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Chapter II. The perseverance of the saints argued from the immutability of the divine nature.
The thesis proposed for confirmation — The fivefold foundation of the truth thereof — Of the unchangeableness of the nature of God, and the influence thereof into the confirmation of the truth in hand — Mal. iii. 6, considered and explained — James i. 16–18 opened — Rom. xi. 29 explained and vindicated. — The conditions on which grace is asserted to be bestowed and continued, discussed — The vanity of them evinced in sundry instances — Of vocation, justification, and sanctification — Isa. xl. 27–31 opened and improved to the end aimed at; also Isa. xliv. 1–8 — The sum of the first argument — Mal. iii. 6, with the whole argument from the immutability of God at large vindicated — Falsely proposed by Mr G.; set right and re-enforced — Exceptions removed — Sophistical comparisons exploded — Distinct dispensations, according to distinction of a people — Alteration and change properly and directly assigned to God by Mr G. — The theme in question begged by him — Legal approbation of duties and conditional acceptation of persons confounded; as also God’s command and purpose — The unchangeableness of God’s decrees granted to be intended in Mal. iii. 6 — The decree directly in that place intended — The decree of sending Christ not immutable, upon Mr G.’s principles — The close of the vindication of this first argument.
The certain, infallible continuance of the love and favour of God unto the end towards his, those whom he hath once freely accepted in Jesus Christ, notwithstanding the interposition of any such supposals as may truly be made, having foundation in the things themselves, being the first thing proposed, comes now to be demonstrated.
Now, the foundation of this the Scripture lays upon five unchangeable, things, which eminently have an influence into the truth thereof: first, Of the Nature; secondly, The Purposes; thirdly, The Covenant; fourthly, The Promises; fifthly, The Oath of God; — every one whereof being engaged herein, the Lord makes use of to manifest the unchangeableness of his love towards those whom he hath once graciously accepted in Christ.
First, he hath laid the shoulders of the unchangeableness of his own nature to this work: Mal. iii. 6, “I am the Lord, I change not: therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed.” These “sons of 121Jacob” are the sons of the faith of Jacob, the Israel of God, not all the seed of Jacob according to the flesh.7676 Rom. ix. 6, xi. 4–6. The Holy Ghost in this prophecy makes an eminent distinction between these two, chap. iii. 16, 17, iv. 1, 2. The beginning of this chapter contains a most evident and clear prediction and prophecy of the bringing in of the kingdom of Christ in the gospel, wherein he was to purge his floor, and throw out the chaff to be burned, Matt. iii. 12. This his appearance makes great work in the visible church of the Jews. Very many of those who looked and waited for that coming of his are cut off and cast out, as persons that have neither lot nor portion in the mercy wherewith it is attended.7777 Isa. xlix. 3–6; Luke ii. 34; Rom. ix. 30, 31. Though they said within themselves that they had Abraham to their father, and were the children and posterity of Jacob, yet, Mal. iii. 5, to them who are only the carnal seed, and do also walk in the ways of the flesh, he threatens a sore revenge and swift destruction, when others shall be invested with all the eminent mercies which the Lord Christ brings along with him. Lest the true sons of Jacob should be terrified with the dread of the approaching day, and say, as David7878 The expression was used not by David in reference to Uzzah, but by the men of Beth-shemesh. See 1 Sam. vi. 20. — Ed. did when the Lord made a breach upon Uzzah, “Who can stand before so holy a God? shall not we also in the issue be consumed?” he discovereth to them the foundation of their preservation to the end, even the unchangeableness of his own nature and being, whereunto his love to them is conformed; plainly intimating that unless himself and his everlasting deity be subject and liable to alteration and change (which once to imagine were, what lieth in us, to cast him down from his excellency), it could not be that they should be cast off for ever and consumed. These are the tribes of Jacob and the preserved of Israel, which Jesus Christ was sent to raise up, Isa. xlix. 6; the house of Jacob, which he takes from the womb, and carries unto old age, unto hoary hairs, and forsaketh not, chap. xlvi. 3, 4.
This is confirmed, James i. 16–18, “Do not err, my beloved brethren. Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning. Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth.” He begets us of his own will by the word of truth; for whatsoever men do pretend, we are born again, “not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God,” John i. 13. “Now herein,” saith the apostle, “we do receive from him good and perfect gifts, — gifts distinguished from the common endowments of others.” Yea, but they are failing ones perhaps, such as may flourish for a season, and be but children of a night, like Jonah’s gourd. Though God hath begotten us of his own will, and bestowed good and perfect 122gifts upon us, yet he may cast us off for ever. “Do not err, my beloved brethren,” saith the apostle; “these things come from the ‘Father of lights.’ God himself is the fountain of all lights of grace which we have received; and with him ‘there is no variableness, neither shadow of turning,’ — not the least appearance of any change or alteration.” And if the apostle did not in this place argue from the immutability of the divine nature to the unchangeableness of his love towards those whom he hath begotten and bestowed such light and grace upon, there were no just reason of mentioning that attribute and property there.
Hence, Rom. xi. 29, the “gifts and calling of God” are said to be “without repentance.” The gifts of his effectual calling (ἕν διὰ δυοῖν) shall never be repented of. They are from Him with whom there is no change.
