[Editor's note: The subject of this Circular Letter is: "The Preservation of the Saints." This Circular is longer than most; it is a reprint of a previous Circular that had gone out-of-print. The footnotes are listed numerically instead of the symbols that are in the original document. Insertions are in [ ]; spelling is as in the original. See the Notes. - Jim Duvall]
OF THE ELDERS AND MESSENGERS
OF THE SEVERAL BAPTIST CHURCHES
MET IN ASSOCIATION AT
IN WORCHESTERSHIRE, ENGLAND
May 26th and 27th, 1795
By Rev. SAMUEL PEARCE, A.M.
Late Pastor of the Baptist Church, Cannon-street, Birmingham.
Re-published by request, and interspersed with a number of additional notes.
TO WHICH ARE ADDED SOME OBSERVATIONS ON THE DOCTRINE OF
THE PERSEVERANCE OF THE SAINTS.
PRINTED AND SOLD BY STEPHEN C. USTRICK,
To the Christian Reader
The doctrine of 'Salvation by grace alone' has long been, and still remains, a doctrine grossly misrepresented and much misunderstood. Consequences are stated as resulting from its admission which frighten the unthinking, and occasionally shake the confidence of the sincere believer. These, in the following Letter, are considered and refuted with their plainness which is accommodated to the unlearned, with that force of argument which may satisfy the enquired, and with that Christian candor, which, while it would correct the errors, values, the piety and affection of every servant of Jesus Christ.
Mr. Pearce, the excellent author of the work, was not more distinguished during his short but glorious career, by the soundness of his understanding, and the success of his ministrations, than by his affection for good men of every persuasion. His judicious biographer, Dr. Fuller, declares, the governing principle in Mr. Pearce "beyond all doubt, was HOLY LOVE. His friends have often compared him to that disciple whom Jesus loved. Let us pray, said he, in a letter to a friend, for the peace of Jerusalem: they shall prosper who love - not this part or the other, but who love - HER, that is, the whole body of Christ."
Should the perusal of this Letter awaken in any, emotions contrary to this passion, we would advise such to examine their own hearts. Perhaps
prejudice may becloud the judgment, or an unreasonable aversion four [sic] the affections. Let us never forget that genuine FAITH WORKETH BY LOVE.
This little piece is re-printed at the request of many who have with pleasure perused it. That it may prove a blessing to the Churches is the devout desire of their brethren in the Lord.
December 5th, 1803
With gratitude to the great Master of assemblies for another pleasing interview with each other, we unite in expressing our most affectionate wishes that you also may be comforted, with the same consolations wherewith we ourselves have been comforted of God. On this side [of] heaven, indeed, we must not expect our pleasures to be wholly undisturbed; yet, possessed of that faith which overcometh the world, we would exclaim with the holy apostles, "Thanks be unto God, who always causeth us to triumph in Christ;" and teacheth us, "to glory in tribulations also." Some causes of grief have been suggested in the various Epistles from the Churches. Among these, in some places, the want of success in bringing souls to Christ; in others, the little zeal and diligence which appear in professors; the death of some, and the unbecoming conduct of others, have been lamented : -- But, brethren, these are trials from which no age of Christianity, not even the apostolic has been exempted. Let not these things discourage us. He that hath laid the foundations of his church, will build her up; he will not desert the work of his own hands, and though Zion may complain, "The Lord hath forsaken me!" it will not be long before he will prove to her joy, that she is "engraven on the palms of his hands, and that her walls are continually before him." It shall yet be said, "Cry out and shout, thou inhabitants of Zion, for great is the Holy One of Israel in the midst of thee." Amidst our causes of complaint, we are not without some indications of the divine favour: -- Some of our
Churches have enjoyed very comfortable additions; most are in peace; and two, who were last year destitute of pastors, are now agreeably settled. Nor is it one of the least causes of our joy, that our various congregations still avow their attachment to the Faith once delivered to the Saints. This is an age when Scepticism, by the name of candid Enquiry, and Infidelity, under the mask of Rationality, greatly prevail. The truths of our holy religion are become the jest of the prophane, or the sneer of the polite; and are by many considered, merely as the standard of an enthusiast or a fool: But, beloved, remember ye words which were spoken before by the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ; how that they told you, there should be MOCKERS in the last time, who should walk after their own ungodly lusts," Jude 17. 18. For the conviction of such awful characters as these, we can recommend nothing better, in addition to your earnest prayers to God on their behalf, than to demonstrate, by a life and conversation becoming the Gospel, that the truths you embrace have a sanctifying influence on your temper and conduct, in all your sacred, civil, and domestic connexions; "having a good conscience" that whilst some despise your creed, and others malign your characters, "speaking evil of you, as of evil doers, they may be ashamed;" I Peter iii. 16.
