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Mistakes about Man’s Inability, and Gods Grace, considered.

SERMON XIII.

2. COR. iii. 5.

Not that we are sufficient of our selves, to think any things as of our selves: but our Sufficiency is of God.

THE Apostle, in this Epistle, was led, by the cunning Management of some evil-minded Persons amongst the Corinthians, to asset his own Apostleship; and his own Right to be their Director and Instructor, as He had been the Founder of their Church, and of their Faith. But lest they should think that He boasted of himself above measure; as if from Him, considered by Himself, came all their Good, and all their Happiness of being made Partakers 278 of the Gospel; He thinks fit in this Verse to obviate this Insinuation, and to assure them, that by what He had now, or any time before, said to that purpose, He did not design to arrogate to himself the Glory of being the chief and principal Agent in this Matter; but that it was to the great Original of all Things, even to God himself, that they were obliged for so great and unspeakable a Blessing. Not that we are sufficient of our selves to think .any thing as of our selves: but our Sufficiency is of God. That is, Not that We Apostles, of our selves, did or could lay this Scheme of Salvation: not that it is to us that the Contrivance, and Administration of this, is to be ascribed. But our Sufficiency; our being able thus to contribute to your Happiness, and thus successfully to minister to your good, by preaching the Gospel, is owing to God.

THAT this is the meaning of the Apostle, in these Words, will be evident to any one who will be at the Pains to lay together what goes before, and what follows after this Verse. For whoever doth that, will find that the Apostle is not here speaking, or thinking of the Duty ordinarily required of 279Christians, in order to their final Acceptance; but of a Subject entirely different from this; viz. of the Work of an Apostle; of the first Original of that Scheme of Salvation which the Apostles preached to the World; and of that Knowledge and Sufficiency which the first Preachers of the Gospel had in order to the Performance of their great Work. But tho’ this be so plainly the meaning of the Words; yet many Christians, of later Ages, have been led from this Text, and others of the like Sound, into such Errors, as tend, in their own natures, to obstruct and hinder the great Design of the Gospel; and to make Men easy and careless about the Performance of those Terms of Acceptance, Holiness and universal Righteousness, which are so plainly required in the Gospel.

IT is, therefore, of great Importance, to examine, and confute such pernicious Mistakes; and to shew that there is nothing in the New Testament to favour them. The Mistakes at which I now particularly point, are such as are founded upon a very fatal Notion of the Weakness, and Inability of Man; and of the part which Almighty God is to 280act in the Business of Reformation, and Holiness. For many Persons have not been content with saying that their Natures are weak and frail; too easily carried away by the Force of that multitude of Trials which surround them in this State; that the Flesh is weak, and their Inclinations directed with a strong Bias towards Sin and Wickedness; but are likewise pleased with representing themselves in such a State of Inability, and Insufficiency, as that all Motives, and all Calls to Repentance are in vain; in such a State, as that it is impossible for them, by any Act of their own Mind, either to pray effectually to God; or successfully to bear any part, in the great Work of their Salvation, themselves.

So likewise, with, respect to Almighty God; they are not content with acknowledging that the great Design of their Happiness is owing originally to Him, and is his Work; or that all their Powers and Faculties come from Him, who made them what they are; or that He is ready to assist their Endeavours, whenever they exert them; to answer their sincere Prayers; and to impart to them whatever is necessary to their successful running 281the Race that is set before them: but they take a sort of Delight in thinking, and speaking, as if Almighty God were to do all for them; as if He, in his own Time, will irresistibly move them to do his Will; and as if, unless he thus interposeth, they have Power, or Strength, to do any thing towards forsaking those Sins to which they have made themselves captive.

IN these Senses do they think it for their Purpose, to understand the Words of this Text, and some other Expressions of the New Testament, concerning the Insufficiency, and Weakness of Man; and the Sufficiency, and Power of God, in the Matter of Salvation. In order, therefore, to put a Stop to such Notions as these, which naturally tend to render Men indisposed to all Attempts and Endeavours to do their Duty; I have the following Observations to make:

1. ST. Paul himself builds no such Doctrine upon that great and strong Notion. He had of his own Insufficiency; and of the Sufficiency of God. This Insufficiency, I have shewn already, had reference to the Work of his Apostleship; and to his successful Performance of it; that is, to his publishing and 282 enforcing, the Terms of Salvation, amidst a Thousand Difficulties, and a World of Hazards. But because this great Work of Redemption was originally the sole Design and Contrivance of Heaven; because his being an Apostle was owing immediately to God; and the Success of his Labours, and his own Courage and Conduct in his Office, depended upon the Providence, and the Favour of God: He doth not presently infer that nothing was to be done by Himself, considered as distinct from his great Patron. But, in this very Epistle, He represents Himself, and the other Apostles, as Workers together with God, ch. vi. 1. and often speaks of his indefatigable Endeavours to answer the Ends of his Office. And if He were a Worker together with God; He had certainly a part of his own distinct from that of Almighty God, in this great Affair. And consequently, as He had God Almighty’s Sufficiency to support Him, and make up his Deficiencies; so He had likewise some Strength and Ability of his own, for his own part. And as God was the Architect; the chief Builder, Director, and Encourager of the 283whole; so likewise was the Apostle, a Worker, under and together with, Him.

IF, therefore, in that great Work of the Apostleship, encompassed at that time with so many Difficulties and Hazards, St. Paul did not mean by such Expressions to signify that he himself had no part to act, but as forced, and impelled irresistibly, by God Almighty; but left a part for himself, as well as gave to God the chief Part, and Glory, in it all: much less will it follow, that he meant these and the like Expressions, to signify that, in the Business of every ordinary Christian, so much less difficult than that in which he was engaged, God Almighty was to do all, without the Concurrence of the Man himself; and without his having Strength and Power to bear any part in his own Happiness. If the Apostle had such Power, as to be a Worker together with God, in that vast and boundless Office; much more many Christians, in their ordinary Spheres of Action, be supposed to have Ability to bear some part in the carrying forward their own Perfection here, and Salvation hereafter.

2. BUT supposing that St. Paul had referred the whole to Almighty God, in the literal and strict Sense of the Word; and left himself nothing but a passive Character; and represented himself as irresistibly moved by his Almighty Arm: this having been said by him merely with respect to so great, and difficult a Task, as was that of an Apostle, in those first Days; it will not at all follow from hence, that the same is true, with respect to an Office, or Business, not so difficult, and hazardous. It will not so much as follow, that the same is true with respect to succeeding Ministers, and Pastors of the Church, in the ordinary Course of God’s Providence; much less will it follow, with respect to the Body of Christians, whose Task doth not take in so great a Compass. It doth not follow that because Almighty God takes the whole upon himself in a great and immense Difficulty; therefore, He likewise takes the whole upon himself, in a Matter of much less Difficulty; and of a much more confined Importance.

3. THE Assistance which God affords to Christians, and the part which He bears in the Work of their Salvation, is so far from 285being a Proof that they can do nothing towards it themselves; that it is a most powerful Argument, and made use of in the New Testament, to engage them to do something for themselves. Work out your own Salvation, saith the same St. Paul, with Fear, and Trembling: for it is God that worketh in you both to will, and to do, Phil. ii. 12, 13. On this very account, use your own Strength and Power, in the Affair of Religion; because God himself, in the Christian Dispensation, affords you his Influences, and his Assistances. And indeed, what more powerful Motive can there be thought of, to engage us to hearty and uninterrupted Labour in our Christian Warfare, than this, that we are carrying forward a Work, in which God himself is engaged; that if it fail at last, the Gracious Design of God will fail thro’ our Negligence; that we have so powerful an Assistant and Patron, that the Difficulty of our Work need not discourage us from attempting it, or persevering in it; that we are Fellow-workers together with God; and therefore should be animated to exert our selves, as all are incited to do under the Eye and Encouragement of their 286Superiors; and to do even more Work, and with more sollicitious Concern, than we could do, if we had not such a Patron, and such an Assistant?

To take away the Despair of Success, is so far from Encouraging the Idleness or Neglect of any Person engaged in an Enterprize, that it is absolutely necessary towards their having any Heart, and Courage, for the Execution of it. This God Almighty takes from us, by representing himself as our Director, and Assister: and it is this which should fill us with more Concern lest the Enterprize should fail; and animate us with a stronger Resolution to use all our Endeavours. It is because we have such Hope of good Success, under the Patronage of so much Wisdom; and so much Power, that we should be much more vigorous, and resolute, than if we had not such an Encouragement as is included in God’s working in us both to will, and to do. And,