The words are added by the apostle to give assurance of the certain accomplishment of the purpose of God towards the remnant of the Jews according to the election of grace. What the principal mercies were that were in God’s intendment to them, and whereof by their effectual calling they shall be made partakers, he tells us, verses 26, 27: the Deliverer or Redeemer, which comes out of Sion, shall, according to the covenant of grace, turn them from ungodliness, the Lord taking away their sins. Sanctification and justification by Christ, the two main branches of the new covenant,7979 Jer. xxxi. 31–34, xxxii. 38–40; Ezek. xxxvi. 25–28; Heb. viii. 8–12, x. 16, 17. do make up the mercy purposed for them. The certainty of the collation of this mercy upon them, notwithstanding the interposition of any present obstruction (amongst which their enmity to the gospel was most eminent, and lay ready to be objected), the apostle argueth from the unchangeableness of the love of election, wherewith the Lord embraced them from eternity: “As touching the election, they are beloved.” And farther to manifest on that account the fulfilling of what he is in the proof and demonstration of, — namely, that though the major part of “Israel according to the flesh” were rejected, yet that the “election should obtain, and all Israel be saved,” — he tells them that that calling of God, whereby he will make out to them those eternally- designed mercies, shall not be repented of; eminently in that assertion distinguishing the grace whereof he speaks from all such common gifts and such outward dispensations as might be subject to a removal from them on whom they are bestowed. And if, upon any supposition or consideration imaginable, the mercies mentioned may be taken away, the assertion comes very short of the proof of that for which it is produced.
Against this plain expression of the apostle, that “the gifts and calling of God are without repentance,” Mr Goodwin puts in sundry exceptions, to weaken the testimony it bears in this case, chap. viii., 123sect. 57; which because they have been already sufficiently evinced of weakness, falsehood, and impertinency, by his learned antagonist,8080 Dr George Kendall. See prefatory note. — Ed. I shall only take up that which he mainly insists upon, and farther manifest its utter uselessness for the end for which it is produced. Thus, then, he pleads: “The ‘gifts and calling of God’ may be said to be ‘without repentance,’ because, let men continue the same persons which they were when the donation or collation of any gift was first made by God unto them, he never changes or altereth his dispensations towards them, unless it be for the better, or in order to their farther good; in which case he cannot be said to repent of what he had given. But in case men shall change and alter from what they were when God first dealt graciously with them, especially if they shall notoriously degenerate or cast away the principles, or divest themselves of that very qualification on which, as it were, God grafted his benefit or gift; in this case, though he recall his gift, he cannot be said to repent of his giving it, because the terms on which he gave it please him still, only the persons to whom he gave it, and who pleased him when he gave it them, have now tendered themselves unpleasing to him.”
Two things are here asserted:— 1. That if men continue the same, or in the same state and condition wherein they were when God bestowed his gifts and graces upon them, then God never changeth nor altereth, — his dispensations towards them abide the same. 2. That there are certain qualifications in men upon which God grafts his grace; which whilst they abide, his gifts and graces abide upon them also, and therefore are said to be ‘without repentance;’ but if they are lost, God recalls his gifts, and that without any change. Let us a little consider both these assertions.
And, first, It being evident that it is spiritual grace and mercy of which the apostle speaks, as was manifested, for they are such as flow from the covenant of the Redeemer, Rom. xi. 26, 27, sanctification and justification being particularly mentioned, let us consider what is the condition of men when God invests them with these mercies, that we may be able to instruct them how to abide in that condition, and so make good the possession of the grace and mercy bestowed on them. And, to keep close to the text, let our instance be in the three eminent mercies of the gospel intimated in that place: 1. Vocation; 2. Sanctification; 3. Justification.
The gift and grace of vocation is confessedly here intended, being expressly mentioned in the words, ἡ κλῆσις τοῦ Θεοῦ, that “calling” which is an effect of the covenant of grace, verse 29. Consider we, then, what is the state of men when God first calls them and gives them this gift and favour, that, if it seem so good, we may exhort them to a continuance therein.
124Now, this state, with the qualifications of it, is a state, — 1. Of death: John v. 25, “The dead hear the voice of the Son of God.” Christ speaks to them who are dead, and so they live.8181 Isa. lxv. 1; Rom. ix. 25; Hos. ii. 23; 1 Pet. ii. 10; Eph. ii. 12. 2. Of darkness, Acts xxvi. 18; “God calleth them out of darkness into his marvellous light,” 1 Pet. ii. 9, — a state of ignorance and alienation from God, Eph. iv. 18. The grace of vocation, or effectual calling, finding men in a state of enmity to God and alienation from him, if they may be prevailed withal to continue in such still, this gift shall never be recalled nor repented of!
But perhaps the gift and grace of sanctification finds men in a better condition, in a state wherein if they abide then that also shall abide with them for ever. The Scripture so abounds in the description of this state that we shall not need to hesitate about it: Eph. ii. 1, 2, “You hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins.” Quickening and renewing grace is given to persons dead in sins, and is so far from depending as to its unchangeableness upon their continuance in the state wherein it finds them, that it consists in a real change and translation of them from that state or condition. The apostle sets out this at large, Titus iii. 3–5, “We ourselves were sometimes foolish,” etc. The state of men when God bestows these gifts upon them is positively expressed in sundry particulars, verse 3; the qualifications on which this gift or grace is grafted (of which Mr Goodwin speaks afterward), negatively, verse 5. It is not on any work that we have done; which is unquestionably exclusive of all those stocks of qualifications which are intimated, whereon the gifts and graces of God should be grafted. The gift itself here bestowed is the “washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Ghost,” saving us through “mercy” from the state and condition before described. In brief, that the condition wherein this grace of God finds the sons of men is a state of death,8282 Matt. viii. 22; Rom. vi. 13; Col. ii. 13. blood,8383 Ezek. xvi. 6; Isa. iv. 4; Job xiv. 4; John iii. 6. darkness, blindness,8484 John i. 5; Eph. v. 8; Col. i. 13; Luke iv. 18. enmity, curse, and wrath, disobedience, rebellion, impotency, and universal alienation from God,8585 Rom. viii. 6–8, v. 10; Col. i. 21; Gal. iii. 13; John iii. 35. is beyond all contradiction (by testimonies plentifully given out, here a little and there a little, line upon line) manifest in the Scripture. Shall we now say that this grace of God is bestowed on men upon the account of these qualifications, and continued without revocation on condition that they abide in the same state, with the same qualifications? Let, then, men continue in sin, that grace may abound!