But there are people of another class, who require a different treatment; who perhaps warmly oppose some of your peculiar sentiments, merely from the unjust representations which have been made of them; for truth, like some of its primitive patrons, hath not unfrequently been arrayed in bear-skins to be baited by the dogs. Our faith suffering so much from distortion and fals[e]hood, and we ourselves being often confounded with the Antinomian race, who turn the grace of God into lasciviousness, it beho[o]ves us all to be ever prepared "to give a reason of the hope that is in us, with meekness and fear;" I Peter iii.15. And especially it is incumbent on us, who are your instructors in the
good ways of the Lord, to assist you in your preparations for discharge of this reasonable service.
The point of difference between us and other professing christians, lies in the Doctrine of SALVATION ENTIRELY BY GRACE; for whilst some assert that good works are the cause of Justification; -- some, that good works are united with the merits of Christ, and so both contribute to our justification; -- and others, that good works neither in whole or in part justify, but the act of faith; -- we renounce everything in point of our acceptance with God, but HIS FREE GRACE ALONE, which justifies the ungodly; still treading in the steps of our venerable fore-fathers, the compilers of the Baptist Confession of Faith, who thus express themselves, respecting the Doctrine of Justification. "Those whom God effectually calleth, he also freely justifieth, for Christ's sake alone; not by imputing faith itself, the act of believing, or any other evangelical obedience, to them as their righteousness; but by imputing Christ's obedience unto the whole law, and passive obedience in his death for their whole and sole righteousness, they receiving and resting on him and his righteousness by faith" - which "is the alone instrument of justification." In this point do all the other lines of our confession meet(1); for if it be admitted, that Justification is an act
of free grace in God, without any respect to the merit or demerit of the person justified, then the doctrine of JEHOVAH'S sovereign love in choosing to himself a people from before the foundation of the world - his sending his Son to expiate their guilt - his effectual operations upon their hearts, and his perfecting the work he has begun in them, until those whom he justifies he also glorifies, will be embraced as necessary parts of the glorious scheme of salvation.
At this doctrine, therefore, hath the chief force of opposition been directed, and various are the modes in which it has been attacked: foretimes by appeals to our passions -- then to our reason -- and at other times to the scriptures. We hope, brethren, you are too well read in your Bibles to be at a loss for weapons of defence against these assaults, since whatever the passions or opinions of men may plead, those holy oracles assure us, that we are justified FREELY by the grace of God, and that he hath mercy on whom he will; Romans iii. 24. ix. 15, 16. But there is another mode of attack, as frequently and vigorously pursued as either of the former: It is asserted that our doctrine "involves in it conclusions inconsistent with religion, both natural and revealed - that it gives an unjust and offensive
idea of God - that it relaxes the obligation of men to faith and holiness - that it with-holds consolation from penitent sinners, and saps the foundations of true morality in the world."
These are serious charges, and of they can be substantiated, we shall do well to exchange our creed for a better; but let us examine with what propriety such consequences are charged on our profession. First, Because we maintain the free salvation of God's elect, we are accused of holding the doctrine of "the absolute reprobation of all the rest of mankind, so as to involve in it this horrible consequence, That God creates innumerable souls to be inevitably damned, without the least compassion for them."(2)
That to choose some, implies to leave others, must be granted; and if nothing more were meant by the charge of free election involving in it the doctrine of Reprobation, we should not object to the statement: -- but is there no difference between leaving men to the just fruit of their sins, and creating them for inevitable damnation irrespective of their characters? We cheerfully avow our abhorrence of a doctrine that asserts,
that an infinitely good God, created a number of immortal beings, capable of such strong sensations of misery as man, merely to gratify himself in filling them with the fullness of torment for ever: such a sanguinary Deity we could never love; nor would faith in such a being promote that disposition to gentleness, tenderness, and affection for all mankind, which are every where represented in the gospel, as the genuine fruits of a spiritual acquaintance with the true character of God: on the contrary, such views of the Almighty would rather cherish the spirit of a bloody Mahomet than a bleeding Jesus.
