Answers to Objections
THE principal objections that are made to the foregoing statement of things are taken from -- the nature of original holiness, as it existed in our first parents -- the Divine decrees -- particular redemption -- the covenant of works – the necessity of a Divine principle in order to believing.
It may be worthy of some notice, at least from those who are perpetually reproaching the statement here defended as leading to Arminianism, that the greater part of these objections are of Arminian original. They are the same, for substance, as have been alleged by the leading writers of that scheme, in their controversies with the Calvinists; and from the writings of the latter it were easy to select answers to them. This, in effect, is acknowledged by Mr. Brine, who, however, considers these answers as insufficient, and therefore prefers others before them.+
It also deserves to be considered whether objections drawn from such subjects as the above, in which we may presently get beyond our depth, ought to weigh against that body of evidence which has been adduced from the plain declarations and precepts of the Holy Scriptures. What if, by reason of darkness, we could not ascertain the precise nature of the principle of our first parents? It is certain we know but little of original purity. Our disordered souls are incapable of forming just ideas of so glorious state. To attempt, therefore, to settle the boundaries of even their duty, by an abstract inquiry into the nature of their powers and principles, would be improper; and still more so to make it the medium by which to judge of our own. There are but two ways by which we can judge on such a subject; the one is from the character of the Creator, and the other from Scripture testimony. From the former, we may infer the perfect purity of the
+ Arminian Principles of A Late Writer Refuted, p. 6.
creature, as coming out of the hands of God: but nothing can be concluded of his inability to believe in Christ, had he been in circumstances which required it. As to the latter, the only passage that I recollect to have seen produced for the purpose is I Cor. xv. 47, "The first man was of the earth, earthy," which Mr. Johnson of Liverpool alleged to prove the earthiness of Adam's mind, or principles: but Mr. Brine sufficiently refutes this, proving that this Divine proposition respects the body, and not the principles, of our first father;*and thus Dr. Gill expounds it.
With regard to the doctrine of Divine decrees, &c., it is a fact that the great body of the divines who have believed those doctrines have also believed the other. Neither Augustine nor Calvin, who each in his day defended predestination, and the other doctrines connected with it, ever appear to have thought of denying it to be the duty of every sinner who has heard the gospel to repent and believe in Jesus Christ. Neither did the other Reformers, nor the puritans of the sixteenth century, nor the divines at the synod of Dort, (who opposed Arminius,) nor any of the nonconformists of the seventeenth century, so far as I have any acquaintance with their writings, ever so much as hesitate upon this subject. The writings of Calvin himself would now be deemed Arminian by a great number of our opponents. I allow that the principles here defended may be inconsistent with the doctrines of grace, notwithstanding the leading advocates of those doctrines have admitted them; and am far from wishing any person to build his faith on the authority of great men: but their admission of them ought to suffice for the silencing of that kind of opposition against them which consists in calling names.
Were a difficulty allowed to exist as to the reconciling of these subjects, it would not warrant a rejection of either of them. If I find two doctrines affirmed or implied in the Scriptures, which, to my feeble understanding, may seem to clash, I ought not to embrace the one and to reject the other because of their supposed inconsistency; for, on the same ground, another person might embrace that which I reject, and reject that which I embrace, and have equal Scriptural authority for his faith as I have for mine. Yet in this manner many have acted on both sides some, taking the general precepts and invitations of Scripture for their standard, have rejected the doctrine of discriminating grace; others, taking the declarations of salvation as being a fruit of electing love for their standard, deny that sinners without distinction are called upon to believe for the salvation of their souls. Hence it is that we hear of Calvinistic and Arminian texts; as though these leaders had agreed to divide the Scriptures between them. The truth is, there are but two ways for us to take: one is to reject them both, and the Bible with them, on account of its inconsistencies; the other is to embrace them both, concluding that, as they are both revealed in the Scriptures, they are both true, and both consistent, and that it is owing to the darkness of our understandings that they do not appear so to us. Those excellent lines of Dr. Watts, in his Hymn on Election, one should think, must approve themselves to every pious heart: -- But, O my soul, if truth so bright
Should dazzle and confound thy sight,
Yet still his written will obey,
And wait the great decisive day.
Had we more of that about which we contend, it would teach us more to suspect our own understandings, and to submit to the wisdom of God. Abraham, that pattern of faith, might have made objections to
* Johnson's Mistakes Noted and Rectified, pp. 18-23.
the command to offer up his son, on the ground of its inconsistency with the promise, and might have set himself to find some other meaning for the terms; but he “believed God,” and left it to him to reconcile his promise and his precepts. It was not for him to dispute, but to obey.
These general remarks, however, are not introduced for the purpose of avoiding a particular attention to the several objections, but rather as preparatory to it.
On the Principles of Holiness Possessed by Man in Innocence
The objection drawn from this subject has been stated in the following words: "The holy principle connatural to Adam, and concreated with him, was not suited to live unto God through a mediator; that kind of life was above the extent of his powers, though perfect; and therefore as he in a state of integrity had not a capacity of living unto God, agreeably to the nature of the new covenant, it is apprehended that his posterity, while under the first covenant, are not commanded to live unto God in that sort, or, in other words, to live by faith on God through a Mediator."*
The whole weight of these important conclusions rests upon the first two sentences, which are mere unfounded assertions. For the truth of them no proof whatever is offered. What evidence is there that "the principle of holiness concreated with Adam was not suited to live unto God through a mediator!” That his circumstances were such as not to need a mediator is true; but this involves no such consequence. A subject, while he preserves his loyalty, needs no mediator in approaching the throne: if he have offended, it is otherwise; but a change of circumstances would not require a change of principles. On the contrary, the same principle of loyal affection that would induce him while innocent to approach the throne with modest confidence, would induce him after having offended to approach it with penitence, or, which is the same thing, to be sorry at heart for what he had done; and if a mediator were at hand, with whose interposition the sovereign had declared himself well pleased, it would at the same time lead him to implore forgiveness in his name.
