delivered by Peter; whereas Stephen’s hearers blaspheme and stone him. Paul again finds hearts and houses open to him, in one city, and is obliged to escape for his life in another.
Now, how can this be accounted for, but upon the apostle’s principle, “Neither is he that planteth any thing, nor he that watereth, but God that gives the increase?” Nay, how common is it for the same person, who has, perhaps, for years, sat unmoved under the ministry of a learned, faithful and affectionate preacher, at length in the day of God’s power, under means far less likely to answer the end, to be awakened, convinced, and renewed? And are there not many instances of persons, of the same family, education, and advantages, attending the same means, and one is taken, and he perhaps the most profane or obstinate, and the rest left to a bare outside profession, or an hypocritical formality? Why should the same gospel in one hand, thus run and be glorified; and, in another, no less valuable, be a savor of death unto death? Why should the same preacher, at one time, see of the travail of his soul to his satisfaction: at another time have occasion to complain, Who has believed our report? If the weapons of our warfare were mighty in themselves; why not equally, and at all times successful? But the event makes it evident, they are only so through God; and when his power is put forth, he can easily, and he only can, bring down every high thought and imagination, and reduce the stubborn hearts of rebellious sinners to a subjection to himself.
VII. Another argument for the efficiency of the grace of God in regeneration, may be taken from the consideration of the concern which God has in the whole world. If we reflect on the various parts of the creation, we shall find, that, in the vegetable, animal, rational, and intellectual world, all first or natural principles are derived from God; and the actual exercise of those principles, whatever concurrent circumstances may attend, is constantly under his providential influence. And is this the case in universal nature? And can we suppose that in regeneration, one of the noblest works of God, he is left out as having little or no concern? How strange, how unaccountable, would this be?
Our natural philosophers readily allow, that everything that is necessary for the growth and improvement of vegetables, is from God; that he, as the great Author of nature, has given it to the seed, to receive the fattening influence of the earth, the moisture of the rain, and the enlivening genial rays of the sun: nor will they dispute the sun itself had never been what it now is, the great fountain of light and heat to the universe, but by the will and power of the Creator. They will tell you the rain descends at his appointment, and that he orders and determines its extent and usefulness; that there is an equal display of his power, wisdom, and goodness, in the growth of the grass, in the flourishing of plants, and the increase of corn: all is from him, and under the immediate influence of his providence. Moreover, in the animal world, or among the beasts of the field, the fowls of the air, or the fish in the sea, they will allow a principle of life and motion is from God, and the actual exercise of it in a dependence upon him. What we call sometimes instinct, or nature in them, is confessedly not of themselves, but from him, who hath appointed their situation in the order of creatures, and furnished them with all their powers, sensations, and appetites; whence they are directed to collect their proper food, and reject what would be hurtful and destructive to them. And none but an atheistic skeptic will deny, but that, in the rational world, we have our souls, with all their capacities of reasoning, reflection, judgment, and memory, from God; that he made us by his power, and continues us by his providence, wiser than the beasts of the field, and of more understanding than the fowls of the air: and who will not allow, that the angels, creatures of the highest order, have all their intellectual powers from God? Now, shall we admit that every creature has its being from, and lives, and moves, and acts in a dependence upon the glorious Creator; and suppose that the saint receives a principle of grace from himself, and continues a believer, by the strength of his own reasoning, and the vigor and constancy of his own resolution? Is it from God that I am a reasonable thinking creature? and from myself that I am a Christian, holy and spiritual ? Am I not insufficient for the least action in common life, but as upheld by his power, and under the influence of his providence? And will it be said, I can renew myself, and cleave to the Lord, with full purpose of heart, by my own strength? What is this but to allow a dependence in the less, and to deny it in the greater? What Adam possessed in paradise, as to the perfection of his nature, the felicity he enjoyed, and his power to serve, worship, and adore the Creator, he had confessedly from Him who made him, after his own image. Now, if the first impress of the divine likeness on his soul, was the produce of God’s wisdom and power, certainly the restoring that image, when lost or impaired, can be no less the work of the Almighty. If the care and skill of an artificer is requisite to the first making of a machine, or any curious piece of work, it must be equally necessary to the repair of it, when its principal springs are broken, and everything out of order. But we go on,