But we conceive, that our detestation of such a creed, is no ways inconsistent with our cordial assent to the doctrine of sovereignty of divine mercy; for, as the execution of a malefactor is not to be attributed to the cruelty of a prince, because royal clemency is displayed towards another transgressor - so neither do the sovereign acts of God's mercy, in any respect necessitate him to be the author of misery, any further than as the author of that holy law which men have broken, and the maintaining of its rights. In saving, he acts like a merciful sovereign (3) -- in condemning, as a righteous judge, bound to support the
honour of his moral government. He was no more under obligation to save all, than he was to save any; and if salvation itself be an act of grace, surely the author of salvation is at full liberty, without any just impeachment of his goodness, to display that grace "according to the pleasure of his own will;" for is it not admitted, that "all have sinned and come short of the glory of God?" Is it any act of injustice in Jehovah to punish sin? Would he not have been just in condemning all, because "all have sinned?" - How then can God's decree make that arbitrary, which, without such a decree is no more than Just? If the actual condemnation of the sinner be righteous, the purpose of God to execute his righteousness severity towards impenitent sinners, cannot be lawfully arraigned.
In terms, therefore, the most decided, we disavow the charge of holding a doctrine which, by necessary consequence, involves an arbitrary reprobation of any man irrespective of his crimes; and are most fully persuaded, that nothing can be more ungrateful or more unjust, than to represent that as a cause of misery, which is the alone force of all the mercy ever showed to man, or comfort enjoyed by him, in this world or in the next.
Secondly, The doctrine of sovereign distinguishing grace, is represented as injurious to "the rich goodness, great mercy and compassion(4)of God to the sons of
men; and the contrary doctrine;" it is said, "tends more highly to the promotion of God's glory; because, the more are benefited, the greater is the glory of the benefactor."
But, brethren, let it be considered, that no other doctrine, save that of distinguishing grace, secures the eternal benefit of a single individual of our race; for such is the deep depravity of the human heart, that all the outward means of grace are of themselves totally ineffectual to man's everlasting salvation; insomuch, that after Christ himself had employed the best of external means with the Jews, he complains, "Ye will not come to me that ye might have life;" and upon this ground he asserts, "No man can come to me, except the Father who has sent me draw him;" whence it follows, that had not God sovereignly chosen some, and resolved on their salvation, the death of Christ, and ministration of the gospel, with all its appendages, would have been in vain; for that the sovereign purpose, and effectual operations of Jehovah,
so far from diminishing his grace, tend highly to exalt it, since it is abundantly evident that there is more grace, goodness, and compassion," manifested in securing the salvation of some, than in making ineffectual provision for the salvation of all. (5)
Thirdly, If the doctrine of distinguishing grace be true, we are told, "then the Jews could not be reasonably
accused for not coming to Christ, or not believing in him; much less could it be imputed to them as their great crime, that they would not come to him, or believe in him."(6)
Now that our Lord did accuse the Jews for not coming to him and believing in him, and that justly, we do not deny; but is there any thing in the doctrine of salvation by grace, which lessens the authority of the gospel, or the obligations of men to embrace it? What more doth the gospel require of men, than TO BELIEVE WHAT IS TRUE - TO LOVE WHAT IS GOOD -- TO DO WHAT IS RIGHT - AND TO BE SORRY FOR WHAT IS WRONG? And is it possible for any acts of divine mercy to make these obligations cease? If Christianity be properly attested, ought it not to be believed? If God is good, ought he not to be loved? If the commandments of Christ are right, should they not be obeyed? And if he discovers to us our faults, ought we not to repent of them? - All these in fact are natural duties arising from our necessary relation to the great God, as our Creator and moral Governor, and it can never be demonstrated, that God's special designs of grace to some, annihilate the obligations of all the rest, any more than an earthly prince's discovering extraordinary regard to some of his subjects, releases all his other subjects from their allegiance to him, and subjection to the laws. (7)
The obligations of men to believe the gospel, arise from its being a divine revelation altogether worthy of God, and sufficiently attested; and their obligations to obey the divine precepts, are founded on their equity, and their being enjoined by the authority of the moral governor of the world; so that unless it can be proved that God has no legal claim to the respect and obedience of any besides those whom he resolves to save, and whose hearts he effectually inclines to keep his law, this objection has no force; and if it be admitted, it leaves every man who is not eventually saved, at full liberty, without blame, to treat the blessed God of truth as a liar and tyrant! So that our doctrine by no means diminishes the guilt of man in rejecting the gospel, but allows us most cordially to unite with a celebrated writer of our own denomination, in asserting, that "a man not coming to Christ, when revealed in the external ministry of the gospel, as God's way of salvation, is criminal and blame-worthy, since the disability and perverseness of his will are not owing to any decree in God, but to the corruption and vitiosity of his nature through sin; and, therefore, since his vitiosity of nature is blame-worthy (for God made man upright) that which follows upon it, and is the effect of it, must be so too." (GILL'S Cause of God and Truth, Volume i. [8 vo.] p. 160.) Fourthly, The doctrine of the sovereignty of divine mercy, is charged with being "unfriendly to Christian activity, weakening the motives to diligence in religion,
and thereby promoting the disuse of the means of grace." (8)
We hope, brethren, that none of you by your conduct, have put this objection into the mouths of your adversaries: if you have, the reproach be on you, not on the truth you profess. Do we not acknowledge the means as much a part of the divine plan as the end? And will not the same objections lie against the providential government of God, as are urged against the doctrine of sovereign salvation?