Had Cain lived before the fall, God would not have been offended at his bringing an offering without a sacrifice; but after that event, and the promise of the woman's Seed, together with the institution of sacrifices, such a conduct was highly offensive. It was equally disregarding the threatening and the promise; treating the former as if nothing were meant by it, and the latter as a matter of no account. It was practically saying, God is not in earnest. There is no great evil in sin, nor any necessity for an atonement. If I come with my offering, I shall doubtless be accepted, and my Creator will think himself honoured. Such is still the language of a self-righteous heart. But, is it thus that Adam's posterity while "under the first covenant" (or, rather, while vainly hoping for the promise of the first covenant, after having broken its conditions) are required to approach an offended God? If the principle of Adam in innocence was not suited to live to God through a mediator, and this be the standard of duty to his carnal descendants, it must of course be their duty either not to worship God at all, or to worship him as Cain did, without any respect to an atoning sacrifice. On the contrary, is there not reason to conclude that the case of Cain and Abel was designed to teach mankind, from the very outset of the world, God's determination to have no fellowship with sinners but through a mediator, and that all attempts to approach him in any other way would be vain and presumptuous?
It is true that man in innocence was unable to repent of sin, or to believe
* Mr. Brine's Motives to Love and Unity, pp. 50, 51.
in the Saviour; for he had no sin to repent of, nor was any Saviour revealed or needed. But he was equally unable to repent with such a natural sorrow for sin as is allowed to be the duty of his posterity, or to believe the history of the gospel in the way which is also allowed to be binding on all who hear it. To this it might be added he was unable to perform the duty of a father, for he had no children to educate; nor could he pity or relieve the miserable, for there were no miserable objects to be pitied or relieved. Yet we do not conclude from hence that his descendants are excused from these duties.
"That Adam in a state of innocence," says Dr. Gill, "had the power of believing in Christ, and did believe in him as the second person of the Trinity, as the Son of God, cannot well be denied, since with the other two persons he was his Creator and Preserver. And his not believing in him as the Mediator, Saviour, and Redeemer did not arise from any defect of power in him, but from the state, condition, and situation in which he was, and from the nature of the revelation made unto him; for no doubt Adam had a power to believe every word of God, or any revelation that was or might be made unto him."*
The reader will perceive the origin of this objection, if he look into Dr. Owen's Display of Arminianism, Chap. VIII. He there complains of the "attempt of Arminians to draw down our first parents, even from the instant of their forming, into the same condition wherein we are engaged by reason of corrupt nature." He mentions several of their maxims and sentiments, and, among others, two of their sayings; the one of the Remonstrants in their Apology, and the other of the six Arminian Collocutors at the Hague. "The will of man," say the former, "had never any spiritual endowments." "In the spiritual death of sin," say the latter, "there are no spiritual gifts properly wanting in will, because they were never there." "The sum is," adds the Doctor, ironically, "man was created with a nature not only weak and imperfect, unable by its native strength and endowments to attain that supernatural end for which he was made, and which he was commanded to seek; but depraved also with a love and desire of things repugnant to the will of God, by reason of an inbred inclination to sinning! It doth not properly belong to this place to show how they extenuate those gifts also with which they cannot deny but that he was endued, and also deny those which he had; as a power to believe in Christ, or to assent unto any truth that God should reveal unto him: and yet they grant this privilege unto every one of his posterity, in that depraved condition of nature whereinto by sin he cast himself and us. We have all now, ,i>they tell us, a power of believing in Christ; that is, Adam by his fall obtained a supernatural endowment far more excellent than any he had before!"
That there are differences between the principle of holiness in innocent Adam and that which is wrought in believers may be admitted. The production of the former was merely an expression of the Creator's purity, the latter of his grace; that was capable of being lost, this is secured by promise: the one was exercised in contemplating and adoring God as the Creator and Preserver; the other, not only in these characters, but as the God of salvation. The same may be allowed concerning the life promised to Adam in case of obedience, and that which is enjoyed through a Mediator. The one will be greater than the other; for Christ came not only that we might have life, but that we might have it "more abundantly:" but these differences are merely circumstantial, and therefore do not affect the argument. The joy of angels is greatly increased by man's redemption; but it does not follow
* Cause of God and Truth, Part III. Chap. III.
that their principles are different from what they were prior to that event. A life of joy in heaven is far more glorious than a life of communion with God on earth; yet the principles of saints on earth and saints in heaven are not therefore of a different nature.
That the principle of holiness in Adam, and that which is wrought in believers, are essentially the same, I conclude from the following reasons: --
First, They are both formed after the same likeness, THE IMAGE OF GOD. "God created man in his own image; in the image of God created he him." "Put ye on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness." If God be immutable in his nature, that which is created after him must be the same for substance at all times and in all circumstances. There cannot be two specifically different images of the same original.
Secondly, They are both a conformity to the same standard, THE MORAL LAW. That the spirit and conduct of man in innocence was neither more nor less than a perfect conformity to this law, I suppose, will be allowed; and the same may be said of the spirit and conduct of Jesus Christ so far as he was our exemplar, or the model after which we are formed. God's law was within his heart. It was "his meat and drink to do his will." He went to "the end of the law for righteousness;" but it does not appear that he went beyond it. The superiority of his obedience to that of all others lay, not in his doing more than the law required, but in the dignity of his person, which stamped infinite value on every thing he did. But if such was the spirit and conduct of Christ, to whose image we are predestinated to be conformed, it must of necessity be ours. This also perfectly agrees with those Scriptural representations which describe the work of the Spirit as "writing God's law in the heart" (Psal. xl. 8; Jer. xxxi. 33); and with those which represent the ultimate state of holiness to which we shall arrive in heaven as no more than a conformity to this law and this model: "The spirits of just men made perfect." -- "We shall be like him."
Thirdly, The terms used to describe the one imply that it is of the same nature as the other. Conversion is expressed by a return to God, (Isa. lv. 7,) which denotes a recovery to a right state of mind after a departure from him. Regeneration is called a "washing," which expresses the restoring of the soul to purity, from which it had degenerated; and hence the same Divine operation is in the same passage called the "renewing" of the Holy Spirit.