Is the case any other as to justification? Doth not God justify the ungodly? Rom. iv. 5. Are we not in filthy robes when he comes to clothe us with robes of righteousness? Zech. iii. 3. Are we not reconciled to God when alienated by wicked works? Col. i. 21.
125These are the qualifications on which, it seems, God grafts his gifts and graces, and whoso abode in the persons in whom they are is the condition whereon the irrevocableness of those gifts and graces does depend. Who would have thought they had been of such reckoning and esteem with the Lord! And this, considering what is learnedly discoursed elsewhere, may suffice.
As to the other assertion, that God gives his gifts and graces to qualifications, not to persons: Those qualifications are either gifts of God or not. If not, who made those men in whom they are differ from others? 1 Cor. iv. 7. If they are, on what qualifications were those qualifications bestowed? That God freely bestows on persons, of his own good pleasure, not grafting on qualifications, his gifts and graces, we have testimonies abundantly sufficient to outbalance Mr Goodwin’s assertion: Rom. ix. 18, “He hath mercy on whom he will have mercy.” He bestows his mercy and the fruits of it, not on this or that qualification, but on whom or what persons he will; and “to them it is given,” saith our Saviour, “to know the mysteries of the kingdom of God, but to others it is not given.” I see no stock that his gift is grafted on but only the persons of God’s good-will, whom he graciously designs to a participation of it.
Truth is, I know not any thing more directly contradictory to the whole discovery of the work of God’s grace in the gospel than that which is couched in these assertions of Mr Goodwin; neither is it any thing less or more than that which of old was phrased, “The giving of grace according to merit,” ascribing the primitive discriminating of persons as to spiritual grace unto self-endeavours, casting to the ground the free, distinguishing good pleasure of God, and that graciousness of every gift of his (I speak as to the first issue of his love, in quickening, renewing, pardoning grace) which eminently consists in this, that he is found of them that seek him not, and hath mercy on whom he will, because so it seemeth good to him.
Not to digress farther, in the discovery of the unsatisfactoriness of this pretence, from the pursuit of the argument in hand: Because God’s gifts are not repented of, therefore do men continue, not in the condition wherein they find them, but wherein they place them; and all qualifications in men whatever that are in the least acceptable to God are so far from being stocks whereon God grafts his gifts and graces, that they are plants themselves which he plants in whomsoever he pleaseth. Yea, the tree is made good before it bear any good fruit, and the branch is implanted into the true olive before it receive the sap or juice of any one good qualification. The sum of Mr Goodwin’s answer amounts to this: Let men be steadfast in a good condition, and God’s gifts shall steadfastly abide with them; if they change, they also shall be revoked; — which is directly opposite to the plain intendment of the place, namely, that the steadfastness of men 126depends upon the irrevocableness of God’s grace, and not e contra. There is not, in his sense, the least intimation in these words of the permanency of any gift or grace of God with any one on whom it is bestowed, for a day, an hour, or a moment; but, notwithstanding this testimony of the Holy Ghost, they may be given one hour, and taken away the next, — they may flourish in a man in the morning, and in the evening be cut down, dried up, and withered. This is not to answer the arguings of men, but positively to deny what God affirms. To conclude: God gives not his gifts to men (I mean those mentioned) because they please him, but because it pleaseth him so to do, Jer. xxxi. 31, 32; he does not take them away because they displease him, but gives them so to abide with them that they shall never displease him to the height of such a provocation; neither are the gifts of God otherwise to be repented of than by taking them from the persons on whom they are bestowed. But this heap being removed, we may proceed.
Furthermore, then, in sundry places doth the Lord propose this for the consolation of his, and to assure them that there shall never be an everlasting separation between him and them; which shall be farther cleared by particular instances. Things or truths proposed for consolation are, of all others, most clearly exalted above exception; without which they were no way suitable (considering the promptness of our unbelieving hearts to rise up against the work of God’s grace and mercy) to compass the end for which they are proposed.
Isa. xl. 27–31, “Why sayest thou, O Jacob, and speakest, O Israel, My way is hid from the Lord, and my judgment is passed over from my God? Hast thou not known? hast thou not heard, that the everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth, fainteth not, neither is weary? there is no searching of his understanding. He giveth power to the faint; and to them that have no might he increaseth strength. Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall: but they that wait upon the Lord shall renew their strength; they shall mount up with wings as eagles; they shall run, and not be weary; they shall walk, and not faint.” Verse 27, Jacob and Israel make a double complaint, both parts of it manifesting some fear or dread of separation from God; for though in general it could not be so, yet in particular believers under temptation may question their own condition, with their right unto and interest in all the things whereby their state and glory is safeguarded. “My way,” say they, “is hid from the Lord;” — “The Lord takes no more notice, sets his heart no more upon my way, my walking, but lets me go and pass on as a stranger to him.” And farther, “My judgment is passed over from my God;” — “Mine enemies prevail, lusts and corruptions are strong, and God doth not appear in my behalf; judgment is not executed on 127them, and what will be the issue of this my sad estate?” What the Lord proposeth and holdeth out unto them, for their establishment, in this condition, and to assure them that what they feared should not come upon them, he ushers in by an effectual expostulation: Verse 28, “Hast thou not known?” — “Hast thou not found it true by experience?” “Hast thou not heard?” — “Hast not thou been taught it by the saints that went before thee?” What it is he would have them take notice of, and which he so pathetically insinuates into their understandings and affections, for their establishment, is an exurgency of that description of himself which he gives, verse 28: from his eternity, — He is “the everlasting God;” from his power, — He is “the Creator of the ends of the earth;” from his unchangeableness, — “He fainteth not,” he waxeth not weary, and therefore there is no reason he should relinquish or give over any design that he hath undertaken, especially considering that he lays all his purposes in that whereby he describes