Let us enquire - 'Do you believe in a Providence? Is that Providence universal? And does it not secure the accomplishment of its immense designs? - All this you allow - yet doth your confidence in a Providence annihilate your industry? Are you husbandmen, and do you expect to reap where you have not sown? - Are you merchants, and do you expect wealth without commerce? - Are you artificers, and do you expect to raise an edifice without labor? Is not the time of your life appointed (Job xiv. 5, 6.), but do you, on this account neglect the use of medicine in sickness, and food when in health? You attend to these as means necessary to the end; no less necessary do we consider the use of religious means in order to salvation: and from the very same motives, and on the self-same principles on which you act in relation to the concerns of this life, do we conduct ourselves under the influence of our faith in the Plans of Grace, knowing that "what a man soweth that shall he also reap;" and, "for
all these things God will be sought unto by the house of Israel, to do for them." (Ezek. xxxvi.37.)(9)
Fifthly, The doctrine of distinguishing grace is charged with "giving encouragement to careless sinners
to presume groundlessly on God's favor; and discouraging those who are willing to forsake sin from so doing, or cause them to despair of mercy."
But how can that doctrine encourage the careless sinner, which in terms the most decided declares the destruction of sin to be the ultimate object of God's designs? Is not the salvation to which we are chosen, represented by us as "through sanctification of the Spirit?" and are not God's elect predestinated to conformity to the character of the SON OF GOD who was holy, harmless undefiled? And, surely, to believe firmly that it is the design of God, that his people "should be holy and without blame before him in love," can have no tendency to "encourage careless sinners to presume on his favor." That some hypocrites have abused the doctrines of grace, we admit; but what good thing exists which hath not been abused by wicked men? Thousands, from the forbearance of God, take encouragement fully to set the hearts in them to do evil; Eccl. viii. 11. But doth their sin diminish the divine compassion? Do gluttony and drunkenness prove food to be poison? Or tyranny and despotism disprove the necessity or excellence of good government? Because there are some who turn the grace of God into lasciviousness, must the crime be imputed to the profession? [O]r shall those who are friendly to the doctrine of grace, be charged with sinning that grace may abound? God forbid!(10)
And what is there in this doctrine discouraging to a true penitent? Men that are careless about their salvation cannot be called penitents; nor can they be discouraged from pursuing an object which they have no sincere desire to obtain: and as to those who are seeking the kingdom of God, and his righteousness, with their whole heart and with their whole soul, they are actually in possession of the fruits and evidences of God's distinguishing grace; and can it discourage them to know that their holy desires and spiritual activity are [the] beginnings of a saving work of God upon their hearts, and that he always perfects what he begins? No, brethren, you and thousands more have derived encouragement and comfort from such views as these, which have "filled you with joy and peace in believing," and put a new son of praise into your mouths, even praise to the God of your salvation. Finally, It is urged that the doctrine of distinguishing grace is "injurious to personal religion, as it destroys all hope of obtaining salvation by our own performances."
To this we reply, first, This doctrine doth not constitute our performances worse in themselves, or less beneficial in their effects, but only takes for granted a certain truth, VIZ. THAT OUR OWN RIGHTEOUSNESS IS INSUFFICIENT FOR OUR SALVATION; and therefore unless it be injurious for a man to know the truth of himself respecting the depravity of his heart, this doctrine can never injure him. 2ndly. If personal religion can be no other ways promoted than by consideration of its meritorious influence then we allow that our doctrine destroys it; but so far are we from imagining that REAL RELIGION, such as the law requires and God approves, can be advanced by the hope of a deserved recompense, that we judge nothing can more effectually subvert it. 11
Real religion consists in SUPREME LOVE TO GOD AND DISINTERESTED LOVE TO MAN. This is "not only the source and principle, but the very sum and substance, nay, the perfection of holiness (See Witherspoon's Vindication of Imputed Righteousness, p. 42); "but service, long and painful may be yielded for the hope of reward, without any affection to the work, or esteem for the employer, and therefore without any real religion. The tendency of any doctrine to promote personal piety is the same as its tendency to promote supreme love to God; and as all esteem arises from some real or supposed excellency in its objects, whatever exhibits the great Jehovah in the true loveliness of HIS CHARACTER, must undoubtedly be calculated to improve our love for him: Now let it be considered with candor whether the doctrine we maintain doth not so represent the great Jehovah, as most effectually to engage the admiration and esteem of every holy being in the universe. The doctrine of distinguishing grace, when simplified, is summed up in three propositions. (1) All men have rebelled against God and so rendered themselves obnoxious to his everlasting wrath.