VIII. To consider the gross absurdities which manifestly attend the denying the efficacy of the grace of God in regeneration; as,
1. This would be to furnish Christians with an easy and ready answer to that question of the apostle; “Who made thee to differ from another? What hast thou, that thou didst not receive? Now, if thou didst receive it, why dost thou glory, as if thou hadst not received it?” (1 Cor. 4:7). Such a one might boldly reply, upon the scheme of our opponents, My own reflection and judgment; my reason and choice made me to differ: the means were, indeed, the same, what I enjoyed in common with others; but the success was the effect of my own care, diligence, and attention, whilst they missed of it through their own heedlessness and carnality. It is objected to this, that the apostle is here speaking of gifts only, and of such as were miraculously and immediately infused, without human industry, and conferred on the primitive Christians, without any co-operation of their own faculties: so that as this kind of ministration of the Spirit has, for a while ceased in the church, an argument cannot fairly be drawn from it, in our inquiries about the more standing and ordinary dispensations of it. To this we answer, that, admitting the apostle is speaking of gifts, renewing grace is undoubtedly one of those gifts, and not the least valuable of them, which came down from the Father of lights; for when we are born again, it is not of “the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God;” and we are no more to ascribe to our own agency the difference between us and others in the gifts of grace, than the apostles or primitive Christians could in the miraculous endowments which were bestowed upon them. Moreover, is it not evident that the difference between a sinner and a saint is a great deal more, both in the nature and consequence of it, than between a person possessed of gifts, and one who is destitute of them? Gifts are useful to others, but grace prepares for heaven; gifts may obtain and enlarge a reputation among men, but grace only disposes for an intimacy with God here, and the enjoyment of him hereafter. Is it God who makes the difference in the one, and man in the other? The apostle determines how it was in his own case; “And last of all,” says he, speaking of our Lord Jesus Christ, “he was seen of me, as one born out of due time; for I am the least of the apostles, and am not meet to be called an apostle, because I persecuted the church of God; but by the grace of God I am what I am,” (1 Cor. 15:8-10). The alteration is marvelous, the change surprising, from an enemy to a friend, from a persecutor to a preacher: but I ascribe it not to myself, but to the grace of God; and this grace, which was bestowed upon me, was not in vain: so far from it, that under its influence, “I laboured more abundantly than they all.” And so fearful was he, lest God should not have all the glory, that be adds, “Yet not I, but the grace of God, which was with me.”
2. Another absurdity which attends the denying of the grace of God in regeneration, is its contradicting and opposing the general design of God in salvation, which is, that no flesh should glory in his sight, but that he who glorieth, should glory in the Lord. That doctrine which gives the creature room to boast, that his own arm, either in the whole or in part, brought him salvation, cannot be of God. If our will is to give the turning point, and the balance is placed in our own hands; and, after all the provision which God hath made, and the pains he is supposed to be at, the creature is himself to determine the matter by his own choice or refusal; to be sure, the honour ought to go with the agency. And of this our opponents seem to be so sensible, that some of them allow, that it is of preventing grace that we will and choose what is good, and refuse what is evil; of assisting grace, that we are enabled to perform that will, and persist in that choice; and of mercy, when we have done all, that we are accepted; a way of expressing themselves, not a little contradictory to their scheme, and which, at other times, they are far from being fond of. It is objected, that glorying, or boasting, in some instances, is not unlawful: that the apostle was found in the practice himself, and declares, with a good deal of vehemency, that, “It were better he should die, than any man make void his glorying;” and that elsewhere he speaks of rejoicing or boasting in the testimony of a good conscience. To this we answer; it must be proved, before the objection will be of any force, that the apostle is speaking in those places of the grace of God in regeneration; whereas, in the one, he is speaking of the high opinion he had of the gospel, in opposition to the contempt it met with from an ungodly world; and in the other, of the fruits, not of the principle of grace; which fruits he ascribes to a divine influence, when he says, “Not by fleshly wisdom, but by the grace of God,” he and the rest of the saints had their conversation in the world: and where is the inconsistency of this with that general direction; “Let not the wise man glory in his wisdom, nor let the mighty man glory in his might; let not the rich man glory in his riches; but let him that glorieth, glory in this, that he understandeth and knoweth me, that I am the Lord, which exercise loving kindness, judgment and righteousness in the earth; for in these things I delight, saith the Lord?” (Jer. 9:23-24).