4. How weak soever we may be; since it is plain from what I have already said, that the Gospel doth not suppose us in a State of utter Inability to bear any part in our own Happiness; I say, our Weakness, or 287Inability to perform the whole, our selves, is no Argument why we should leave the whole to Almighty God and not think our selves obliged to work together with Him. And yet this seems to have been the Ground of Mistake in this Case, that the Evangelical Dispensation, and consequently the Salvation of Men, is represented as the sole Contrivance and Work of God, in which we bear no part, and were uncapable of bearing any. This, without doubt, is true; that we could not have thought of, or entered into, such a Scheme for our own Happiness. But it doth not follow that, when He offers this Happiness to us, He offers it to Beings, as uncapable of laying hold on it, as the very Stocks and Stones. It doth not follow, because our great Benefactor prevents us with his Kindness, and voluntarily offers us his Benevolence, and his helping Hand to free us from the greatest of Evils, and enstate us in the most complete Happiness; that therefore we are unable to accept this Kindness, and to help forward so good, and merciful a Design. No, let us acknowledge, as much as we please, our own Insufficiency, and Inability, for so God-like a Work as that of 288recovering us from Misery to Happiness; to the Glory of Him who is the Author, and Finisher of our Salvation: but let us not sooth ourselves in Vice, under the Pretext of a false Humility; and look upon our selves as too weak to do the least thing towards our own Pardon, and Salvation. For our Inability to do some Things, doth not infer our Inability to do others; nor doth our being incapable of the whole, taken all together, prove that we are incapable of any part.

BUT, in return to what hath been said under these two last Heads, I am sensible that some other Expressions of the New Testament, may be objected. As,

I. IT may be said that the whole of this great Work of Repentance, and Salvation, seems, in some Expressions, to be ascribed to God: and He to be represented as the sole Agent in it. In answer to this I have all ready observed that the Contrivance, and Scheme, of the whole Dispensation in which we have Salvation offered us, and the making and proclaiming the Terms of it, are wholly owing to Him, and to his Goodness; previous to any Work, or Merit, of ours: and consequently, it is no 289Wonder that this is wholly attributed to Him, which is, indeed, literally speaking, solely, and wholly, his Work. When any such Expressions, therefore, come in our way, we should consider whether the Writer be not speaking of this Christian Dispensation, as the Work of God: And if he be, we may be sure that this signifieth nothing to the present Question. For God might be the sole Author of this Offer, and this whole Scheme: and yet we may have Strength and Ability to do something towards the laying hold on the Terms of it; towards the complying sincerely with his Offers; and towards the finding out, and Performance, of his Will.

BUT if such Expressions should be used, concerning Almighty God, with respect to our receiving Benefit from this Dispensation, and the like; it is to be considered farther, that there is nothing more common in all sorts of Writers, than to speak of the chief Leader, Directer, and Performer, of any Work, as if no other deserved to be mentioned. Thus God Almighty’s Favour and Holy Spirit, being the great Support and Strength of Christians; it is no wonder if, according to the general Custom of speaking, 290the great Affair of Salvation be spoken of, as all owing to that. Just as any great Action, tho’ executed by a great many in Conjunction, is yet frequently said to be owing to Him particularly, who was the great Disposer of all Things concurring to it; and had the chief Hand in it: so may it be in this Case, without inferring that, strictly speaking, no one besides him hath any Concern in it. It is because, comparatively speaking, He bears the chief part; and because without his favourable Concurrence nothing could successfully be done, that He may well, agreeably to the Rules of speaking, be sometimes represented as the Doer of the whole. But it doth not at all follow, from such customary Forms of speaking, that He neither expects, nor requires, the Concurrence, and hearty Endeavours, and Pains, of those to whom He is so good.

AGAIN, It is proper to consider that whatever Powers, and Capacities, we have, are originally his Gift; and therefore all the good Effects of them may justly be ascribed to Him, as to the first and original Author of all that we have, and all that we can do; that it is to the Concurrence of his daily. Providence, 291 and to the Disposition of all Circumstances, which is his Work, that we are indebted for every thing. Without this, we could not have the Opportunity, or Possibility, of knowing the Terms of Christian Salvation; or of complying with them. And therefore, it may justly be ascribed to Him, whatsoever is done towards our Happiness, even .by our selves. And, in this Sense, without Him, we could neither think, nor act, to any purpose, in our great and most important Concerns. But all this is very consistent with our being moved, after the manner of free Agents, by the Motives he proposeth; and by the Circumstances in which he is pleased to put us.