(2) It is the pleasure of God, for the sake of Jesus Christ, to extend a gracious pardon to a great number of his rebellious creatures, and receive them into his favor as though they had never sinned.
(3) God doth not extend his purpose of salvation to all, but whilst he saves some, leaves others exposed to the awful consequences of their crimes, and the righteous awards of his most holy law.
This is a fair statement of the doctrine: Let Jehovah then be viewed in his true character,(12) "The JUDGE of the whole earth," Psal. xciv, 2. and what measures could the Supreme Governor have pursued more becoming his name as the God of mercy, and his character as the universal Judge?
Justice though an awful [thing], is nevertheless a becoming and essential part of a judicial character, and therefore it is beautiful and lovely. Could we feel any esteem for the official character of a human minister of Justice, who made a point of pardoning every criminal, let his crimes be as complicated or aggravated as they might? What licentiousness would be therefore introduced? What an encourager would he be of vice, and what an enemy to society? Of what advantage would be his tribunal, and what avail his office? (13) Here we
are persuaded that justice is essential to the loveliness of a legislator's character; and under whatever regulations his designs of mercy may be in his own breast, it is by threatening sin in general with punishment, and by actually punishing a great number of transgressors, he best maintains the respectability of his office, and preserves order in, that society of whose morals he is the guardian; for men will be most effectually deterred from evil by their knowing him a determined enemy to vice, and seeing that none have any security but in their innocence: whereas, if justice were never administered, every man would do what was right in his own eyes, and the world would be filled with blasphemy, rebellion, and every evil work.
Yet as the legislator acts for the good of society, wherever he perceives that clemency may be shewn without endangering the public good, it will be an addition to his loveliness to display it; especially if after a series of experiments it appear[s] to the whole community that such acts of grace under the regulations of legislative wisdom have been to their advantage. They will then cheerfully leave the exercise of mercy to the discretion of their judge, and from experience persuaded that it will never be manifested to their injury, they will feel satisfaction and pleasure in every renewed instance of grace; and the disposition which the legislator shews to the exercise of clemency, whenever it is consistent with the honor of his government and the good of the community, will perfect their sentiments of his official beauty and loveliness. Such then is the legislative beauty of JEHOVAH: HE vindicates the honor of his government, by permitting the law to take its course, and thus shines in the glory of holiness; yet mingling mercy with equity, and forgiveness with justice, "according to the counsel of his own will:" every holy mind, on a survey of his judicial character must exclaim, "He is the chief of ten thousand, he is altogether lovely:" Hence, the doctrines we avow, when rightly understood, are calculated to create and cherish that mixture of VENERATION AND DELIGHT, in our contemplation of the blessed God, wherein the essence of divine love and all true religion consisteth.
To this objection it may be answered, 3dly. Personal religion can never be injured by a right view of God's design, in his gracious discriminations; because personal religion was the very thing for which he set apart his people, even "that they should be a peculiar people, zealous of good works." Taught then by our Bibles, that God chose that we should be HOLY, we can no longer consider ourselves as possessed of the evidences of election, than whilst we enjoy in a measure the END of it; and hence we have a motive continually arising from the doctrine itself, to "give all diligence to make our calling and election sure;" being convinced, that neither our believing the doctrine, nor expecting to be saved by it, are proofs of our security, and farther than attended with inward and personal religion.