3. Another absurdity arising from the supposition of the creature’s agency, in his own regeneration, is, that it would then be uncertain whether any would be renewed at all; very possible that none might, and, all circumstances considered, absolutely impossible that any should. Suppose the best external evidence were produced, and the most weighty arguments made use of, if the issue depends upon the will of man, and that will be as liable to refuse as to choose, the event must needs be uncertain till the creature has determined; nor could it be certainly known, were this the case, whether anyone would determine right: but, if the Scripture account of man, before conversion, may be depended upon, if he is dead in trespasses, darkness, and enmity against God; his will, being averse to good, and prone to evil, would necessarily determine in favor of sin, and in a rejection of holiness. One would have thought, that when the apostle Paul came to Athens, the seat of learning, the wise men of that place would have patiently heard what he had to offer, and duly weighed and considered the nature and importance of his doctrine, and that at least the major part of them would have embraced the gospel evidence, which attended it. But, instead of this, we find that he met with more success in Corinth, a city remarkably dissolute and wicked, than he did among the learned philosophers of Athens; and, upon his attempt to reclaim the Athenians from their gross superstition and idolatry, they mocked and derided him, as a base fellow, and rejected the doctrine of salvation as foolish and irrational. So true is it what our Lord said, that, “these things are hid from the wise and prudent, and revealed unto babes; neither can flesh or blood reveal them to us; but our Father who is in heaven.”
We shall now inquire whether the grace of God, in the renewing of a sinner, may be frustrated, or set aside, by the opposition of the creature. And here we are to remember it is God’s work, and therefore must be perfect, since he can and will do all his pleasure. To say that he cannot, though he would, change the sinner’s heart, by an immediate act of his own power, is to challenge his omnipotence: so that the question is not whether God can do this, or no; but whether it is worthy of him, and how far it is really the case. And this may be determined,
(1.) From the inviolable and inseparable connection of the several parts of that golden chain mentioned by the apostle: “For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son. Moreover, whom he did predestinate, them he also called; and whom he called, them he also justified; and whom he justified, them he also glorified,” (Rom. 8:29-30); that is, as many as are ordained unto eternal life, either are, or shall be called and sanctified by the grace of God, as their meetness for it, and be justified by the righteousness of Christ, as their title to it, as well as, at length, be glorified in the enjoyment of it: accordingly we are expressly said “to be chosen unto holiness,” (Eph. 1:4). Now, if the purpose of God, in election, is supposed to stand, then those whom he thus loved, with an everlasting love, shall be effectually drawn by the cords of it, agreeably to what our Lord says: “All that the Father giveth me, shall come unto me; and him that cometh, I will in no wise cast out.”
(2.) This may be further argued, from the purchase which our Lord, by the merit of his obedience and death, has made of his people, with respect to their present safety and future felicity. The Scripture represents him not only as redeeming them from wrath, when he died for their offences, but as purchasing them to himself, as having a fullness of grace for their supply in this world, and as having obtained a glorious inheritance for them in the other. Accordingly, in the prospect of his approaching death, be prays, first, that “they might be sanctified through the truth, and be kept from the evil one;” and then adds, “Father, I will that they also whom thou hast given me may be with me where I am, that they may behold the glory which thou hast given me,” (John 17:17-18). Grace and glory are, indeed, blessings altogether unmerited by the saint: but they are due to his surety, upon an engagement on the Father’s part in the counsel of peace to the Son, that if he would make his soul an offering for sin, he should have a seed to serve him, and see of the travail of his soul to his satisfaction. Now our Lord Jesus Christ having done his part to the abundant satisfaction of the Father, which was declared in his resurrection and session at his right hand; it would be unfaithful in the Father, and contrary to mutual stipulations, if any for whom he died should fall short of eternal life. And this must be the case, if any of these are supposed fully and finally to resist the grace of God. But,
(3.) We may consider God’s chosen people, as committed to Christ, as his charge and trust, for which he is accountable to the Father; and accordingly he speaks of that part of them who were as yet uncalled, as his other sheep, whom he must bring in, and who should hear his voice, (John 10:16). Other sheep I have, that is, I have their names in the book of life, their persons within the view of mine omniscience; these I must bring in; there is a necessity laid upon me; not on their part, but as I would approve myself to Him, who appointed me. It would be greatly inglorious to the Mediator, should he, when giving up his accounts to the Father, say, here are some only of the children whom thou hast given me; or, some of these, after all the pains I have been at, are yet unrenewed, and so unfit for eternal life. Besides,
(4.) If the soul is passive in the implanting the principle of grace, as we have endeavored to prove, then there can be no resistance in regeneration. Whatever opposition may be made by the soul to common convictions before regeneration, or what conflict soever between flesh and spirit afterwards, yet we may, with the apostle, be confident, that where the work is begun, it shall be carried on; where the arm of the Lord is revealed, the success will be answerable: so that we conclude, that God, in the renewing of a sinner, works so as none can hinder: otherwise be might be disappointed of his purpose, fail in his promise to his Son, or be overcome by the creature, in the exertion of the exceeding greatness of his power; either of which is unworthy of him, who is a God of truth, and whose arm is almighty.