himself in the last place, even his wisdom, — “There is no end of his understanding.” He establisheth, I say, their faith upon this fourfold description of himself, or revelation of these four attributes of his nature, as engaged for the effecting of that which he encourageth them to expect. “Who is it, O Jacob, with whom thou hast to do, that thou shouldst fear or complain that thou art rejected? He is eternal, almighty, unchangeable, infinitely wise; and if he be engaged in any way of doing thee good, who can turn him aside, that he should not accomplish all his pleasure towards thee? He will work; who shall let him?” It must be either want of wisdom and foresight to lay a design, or want of power to execute it, that exposeth any one to variableness in any undertaking. Therefore, that they may see how unlikely, how impossible a thing it is that “their way should be hid from the Lord,” and “their judgment passed over from their God,” he acquaints them who and what he is who hath undertaken to the contrary. But, alas! they are poor, faint creatures: they have no might, no strength to walk with God; unstable as water, they cannot excel; it is impossible they should hold out in the way wherein they are engaged unto the end. To obviate or remove such fears and misgiving thoughts, he lets them know, verse 29, that though they have, or may have, many decays (for they often faint, they often fail, whereof we have examples and complaints in the Scripture, made lively by our own experience), yet from him they shall have supplies to preserve them from that which they fear. He is eternal, almighty, unchangeable, and infinitely wise; he will give out power and increase strength when they faint and in themselves have no might at all. The Lord doth not propose himself under all these considerations to let them know what he is in himself only, but also that he will exert (and act suitably to) these properties in dealing with them, and 128making out supplies unto them, notwithstanding all their misgiving thoughts, which arise from the consideration of their own faintings and total want of might. Though in themselves they are weak and faint, yet their springs are in him, and their supplies from him, who is such as he hath here described himself to be. Hereupon, also, he anticipates an objection, by way of concession: Verse 30, “Even the youths shall faint and be weary, and the young men shall utterly fall.” Men that seem to have a great stock of strength and ability may yet fail and perish utterly; — an objection which, as I formerly observed, these days have given great force unto. We see many who seem to have the vigour of youth and the strength of young men in the ways of God, that have tainted in their course and utterly failed; they began to run well, but lay down almost at the entrance. “And be it so,” saith the Lord; “it shall so come to pass indeed. Many that go out in their own strength shall so fall and come to nothing: but what is that to thee, O Jacob, my chosen, thou that waitest upon the Lord? The unchangeable God will so make out strength to thee, that thou shalt never utterly faint, nor give over, but abide flying, running, walking, with speed, strength, and steadfastness, unto the end,” verse 31. That expression, “They that wait upon the Lord,” is a description of the persons to whom the premise is made, and not a condition of the promise itself. It is not, “If they wait upon the Lord,” but “They that wait upon the Lord.” If it were a condition of this promise, there were nothing promised; it is only said, “If they wait on the Lord, they shall wait on the Lord.” But of the vanity of such conditionals I shall speak afterward.
A scripture of the like importance you have, Isa. xliv. 1–8, “Yet now hear, O Jacob my servant; and Israel, whom I have chosen: Thus saith the Lord that made thee, and formed thee from the womb, which will help thee; Fear not, O Jacob, my servant; and thou, Jesurun, whom I have chosen. For I will pour water upon him that is thirsty, and floods upon the dry ground: I will pour my Spirit upon thy seed, and my blessing upon thine offspring: and they shall spring up as among the grass, as willows by the watercourses. One shall say, I am the Lord’s; and another shall call himself by the name of Jacob; and another shall subscribe with his hand unto the Lord, and surname himself by the name of Israel. Thus saith the Lord the King of Israel, and his Redeemer the Lord of hosts; I am the first, and I am the last; and beside me there is no God,” etc. I shall not need to insist long on the opening of these words: the general design of them is to give consolation and assurance unto Israel, from the eternity, unchangeableness, and absoluteness of God, with some peculiar references to the second person, the Redeemer, who is described, Rev. i. 8, with the titles, for the substance of them, whereby the Lord here holds out his own excellency. 129I shall only observe some few things from the words, for the illustration of the truth we have in hand, contained in them.
The state and condition wherein Jacob, Israel, Jesurun (several titles upon several accounts given to believers), are described to be, is twofold:— First, Of fear and disconsolation, as is intimated in the redoubled prohibition of that frame in them: Verse 2, “Fear not;” and verse 8, “Fear ye not, neither be afraid.” Some temptation to farther distance or separation from God (the only thing to be feared) was fallen upon them. This they are frequently exercised withal; it is the greatest and most pressing temptation whereunto they are liable and exposed. To conclude because some believers in hypothesi may, under temptation, fear their own separation from God, therefore believers in thesi may be forsaken, yea, that unless this be true the other could not befall them, may pass for the arguing of men who are unacquainted with that variety of temptations, spiritual motions and commotions, which believers are exercised withal This, I say, is the first part of that state wherein they are supposed to be; a condition of the greatest difficulty in the world for the receiving of satisfaction. Secondly, Of barrenness, unprofitableness, and withering; which seems, and that justly, to be the cause of their fear: Verse 3, they are as the “thirsty,” and as the “dry ground,” parched in itself, fruitless to its owners, withering in their own souls, and bringing forth no fruit to God. A sad condition on both hands. Within they find decays, they find no active principles of bringing forth fruit unto God; and without desertion, fears at least that they are forsaken. Upon this ye have the foundation that the Lord lays for the refreshment of their spirits in this condition, and reducing of them into an established assurance of the continuance of his love; and that is his free, gracious election and choosing of them: “Thou art Jacob whom I have chosen, Jesurun whom I have chosen,” verses 1, 2, even from eternity; when he “appointed the ancient people, and the things that are coming and shall come,” verse 7; when he purposed mercy for the fathers of old, whom long since he had brought upon that account unto himself.