Thus, brethren, have we endeavoured to assist you in maintaining "the faith once delivered to the saints." We have only a few exhortations to annex in relation to this subject. 1. Whilst we with you [need] to be furnished with weapons of defence [sic] in case of attack, we exhort you not to seek occasions of controversy with your fellow Christians. The religion of the heart generally declines as a controversial disposition prevails: it greatly injures the spirituality of the mind, and its effects every where demonstrate, that those who indulge it are leaving the wheat for the chaff. To have Christians all of one mind is certainly, in some respects, highly desirable; but we must unite with the Dr. Owen in expecting that should so delightful a period be ever known on this side heaven, the unanimity of Christians in sentiment will be the fruit of a previous Spirit of LOVE (On the Hebrews, vi.9. "His heart man yields alone to ACTION'S KIND: His faith to creeds, whose soundness, virtues prove, Thawn in the April sun, and opening still to Love. -- Dwight's Greenfield Hill.); and therefore, with affectionate ardor, we would urge upon you the excellent exhortations which were given by our venerable predecessors the pastors of more than one hundred [B]aptist churches above a century ago. Having expressed their anxiety that whilst they defended the truth, they might carry themselves modestly and humbly towards those who differed from them, they added, "And O that other contentions being laid asleep, the only care and contention of all upon whom the name of the blessed Redeemer is called, might for the future be to walk humbly with our God, and in the exercise of all love and meekness towards each other, to perfect holiness in the fear of the Lord, each one endeavouring to have his conversation such as becometh the gospel, and also suitable to his place and capacity, vigorously promoting in OTHERS the practice of true religion and undefiled in the sight of God our Father: And that in this backsliding day, we might not spend our breath in fruitless complaints of the evils of others, but may every one begin at home to reform in the first place our own hearts and ways, and then to quicken all that we may have influence upon to the same work; that if the will of God were so, none might deceive themselves by resting in, and trusting to a form of godliness, without the power of it, and inward experience of the efficacy of those truths that are professed by them. (See Baptist Confession of Faith, published an. 1668, and lately republished by Dr. Rippon, - p. 5.) 2. If you are called upon to defend the truth, see that it be done with meekness and prudence: if the former be wanting, you will disgrace yourself - if the latter, the cause you espouse. "The professed friends of truth" (says an eminent divine) "often injure the truth: they speak in such a manner as to confirm and harden enemies in their opposition to it; they use such uncautious expressions as do indeed justify the objection, 'Shall we sin, that grace may abound?' And in the heat of their zeal "against the self-righteous legalist, seem to state themselves as enemies in every respect to the LAW OF GOD, which is holy, just and good." (See Witherspoon's Vindication of Imputed Righteousness, p. 12.)
Remember, brethren, that it is impossible for God to injure his own government, and set aside his own authority over the creatures; and therefore such modes of defending the truth as have any tendency to diminish the claims of Jehovah, or the obligations of men, must be unwarranted and indefensible. 3. Pray that your spirituality of mind, heavenly conservation, and holiness of conduct, may demonstrate to a gainsaying world, that the grace of God, which bringeth salvation, teacheth you habitually and decidedly to deny ungodliness and evil works, and to live soberly, and righteously, and godly in this present evil world: so shall you shine as lights on the earth, and by your good works will glory redound to your Father who is in heaven. To his paternal arms and heart we now commend you, resting in the fellowship of the gospel.
Signed on behalf of the Association,
BENJ. MASON, Moderator
On the Final Perseverance of the Saints to Glory.
The object of these few lines is to state and prove the doctrine of the final perseverance of the Saints. -- A hope is indulged that they may contribute to the instruction, consolation and establishment of the Children of God. It has been said, that provided we sincerely repent of our sins, cordially receive the Gospel and devote our lives to the divine glory, other considerations are of trifling import. 'Whether the doctrine of election be true of not, if I am called by grace, all will be well; whether Christ died for all, or some, is of little concern, provided his blood cleanses me from all my sins; whatever be true as to the power of the fallen creature, or the certainty of the perseverance of the Saints, if my heart be turned to God and I am enabled to hold out to the end, I shall enjoy everlasting safety and happiness. Such observations are plausible, and we shall do well to improve them to the increase of our christian charity; but, surely, all truth is important. It is our duty to contend earnestly for the faith once delivered to the Saints; but how can we do this, unless our hearts be established with grace. -- The Holy Scriptures are a rich mine -- the careless eye may disregard the precious ore, but from thence the man who digs for wisdom, as for silver, will collect his gold, his pearls and his diamonds. When we contend that the Saints shall hold out to the end, we do not mean to assert, 1st. That a child of God may not backslide from duty and fall into sin. If we did, the divine word and daily experience would condemn our creed.
