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Chapter I. The state of the controversy.
The various thoughts of men concerning the doctrine proposed to consideration — The great concernment of it, however stated, on all hands confessed — Some special causes pressing to the present handling of it — The fearful backsliding of many in these days — The great offence given and taken thereby, with the provision made for its removal — The nature of that offence and temptation thence arising considered — Answer to some arguings of Mr G., chap. ix., from thence against the truth proposed — The use of trials and shakings — Grounds of believers’ assurance that they are so — The same farther argued and debated — Of the testimony of a man’s own conscience concerning his uprightness, and what is required thereunto — 1 John iii. 7 considered — Of the rule of self-judging, with principles of settlement for true believers, notwithstanding the apostasies of eminent professors — Corrupt teachings rendering the handling of this doctrine necessary — Its enemies of old and of late — The particular undertaking of Mr G. proposed to consideration — An entrance into the stating of the question — The terms of the question explained — Of holiness in its several acceptations — Created holiness, original or adventitious, complete or inchoate — Typical by dedication, real by purification — Holiness evangelical, either so indeed or by estimation — Real holiness partial or universal — The partakers of the first, or temporary believers, not true believers, maintained against Mr G. — Ground of judging professors to be true believers — Matt. vii. 20 considered — What is the rule of judging men therein given — What knowledge of the faith of others is to be obtained — What is meant by perseverance: how in Scripture it is expressed — The grounds of it pointed at — What is intended by falling away — Whether it be possible the Spirit of grace may be lost, or the habit of it, and how — The state of the controversy as laid down by Mr G. — The vanity thereof discovered — His judgment about believers’ falling away examined — What principles and means of perseverance he grants to them — The enemies of our perseverance — Indwelling sin in particular considered — No possibility of preservation upon Mr G.’s grounds demonstrated — The means and ways of the saints’ preservation in faith, as asserted by Mr G., at large examined, weighed, and found light — The doctrine of the saints’ perseverance, and way of teaching it, cleared from Isa. iv. — That chapter opened — The 5th verse particularly insisted on and discussed — The whole state and method of the controversy thence educed.
The truth which I have proposed to handle, and whose defence I have undertaken in the ensuing discourse, is commonly called the 78perseverance of saints; a doctrine whereof nothing ordinary, low, or common, is spoken by any that have engaged into the consideration of it. To some it is the very salt of the covenant of grace, the most distinguishing mercy communicated in the blood of Christ, so interwoven into, and lying at the bottom of, all that consolation which “God is abundantly willing that all the heirs of the promise should receive,” that it is utterly impossible it should be safe-guarded one moment without a persuasion of this truth, which seals up all the mercy and grace of the new covenant with the unchangeableness and faithfulness of God.88 Jude 1; 2 Cor. xiii. 8; Isa. iv. 5, 6; Jer. xxxi. 31–34, xxxii. 39, 40; Isa. lix. 21; Heb. viii. 10–12; 1 Cor. i. 9; Phil. i. 6; Rom. viii. 32–35. To others it is no grace of God, no part of the purchase of Christ, no doctrine of the gospel, no foundation of consolation; but an invention of men, a delusion of Satan, an occasion of dishonour to God, disconsolation and perplexity to believers, a powerful temptation unto sin and wickedness in all that do receive it.99 Pelag. Armin. Socin. Papist. Thomson de Intercis. Justif. Diatrib. Bertius Apost. Sanct. Remonst. Coll. Hag. Scripta Synod.
A doctrine it is, also, whose right apprehension is on all hands confessed to be of great importance, upon the account of that effectual influence which it hath, and will have, into our walking with God; — which, say some, is to love humility, thankfulness, fear, fruitfulness;1010 Gen. xvii. 1; Ps. xxiii. 6; Phil. ii. 12, 13; Heb. x. 19–22; 2 Cor. vii. 1; 2 Pet. i. 3–7, etc. to folly, stubbornness, rebellion, dissoluteness, negligence, say others. The great confidence expressed by men concerning the evidence and certainty of their several persuasions, whether defending or opposing the doctrine under consideration, — the one part professing the truth thereof to be of equal stability with the promises of God, and most plentifully delivered in the Scripture; others (at least one, who is thought to be pars magna of his companions), that if it be asserted in any place of the Scripture, it were enough to make wise and impartial men to call the authority thereof into question, — must needs invite men to turn aside to see about what this earnest contest is. And quis is est tam potens, who dares thus undertake to remove not only ancient landmarks and boundaries of doctrines among the saints, but “mountains of brass” and the “hills about Jerusalem,” which we hoped would stand fast for ever? The concernment, then, of the glory of God, and the honour of the Lord Jesus Christ, with the interest of the souls of the saints, being so wrapped up, and that confessedly on all hands, in the doctrine proposed, I am not out of hope that the plain discoursing of it from the word of truth may be as “a word in season,” like “apples of gold in pictures of silver.”
Moreover, besides the general importance of that doctrine in all times and seasons, the wretched practices of many in the days wherein we live, and the industrious attempts of others in their teachings, for 79the subverting and casting it down from its excellency and that place which it hath long held in the churches of Christ and hearts of all the saints of God, have rendered the consideration of it at this time necessary.