This is the “foundation” of doing them good, which “standeth sure;” as the apostle makes use of it to the same purpose, 2 Tim. ii. 19. This foundation being laid, Isa. xliv. 3, he gives them a twofold promise, suited to the double state wherein they were:— First, For the removal of their drought and barrenness, he will give them “waters” and “floods” for the taking of it away; which in the following words he interpreteth of the “Spirit,” as likewise doth the apostle John, John vii. 38, 39. He is the great soul-refresher; in him are all our springs. Saith the Lord, then, “Fear not, ye poor thirsty souls; ye shall have him as a flood, in great abundance, until all his fruits be brought forth in you.” Secondly, For the removal of the other 130evil, or fears of desertion and casting off, he minds them of his covenant, or the blessing of their offspring, of them and their seed, according to his promise when he undertook to be their God, Gen. xvii. 7. And then, Thirdly, There is a twofold issue of God’s thus dealing with them:— First, Of real fruitfulness: Isa. xliv. 4, “They shall be as grass” under perpetual showers, which cannot possibly wither and decay, or dry away, “and as trees planted by the rivers of water, that bring forth their fruit in their season, whose leaf doth not wither,” Ps. i. 3. Secondly, Of zealous profession and owning of God, with the engagement of their hearts and hands unto him, which you have in Isa. xliv. 5. Every one for himself shall give up himself to the Lord, in the most solemn engagement and professed subjection that is possible. They shall “say,” and “subscribe,” and “surname” themselves, by names and terms of faith and obedience, to follow the Lord in the faith of Jacob or Israel, in the inheritance of the promises which were made to him.
But now what assurance is there that this happy beginning shall be carried on to perfection, that this kindness of God to them shall abide to the end, and that there shall not be a separation between him and his chosen Israel? In the faith hereof the Lord confirms them by that revelation which he makes of himself and his properties, verses 6–8. First, in his sovereignty, he is the “King.” What shall obstruct him? hath not he power to dispose of all things? He is the “Lord and King;” he will work, and who shall let him? But hath he kindness and tenderness to carry him out hereunto? Therefore, secondly, he is their “Redeemer;” and do but consider what he doth for the glory of that title, and what the work of redemption stood him in, and ye will not fear as to this nor be afraid. And all this he, thirdly, closeth with his eternity and unchangeableness. He is “the first, and he is the last, and beside him there is no God,” — the first, that chose them from eternity; and the last, that will preserve them to the end; and still the same, — he altereth not. I shall not add more instances in this kind. That the Lord often establisheth his saints in the assurance of the unchangeableness of his love towards them from the immutability of his own nature is very evident. Thence comparing himself and his love with a tender mother and her love, he affirms that hers may be altered, but his shall admit of “no variableness, neither shadow of turning,” Isa. xlix. 14–16.
To wind up this discourse, the sum of this first part of our first scriptural demonstration of the truth under debate amounts to this argument: That which God affirms shall be certainly and infallibly fulfilled upon the account of the immutability of his own nature, and encourageth men to expect it as certainly to be fulfilled as he is unchangeable; that shall infallibly, notwithstanding all oppositions and difficulties, be wrought and perfected. Now, that such, and so 131surely bottomed is the continuance of the love of God unto his saints, and so would he have them to expect, etc., hath been proved by an induction of many particular instances, wherein those engagements from the immutability of God are fully expressed.
One of these testimonies, even that mentioned in the first place, Mal. iii. 6, from whence this argument doth arise, is proposed to be considered and answered by Mr Goodwin, chap. x. sect. 40, 41, pp. 203–207. A brief removal of his exceptions to our inference from hence will leave the whole to its native vigour, and the truth therein contained to its own steadfastness in the hand and power of that demonstration. Thus, then, he proposeth that place of the prophet and our argument from thence, whereunto be shapes his answer: “For the words of Malachi, ‘I am the Lord, I change not,’ from which it is wont to be argued that when God once loves a person, he never ceaseth to love him, because this must needs argue a changeableness in him in respect of his affection, and consequently the saints cannot fall away finally from his grace,’ etc. So he.
Ans. It is an easy thing so to frame the argument of an adversary as to contribute more to the weakening of it in its proposing than in the answer afterward given thereunto; and that it is no strange thing with Mr Goodwin to make use of this advantage in his disputations in this book is discerned and complained of by all not engaged in the same contest with himself. That he hath dealt no otherwise with us in the place under consideration, the ensuing observations will clearly manifest:—
First, all the strength, that Mr Goodwin will allow to this argument ariseth from a naked consideration of the immutability of God as it is an essential property of his nature, when our arguing is from his engagement to us by and on the account of that property. That God will do such and such a thing because he is omnipotent, though he shall not, at all manifest any purpose of his will to lay forth his omnipotency for the accomplishment of it, is an inference all whose strength is vain presumption; but when God hath engaged himself for the performance of any thing, thence to conclude to the certain accomplishment of it, from his power whereby he is able to do it, is a deduction that faith will readily close withal. So the apostle assures us of the re-implanting of the Jews upon this account. “God,” saith he, “is able to plant them in again,” having promised so to do, Rom. xi. 23. There are two considerations upon which the unchangeableness of God hath a more effectual influence into the continuance of his love to his saints than the mere objected thought of it will lead us to an acquaintance withal:—
First, God proposeth his immutability to the faith of the saints for their establishment and consolation, in this very case of the stability of his love unto them. We dare not draw conclusions in reference 132to ourselves from any property of God, but only upon the account of the revelation which he hath made thereof unto us for that end and purpose; but this being done, we have a sure anchor, firm and steadfast, to fix us against all blasts of temptation or opposition whatsoever. When God proposes his immutability or unchangeableness to assure us of the continuance of his love unto us, if we might truly apprehend, yea, and ought so to do, that his changeableness may be preserved, and himself vindicated from least shadow of turning, though he should change his mind, thoughts, love, purposes, concerning us every day, what conclusion for consolation could possibly arise from such proposal of God’s immutability unto us? yea, would it not rather appear to be a way suited to the delusion of poor souls, that when they shall think they have a solid pillar, no less than an essential property of the nature of God, to rest upon, they shall find themselves leaning on a cloud, or shadow, or on a broken reed that will run into their hands, instead of yielding them the least supportment? God deals not thus with his saints. His discoveries of himself in Christ for the establishment of the hearts of his are not such flints as from whence the most skilful and exercised faith cannot expect one drop of consolation. Whatsoever of his name he holds out to the sons of men, it will be a strong tower and place of refuge and safety to them that fly unto it.