Having thus established the doctrine proposed, we shall now attend to some of the principal objections which are advanced against it; such as,
1. It is said, by the opponents of efficacious grace, that God hath given sufficient grace to all men, upon the due improvement of which they may be saved, if it is not their own fault; and to assert the contrary, say they, is to wrong the fountain of goodness, and to represent him as a cruel, severe, and harsh Being, and so to make him the object of our dread and hatred, rather than of our love and reverence: and if all men have sufficient grace, what necessity for this mighty power of God, is there in the conversion of a sinner? And, to prove this, they quote these words: “What could have been done more to my vineyard that I have not done in it; wherefore, when I looked it should bring forth grapes, brought it forth wild grapes?” (Isa. 5:4). To this we answer in the three following particulars:
(1.) If it can be proved that God originally furnished man with sufficient knowledge of, and ability for the discharge of his duty, and that man, by his chosen rebellion, forfeited this, in common with all other mercies, and exposed himself to the deserved vengeance of God: then there can be no more unrighteousness in God to deny the creature, thus fallen, what they call sufficient grace, than to reserve fallen angels in chains, under darkness, to the coming of the great day. There would be some appearance of reason in the objection, if man was now to be considered as innocent, and in the uprightness in which God originally made him; but the Scripture concludes him under guilt; a very material circumstance, which the objection takes no manner of notice of.
(2.) If by sufficient grace is intended that which is absolutely so in itself, without the industry and care of the creature, or some superadded aids from heaven, we deny that there is such grace given to all men; for if there was, the effect must be the same in all, and so none could miscarry. If it is said, the success depends on the will of the creature then this grace is so far insufficient in itself, and the phrase improper: if on a divine interposer, the objection comes to nothing; since it is then agreed, with us, that let the supposed grace be never so sufficient, the event is determined by a divine agency. Besides, is it not evident, from the Spirit’s striving with the ungodly world, in Noah’s time, for a hundred years together, without success, and from the conduct of the Jews, who, for so many ages, enjoyed the ministry of the prophets, and at length of the Son of God himself; that common convictions, attended with the best of external advantages, are insufficient to effect the great work of regeneration? But,
(3.) As to the place quoted from the prophet Isaiah, in which God is represented, as asking, “What could he have done more that was not done?” we are not to suppose that he speaks as having exerted himself, ad ultimum sui posse, or as if he could not have given grace; for, to be sure, he who made the vine, could make it as fruitful as he pleased. The phrase is evidently more humano, in which the Almighty stoops to expostulate with the creature, for the abuse of his mercies, and upbraids him with his ingratitude; but is far from giving the least countenance to his pride, in a false opinion of his own sufficiency. We might add, as a further proof, that what the objection calls sufficient grace, is not given to all; that the very means of grace are denied to many. The gospel revelation is entirely unknown to a great part of the world now, as it was to the greatest part of it, under the Jewish dispensation; and the declaration is express, that “there is salvation in no other but our Lord Jesus Christ, nor any other name given under heaven, whereby we can be saved; that faith comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God;” so that we may ask, with the apostle, “How shall they believe on him, of whom they have not heard?” Such undoubtedly, have not the sufficient grace which our opponents contend for; and I need only add, with respect to others, who are favored with the gospel, why do saints after conversion, beg so earnestly of God, that he would enlighten, assist, support, and sanctify them, if the means which they enjoyed were sufficient in themselves for this purpose, or might be rendered so, by their own care and industry? If we may judge of their sentiments by their petitions, they apprehended grace from God, as well as, and together with, the means, to be abso1utely necessary to their spiritual improvement, and proficiency in holiness. But,
2. It is further objected, that if God has not given sufficient grace to all, why does he judge or condemn any for the want of it? To this we answer, with the apostle Paul, there will be two rules, by which the Judge will proceed in the great day; “As many as have sinned without the law, shall also perish without the law; and as many as have sinned in the law, shall be judged by the law,” (Rom. 2:12). I am far from believing that God will condemn the heathen, who never heard of Christ, for not believing in him, but conclude that they will be judged by that law which is written upon their hearts, which either excuses or accuses, according to the good or evil of their actions. And as for those who live under the sound of the gospel, and finally perish in unbelief, they will not, I humbly conceive, be condemned so much for their spiritual impotence, as for their hardening their hearts, and positively shutting their ears against Christ: and, if this is the case, “is God unrighteous, who taketh vengeance?” God forbid it. But,