For the first, these are days wherein we have as sad and tremendous examples of apostasy, backsliding, and falling from high and glorious pitches in profession, as any age can parallel; — as many stars cast from heaven, as many trees plucked up by the roots, as many stately buildings, by wind, rain, and storm, cast to the ground, as many sons of perdition discovered, as many washed swine returning to their mire, as many Demases going after the present evil world, and men going out from the church which were never truly and properly of it, as many sons of the morning and children of high illumination and gifts setting in darkness, and that of all sorts, as ever in so short a space of time since the name of Christ was known upon the earth.1111 Rev. xii. 4; Jude 12; Matt. vii. 26, 27; 2 Thess. ii. 3; 2 Pet. ii. 20–22; 2 Tim. iv. 10, 1 John ii. 19; Heb. vi. 4–6. What through the deviating of some to the ways of the world and the lusts of the flesh, what of others to spiritual wickednesses and abominations, it is seldom that we see a professor to hold out in the glory of his profession to the end. I shall not now discourse of the particular causes hereof, with the temptations and advantages of Satan that seem to be peculiar to this season; but only thus take notice of the thing itself, as that which presseth for and rendereth the consideration of the doctrine proposed not only seasonable but necessary.
That this is a stumbling-block in the way of them that seek to walk with God, I suppose none of them will deny. It was so of old, and it will so continue until the end. And therefore our Saviour, predicting and discoursing of the like season, Matt. xxiv., foretelling that “many should be deceived,” verse 11, that “iniquity should abound,” and “the love of many wax cold,” verse 12, — that is, visibly and scandalously, to the contempt and seeming disadvantage of the gospel, — adds, as a preservative consolation to his own chosen, select ones, who might be shaken in their comfort and confidence to see so many that walked to the house of God and took sweet counsel together with them, to fall headlong to destruction, that the elect shall not be seduced. Let the attempts of seducers be what they will, and their advantages never so many, or their successes never so great, they shall be preserved; the house upon the rock shall not be cast down; against the church built on Christ the gates of hell shall not prevail. And Paul mentioning the apostasy of Hymeneus and Philetus, who seem to have been teachers of some eminency, and stars of some considerable magnitude in the firmament of the church, with the eversion of the faith of some who attended unto their abominations, 802 Tim. ii. 17, 18, lest any disconsolation should surprise believers in reference to their own condition, as though that should be lubricous, uncertain, and such as might end in destruction and their faith in an overthrow, he immediately adds that effectual cordial for the reviving and supportment of their confidence and comfort, verse 19, “Nevertheless” (notwithstanding all this apostasy of eminent professors, yet) “the foundation of God standeth sure, The Lord knoweth them that are his;” — “Those who are built upon the foundation of his unchangeable purpose and love shall not be prevailed against.” John likewise doth the same; for having told his little children that there were many antichrists abroad in the world, and they for the most part apostates, he adds in his First Epistle, ii. 19, “They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us.” He lets them know that by their being apostates, they had proved themselves to have been but hypocrites; and therefore believers’ dwelling in safety was no way prejudiced by their backsliding. The like occasion now calls for the like application, and the same disease for the same prevention or remedy. That no sound persons may be shaken, because unhealthy ones are shattered, — that those may not tremble who are built on the rock, because those are cast down who are built on the sand, — is one part of my aim and intendment in handling this doctrine; and therefore I shall as little dabble in the waters of strife, or insist upon it in way of controversy, as the importunity of the adversary and that truth which we are obliged to contend for will permit. One Scripture, in its own plainness and simplicity, will be of more use for the end I aim at than twenty scholastical arguments, pressed with never so much accurateness and subtilty.
A temptation, then, this is, and hath been of old, to the saints, disposed of by the manifold wisdom of God to stir them up to “take heed lest they fall;” to put them upon trying and examining “whether Christ, be in them or no;” and also to make out to those fountains of establishment, in his eternal purpose and gracious promises, wherein their refreshments and reserves under such temptations do lie.1212 Rom. xi. 20; 1 Cor. x. 12, xi. 28; 2 Cor. xiii. 5; Rev. ii. 24, 26; Isa. xlv. 22; Mal. iii. 6; 2 Pet. iii. 17; Heb. iii. 12; Hab. iii. 17, 18. And though our doctrine enforces us to conclude all such never to be sound believers, in that peculiar notion and sense of that expression which shall instantly be declared, who totally and finally apostatize and fall off from the ways of God, yet is it exceedingly remote from being any true ground of shaking the faith of those who truly believe, any farther than shaking is useful for the right and thorough performance of that great gospel duty of trial and self-examination.
81Mr Goodwin indeed contends, chap. ix., sect. 8–11, pp. 108–110, “That if we judge all such as fall away to perdition never to have been true believers” (that is, with such a faith as bespeaks them to enjoy union with Christ and acceptance with God), “it will administer a thousand fears and jealousies concerning the soundness of a man’s own faith, whether that be sound or no; and so it will be indifferent as to consolation whether true believers may fall away or no, seeing it is altogether uncertain whether a man hath any of that true faith which cannot perish.”