Secondly, The consideration of that love in its continuance, wherein the Lord settles and puts out of doubt the souls of his, by the engagement of his unchangeableness, or the calling of them to the consideration of that property in him from whom that love doth flow, adds strength also to the way of arguing we insist upon. Were the lore of God to his nothing but the declaration of his approbation of such and such things, annexed to the law and rule of obedience (it might stand firm like a pillar in a river, though the water be not thereby caused to stand still one moment, but only touch it, and so pass on), there were some colour of exception to be laid against it. And this is, indeed, the πρῶτον ψεῦδος of Mr Goodwin in this whole controversy, that he acknowledgeth no other love of God to believers but what lies in the outward approbation of what is good, and men’s doing it; upon which account there is no more love in God to one than another, to the choicest saint than to the most profligate villain in the world. Nay, it is not any love at all, properly so called, being no internal, vital act of God’s will, the seat of his love, but an external declaration of the issue of our obedience. The declaration of God’s will, that he approves faith and obedience, is no more love to Peter than it is to Judas. But let now the love of God to believers be considered as it is in itself, as a vital act of his will, willing, if I may so speak, good things to them, as the immanent purpose of his will, and also joined with an acceptation of them in the effects of 133grace, favour, and love in Jesus Christ, and it will be quickly evidenced how an alteration therein will intrench upon the immutability of God, both as to his essence, and attributes, and decrees.
Having thus re-enforced our argument from this place of Scripture, by restoring unto it those considerations which (being its main strength) it was maimed and deprived of by Mr Goodwin in his proposal thereof, I shall briefly consider the answers that by him are suggested thereunto.
Thus, then, he proceedeth: “By the tenor of this arguing, it will as well follow, that in case God should at any time withdraw his love and his favour from a nation or body of a people which he sometimes favoured or loved, he should be changed. But that no such change of dispensation as this towards one or the same people or nation argueth any change at all in God, at least any such change which he disclaimeth as incompetent to him, is evident from those instances without number recorded in Scripture of such different dispensations of his towards sundry nations, and more especially towards the Jews, to whom sometimes he gives peace, sometimes consumes them with wars, sometimes he makes them the head, and sometimes again the tail of the nations round about them.”
Ans. The love and favour of God to a nation or people, here brought into the lists of comparison with the peculiar love of God to his saints, which he secures them of upon the account of his immutability, is either the outward dispensation of good things to them, called his love because it expresseth and holds out a fountain of goodness from whence it flows, or it is an eternal act of God’s will towards them, of the same nature with the love to his own formerly described. If it be taken in the first sense, as apparently it is intended, and so made out from the instance of God’s dealing with the Jews in outward blessings and punishments, Mr Goodwin doth plainly μεταβαίνειν εἰς ἄλλο γένος, — fall into a thing quite of another nature, instead of that which was first proposed. “Amphora cum cœpit institui cur urceus exit?” There is a wide difference between outward providential dispensations and eternal purposes and acts of grace and good-will, to deal in the instance insisted on by Mr Goodwin. There being frequent mention in the Scripture, as afterward shall be fully declared, of a difference and distinction in and of that people (for “they are not all Israel that are of Israel,” Rom. ix. 4–8), the whole lump and body of them being the people of God in respect of separation from the rest of the world and dedication to his worship and external profession, yet a remnant only, a hidden remnant, being his people upon the account of eternal designation and actual acceptation into love and favour in Jesus Christ, there must needs be also a twofold dispensation of God and his will in reference to that people, — the first common and general, towards the whole body of them, in outward 134ordinances and providential exercises of goodness or justice. In this there was great variety as to the latter part, comprehending only external effects or products of the power of God; in which regard he can pull down what he hath set up, and set up what he hath pulled down, without the least shadow of turning, these various dispensations working uniformly towards the accomplishment of his unchangeable purposes. And this is all that Mr Goodwin’s exceptions reach to, even a change in the outward dispensation of providence; which none ever denied, being that which may be, nay is done, for the bringing about and accomplishment, in a way suitable to the advancement of his glory, of his unchangeable purposes. What proportion there is to be argued from between the general effects of various dispensations and that peculiar love and grace of the covenant thereof, wherein God assures his saints of their stability upon the account of his own unchangeableness, I know not. Because he may remove his candlestick from a fruitless, faithless people, and give them up to desolation, may he therefore take his Holy Spirit from them that believe? For whilst that continues, the root of the matter is in them. So that, secondly, there is a peculiar dispensation of grace exerted towards those peculiar ones whom he owneth and receiveth, as above mentioned, wherein there are such engagements of the purposes, decrees, and will of God, as that the stream of them cannot be forced back without as great an alteration and change in God as the thoughts of the heart of the meanest worm in the world are liable unto; and on this the Lord asserts the steadfastness of his love to them in the midst of the changes of outward dispensations towards the body of that people, wherein also their external concernments were wrapped up, 1 Sam. xii. 22. But this will afterward be more fully cleared. The substance of this exception amounts only to thus much: There are changes wrought in the works which outwardly are, of God, as to general and common administrations; therefore, also are his eternal purposes of spiritual grace liable to the like alterations. Whereas Mr Goodwin says that this will not import any alteration in God, at least any such alteration as is incompetent to him, I know not of any shadow of alteration that may be ascribed to him without the greatest and most substantial derogation from his glory that you can engage into.