But "this renovation," it has been said, "is spoken of the mind, and not of a principle in the mind."* The renewal of the mind must either be natural or moral. If the former, it would seem as if we had divested ourselves of the use of our natural faculties, and that regeneration consists in restoring them. If the latter, by the mind must be meant the disposition of the mind, or, as the Scripture speaks, "the spirit of our minds," Eph. iv. 23. But this amounts to the same thing as a principle in our minds. There is no difference between a mind being restored to a right state and condition, and a right state and condition being restored to the mind.
Fourthly, Supreme love to God, which is acknowledged to be the principle of man in innocence, would necessarily lead a fallen creature to embrace the gospel way of salvation. This is clearly intimated in our Lord's reasoning with the Jews: "I know you, that ye have not the love of God in you. I am come in my Father's name, and ye receive me not." This reasoning on the contrary hypothesis was invalid; for if receiving the Messiah was that to which a principle of supreme love to God was unequal, a non-reception of him would afford no proof of its absence. They might have had the love of God in them, and yet not have received him.
* Motives to Love and Unity, p. 22.
The love to God which was possessed by Adam in innocence was equal to that of the holy angels. His being of the "earth, earthy," as to his body, no more proves his inferiority to them, as to the principles of his mind, than it proves the inferiority of Christ in this respect, who before his resurrection was possessed of a natural and net a spiritual body. But it cannot be denied that the angels are capable of understanding, believing, and approving of the gospel way of salvation. It is above all others their chosen theme; "which things the angels desire to look into." It is true they do not embrace the Messiah as their Saviour, because they do not stand in need of salvation; but give a free invitation and their principles to a being that wants a Saviour, and he would not scruple a moment about accepting it. It is not possible for a creature to love God without loving the greatest friend of God, and embracing a gospel that more than any thing tends to exalt his character; neither is it possible to love mankind with a holy and affectionate regard towards their best interests without loving the Friend of sinners, and approving of a doctrine that breathes "good-will to men."
Comcerning the Decrees of God
A general invitation to sinners to return to God, and be saved through Christ, it has been thought, must be inconsistent with an election of some and a consequent rejection of others. Such has been the mode of objecting used by the adversaries to the doctrines of discriminating grace;* and such is the mode of law adopted by our opponents.
In general, I would observe, if this mode of reasoning prove any thing, it will prove too much: it will prove that it is not the duty of some men to attend the means of grace, or in any way to seek after the salvation of their souls, or to be in the least degree concerned about it; for it may be pleaded that God cannot have made it their duty, or have invited them to attend the means of salvation, seeing he is determined not to bestow salvation upon them. And thus we must not only be driven to explain the general invitation to many who never came to the gospel supper of a mere invitation to attend the means of grace, but must absolutely give it up, and the Bible with it, on account of its inconsistency.
Further, This mode of reasoning would prove that the use of means in order to obtain a temporal subsistence, and to preserve life, is altogether vain and inconsistent. If we believe that the future states of men are determined by God, we must also believe the same of their present states. The Scriptures teach the one no less than the other. "God hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of our habitation." Our "cup" is measured, and our "lot" assigned us, Psal. xvi. 5. There is also "an appointed time for man upon earth;" his days are as "the days of an hireling." "His days are determined, the number of his months is with God ;" he has "appointed his bounds that he cannot pass." Yet those who reason as above, with regard to things of another life, are as attentive to the affairs of this life as other people. They are no less concerned than their neighbours for their present accommodation; nor less employed in devising means for the lengthening out of their lives, and of their tranquillity. But if the purpose of God may consist with the agency of man in present concerns, it may in those which are future, whether we can perceive the link that unites them or not; and if our duty, in the one case, be the same as if no such purpose existed, it is so in the other. "Secret things belong unto the Lord our God; but those things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children for ever."
It was the duty of Pharaoh to have followed the counsel of Moses, and to
* See Owen's Death of Death, Book IV. Chap. I.
have let the people go; and his sin to pursue them into the sea; yet it was the purpose of God by this means to destroy him, Exod. vii. 1-4. Moses "sent messengers to Sihon king of Heshbon with words of peace, saying, Let me pass through thy land;" and it was, doubtless, the duty of Sihon to have complied with the request; yet it appears by the issue that the Lord had determined to give his country to Israel for a possession, and therefore gave him up to hardness of heart, by which it was accomplished, Deut. ii. 26-30.
If the days of man are determined, and his bounds appointed that he cannot pass them, it must have been determined that the generation of the Israelites which went out of Egypt should die in the wilderness; yet it was their duty to have believed God, and to have gone up to possess the land; and their sin to disbelieve him, and turn back in their hearts to Egypt. And it deserves particular notice, that this their sin is held up, both by David and Paul, as an example for others to shun, and that in spiritual concerns, 1 Cor. x.6-12. It was the determination of God that Ahab should fall in his expedition against Ramoth-gilead, as was plainly intimated to him by Micaiah; yet it was his duty to have hearkened to the counsel that was given him, and to have desisted from his purpose, 1 Kings xxii. 15-22. The destruction of Jerusalem by the Chaldeans was determined of God, and frequently foretold by the prophets; yet the inhabitants were as frequently counselled to return from their evil ways, that they might avoid it. Jeremiah particularly entreated Zedekiah to follow his counsel, that he might save the city and himself from ruin, chap. xxxviii. 20.
However such things may grate upon the minds of some, yet there are cases in which we ourselves are in the habit of using similar language, and that without any idea of attributing to God any thing inconsistent with the greatest perfection of moral character. If a wicked man be set on mischievous pursuits, and all the advices and warnings of his friends be lost upon him, we do not scruple to say, It seems as if God had determined to destroy him, and, therefore, has given him up to infatuation. In the use of such language, we have no idea of the determination of God being unjust or capricious. On the contrary, we suppose he may have wise and just reasons for doing as he does; and, as such, notwithstanding our compassion towards the party, we acquiesce in it. -- Whenever we speak of God as having determined to destroy a person, or a people, we feel the subject too profound for our comprehension; and well indeed we may. Even an inspired apostle, when discoursing of God's rejection of the Jewish nation, though he glances at the merciful aspect which this awful event wore towards the Gentiles, and traces some great and wise designs that should be answered by it; yet feels himself lost in his subject. Standing as on the brink of an unfathomable abyss, he exclaims, "Oh the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!" He believed the doctrine of Divine decrees, or that God "worketh all things after the counsel of his own will; but he had no idea of making these things any part of the rule of duty; either so as to excuse his countrymen from the sin of unbelief, or himself from using every possible means that might accomplish their salvation. On the one hand, he quoted the words of David as applicable to them; "Let their table be made a snare, and a trap, and a stumbling-block, and a recompence unto them." On the other he declares, "I speak to you Gentiles" -- "if by any means I may provoke to emulation them which are my flesh, and might save some of them!"