3. It is objected, that God commands us to make ourselves new hearts; that he says,” Turn ye, turn ye, why will ye die?” that we are exhorted to “cleanse our own hearts,” and the like. Now, say they, if this is impracticable by the creature, how does this reflect upon the wisdom and goodness of the Lawgiver! Upon his wisdom in requiring that of us, which he knows is only in his own power to bestow: and upon his goodness in deriding and mocking his creatures with their misery? What should we think of a prince, who should command his subjects, on pain of his displeasure, to measure out the ocean, or number the sands on the sea shore? Or should he require of them any thing else equally impossible, how unworthy would this be of him, and how injurious to them! And shall we impute this to him, who is infinite goodness, and immense wisdom? God forbid. To this we answer,
(1.) That if a command on God’s part necessarily infers a full power on our part to comply with it, or fulfill it, then we must be supposed to have the same power to serve him, as the saints in glory have: and, in this respect, the difference between a state of imperfection and absolute perfection, would be lost; for God requires we should “love him with all our hearts, and with all our souls;” and the law admits of no abatement, and rigorously requires perfection, and threatens eternal death to him who continues not in all things written therein to do them: so that if this were a fair way of reasoning, we must conclude, that because God commands we should be holy, as he is holy, walk as Christ walked, therefore we might, by our own power, cleanse ourselves from every degree of filthiness, both of flesh and spirit, and perfect holiness in his fear. But,
(2.) The most that can be judged of commands and exhortations, in Scripture, is this: they are representations of our duty, not of our strength; declarative of God’s authority; and right of dominion, and not of our power or ability. A command respects us as creatures, whether upright or fallen; it is equally obligatory on us: God hath the same claim to worship from us, and the same dominion over us, since, as before the fall. To which we add,
(3.) The design of God, in these commands, is to acquaint us with the necessity and importance of these things which he requires; particularly in the instances referred to, “That without holiness we cannot see his face; that except a man have a new heart, he cannot enter into the kingdom of heaven:” and so they are intended, upon a conviction of our weakness and insufficiency, to lead us to him, who hath not only required them of us, but hath promised to bestow them upon us; so that the awakened sinner, comparing the command and the promise together, in the one, is led to contemplate the majesty, authority, and holiness of God; in the other, his grace and faithfulness: the one is the rule of his duty; the other, the ground of his faith. From the one, he learns what he ought to be, and do, whilst he is led on, and encouraged by the other, to pray for that grace which is sufficient for him.
The same may be said with respect to the expostulations which we meet with in Scripture: they are designed to work upon the minds of those to whom they are addressed, and are made use of by the Spirit of God in convincing of sin; and is there any impropriety in charging it upon a rebellious ungrateful generation, that whereas “the ox knows his owner, and the ass his master’s crib,” they, by a neglect of duty to their daily benefactor, discover more stupidity and disingenuity, than the very beasts who perish? May not the only wise God make use of the most moving and affecting language, in upbraiding his reasonable creatures with a contempt of his goodness, without supposing the sinner to be self-sufficient, and to stand in no need of his assistance?
4. It is further objected, that whereas we say the sinner is passive in regeneration, this is to destroy the freedom of the will, to subvert human liberty, and to reduce the reasonable creature to a mere machine, and so to take away the merit of virtue, by making it necessary, and not the result of choice. To this we answer; We are to distinguish between the nature of the will, and the qualities of it: the soul is the same, in all its faculties, after regeneration, as it was before; but the qualities of it are altered. The grace of God changes the corrupt, without invading the created nature of the will. Man’s will, before the fall, was holy, as well as free, and so necessarily under a rational bias to everything that was consonant to the divine Mind, and which was made known to him as such: but the will of man, as fallen, is impaired, not so much in its nature, or essence, as in its tendency; it is now most unhappily turned off, from spiritual to carnal and sensual objects; the will is the same in itself, or in its nature, now, as it was then; but the bias is very different: so that if we would judge aright of the freedom of man’s will, we must consider the objects about which it is supposed to be conversant. If the worship, service, or love of God, are taken into the question, we assert, these were originally chosen objects of the delight of the innocent creature, but are now the matters of his aversion, whilst he continues in a state of unregeneracy; and, when he is renewed, and every high thought and imagination is reduced to a subjection to Christ, we never meet with a complaint from him of violence offered to his will, of being forced and compelled to the choice of holiness. True, he is sensible of the hand of God upon his soul; he feels, acknowledges, and adores the arm of the Lord in his conversion; but he is so far from thinking it any hardship, that he rejoices abundantly in the mercy: and whereas, now his soul is thirsting after God, and his delight is in the law of the Lord, he is sensible this wonderful change, in this case, was effected by his power, who “works in his people both to will and to do, of his own good pleasure:” he is far from desiring such a liberty, as would leave him as liable to apostatize and miscarry, as to persevere and be saved: no; he rather longs to be in heaven, among the spirits of just men made perfect, under a glorious necessity (if that may be deemed so, which is the matter of their constant choice and delight) of serving God, without weariness or interruption: if he might express the utmost of his ambition, it is to be with Jesus, in a world where to sin or to offend is impossible.