And this farther clears what is farther excepted to the end of sect. 40, in these words: “Therefore, neither the unchangeableness nor changeableness of God is to be estimated or measured, either by any variety or uniformity of dispensation towards one and the same object; and, consequently, for him to express himself; as this day, towards a person, man or woman, as if he intended to save them, or that he really intended to save them, and should on the morrow, as the alteration in the interim may be, or however may be supposed, 135in these persons, express himself to the contrary, as that he verily intends to destroy them, would not argue or imply the least alteration in him.”
Ans. It is true, such dispensations of God as are morally declarative of what God approves, or what he rejects, — not engagements of any particular intendment, design, or purpose of his will, — or such as are merely outward acts of his power, may in great variety be subservient to the accomplishment of his purposes, and may undergo (the first in respect of the objects, the latter of the works themselves) many alterations, without prejudice to the immutability of God. The first in themselves are everlastingly unchangeable. God always approves the obedience of his creatures, according to that light and knowledge which he is pleased to communicate unto them, and always condemns and disallows their rebellions; yet the same persons may do sometimes what he approves and sometimes what he condemns, without the least shadow of change in God. Whilst they thus change, his purposes concerning them, and what he will do to them and for them, are unchangeable as is his law concerning good and evil For the latter, take an instance in the case of Pharaoh. God purposeth the destruction of Pharaoh, and suits his dispensations in great variety and with many changes for the bringing about and accomplishing of that his unchangeable purpose; he plagues him and frees him, he frees him and plagues him again. All these things do not in the least prove any alteration in God, being all various effects of his power, suited to the accomplishment of an unchangeable purpose. So in respect of persons whom he intends to bring, through Christ, infallibly to himself, how various are his dispensations, both temporal and spiritual! He afflicts them and relieves them, sends them light and darkness, strength and weakness, forsakes and appears to them again., without the least alteration in his thoughts and purposes towards them; all these things, by his infinite wisdom, working together for their good. But now, if by “dispensation” you understand and comprehend also the thoughts and purposes of God towards any for the bringing of them to such and such an end, if these be altered, and the Lord doth change them continually, I know no reason why a poor worm of the earth may not lay an equal claim (absit blasphemia) to immutability and unchangeableness with him who asserts it as his essential property and prerogative, whereby he distinguisheth himself from all creatures whatsoever.
There is also an ambiguity in that expression, “That God expresseth himself this day towards a man or woman that he really intends to save them, and on the morrow expresseth himself to the contrary.” If our author intend only God’s moral approbation of duties and performances, as was said before, with the conditional approbation of persons with respect to them, there being therein no declaration 136of any intention or purpose of God properly so called, the instance is not in the least looking towards the business we have in hand. But if withal he intend the purposes and intentions of the will of God, as these terms, “really intend” and “verily intend,” do import, I know not what to call or account alteration and change if this he not. Surely if a man like ourselves do really intend one thing one day, and verily intend the clean contrary the next day, we may make bold to think and say he is changeable; and what apology will be found, on such a supposal, for the immutability of God doth not fall within the compass of my narrow apprehension. Neither is that parenthetical expression, of a change imagined in the persons concerning whom God’s intentions are, any plea for his changeableness upon this supposal; for he either foresaw that change in them or he did not. If he did not, where is his prescience? yea, where is his deity? If he did, to what end did he really and verily intend and purpose to do so and so for a man, when at the same instant he knew the man would so behave himself as he should never accomplish any such intention towards him? We should be wary how we ascribe such lubricous thoughts to worms of the earth like ourselves; “but if a man sin against the Lord, who shall entreat for him?” If one should really and verily intend or purpose to give a man bread to eat tomorrow, who he knows infallibly will be put to death tonight, such an one will not, perhaps, be counted changeable, but he will scarce escape being esteemed a changeling. Yet it seems it must be granted that God verily and really intends to do so and so for men, if they be in such and such a condition, which he verily and really knows they will not be in! But suppose all this might be granted, what is it at all to the argument in hand concerning the Lord’s engaging his immutability to his saints, to secure them from perishing upon the account thereof? Either prove that God doth change, which he saith he doth not, or that the saints may perish though he change not, which he affirms they cannot, or you speak not to the business in hand.
The 41st section contains a discourse too long to be transcribed, unless it were more to the purpose in hand than it is. I shall, therefore, briefly give the reader a taste of some paralogisms that run from one end of it to the other, and then, in particular, roll away every stone that seems to be of any weight for the detaining captive the truth in whose vindication we are engaged:—
First, From the beginning to the ending of the whole discourse the thing in question is immodestly begged, and many inferences made upon a supposal that believers may become impenitent apostates; which, being the sole thing under debate, ought not in itself to be taken as granted, and so made a proof of itself. It is by us asserted that those who are once freely accepted of God in Christ shall not be so forsaken as to become impenitent apostates, and that upon the account 137of the immutability of God, which he hath engaged to give assurance thereof. To evince the falsity of this, it is much pressed that if they become impenitent apostates, God, without the least shadow of mutability, may cast them off and condemn them; which is a kind of reasoning that will scarce conclude to the understanding of an intelligent reader. And yet this sandy foundation is thought sufficient to bear up many rhetorical expressions concerning the changeableness of God, in respect of sundry of his attributes, if he should not destroy such impenitent apostates as it is splendidly supposed believers may be. “O famâ ingens, ingentior armis vir Trojane.” This way of disputing will scarce succeed you in this great undertaking.