Ans. But, first, God, who hath promised to make “all things work together for good to them that love him,” in his infinite love and wisdom is pleased to exercise them with great variety, both within and without, in reference to themselves and others, for the accomplishing towards them all the good pleasure of his goodness, and carrying them on in that holy, humble, depending frame, which is needful for the receiving from him those gracious supplies without which it is impossible they should be preserved. To this end are they often exposed to winnowings of fierce winds, and shakings by more dreadful blasts than any breaths in this consideration of the apostatizing of professors, though of eminency. Not that God is delighted with their fears and jealousies, which yet he knows under such dispensations they must conflict withal, but with the trial and exercise of their graces whereunto he calls them; that is, his glory, wherein his soul is delighted. It is no singular thing for the saints of God to be exercised with a thousand fears and jealousies, and through them to grow to great establishment. If, indeed, they were such as were unconquerable, such as did not work together for their good, such as must needs be endless, all means of satisfaction and establishment being rescinded by the causes of them, then were there weight in this exception; but neither the Scriptures nor the experience of the saints of God do give the least hint to such an assertion.1313 Rom. viii. 28; Ps. xxx. 6, 7; Isa. viii. 17, liv. 7–10; 1 Pet. i. 7; 1 Cor. iii. 13; 1 Pet. iv. 12; 2 Cor. vii. 5; 2 Thess. i. 11; Heb. xii. 25, 28, 29; Isa. lvii. 15, lxvi. 2; James iv. 6; 1 Pet. v. 5; Matt. vii. 24, 25; Amos ix. 9; Luke xxii. 31; Eph. vi. 10–18, iv. 14; Isa. xlix. 14–16, lxiii. 9; Acts ix. 5; Ps. ciii. 13; 1 Pet. i. 7; Rom. viii. 38, 39.
Secondly, It is denied that the fall of the most glorious hypocrites is indeed an efficacious engine in the hands of the adversary to ingenerate any other fears and jealousies, or to expose them to any other shakings, than what are common to them in other temptations of daily incursion, from which God doth constantly make a way for them to escape, 1 Cor. x. 13. It is true, indeed, that if true believers had no other foundation of their persuasion that they are so but what occurs visibly to the observation of men in the outward conversation of them that yet afterward fall totally away, the apostasy 82of such (notwithstanding the general assurance they have that those who are born of God cannot, shall not sin unto death, 1 John iii. 9, seeing their own interest in that estate and condition may be clouded, at least for a season, and their consolation thereupon depending interrupted) might occasion thoughts in them of very sad consideration; but whilst, besides all the beams and rays that ever issued from a falling star, all the leaves and blossoms with abortive fruit that ever grew on an unrooted tree, all the goodly turrets and ornaments of the fairest house that ever was built on the sand, there are moreover “three that bear record in heaven, the Father, the Word, and the Holy Ghost, and three that bear witness in earth, the spirit, and the water, and the blood,” — whilst there is a teaching, anointing, and assuring earnest, a firm sealing to the day of redemption, a knowledge that we are passed from death to life,1414 1 John v. 7, 8, ii. 20, 27; 2 Cor. i. 21, 22, v. 5; Eph. i. 13, 14, iv. 30; Rom. viii. 16, 1 John iii. 14. — the temptation arising from the apostasy of hypocrites is neither so potent nor unconquerable but that, by the grace of Him through whom we can do all things, it may be very well dealt withal. This I say, supposing the ordinary presence and operation of the Spirit of grace in the hearts of believers, with such shines of God’s countenance upon them as they usually enjoy. Let these be interrupted or turned aside, and there is not the least blast or breath that proceeds from the mouth of the weakest enemy they have to deal withal but is sufficient to cast them down from the excellency of their joy and consolation, Ps. xxx. 6, 7.
The evidence of this truth is such that Mr Goodwin is forced to say, “Far be it from me to deny but that a man may very possibly attain unto a very strong and potent assurance, and that upon grounds every way sufficiently warrantable and good, that his faith is sound and saving,”1515 “Vere fidelis uti pro tempore præsenti de fidei et conscientiæ suæ integritate certus esse potest, ita et de salute sua et de salutifera Dei erga ipsum benevolentia pro illo tempore certus esse potest et debet.” — Act. Synod. p. 182, Dec. Sent. thes. 7. cap. ix. sect. 9. But unto this concession he puts in a double exception:—
First, “That there is not one true believer of a hundred, yea, of many thousands, who hath any such assurance of his faith as is built upon solid and pregnant foundations.”
I must, by his leave, enter my dissent hereunto; and as we have the liberty of our respective apprehensions, so neither the one nor the other proves any thing in the cause. Setting aside cases of desertion, great temptations, and trials, I hope, through the riches of the grace and tenderness of the love of the Father, the condition is otherwise than is apprehended by Mr Goodwin with the generality of the, family of God. The reasons given by him of his thoughts to the contrary do not sway me from my hopes, or bias my former apprehensions in the least. His reasons are, —
83First, “Because though the testimony of a man’s heart and conscience touching his uprightness towards God, or the soundness of any thing that is saving in him, be comfortable and cheering, yet seldom are these properties built upon such foundations which are sufficient to warrant them, at least upon such whose sufficiency in that kind is duly apprehended: for the testimony of the conscience of a man touching any thing which is spiritually and excellently good is of no such value, unless it be first excellently enlightened with the knowledge, nature, properties, and condition, of that of which it testifieth; and, secondly, be in the actual contemplation, consideration, or remembrance, of what it knoweth in this kind. Now, very few believers in the world come up to this height and degree.”