We may observe, that at the same time we assert, that God works immediately in implanting the principle of grace, we allow, that the renewed sinner is a proper subject of moral suasion; and that God deals with him, in promoting a work of grace in his heart, in an argumentative way, and enables him to compare and judge of things which are proposed to him, as proper to be pursued or avoided, and to choose, or refuse, as they appear desirable, or the contrary; though we conclude, in all this, the saint gladly esteems God’s word as his only rule, and his Spirit, as his only guide. As to what is said concerning virtue, and the rewards which are supposed to be due to it, I apprehend, man, in his best estate, is vanity; his obedience, in its utmost spirituality and perfection, is a debt which he owes to his great Creator; nor can he be profitable unto God, so as to enter a claim, or challenge a reward from the Almighty; so that as we utterly disclaim the doctrine of merit on the creature’s part, we need not inquire how far the grace of God, in the renewing of a sinner, destroys this idol, which the pride of man is so willing to set up and worship.
5. It is objected, if God works in us both to will and to do, and without his special grace we can do nothing, then we may even sit still, and do nothing, only wait carelessly till he shall excite us to, or assist us in our duty; and so this doctrine, say they, destroys all diligence and industry, and renders the sinner’s endeavors, how sincere and serious soever, foolish and unnecessary. To this we answer, that the great God may certainly fix upon what order he pleases, in his conferring of favors, and bestowing undeserved blessings. Now, the order he has settled is this; that though he gives all freely, and not for our sakes, yet he will be sought to, and inquired of, by us for those spiritual mercies, which we want at his hand; the direction is, “Ask, seek, and knock;” the encouragement lies in the promise, “Ye shall receive, ye shall find, and it shall be opened unto you. They who seek me early,” says God, “shall find me;” and such as wait on him, “shall renew their strength;” so that it is in a way of duty that we are to expect his presence. God is not, indeed, tied up to means, he may be “found of them who seek him not;” but he has obliged us to a constant and diligent attendance upon them; and I would ask, is not his promise of meeting and blessing us, of his being in the midst of us, to assist and comfort us, a more rational and powerful motive to a close adherence to our duty, than a false imagination of a power, which we are not really possessed of, and so must necessarily disappoint us in all our ungrounded expectations from it?
Thus we have gone through the principal objections advanced against the doctrine of efficacious grace, and conclude, upon the whole, that we have Scripture and experience on our side, whilst we assert, that regeneration “is not of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” What remains, but a serious inquiry, whether we have tasted that the Lord is gracious; how far we have been quickened by the mighty power of God, who were dead in trespasses and sins? Without the new birth there is no entering into heaven, our Lord has expressly assured us. What can we then say of God’s gracious dealings with us? Has he put his Spirit within us, written his law in our hearts, taken the stone out of our hearts, and given us hearts of flesh? Have we been made to loathe and abhor ourselves; to prize, above everything, the person, righteousness, and fullness of Christ? Have we fled for refuge to him, as ready to perish? and do we find a spirit of grace and supplication poured out upon us? Do we thirst after communion with, and aim at a resemblance to Jesus? Is this, or such like, the genuine experience of our souls? then let us call upon them, and all that is within us, to bless his name, whose workmanship we are. Let him have all the glory; and let it be our great concern, as well as prayer to God continually, that we may, in all things, walk worthy of his holy vocation, adorning the doctrine of God our Saviour, till we get safe to that world, where Father, Son, and Spirit, will be all in all, as the everlasting source of pure and perfect happiness; and where, as the great Jehovah, one God over all, they will, to endless ages, inhabit the praises of those who shall stand before the throne, perfectly cleansed from all filthiness, both of flesh and Spirit, and whose robes shall be washed and made white in the blood of the Lamb.
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