There were those in that day, as well as in this, who objected, If things be as God hath purposed, "Why doth he yet find fault; for who hath resisted his will?" This was no other than suggesting that the doctrine of decrees must needs operate to the setting aside of the fault of sinners; and this is
the substance of what has been alleged from that day to this. Some, because they cannot conceive of the doctrine but as drawing after it the consequence assigned to it by this replier against God, reject it; others appear to have no objection to the consequence itself, stamped as it is with infamy by the manner in which the apostle repelled it, and therefore admit the doctrine as connected with it! But so did not Paul. He held fast the doctrine of decrees, and held it as comporting with the fault of sinners. After all that he had written upon God's electing some, and rejecting others, he, in the same chapter, assigns the failure of those that failed to their "not seeking justification by faith in Christ; but as it were by the works of the law, stumbling at that stumblingstone."
"God's word," says Mr. Brine, "and not his secret purpose, is the rule of our conduct."* "We must exactly distinguish," says Dr. Owen, "between man’s duty and God's purpose; there being no connexion between them. The purpose and decree of God is not the rule of our duty; neither is the performance of our duty, in doing what we are commanded, any declaration of what is God's purpose to do, or his decree that it should be done. Especially is this to be seen and considered in the duty of the ministers of the gospel; in the dispensing of the word, in exhortations, invitations, precepts, and threatenings committed unto them; all which are perpetual declaratives of our duty, and do manifest the approbation of the thing exhorted and invited to, with the truth of the connexion between one thing and another; but not of the counsel or purpose of God in respect of individual persons, in the ministry of the word. A minister is not to make inquiry after, nor to trouble himself about, those secrets of the eternal mind of God, viz. whom he purposeth to save, and whom he hath sent Christ to die for in particular; it is enough for them to search his revealed will, and thence take their directions, from whence they have their commissions. Wherefore there is no conclusion from the universal precepts of the word, concerning the things, unto God's purpose in himself concerning persons: they command and invite all to repent and believe; but they know not in particular on whom God will bestow repentance unto salvation, nor in whom he will effect the work of faith with power."+
On Particular Redemption
Objections to the foregoing principles, from the doctrine of election, are generally united with those from particular redemption; and, indeed, they are so connected that the validity of the one stands or falls with that of the other.
To ascertain the force of the objection, it is proper to inquire wherein the peculiarity of redemption consists. If the atonement of Christ were considered as the literal payment of a debt -- if the measure of his sufferings were according to the number of those for whom he died, and to the degree of their guilt, in such a manner as that if more had been saved, or if those who are saved had been more guilty, his sorrows must have been proportionably increased -- it might, for aught I know, be inconsistent with indefinite invitations. But it would be equally inconsistent with the free forgiveness of sin, and with sinners being directed to apply for mercy as supplicants, rather than as claimants. I conclude, therefore, that an hypothesis which in so many important points is manifestly inconsistent with the Scriptures cannot be true.
On the other hand, if the atonement of Christ proceed not on the principle of commercial, but of moral justice, or justice as it relates to crime -- if its grand object were to express the Divine displeasure against sin, (Rom. viii.
* Certain Efficacy, &c., p. 151.
+ Death of Death, Book IV. Chap. I.
3,) and so to render the exercise of mercy, in all the ways wherein sovereign wisdom should determine to apply it, consistent with righteousness (Rom. iii. 25) -- if it be in itself equal to the salvation of the whole world, were the whole world to embrace it -- and if the peculiarity which attends it consist not in its insufficiency to save more than are saved, but in the sovereignty of its application -- no such inconsistency can justly be ascribed to it.
If the atonement of Christ excludes a part of mankind in the same sense as it excludes fallen angels, why is the gospel addressed to the one any more than to the other? The message of wisdom is addressed to men, and not to devils. The former are invited to the gospel supper, but the latter are not. These facts afford proof that Christ, by his death, opened a door of hope to sinners of the human race as sinners; affording a ground for their being invited, without distinction, to believe and be saved.
But as God might send his Son into the world to save men, rather than angels, so he may apply his sacrifice to the salvation of some men, and not of others. It is certain that a great part of the world have never heard the gospel; that the greater part of those who have heard it disregard it; and that those who believe are taught to ascribe not only their salvation, but faith itself, through which it is obtained, to the free gift of God. And as the application of redemption is solely directed by sovereign wisdom, so, like every other event, it is the result of previous design. That which is actually done was intended to be done. Hence the salvation of those that are saved is described as the end which the Saviour had in view: "He gave himself for us, that he might redeem us from all iniquity, and purify unto himself a peculiar people, zealous of good works." Herein, it is apprehended, consists the peculiarity of redemption.
There is no contradiction between this peculiarity of design in the death of Christ, and a universal obligation on those who hear the gospel to believe in him, or a universal invitation being addressed to them. If God, through the death of his Son, have promised salvation to all who comply with the gospel; and if there be no natural impossibility as to a compliance, nor any obstruction but that which arises from aversion of heart; exhortations and invitations to believe and be saved are consistent; and our duty, as preachers of the gospel, is to administer them, without any more regard to particular redemption than to election; both being secret things, which belong to the Lord our God, and which, however they be a rule to him, are none to us. If that which sinners are called upon to believe respected the particular design of Christ to save them, it would then be inconsistent; but they are neither exhorted nor invited to believe any thing but what is revealed, and what will prove true, whether they believe it or not. He that believeth in Jesus Christ must believe in him as he is revealed in the gospel, and that is as the Saviour of sinners. It is only as a sinner, exposed to the righteous displeasure of God, that he must approach him. If he think of coming to him as a favourite of Heaven, or as possessed of any good qualities which may recommend him before other sinners, he deceives his soul: such notions are the bar to believing. "He that will know his own particular redemption before he will believe," says a well-known writer, "begins at the wrong end of his work, and is very unlikely to come that way to the knowledge of it. -- Any man that owns himself a sinner hath as fair a ground for his faith as any one in the world that hath not yet believed; nor may any person, on any account, exclude himself from redemption, unless, by his obstinate and resolved continuance in unbelief, he hath marked out himself."*
* Elisha Coles on God's Sovereignty, on Redemption.