Ans. First, There is in this reason couched a supposition which, if true, would be far more effectual to shake the confidence and resolution of believers than the most serious consideration of the apostasies of all professors that ever fell from the glory of their profession from the beginning of the world; and that is, that there is no other pregnant foundation of assurance but the testimony of a man’s own heart and conscience touching his uprightness towards God, and therefore, before any can attain that assurance upon abiding foundations, they must be excellently enlightened in the nature, properties, and condition, of that which their consciences testify unto as true faith and uprightness of heart, and be clear in the disputes and questions about them, being in the actual contemplation of them when they give their testimony. I no way doubt but many thousands of believers, whose apprehensions of the nature, properties, and conditions of things, as they are in themselves, are low, weak, and confused,1616 1 Cor. i. 26; James ii. 5. yet, having received the Spirit of adoption, bearing witness with their, spirits that they are the children of God, and having the testimony in themselves,1717 Rom. viii. 16; 1 John v. 10. have been taken up into as high a degree of comforting and cheering assurance, and that upon the most infallible foundation imaginable (for “the Spirit beareth witness, because the Spirit is truth,” 1 John v. 6), as ever the most seraphically illuminated person in the world attained unto. Yea, in the very graces themselves of faith and uprightness of heart, there is such a seal and stamp, impressing the image of God upon the soul, as, without any reflex act or actual contemplation of those graces themselves, have an influence into the establishment of the souls of men in whom they are unto a quiet, comfortable, assured repose of themselves upon the love and faithfulness of God. Neither is the spiritual confidence of the saints shaken, much less cast to the ground, by their conflicting with fears, scruples, and doubtful apprehensions, seeing in all these conflicts they have the pledge of the faithfulness 84of God that they shall be more than conquerors.1818 Matt. vii. 25, xvi. 18; Ps. lxxvii. 10; 1 Cor. i. 9; 1 Thess. v. 23, 24; 1 Cor. x. 13; Rom. viii. 37. Though they are exercised by them, they are not dejected with them, nor deprived of that comforting assurance and joy which they have in believing. But yet suppose that this be the condition practically of many saints of God, and that they never attain to the state of the primitive Christians, to whose joy and consolation in believing the Holy Ghost so plentifully witnesseth, 1 Pet. i. 8, nor do live up to that full rate of plenty which their Father hath provided for them in his family, and sworn that he is abundantly willing they should enjoy and make use of, Heb. vi. 17, 18, what will hence follow, as to the business in hand, I profess I know not. Must that little evidence which they have of their acceptance with God be therefore necessarily built upon such bottoms, or rather tops, as are visible to them in hypocrites, so that upon their apostasy they must needs not only try and examine themselves, but conclude, to their disadvantage and disconsolation, that they have no true faith? “Credat Apella.”
Secondly, The comfortableness, he tells us, of the testimony of a man’s conscience concerning his uprightness with God “depends mainly and principally upon his uniform and regular walking with God. Now this being, by the neglects of the saints, often interrupted with many stains of unworthiness, the testimony itself must needs be often suspended. Now, true believers finding themselves outgone in ways of obedience by them that impenitently apostatize, if from hence they must conclude them hypocrites, they have no evidence left for the soundness of their own faith, which their consciences bear testimony unto, upon the fruitfulness of it, which is inferior by many degrees to that of them who yet finally fall away.” This is the substance of one long section, pp. 109, 110. But, —
First, Here is the same supposal included as formerly, that the only evidence of a true faith and acceptance with God is the testimony of a man’s conscience concerning his regular and upright walking with God; for an obstruction in this being supposed, his comfort and consolation is thought to vanish. But that the Scripture builds up our assurance on other foundations is evident, and the saints acknowledge it, as hath been before delivered. Nor, —
Secondly, Doth the testimony of a man’s own conscience, as it hath an influence into his consolation, depend solely (nor doth Mr Goodwin affirm it so to do) on the constant regularity of his walking with God. It will also witness what former experience it hath had of God, calling to mind its “songs in the night,” all the tokens and pledges of its Father’s love, all the gracious visits of the holy and blessed Spirit of grace, all the embracements of Christ, all that intimacy and communion it hath formerly been admitted unto, the 85healing and recovery it hath had of wounds and from backslidings, with all the spiritual intercourse it ever had with God, to confirm and strengthen itself in the beginning of its confidence to the end.1919 Job xxxv. 10; Ps. lxxvii. 5–9; Isa. xl. 28–31; Cant. iii. 1, 2, v. 4, 5; Ps. xlii. 6–11; Hos. ii. 7, xiv. 2, 8; Heb. iii. 14. And, —
Thirdly, In the testimony that it doth give, from its walking with God, and the fruits of righteousness, it is very far and remote from giving it only, or chiefly, or indeed at all, from those ways, works, and fruits, which are exposed to the eyes of men, and which in others they who have that testimony may behold. It resolves itself herein into the frame, principles, and life of the hidden man of the heart, which lies open and naked to the eyes of God, but is lodged in depths not to be fathomed by any of the sons of men.2020 Isa. xxxviii. 3; Ps. cxxxix. 23, 24; Rev. iii. 1; 1 Pet. iii. 4; 2 Cor. i. 12. There is no comparison to be instituted between the obedience and fruits of righteousness in others, whereby a believer makes a judgment of them, and that in himself from whence the testimony mentioned doth flow; that of other men being their visibly practical conversation, his being the hidden, habitual frame of his heart and spirit in his ways and actings: so that though, through the falling of them, he should be occasioned to question his own faith as to trial and examination, yet nothing can thence arise sufficient to enforce him to let go even that part of his comfort which flows from the weakest witness and one of the lowest voices of all his store: lie eyes others without doors, but himself within.