The second scene of this discourse is a gross confounding of God’s legal or moral approbation of duties, and conditional [approbation] of persons in reference to them (which is not love properly so called, but a mere declaration of God’s approving the thing which he commands and requires), with the will of God’s purpose and intention, and actual acceptation of the persons of believers in Jesus Christ, suited thereunto. Hence are all the comparisons used between God and a judge in his love, and the express denial that God’s love is fixed on any materially, — that is, on the persons of any, for that is the intendment of it, — but only formally, in reference to their qualifications. Hence, also, is that instance again and again insisted on, in this and the former section, of the love of God to the fallen angels whilst they stood in their obedience. Their obedience, no doubt (if any they actually yielded), fell under the approbation of God; but that it was the purpose and intention of God to continue and preserve them in that obedience cannot be asserted without ascribing to him more palpable mutability than can fall upon a wise and knowing man.
Thirdly, The discourse of this section hath a contribution of strength, such as it is, from a squaring of the love of God unto the sweet nature and loving disposition of men; which is perhaps no less gross anthropomorphitism than they were guilty of who assigned him a body and countenance like to ours.
And upon these three stilts, whereof the first is called “Petitio Principii,” the second “Ignoratio Elenchi,” and the third “Fallacia non causæ pro causa,” is this discourse advanced.
I shall not need to transcribe and follow the progress of this argumentation; the observation of the fallacies before mentioned will help the meanest capacity to unravel the sophistry of the whole. The close only of it may seem to deserve more particular consideration. So, then, it proceedeth: “The unchangeableness assumed by God himself unto himself in the work in hand, ‘I am the Lord, I change not,’ is, I conceive, that which is found in him in respect of his decrees; the reason is, because it is assigned by him as the reason 138why they were not utterly destroyed: ‘I am the Lord, I change not; therefore ye sons of Jacob are not consumed.’ In the beginning of the chapter he did declare unto them his purpose and decree of sending his only-begotten Son, whom he there calls ‘The messenger of the covenant,’ unto them. He predicteth, verses 3, 4, the happy fruit or consequence of that his sending, in reference to their nation and posterity. To the unchangeableness of this his decree he assigns the patience which he had for a long time exercised towards them under their great and continued provocations; whereby he implies, that if he could have been turned out of the way of his decree concerning the sending of his Son unto them in their posterity, they would have done it by the greatness of their sins. But insomuch as this his decree, or himself in this his decree, was unchangeable, and it must have been changed in case they had been all destroyed, for the decree was for the sending to their nation and posterity, ‘hence,’ saith he, ‘it comes to pass, that though your sins otherwise abundantly have deserved it, yet I have spared you from a total ruin.’ Therefore, in these two last Scripture arguments, there is every whit as much, or rather more, against than for the common doctrine of perseverance.”
Ans. That the unchangeableness of God, which is mentioned in this text, hath relation to the decrees of God is granted; whatever, then, God purposeth or decreeth is put upon a certainty of accomplishment upon the account of his unchangeableness. There may be some use hereafter made of this concession, when, I suppose, the evasions that will be used about the objects of those decrees and their conditionality will scarce waive the force of our arguing from it. For the present, though I willingly embrace the assertion, yet I cannot assent to the analysis of that place of Scripture which is introduced as the reason of it. The design of the Lord in that place hath been before considered. That the consolation here intended is only this, that whereas God purposed to send the Lord Christ to the nation of the Jews, which he would certainly fulfil and accomplish, and therefore did not, nor could, utterly destroy them, will scarcely be evinced to the judgment of any one who shall consider the business in hand with so much liberty of spirit as to cast an eye upon the Scripture itself. That after the rehearsal of the great promise of sending his Son in the flesh to that people, he distinguisheth them into his chosen ones and those rejected, his remnant and the refuse of the nation, being the main body thereof, threatening destruction to the latter, but engaging himself into a way of mercy and love towards the former, hath been declared. To assure the last of his continuance in these thoughts and purposes of his good-will towards them, he minds them of his unchangeableness in all such purposes, and particularly encourages them to rest upon it in respect of his love towards themselves. That God intended to administer consolation 139to his saints in the expression insisted on is not, cannot be, denied. Now, what consolation could redound to them in particular from hence, that the whole nation should not utterly be rooted out, because God purposed to send his Son to their posterity? Notwithstanding this, any individual person that shall flee to the horns of this altar for refuge, that shall lay hold on this promise for succour, may perish everlastingly. There is scarce any place of Scripture where there is a more evident distinction asserted between the Jews who were so outwardly only and in the flesh, and those who were so inwardly also and in the circumcision of the heart, than in this and the following chapter. Their several portions are also clearly proportioned out to them in sundry particulars. Even this promise of sending the Messiah respected not the whole nation, and doubtless was only subservient to the consolation of them whose blessedness consisted in being distinguished from others, But let the context be viewed, and the determination left to the Spirit of truth in the heart of him that reads.
Neither doth it appear to me how the decree of God concerning the sending of his Son into the world can be asserted as absolutely immutable upon that principle formerly laid down and insisted on by our author: He sends him into the world to die, neither is any concernment of his mediation so often affirmed to fall under the will and purpose of God as his death. But concerning this Mr Goodwin disputes, out of Socinus,8686 Socin. Præl. Theol. cap. x. sect. 8. for a possibility of a contrary event, and that the whole counsel of God might have been fulfilled by the goodwill and intention of Christ, though actually he had not died. If, then, the purpose of God concerning Christ, as to that great and eminent part of his intendment therein, might have been frustrated and was liable to alteration, what reason can be rendered wherefore that might not upon some considerations (which Mr Goodwin is able, if need were, to invent) have been the issue of the whole decree? And what, then, becomes of the collateral consolation, which from the immutability of that decree is here asserted? Now, this being the only witness and testimony, in the first part of our scriptural demonstration of the truth in hand, whereunto any exception is put in, and the exceptions against it being in such a frame and composure as manifest the whole to be a combination of beggars and jugglers, whose pleas are inconsistent with themselves, as it doth now appear, upon the examination of them apart, it is evident that as Mr Goodwin hath little ground or encouragement for that conclusion he makes of this section, so the light breaking forth from a constellation of this and other texts mentioned is sufficient to lead us into an acknowledgment and embracement of the truth contended for.
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