"The preachers of the gospel, in their particular congregation," says another, "being utterly unacquainted with the purpose and secret counsel of God, being also forbidden to pry or search into it, (Deut. xxix. 29,) may justifiably call upon every man to believe, with assurance of salvation to every one in particular, upon his so doing; knowing and being fully persuaded of this, that there is enough in the death of Christ to save every one that shall do so; leaving the purpose and counsel of God, on whom he will bestow faith, and for whom in particular Christ died, (even as they are commanded,) to himself." -- "When God calleth upon men to believe, he doth not, in the first place, call upon them to believe that Christ died for them; but that 'there is none other name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved,' but only of Jesus Christ, through whom salvation is preached."*
Of Sinners being under the Covenant of Works
Much has been said on this subject, in relation to the present controversy.+ Yet I feel at a loss in forming a judgment wherein the force of the objection lies, as it is no where, that I recollect, formed into a regular argument. If I understand Mr. Brine, he supposes, First, That all duty is required by the law either as a rule of life or as a covenant. Secondly, That all unconverted sinners being under the law as a covenant, whatever the revealed will of God now requires of them is to be considered as the requirement of that covenant. Thirdly, That the terms of the covenant of works being "Do, and live," they cannot, for this reason, be "Believe, and be saved."
But, allowing the distinction between the law as a rule of life and as a covenant to be just, before any conclusion can be drawn from it, it requires to be ascertained in what sense unbelievers are under a covenant of works, and whether, in some respects, it be not their sin to continue so. That they are under the curse for having broken it. is true; and that they are still labouring to substitute something in the place of perfect obedience, by which they may regain the Divine favour, is true also; but this latter ought not to be.** A self-righteous attachment to a covenant of works, or, as the Scripture expresses it, a being “of the works of the law,” is no other than the working of unbelief, and rebellion against the truth. Strictly speaking, men are not now under the covenant of works, but under the curse for having broken it. God is not in covenant with them, nor they with him. The law, as a covenant, was recorded, and a new and enlarged edition of it given to Israel at Mount Sinai; not, however, for the purpose of "giving life" to those who had broken it; but rather as a preparative to a better covenant. Its precepts still stand as the immutable will of God towards his creatures; its promises as memorials of what might have been expected from his goodness, in case of obedience; and its curses as a flaming sword that guards the tree of life. It is stationed in the oracles of God as a faithful watchman, to repel the vain hopes of the self-righteous, and convince them of the necessity of a Saviour, Rom. vii. 10 ; Matt. xix. 17. Hence it was given to Israel by the hand of Moses, as a mediator, Gal. iii. 19-21.
But if unbelievers be no otherwise under the covenant of works than as they are exposed to its curse, it is improper to say that whatever is required of them in the Scriptures is required by that covenant, and as a term of life. God requires nothing of fallen creatures as a term of life. He requires them to love him with all their hearts, the same as if they had never
* Dr. Owen's Death, &c., B. IV. Chap. 1.
+ Mr. Brine's Motives, &c., pp. 37-42.
** The sinner's hope, that he can be justified by the law he has broken, is an illegal hope; and a just view of the extent, strictness, spirituality, and equity of the law would cut it up by the roots.
apostatized, but not with a view to regain his lost favour; for were they henceforward perfectly to comply with the Divine precepts, unless they could atone for past offences, (which is impossible,) they could have no ground to expect the bestowment of everlasting life. It is enough for us that the revealed will of God to sinners says, Believe; while the gospel graciously adds the promise of salvation.
On the Inability of Sinners to Believe in Christ, and do Things Spiritually Good.
This objection is seldom made in form, unless it be by persons who deny it to be the duty of a sinner to love God with all his heart, and his neighbour as himself. Intimations are often given, however, that it is absurd and cruel to require of any man what it is beyond his power to perform; and as the Scriptures declare that "no man can come to Christ, except the Father draw him," and that "the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God, neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned," it is concluded that these are things to which the sinner, while unregenerate, is under no ob1igation.
The answer that has frequently been made to this reasoning is, in effect, as follows: Men are no more unable to do things spiritually good than they are to be subject to the law of God, which "the carnal mind is not, nor can be." And the reason why we have no power to comply with these things is, we have lost it by the fall; but though we have lost our ability to obey, God has not lost his authority to command. -- There is some truth in this answer, but it is apprehended to be insufficient. It is true that sinners are no more and no otherwise unable to do any thing spiritually good than they are to yield a perfect submission to God's holy law; and that the inability of both arises from the same source -- the original apostacy of human nature. Yet if the nature of this inability were direct, or such as consisted in the want of rational faculties, bodily powers, or external advantages, its being the consequence of the fall would not set aside the objection. Some men pass through life totally insane. This may be one of the effects of sin; yet the Scriptures never convey any idea of such persons being dealt with, at the last judgment, on the same ground as if they had been sane. On the contrary, they teach that "to whom much is given, of him much shall be required." Another is deprived of the sight of his eyes, and so rendered unable to read the Scriptures. This also may be the effect of sin; and, in some cases, of his own personal misconduct; but whatever punishment may be inflicted on him for such misconduct, he is not blameworthy for not reading the Scriptures after he has lost his ability to do so. A third possesses the use of reason, and of all his senses and members; but has no other opportunity of knowing the will of God than what is afforded him by the light of nature. It would be equally repugnant to Scripture and reason to suppose that this man will be judged by the same rule as others who have lived under the light of revelation. 'As many as have sinned without law shall also perish without law; and as many as have sinned in the law shall be judged by the law."