Fourthly, Whereas 1 John iii. 7, “Little children, let no man deceive you, he that doeth righteousness is righteous,” is produced, and two things argued from thence, — first, that the caveat, “Be not deceived,” plainly intimates that true believers may very possibly be deceived in the estimate of a righteous man; and, secondly, that this is spoken of a man judging himself; and that, emphatically and exclusively, he and he only, is to be judged a righteous man.
Ans. First, I say, that though I grant the first, that we may very easily be, and often are, deceived in our estimate of righteous persons, yet I do not conceive the inference to be enforced from that expression, “Let no man deceive you,” the Holy Ghost using it frequently, or what is equivalent thereunto, not so much to caution men in a dubious thing, wherein possibly they may be mistaken, as in a way of detestation, scorn, and rejection of what is opposite to that which he is urging upon his saints, which he presseth as a thing of the greatest evidence and clearness; as 1 Cor. vi. 9, xv. 33; Gal. vi. 7. Neither is any thing more intended in this expression of the apostle than in that of 1 Cor. vi. 9, “Be not deceived: the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God.” So here, no person not giving himself up to the pursuit of righteousness in the general drift and scope of his life 86(cases extraordinary and particular acts being always in such rules excepted) is, or is to be, accounted a righteous man.
Secondly, Also it may be granted (though the intendment of the place leads us another way) that this is so far a rule of self-judging, that he whose frame and disposition suits it not, or is opposite unto it, cannot keep up the power or vigour of any other comfortable evidence of his state and condition; but that it should be so far extended as to make the only solid and pregnant foundation that any man hath of assurance and consolation to rise and flow from the testimony of his own conscience concerning his own regular walking in ways of righteousness (seeing persons that “walk in darkness and have no light” are called to “stay themselves on God,” Isa. i. 10, and when both “heart and flesh faileth,” yet “God is the strength of the heart,” Ps. lxxiii. 26), is no way clear in itself, and is not by Mr Goodwin afforded the least contribution of assistance for its confirmation.
To return, then, from this digression: A temptation and an offence we acknowledge to be given to the saints by the apostasy of professors; yet not such but [that] as the Lord hath in Scripture made gracious provision against their suffering by it or under it, so it leaves them not without sufficient testimony of their own acceptance with God, and sincerity in walking with him. This, then, was the state of old; thus it is in the days wherein we live.
As the practice and ways of some, so the principles and teachings of others, have an eminent tendency unto offence and scandal. Indeed:, ever since the Reformation, there have been some endeavours against this truth to corrode it and corrupt it. The first serious attempt for the total intercision of the faith of true believers, though not a final excision of the faith of elect believers, was made by one in the other university, who, being a man of a debauched and vicious conversation (no small part of the growing evils of the days wherein he lived), did yet cry out against the doctrines of others as tending to looseness and profaneness, upon whose breasts and teachings was written “Holiness to the Lord” all their days.2121 Owen seems to allude to the case of William Barrett, fellow of Gonville and Caius College, Cambridge. He denied the perseverance of the saints, and assailed Calvin, Beza, and other reformers, with bitter invectives. He was expelled from the university in 1595. — Ed. Afterward, Arminius and his Quinquarticulan followers2222 Armin. Antiperk. Rem. Coll. Hag. art. 5. taking up the matter, though they laboured with all their might to answer sundry of the arguments whereby the truth of this doctrine is demonstrated, yet for a season were very faint mad dubious in their own assertions, not daring to break in at once upon so great a treasure of the church of God;2323 “Nos cum mentem nostram super hoc argumento categoricè et dogmaticè in alteram partem definivimus, nullo jure levitatis insimulari posse, propterea quod novem ab hinc annis, eam non ira disertè et rotundè enuncia verimus, sed solummodo disquirentium adhuc in morem professi simus.” — Dec. Sent. Rem. circa 5 art. and therefore in their Synodalia they are forced to apologize 87for their hesitation nine years before, in their conference at the Hague. But now of late, since the glorious light of Socinianism hath broken forth from the pit, men by their new succours are grown bold to defy this great truth of the gospel and grace of the covenant, as an abomination for ever to be abhorred.2424 Socin. Prælect. Theol. cap. 6 art. 7, etc.
“Audax omnia perpeti
Gens humana, ruit per vetitum nefas.”
Hor., Od. i. 3, 25.