Noah and Lot fell; but after the fall, they have the character of righteous men, and hence their restoration may be fairly inferred. - David fell; but the Holy Spirit was not taken from him, Psalm li. 11, 12. and he died rejoicing in the covenant of his God, 2 Sam. xxiii. 4. - Solomon fell, but the book of Ecclesiastes discovers his deep and sincere repentance. - Peter fell; but he soon restored, Jesus had prayed for him. A believer may fall, not only with relation to his conduct, but as it respects his faith. Hence, Gal. v. 4. "Whosoever of you are justified by the law are fallen from grace." Fallen from what grace? [N]ot from grace in the heart, that is a good part which shall never be taken away. Read the connection, and you will find the apostle means a falling from the doctrines of grace; particularly, from the doctrine of justification by the righteousness of Christ, and vainly seeking to be justified by the works of the law. In such a sense the apostle must be understood, 2 Cor. vi. 1. and Heb. Xii. 15. These things are written for our admonition: "they have a voice to every one of us: 1 Cor. x. 12. "Let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall." -- Though a believer will not fall into hell, he may fall to the breaking of his bones, Ps. li. 8. the wounding of his peace and the dishonouring of his holy profession. We do not mean to assert, 2dly. That false professors, who have the lamp without the oil, the appearance without the reality, shall not fall away. This idea, brethren, the more deserves your attention, as most of the arguments brought against the perseverance of the Saints, are applicable only to those who never possessed the grace of God in truth. The apostle teaches how to reason with respect to such; "They went out from us, because they were not of us: for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us," I John ii. 19.; but to argue that a Saint may fall, because a hypocrite has fallen, is as absurd as it would be to insist that an European cannot have a white skin, because an African has a black one. We read, Ezek. xviii. 24, "But when the righteous turned away from his righteousness, and commiteth iniquity," &c. Look over the chapter, and you will find that it relates only to the house of Israel, who had a law given them that ensured long life and the land of Canaan, in case of obedience to the institutions of Moses, and death and dispossession, in case of sin: as the life referred to, intends peace and plenty in Canaan, so the death can intend only calamity and affliction, for such is often called death, Exod. X. 17, or, at most, merely natural, and not eternal death; besides, the words are only a supposition, and suppositions cannot be proofs. We read, Luke viii. 13. of stony ground hearts, "which for a while believe, and in time of temptation fall away.;" but, shall we call those holy men, whose hearts were a rock, who had no root in themselves, and who are expressly distinguished from the good ground? We read, I Tim. i. 19. that "Some concerning faith have made shipwreck: of whom is Hymeneus and Alexander." But who were these persons? Of Hymeneus it is said, that he was a vain babbler and increased to more ungodliness - of Alexander, who is supposed to be the same with the copper-smith, that he did the apostle much evil, withstanding and contradicting. These are not features of God's children. The faith, of which shipwreck was made, may be either generally, the doctrines of faith, Acts xxiv, 24. or particularly, the doctrine of the Resurrection. See 2 Tim. ii. 18. Besides, to use the words of Dr. Gill in his body of divinity, 'Supposing the grace of faith was meant, the phrase of making shipwreck is not strong enough to express the entire loss of it; since a person may be shipwrecked and not lost - the apostle Paul thrice suffered shipwreck, and yet was saved each time. We read, Heb. Vi. 4-6 that "it is impossible for those that are once enlightened," &c. "if they shall fall away, to renew them again to repentance," &c. The words are hypothetical; if they shall fall; and therefore are not of the nature of a demonstration. If the words are applied to believers, the sense proves too much; for there are many who have fallen away, for instance, David and Peter, who afterwards repented. But there is nothing in this passage, that may not be applied with ease and fairness to the mere professor; and it must be remembered, that the persons here mentioned are expressly distinguished from the believing Hebrews. - "Beloved we are persuaded better things of you and things which accompany Salvation," v. 9. As to the objections raised from John xv. 2-6. "If a man abide not in me, he is cast froth as a branch. &c." and from Rom. xi. 17-22. where the apostle speaks of the branches broken from the Olive tree; they are answered by observing the distinction between being in Christ vitally, and professionally, as Gal. i. 22. I Thess. i. i. - The former cannot fall away, the latter will be broken off and lie withering as dead branches, preparing for the flame. We would gladly refer you to every other passage raised against the doctrine, but our limits forbid. Take the following proofs of the truth, and may you feel their animating and sanctifying power. 1st. Reflect on the following plain texts of Scripture.
Job xvii. 9. The righteous also shall hold on his way, and he that hath clean hands shall be stronger and stronger.
Prov. xii. 3. The root of the righteous shall not be moved.
Prov. iv. 18. The path of the just is as the shining light, that shineth more and more unto the perfect day.