The inability, in each of these cases, is natural; and to whatever degree it exists, let it arise from what cause it may, it excuses its subject of blame, in the account of both God and man. The law of God itself requires no creature to love him, or obey him, beyond his "strength," or with more than all the powers which he possesses. If the inability of sinners to believe in Christ, or to do things spiritually good, were of this nature, it would undoubtedly form an excuse in their favour; and it must be as absurd to exhort them to such duties as to exhort the blind to look, the deaf to hear, or the dead to walk. But the inability of sinners is not such as to induce
the Judge of all the earth (Who cannot do other than right) to abate in his demands. It is a fact that he does require them, and that without paying any regard to their inability, to love him, and to fear him, and to do all his commandments always. The blind are admonished to look, the deaf to hear, and the dead to arise, Isa. xlii. 18 ; Eph. v. 14. If there were no other proof than what is afforded by this single fact, it ought to satisfy us that the blindness, deafness, and death of sinners, to that which is spiritually good, is of a different nature from that which furnishes an excuse. This, however, is not the only ground of proof. The thing speaks for itself. There is an essential difference between an ability which is independent of the inclination, and one that is owing to nothing else. It is just as impossible, no doubt, for any person to do that which he has no mind to do, as to perform that which surpasses his natural powers; and hence it is that the same terms are used in the one case as in the other. Those who were under the dominion of envy and malignity "could not speak peaceably;" and those who have "eyes full of adultery cannot cease from sin." Hence, also, the following language, "How can ye, being evil, speak good things!" -- "The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God, neither can he know them." -- "The carnal mind is enmity against God; and is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be." -- "They that are in the flesh cannot please God." -- "No man can come to me, except the Father, which hath sent me, draw him." It is also true that many have affected to treat the distinction between natural and moral inability as more curious than solid. "If we be unable," say they, "we are unable. As to the nature of the inability, it is a matter of no account. Such distinctions are perplexing to plain Christians, and beyond their capacity." But surely the plainest and weakest Christian, in reading his Bible, if he pay any regard to what he reads, must perceive a manifest difference between the blindness of Bartimeus, who was ardently desirous that "he might receive his sight," and that of the unbelieving Jews, who "closed their eyes, lest they should see, and be converted, and be healed;" and between the want of the natural sense of hearing, and the state of those who "have ears, but hear not."
So far as my observation extends, those persons who affect to treat this distinction as a matter of mere curious speculation, are as ready to make use of it as other people where their own interest is concerned. If they be accused of injuring their fellow creatures, and can allege that what they did was not knowingly, or of design, I believe they never fail to do so; or, when charged with neglecting their duty to a parent or a master, if they can say in truth that they were unable to do it at the time, let their will have been ever so good, they are never known to omit the plea; and should such a master or parent reply, by suggesting that their want of ability arose from want of inclination, they would very easily understand it to be the language of reproach, and be very earnest to maintain the contrary. You never hear a person in such circumstances reason as he does in religion. He does not say, "If I be unable I am unable; it is of no account whether my inability be of this kind or that:" but he labours with all his might to establish the difference. Now if the subject be so clearly understood and acted upon where interest is concerned, and never appears difficult but in religion, it is but too manifest where the difficulty lies. If, by fixing the guilt of our conduct upon our father Adam, we can sit comfortably in our nest, we shall be very averse from a sentiment that tends to disturb our repose by planting a thorn in it.
It is sometimes objected that the inability of sinners to believe in Christ is not the effect of their depravity; for that Adam himself, in his purest state, was only a natural man, and had no power to perform spiritual duties.
But this objection belongs to another topic, and has, I hope, been already answered. To this, however, it may be added, "the natural man, who receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God," (1 Cor. ii. 14,) is not a man possessed of the holy image of God, as was Adam, but of mere natural accomplishments, as were the "wise men of the world," the philosophers of Greece and Rome, to whom the things of God were "foolishness." Moreover, if the inability of sinners to perform spiritual duties were of the kind alleged in the objection, they must be equally unable to commit the opposite sins. He that, from the constitution of his nature, is absolutely unable to understand, or believe, or love a certain kind of truth, must, of necessity, be alike unable to shut his eyes against it, to disbelieve, to reject, or to hate it. But it is manifest that all men are capable of the latter; it must therefore follow that nothing but. the depravity of their heart renders them incapable of the former.
Some writers, as has been already observed, have allowed that sinners are the subjects of an inability which arises from their depravity; but they still contend that this is not all, but that they are both naturally and morally unable to believe in Christ; and this they think agreeable to the Scriptures, which represent them as both unable and unwilling to come to him for life. But these two kinds of inability cannot consist with each other, so as both to exist in the same subject and towards the same thing. A moral inability supposes a natural ability. He who never, in any state, was possessed of the power of seeing, cannot be said to shut his eyes against the light. If the Jews had not been possessed of natural powers equal to the knowledge of Christ's doctrine, there had been no justice in that cutting question and answer, "Why do ye not understand my speech? Because ye cannot hear my word." A total physical inability must, of necessity, supersede a moral one. To suppose, therefore, that the phrase, "No man can come to me," is meant to describe the former; and, "Ye will not come to me that ye may have life," the latter; is to suppose that our Saviour taught what is self-contradictory.
Some have supposed that, in attributing physical or natural power to men, we deny their natural depravity. Through the poverty of language, words are obliged to be used in different senses. When we speak of men as by nature depraved, we do not mean to convey the idea of sin being an essential part of human nature, or of the constitution of man as man: our meaning is that it is not a mere effect of education and example; but is, from his very birth, so interwoven through all his powers, so ingrained, as it were, in his very soul, as to grow up with him, and become natural to him.
On the other hand, when the term natural is used as opposed to moral, and applied to the powers of the soul, it is designed to express those faculties which are strictly a part of our nature as men, and which are necessary to our being accountable creatures. By confounding these ideas we may be always disputing, and bring nothing to an issue.
Finally, It is sometimes suggested that to attribute to sinners a natural ability of performing things spiritually good is to nourish their self-sufficiency; and that to represent it as only moral is to suppose that it is not insuperable, but may after all be overcome by efforts of their own. But surely it is not necessary, in order to destroy a spirit of self-sufficiency, to deny that we are men and accountable creatures, which is all that natural ability supposes. If any person imagine it possible, of his own accord, to choose that from which he is utterly averse, let him make the trial.