In particular, the late studious endeavours of a learned man, in his treatise entitled “Redemption Redeemed,” for to despoil the spouse of Christ of this most glorious pearl, wherewith her beloved hath adorned her, calls for a particular consideration: and this (discharging a regard unto any other motives) upon chiefly this account, that he hath with great pains and travail gathered together whatever hath been formerly given out and dispersed by the most considerable adversaries of this truth (especially not omitting any thing of moment in the synodical defence of the fifth article, with an exact translation of the dramatical prosopopœias, with whatsoever looks towards his design in hand from their fourth attempt about the manner of conversion), giving it anew not only an elegant dress and varnish of rhetorical expressions, but moreover re-enforcing the declining cause of his Pelagian friends with not-to-be-despised supplies of appearing reasons and hidden sophistry, Col. ii. 4. So that though I shall handle this doctrine in my own method (with the reason whereof I shall instantly acquaint the reader), and not follow that author κατὰ πόδας, yet handling not only the main of the doctrine itself, but all the concernments and consequences of it in the several branches of the method intended, I hope not to leave any thing considerable in that whole treatise, as to the truth in hand, undiscussed, no argument unvindicated, no objection unanswered, no consequence unweighed, with a special eye to the comparison instituted between the doctrines in contest, as to their direct and causal influence into the obedience and consolation of the saints.
That we may know, then, what we speak and whereof we do affirm, I shall briefly state the doctrine under consideration, that the difference about it may appear. Indeed, it seems strange to me, among other things, that he of whom mention was lastly made, who hath liberally dispended so great a treasure of pains, reading, and eloquence, for the subverting of the truth whose explanation and defence we have undertaken, did not yet once attempt fairly to fix the state of the difference about it, but, in a very tumultuary manner,2525 Chap. ix. fell in with prejudices, swelling over all bounds and limits of ordinary reasoning, rhetorical amplifications, upon a doctrine not attempted to be brought forth and explained, that it might be weighed in the 88balance, as in itself it is. Whereas there may be many reasons of such a proceeding, it may well be questioned whether any of them be candid and commendable. Certainly the advantages thence taken for the improving of many sophistical reasons and pretended arguments are obvious to every one that shall but peruse his ensuing discourse.
Although the substance of this doctrine hath been by sundry delivered, yet, lest the terms wherein it is usually done may seem re, be somewhat too general, and some advantages of the truth, which in itself it hath, to have been omitted, I shall briefly state the whole matter under those terms wherein it is usually received.
The title of it is, “The Perseverance of Saints.” A short discover of whom we mean by “saints,” the subject whereof we speak, and what by “perseverance,” which is affirmed of them, will state the whole for the judgment of the reader. God only is essentially holy, and on that account the only Holy One. In his holiness, as in his being and all his glorious attributes, there is an actual permanency or sameness, Heb. i. 10–12. Nothing in him is subject to the least shadow of change, — not his truth, not his faithfulness, not his holiness. All principles, causes, and reasons of alteration stand at no less infinite distance from him than not-being. His properties are the same with himself, and are spoken of one another, as well as of his nature. His eternal power is mentioned by the apostle, Rom. i. 20. So is his holiness eternal, immutable. Of this we may have use afterward; for the present I treat not of it. The holiness of all creatures is accidental and created. To some it is innate or original; as to the angels, the first man, our Saviour Christ as to his human nature, of whom we treat not. Adam had original holiness, and lost it; so had many angels, who kept not their first habitation. It is hence armoured by Mr Goodwin, that spiritual gifts of God being bestowed may be taken away, notwithstanding the seeming contrary engagement of Rom. xi. 29. From what proportion or analogy this argument doth flow is not intimated. The grace Adam was endowed with was intrusted with himself and in his own keeping, in a covenant of works; that of the saints since the fall is purchased for them, laid up in their Head, and dispensed in a covenant of grace, whose eminent distinction from the former consists in the permanency and abidingness of the fruits of it. But of this afterward. To others it is adventitious and added, as to all that have contracted any qualities contrary to that original holiness wherewith at first they were endued; as have done all the sons of men, “who have sinned and come short of the glory of God.”2626 Isa. vi. 3; Josh. xxiv. 19; Rev. xv. 4; Exod. iii. 14; Deut. xxxii. 4; Isa. xl. 28, xli. 4, xliii. 10, xliv. 6, xlviii. 12; Rev. i. 4, 17; Mal. iii. 6; James i. 17; 1 Sam. xv. 29; Gen. i. 26; Matt. xix. 17; Eccles. vii. 29; Heb. vii. 25; Ezek. xxxvi. 26, 27; Isa. iv. 3, 4; Rom. vi. 4–6; Eph. iv. 22–24. Now, 89the holiness of these is either complete, as it is with the spirits of just men made perfect; or inchoate and begun only, as with the residue of sanctified ones in this life. The certain perseverance of the former in their present condition being not directly opposed by any, though the foundation of it be attempted by some, we have no need as yet to engage in the defence of it. These latter are said to be sanctified or holy two ways, upon the twofold account of the use of the word in the Scripture; for, —
First, some persons, as well as things, are said to be holy, especially in the Old Testament and in the Epistle to the Hebrews, almost constantly using the terms of sanctifying and sanctified in a legal or temple signification, in reference unto their being separated from the residue of men with relation to God and his worship, or being consecrated and dedicated peculiarly to the performance of any part of his will, or distinct enjoyment of any portion of his mercy.2727 Exod. xxviii. 36, 38; Lev. v. 15; Ezek. xxii. 8; Heb. ii. 11, x. 10; John xvii. 19. Thus the ark was said to be holy, and the altar holy; the temple was holy, and all the utensils of it, with the vestments of its officers. So the whole people of the Jews were said to be holy. The particular respects of covenant, worship, separation, law, mercy, and the like, upon which this denomination of holiness and saintship was given unto them and did depend, are known to all. Yea, persons inherently unclean, and personally notoriously wicked, in respect of their designment to some outward work, which by them God will bring about, are said to be sanctified. Distinguishing gifts, with designation to some distinct employment, are a bottom for this appellation, though their gifts may be recalled, and the employment taken from them, Isa. xiii. 3. We confess perseverance not to be a proper and inseparable adjunct of this subject, nor to belong unto such persons, as such; though they may have a right to it, it is upon another account. Yet, in the pursuit of this business, it will appear that many of our adversaries’ arguments smite these men only, and prove that such as they may be totally rejected of God; which none ever denied.