Psalms lxxiii. 24. Thou shalt guide me by they counsel, and afterward receive me to thy glory.
Prov. xxiv. 16. A just man falleth seven times, and riseth again.
John v. 14. He that believeth, is passed from death unto life, and shall not come into condemnation.
Isaiah xlv. 17. They shall not be ashamed or confounded world without end.
John x. 28. They shall never perish, neither shall any man pluck them out of my hand.
Romans viii. 38, 39. I am persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
Philippians i. 6. Being confident of this very thing, that he who hath begun a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ. -- These are a few of the numerous texts which are recorded to prove that the Saints are kept by the power of God "through faith unto Salvation," I Pet. i. 5.
2nd. The Saints are united by faith unto Jesus Christ. He is the head, they the members - He is the Husband, they his bride - He is the vine, they the branches - He the foundation, they the building - He is the everlasting Father, and they his seed - the fruits of travail of his soul. Have these close and endearing connections no stability? Is the intimacy a mere rope of sand? Do they not rather demonstrate that the union between Christ and his people shall not, cannot be broken? The relation is reciprocal. If Saints finally fall away, Christ ceases to be Mediator. The head can subsist only as related to the members, and the members only as related to the head. But Jesus lives, and he has said, "Because I live, ye shall live also." John xiv. 19. "Ye are complete in him," Col. ii.10. "Believers," says Mr. Coles, "are so one with Christ, that whatsoever he did they are said to do it with him, they are circumcised with him, Col. ii. 11. - crucified with him, Rom. v. 6. - buried with him, verse 4th. risen with him, verse 5th. - ascended with him, Eph. iv. 8. and they sit in heaven with him, Eph. ii. 6. It is no more possible for believers to miscarry finally, than for Christ himself to be held under the power of the grave. There is one law for them both. It is a faithful saying, if we be dead with him, we shall also live with him, 2 Tim. ii. 11. if we suffer with him, we shall be glorified together. " 3rd. Consider, Brethren, as a farther proof of the doctrine, the nature of divine grace in the heart, it is the fruit of the New Birth, John iii. and as in nature, so in grace, we are born but once: but if, as some are of opinion, a believer may lose his religion, having lost it, he is again in a state of nature, and if saved, he must once more experience the New Birth. Instead of his being born from above once, he must be born again, and again, and again, &c. we will not add to the absurdity of supposing how often. Peter (in his 1st Epistle i. 23.) gives a very different representation of the case. He describes believers as "being born again, not of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible." Grace is a river of waters springing up into eternal life; it is a holy fire, though it exhibit only smoke, the smoking flax shall not be quenched. The command of God is, "Destroy it not, there is a blessing in it." Every object is tending towards some result. The grain of mustard-seed shoots itself into a mighty tree - the sparks fly upward - the rivers seek the sea, and grace tends to glory. 4th. You may receive confirmation and comfort from contemplating the perfections of God, as connecting themselves with your salvation. Is Jehovah IMMUTABLE? it is therefore ye sons of Jacob ye are not consumed. Is he ALMIGHTY? it is by the power of God believers are kept. We may say of the Saints as does Isaiah of the heavenly bodies, Isaiah xl. 26. "He is strong in power; not one faileth." Is he WISE? Mark how Jude connects his wisdom and our safety, 24. "Now unto him that is able to keep from falling, to the only wise God," &c. Is he MERCIFUL? Observe how David regards his perseverance as secured by divine mercy, Psalms cxxxviii. 8. "The Lord will perfect that which concerneth me: thy mercy, O Lord, endureth for ever." Is he FAITHFUL? His faithfulness shall not fail. "Faithful is he that calleth you, who also will do it," 1 Thess. v. 24. Yea, more brethren, even the JUSTICE of God that sacred perfection which is so awfully terrible to the unpardoned sinner, brings consolation to you. "Who is he that condemneth? Christ has died." Divine justice will not punish sin first in the Surety and then in the sinner. The Father is well pleased, the honors of his government are secured, and each believer may now sing as he travels to glory, My advocate appears
As my defence on high,
The Father bows his ears
And lays his thunder by;
Behold my soul at freedom set,
My surety paid the dreadful debt.
We need not shew that this doctrine is according to godliness.(14)) It is sufficiently proved in the foregoing pages. Demonstrate the fact more amply brethren, by letting your light so shine before men that they seeing your good may glorify your Father which is in heaven.
Notes[From a photocopy of the original at Princeton University Libraries, Rare Books and Special Collections, Princeton, NJ. Transcribed and formatted by Jim Duvall.] British Baptist Circular Letters
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