Some have alleged that "natural power is only sufficient to perform natural things, and that spiritual power is required to the performance of spiritual things." But this statement is far from accurate. Natural power is as
necessary to the performance of spiritual as of natural things; we must possess the powers of men in order to perform the duties of good men. And as to spiritual power, or, which is the same thing, a right state of mind, it is not properly a faculty of the soul, but a quality which it possesses; and which, though it be essential to the actual performance of spiritual obedience, yet is not necessary to our being under obligation to perform it.
If a traveller, from a disinclination to the western continent, should direct his course perpetually towards the east, he would in time arrive at the place which he designed to shun. In like manner, it has been remarked by some who have observed the progress of this controversy, that there are certain important points in which false Calvinism, in its ardent desire to steer clear of Arminianism, is brought to agree with it. We have seen already that they agree in their notions of the original holiness in Adam, and in the inconsistency of the duty of believing with the doctrines of election and particular redemption. To this may be added, they are agreed in making the grace of God necessary to the accountableness of sinners with regard to spiritual obedience. The one pleads for graceless sinners being free from obligation, the other admits of obligation, but founds it on the notion of universal grace. Both are agreed that where there is no grace there is no duty. But if grace be the ground of obligation, it is no more grace, but debt. It is that which, if any thing good be required of the sinner, cannot justly be withheld. This is, in effect, acknowledged by both parties. The one contends, that where no grace is given, there can be no obligation to spiritual obedience; and therefore acquits the unbeliever of guilt in not coming to Christ that he might have life, and in the neglect of all spiritual religion. The other argues, that if man be totally depraved, and no grace be given him to counteract his depravity, he is blameless ; that is, his depravity is no longer depravity; he is innocent in the account of his judge; consequently, he can need no saviour; and if justice be done him, will be exempt from punishment, (if not entitled to heaven,) in virtue of his personal innocence. Thus the whole system of grace is rendered void; and fallen angels, who have not been partakers of it, must be in a far preferable state to that of fallen men, who, by Jesus taking hold of their nature, are liable to become blameworthy and eternally lost. But if the essential powers of the mind be the same whether we be pure or depraved, and be sufficient to render any creature an accountable being whatever be his disposition, grace is what its proper meaning imports -- free favour, or favour towards the unworthy; and the redemption of Christ, with all its holy and happy effects, is what the Scriptures represent it -- ,i>necessary to deliver us from the state into which we were fallen antecedently to its being bestowed.*
Of the Work of The Holy Spirit
The Scriptures clearly ascribe both repentance and faith wherever they exist to Divine influence.+ Whence many have concluded that they cannot be duties required of sinners. If sinners have been required from the pulpit to repent or believe, they have thought it sufficient to show the absurdity of such exhortations by saying, A heart of flesh is of God's giving: faith is "not of ourselves; it is the gift of God:" as though these things were inconsistent, and it were improper to exhort to any thing but what can be done of ourselves, and without the influence of the Holy Spirit.
The whole weight of this objection rests upon the supposition that we do not stand in need of the Holy Spirit to enable us to comply with our duty. If this principle were admitted, we must conclude either, with the Arminians and Socinians, that "faith and conversion, seeing they are acts of obedience,
* Rom. v. 15-21; Heb. ix. 27, 28; 1 Thess. i. 10.
+ Ezek. xi. 19; 2 Tim. ii. 25; Eph. i. 19; ii. 8.
cannot be wrought of God;"*or, with the objector, that, seeing they are wrought of God, they cannot be acts of obedience. But if we need the influence of the Holy Spirit to enable us to do our duty, both these methods of reasoning fall to the ground.
And is it not manifest that the godly in all ages have considered themselves insufficient to perform those things to which nevertheless they acknowledge themselves to be obliged? The rule of duty is what God requires of us; but he requires those things which good men have always confessed themselves, on account of the sinfulness of their nature, insufficient to perform. He "desireth truth in the inward part:" yet an apostle acknowledges, "We are not sufficient of ourselves to think any thing as of ourselves but our sufficiency is of God." -- "The Spirit," saith he, "helpeth our infirmities; for we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit itself maketh intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered." The same things are required in one place which are promised in another: "Only fear the Lord, and serve him in truth with all your heart." -- "I will put my fear in their hearts that they shall not depart from me." When the sacred writers speak of the Divine precepts, they neither disown them nor infer from them a self-sufficiency to conform to them, but turn them into prayer: "Thou hast commanded us to keep thy precepts diligently. Oh that my ways were directed to keep thy statutes!" In fine, the Scriptures uniformly teach us that all our sufficiency to do good or to abstain from evil is from above; repentance and faith, therefore, may be duties, notwithstanding their being the gifts of God.
If our insufficiency for this and every other good thing arose from a natural impotency, it would indeed excuse us from obligation; but if it arise from the sinful dispositions of our hearts, it is otherwise. Those whose eyes are "full of adultery, and (therefore) cannot cease from sin," are under the same obligations to live a chaste and sober life as other men are: yet, if ever their dispositions be changed, it must be by an influence from without them; for it is not in them to relinquish their courses of their own accord. I do not mean to suggest that this species of evil prevails in all sinners; but sin in some form prevails and has its dominion over them, and to such a degree that nothing but the grace of God can effectually cure it. It is depravity only that renders the regenerating influence of the Holy Spirit necessary. "The bare and outward declaration of the word of God," says a great writer,+ "ought to have largely sufficed to make it to be believed, if our own blindness and stubbornness did not withstand it. But our mind hath such an inclination to vanity that it can never cleave fast to the truth of God, and such a dulness that it is always blind and cannot see the light thereof. Therefore there is nothing available done by the word without the enlightening of the Holy Spirit."
On the Necessity of A Divine Principle in Order to Believing
About fifty years ago much was written in favour of this position by Mr. Brine. Of late years much has been advanced against it by Mr. Booth, Mr. M'Lean, and others. I cannot pretend to determine what ideas Mr. Brine attached to the term principle. He probably meant something different from what God requires of every intelligent creature; and if this were admitted to be necessary to believing, such believing could not be the duty of any except those who were possessed of it. I have no interest in this question further than to maintain, that the moral state or disposition of the soul has a necessary influence on believing in Christ. This I feel no difficulty in admitting on the one side, nor in defending on the other. If faith were an
* See Owen's Display of Arminianism, Chap. X.