AND then, in all those parts of our Christian Duty, and in all those Cases, in which his Interposition is requisite to our Success, He hath promised his Holy Spirit to them that ask it, and make use of it: a Spirit, which, as it was to be the Support of his Apostles in their greater Work; so is it, in proportion, to be the Guide, and Assister of all Christians, who are sincerely desirous to follow it. But this implies in it that we are able, at least, to ask for this unspeakable Gift 292 of God: because otherwise it would be but mocking us to promise it to our Prayers, it implies indeed that this Spirit is the great Agent; the great Help to Perfection; and to a Renovation of the Mind of Sinners, and a Reformation of their Practices; so that great things may be spoken of it: but it doth not imply that those to whom it is given are only the mechanical Instruments of it, or any thing to that effect; any more than the Assistance of one Man granted to another, in any Affair, in which without it he could not succeed, supposeth that this other must do nothing himself, and make no Steps, as a voluntary Agent, towards the accomplishing his own Ends.

WHATEVER, therefore, is said, in the New Testament, or supposed to be said, of Almighty God, as the sole Author of all relating to our Salvation, may, we see, very justly be accounted for, by the common Usage of speaking, without drawing so strange and absurd a Consequence from it, as divests Men of all Pretence to any part in it: especially considering, in the last Place, that in the same New Testament, the greatest Care is taken, when any parts of it are addressed 293to Christians themselves, to urge, and press, and incite them, as free Agents, to the performance of their Duty; to deal with them as if on themselves, and on their own Endeavours, depended their Happiness; to charge them not to be so ungrateful to God, as to think of leaving all to Him to do: and to threaten them with eternal Damnation, if they neglect to do what is required of them. This likewise will help us,

2. TO answer the Objection which may be made to what I have said concerning the part of Christians themselves in the Affair of Salvation: viz. That the New Testament seems to represent them in a dead and lifeless Condition; unable to help themselves; and the like. For, supposing this, yet, that these, and the like, Expressions were not designed to be understood in any Sense contrary to what I have said, is plain from those multitudes of Addresses, and Appeals, to Christians themselves; and from those many earnest Entreaties, Motives, Promises, Threatnings, in the same New Testament: all contrived to make them exert themselves; all such as are inconsistent with the Supposition that God will help them without their 294own Help; or that they are not able to do that part, which God requireth, and inciteth, them to do.

BUT I must remark farther, that, if you consider those Passages which have this Appearance, you will find that they are chiefly, if not always, such as respect only the State of Mankind, both Jews and Gentiles, before the Light of the Gospel brake in upon them; and before the Offers of Salvation were made, or accepted. Before that, the World was universally dead in Trespasses and Sins: and the Motives, to induce them to arise from this Death, came solely from God; not from themselves. But yet the very offering them. Spiritual Life, supposed them capable of accepting it; the very pressing, and inciting, them to revive from that Death of Sin, supposeth that they could do what they were so incited to. Almighty God quickened them by these Motives, and Offers; but then, even in this, their accepting and complying with them must be, in part, their own Work; or it could never be made their Reward. As a Man that is stupid and insensible, in some considerable worldly Concerns, may be said to be dead, 295and lifeless; and as the Motives, and Arguments, and Persuasives, of Men can quicken and put Life into him, actuating him into good Resolutions, and setting his Zeal on fire and yet the Man himself not supposed to be unable to do any thing for himself, but the contrary: so, in the Case before us, a Man may be called dead in Trespasses and Sins; and the Wrath of God, or the Joys of Heaven, and all the Offers of the Gospel, may quicken him; and to these may the thing be ascribed; yet, all this while, without supposing him dead, in a literal Sense, or uncapable of bearing any part in the accepting these Offers, in the regarding these Motives; and in helping forward his own Happiness. This is a figurative Expression, applied to the State of Sinners: who, as they are said to be quickened by God and his Gospel; so are they very frequently called upon to consider their Ways; to rouze themselves out of their supine, and slothful state; to forsake that which is evil, and practise that which is good. Neither, therefore, is the great Part which Almighty God bears in our Salvation, an Argument that He will do all, without Us: nor is our Weakness, and Inability, 296a total Incapacity to join with Him, in our hearty Endeavours and Labours. But as his Hand is necessary; so is our own. As his Arm is powerful to save; so is our own requisite to our Happiness. As our Weakness is nothing without his Strength; so his Strength will be nothing to us without our Weakness. As he is the great Contriver, and Disposer, of the whole Scheme of our Salvation, and is ready to give the Sufficiency of his Spirit to all who sincerely ask it; so we are required, and consequently, are able, both to ask it heartily, and to join our own Endeavours with it on which, together with God’s Assistance, our Holiness now, and Happiness hereafter, most certainly depend.

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