Again; the word is used in an evangelical sense, for inward purity and real holiness: whence some are said to be holy, and that also two ways; for either they are so really and in the truth of the thing itself, or in estimation only, and that either of themselves or others. That many have accounted themselves to be holy, and been pure in their own eyes, who yet were never washed from their iniquity, and have thereupon cried peace to themselves, I suppose needs no proving. It is the case of thousands in the world at this day. They think themselves holy, they profess themselves holy; and our adversaries prove (none gainsaying) that such as these may backslide from what they have and what they seem to have, and so perish under 90the sin of apostasy.2828 Luke i. 15; Rom. vi. 19, 22; 2 Cor. vii. 1; Eph. i. 4, iv. 24; 1 Thess. iii. 13, iv. 7; Heb. xii. 14, κατ’ ἀλήθειαν, κατὰ δόξαν; Prov. xxx. 12; Isa. lxv. 5; John vii. 48, 49, ix. 40, 41; 1 Thess. v. 3; Matt. xxv. 29; 2 Pet. ii. 20, 21; John vi. 66. Again, some are said to be holy upon the score of their being so in the esteem of others; which was and is the condition, of many false hypocrites in the churches of Christ, both primitive and modern; — like them who are said to “believe in Christ,” upon the account of the profession they made so to do, yet he would not “trust himself with them, because he knew what was in them.” Such were Judas, Simon Magus, and sundry others, of whom these things are spoken, which they professed of themselves, and were bound to answer; and which others esteemed to be in them. These some labour with all their strength to make true believers, that so they may cast the stumbling-block of their apostasy in the way of the saints of God closing with the truth we have in hand.2929 2 Pet. ii. 1; Act. Synod. Dec. Sent., art. 5, pp. 266, 267, etc. But for such as these we are no advocates; let them go to their “own place,” according to the tenor of the arguments levied against them from Heb. vi. 4–6, 2 Pet. ii. 1, etc., and other places.
Moreover, of those who are said to believe, and to be holy really and in the truth of the thing itself, there are two sorts: First, such as, having received sundry common gifts and graces of the Spirit, — as illumination of the mind, change of affections, and thence amendment of life, with sorrow of the world, legal repentance, temporary faith, and the like, which are all true and real in their kind, — do thereby become vessels in the great house of God, being changed as to their use, though not in their nature, continuing stone and wood still, though hewed and turned to the serviceableness of vessels; and on that account they are frequently termed saints and believers. On such as these there is a lower (and in some a subordinate) work of the Spirit, effectually producing in and on all the faculties of their souls somewhat that is true, good, and useful in itself, answering in some likeness and suitableness of operation unto the great work of regeneration, which faileth not. There is in them light, love, joy, faith, zeal, obedience, etc., all true in their kinds; which make many of them in whom they are do worthily in their generation: howbeit they attain not to the faith of God’s elect, neither doth Christ live in them, nor is the life which they lead by the faith of the Son of God, as shall hereafter be fully declared.3030 Heb. vi. 4; 1 Sam. x. 10; 2 Pet. ii. 20; 1 Kings xxi. 27; 2 Cor. vii. 10; Matt. xxvii. 3, 4, xiii. 20, 21; Mark vi. 20; 2 Kings x. 16; Hos. vi. 4; 2 Tim. ii. 20; John vi. 34; Acts xxvi. 28; Matt. vii. 26, 27; Rev. iii. 1; Mark iv. 16, 17. If ye now cashier these from the roll of those saints and believers about whom we contend, seeing that they are nowhere said to be united to Christ, quickened and justified, partakers of the first resurrection, accepted of God, etc., ye do almost put an issue to the whole controversy, and at once overturn 91the strongest forts of the opposers of this truth. Some men are truly ready to think that they never had experience of the nature of true faith or holiness, who can suppose it to consist in such like common gifts and graces as are ascribed to this sort of men. Yet, as was said before, if these may not pass for saints, if our adversaries cannot prove these to be true believers, in the strictest notion and sense of that term or expression, actum est, — the very subject about which they contend is taken away; such as these alone are concerned in the arguments from Heb. vi. 4–6; 2 Pet. ii. 1, etc. Yea, all the testimonies which they produce for the supportment of their cause from antiquity flow from hence, that their witnesses thought good to allow persons baptized and professing the gospel the name of believers, and of being regenerate (that is, as to the participation of the outward symbol thereof); whom yet they expressly distinguish from them whose faith was the fruit of their eternal election, which they constantly maintained should never fail.