* Calvin; See Institutes, Book III. Chap. 11.
involuntary reception of the truth, and were produced merely by the power of evidence; if the prejudiced or unprejudiced state of the mind had no influence in retarding or promoting it; in fine, if it were wholly an intellectual and not a moral exercise; nothing more than rationality, or a capacity of understanding the nature of evidence, would he necessary to it. In this case it would not be a duty; nor would unbelief be a sin, but a mere mistake of the judgment. Nor could there be any need of Divine influence; for the special influences of the Holy Spirit are not required for the production of that which has no holiness in it. But if on the other hand faith in Christ be that on which the will has an influence; if it be the same thing as receiving the love of the truth that we may be saved; if aversion of heart be the only obstruction to it, and the removal of that aversion be the kind of influence necessary to produce it; (and whether these things be so or not, let the evidence adduced in the Second Part of this Treatise determine;* ) a contrary conclusion must be drawn. The mere force of evidence, however clear, will not change the disposition of the heart. In this case therefore, and this only, it requires the exceeding greatness of Divine power to enable a sinner to believe.
But as I design to notice this subject more fully in an Appendix, I shall here pass it over, and attend to the objection to faith being a duty which is derived from it. If a sinner cannot believe in Christ without being renewed in the spirit of his mind, believing, it is suggested, cannot be his immediate duty. It is remarkable in how many points the system here opposed agrees with Arminianism. The latter admits believing to be the duty of the unregenerate, but on this account denies the necessity of a Divine change in order to it. The former admits the necessity of a Divine change in order to believing, but on this account denies that believing can be the duty of the unregenerate. In this they are agreed, that the necessity of a Divine change and the obligation of the sinner cannot comport with each other.
But if this argument have any force, it will prove more than its abettors wish it to prove. It will prove that Divine influence is not necessary to believing; or, if it be, that faith is not the IMMEDIATE duty of the sinner. Whether Divine influence change the bias of the heart in order to believing, or cause us to believe without such change, or only assist us in it, makes no difference as to this argument: if it be antecedent and necessary to believing, believing cannot be a duty, according to the reasoning in the objection, till it is communicated. On this principle, Socinians, who allow faith to be the sinner's immediate duty, deny it to be the gift of God.+
To me it appears that the necessity of Divine influence, and even of a change of heart, prior to believing, is perfectly consistent with its being the immediate duty of the unregenerate. If that disposition of heart which is produced by the Holy Spirit be no more than every intelligent creature ought at all times to possess, the want of it can afford no excuse for the omission of any duty to which it is necessary. Let the contrary supposition be applied to the common affairs of life, and we shall see what a result will be produced: --
I am not possessed of a principle of common honesty: But no man is obliged to exercise a principle which he does not possess: Therefore I am not obliged to live in the exercise of common honesty. While reasoning upon the absence of moral principles, we are exceedingly apt to forget ourselves, and to consider them as a kind of natural accomplishment, which we are not obliged to possess, but merely to improve in case of being possessed of them; and that till then the whole of our duty consists either in praying to God to bestow them upon us, or in waiting till
* Particularly Propositions, IV. V.
* Narrative of the York Baptists, Letter III.
he shall graciously be pleased to do so. But what should we say, if a man were to reason thus with respect to the common duties of life? Does the whole duty of a dishonest man consist in either praying to God to make him honest, or waiting till he does so? Every one, in this case, feels that an honest heart is itself that which he ought to possess. Nor would any man, in matters that concerned his own interest, think of excusing such deficiency by alleging that the poor man could not give it to himself, nor act otherwise than he did, till he possessed it.
If an upright heart towards God and man be not itself required of us, nothing is or can be required; for all duty is comprehended in the acting-out of the heart. Even those who would compromise the matter by allowing that sinners are not obliged to possesspray and wait for it, if they would oblige themselves to understand words before they used them, must perceive that there is no meaning in this language. For if it be the duty of a sinner to praywait for its bestowment, I would inquire whether these exercises ought to be attended to sincerely or insincerely, with a true desire after the object sought or without it. It will not be pretended that he ought to use these means insincerely; but to say he ought to use them sincerely, or with a desire after that for which he prays and waits, is equivalent to saying he ought to be sincere; which is the same thing as possessing an upright heart. If a sinner be destitute of all desire after God and spiritual things, and set on evil, all the forms into which his duty may be thrown will make no difference. The carnal heart will meet it in every approach and repel it. Exhort him to repentance: he tells you he cannot repent; his heart is too hard to melt, or be anywise affected with his situation. Say, with a certain writer, he ought to endeavour to repent: he answers he has no heart to go about it. Tell him he must pray to God to give him a heart: he replies, Prayer is the expression of desire, and I have none to express. What shall we say then? Seeing he cannot repent, cannot find in his heart to endeavour to repent, cannot pray sincerely for a heart to make such an endeavour, shall we deny his assertions, and tell him he is not so wicked as he makes himself? This might be more than we should be able to maintain. Or shall we allow them, and acquit him of obligation? Rather ought we not to return to the place whence we set out, admonishing him, as the Scriptures direct, to "repent and believe the gospel;" declaring to him that what he calls his inability is his sin and shame; and warning him against the idea of its availing him another day; not in expectation that of his own accord he may change his mind, but in hope "that God, peradventure, may give him repentance to the acknowledging of the truth." This doctrine, it will be said, must. drive sinners to despair. Be it so: it is such despair as I wish to see prevail. Until a sinner despair of any help from himself, he will never fall into the arms of sovereign mercy; but if once we are convinced that there is no help in us, and that this, so far from excusing us, is a proof of the greatest wickedness, we shall then begin to pray as lost sinners; and such prayer, offered in the name of Jesus, will be heard.
Other objections may have been advanced; but I hope it will be allowed that the most important ones have been fairly stated; whether they have been answered the reader will judge. ==================
[From Joseph Belcher, editor, The Complete Works of the Rev. Andrew Fuller, Volume II, 1845; rpt. 1988, pp. 366-382. Document provided by David Oldfield, Post Falls, ID. — jrd]
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