Of such as these Mr Goodwin tells us, cap. ix. sect. 7, pp. 107, 108, “That if there be any persons under heaven who may, upon sufficient grounds, and justifiable by the word of God, be judged true believers, many of the apostates we speak of were to be judged such. All the visible lineaments of a true faith were in their faces, as far as the eye of man is able to pierce; they lived godly, righteously, and soberly in this present world. Doth any true believer act zealously for his God? — so did they. Is any true believer fruitful in good works? — they were such. Yea, there is found in those we now speak of, not only such things as upon the sight and knowledge whereof in men we ought to judge them true believers,3131 “Adde hos de quibus hic agimus, non vulgares et plebeios, sod antesignanos et eximios ac eminentes fuisse.” — Rem. Act. Synod., p. 267. but even such things, farther, which we ought to reverence and honour, as lovely and majestic characters of God and holiness. Therefore, it is but too importune a pretence in men to deny them to have been true believers.”
If the proof of the first confident assertion, concerning the grounds of judging such as afterward have apostatized to be true believers, were called into question, I suppose it would prove one instance how much easier it is confidently to affirm any thing than soundly to confirm it. And perhaps it will be found to appear, that in the most, if not all, of those glorious apostates of whom he speaks, if they were thoroughly traced and strictly eyed, even in those things which are exposed to the view of men, for any season or continuance, such warpings and flaws might be discovered, in positives or negatives, as are incompatible with truth or grace.3232 Ps. lxxviii. 34–36; Job xxvii. 9, 10; 2 Kings x. 29; Ezek. xxxiii. 31; Titus i. 16. But if this be granted, that they have “all the visible lineaments of a true faith in their faces, as far as the eye of man is able to judge, and therefore men were 92bound to esteem them for true believers,” doth it therefore follow that they were such indeed? This at once instates all secret hypocrites in the ancient and present churches of Christ into a condition of sanctification and justification; which the Lord knows they were and are remote from. Shall the esteem of men translate them from death to life, and really alter the state wherein they are? Whatever honour, then, and esteem we may give to the characters of holiness and faith enstamped, or rather painted on theme — as it is meet for us to judge well of all who, professing the Lord Christ, walk in our view in any measure suitable to that profession, and with Jonadab to honour Jehu in his fits and hasty passions of zeal, — yet this, alas! is no evidence unto them, nor discovery of the thing it, self, that they are in a state of faith and holiness. To say that we may not be bound to judge any to be believers and godly, unless they are so indeed and in the thing itself, is either to exalt poor worms into the throne of God, and to make them “searchers of the hearts and triers of the reins” of others, who are so often in the dark as to themselves, and never in this life sufficiently acquainted with their own inward chambers; or else at once to cut off and destroy all communion of saints, by rendering it impossible for us to attain satisfaction who are so indeed, so far as to walk with them upon that account in “love without dissimulation,” Rom. xii. 9. Doubtless the disciples of Christ were bound to receive them for believers of whom it is said that they did believe, because of their profession so to do, and that with some hazard and danger, though He who “knew what was in man” would not trust himself with them, because the root of the matter was not in them, John ii. 23, 24.
I suppose I shall not need to put myself to the labour to prove or evince the ground of our charitable procedure, in our thoughts of men professing the ways of God, though their hearts are not upright with him. But says Mr Goodwin, “To say that whilst they stood men were indeed bound to judge them believers, but by their declining they discover themselves not to have been the men, is but to beg the question, and that upon very ill terms to obtain it.”
Ans. For my part, I find not in this answer to that objection (“But they had the lineaments of true believers, and therefore we were bound to judge them so”), that this did not at all prove them to be so, any begging of the question, but rather a fair answer given to their importune request, that the “appearance of the face, as far as the eyes of men can pierce,” 1 Sam. xvi. 7, must needs conclude them in the eyes of God to answer that appearance in the inward and hidden man of the heart.
But Mr Goodwin farther pursues his design in hand from the words of our Saviour, Matt. vii. 20, “By their fruits ye shall know them.” “If,” saith he, “this rule be authentical, we do not only 93stand bound by the law of charity, but by the law of righteous or strict judgment itself, to judge the persons we speak of true believers, whilst they adorn the gospel with such fruits of righteousness as were mentioned; for our Saviour doth not say, ‘By their fruits ye shall have grounds to conceive or conjecture them such or such, or to judge them in charity such or such,’ but, ‘Ye shall know them.’ Now, what a man knows he is not bound to conjecture, or to judge in a way’ of charity to be that which he knoweth it to be, but positively to judge and conclude of it accordingly. If, then, it be possible for men, by any such fruits, works, or expressions, to know true believers, the persons we speak of may be known to have been such.”
Ans. Though the words of our Saviour principally lie on the other side of the way, giving a rule for a condemnatory judgment of men whose evil fruits declare the root to be no better, — wherein we cannot well be deceived, “the works of the flesh being manifest,” Gal. v. 19, and he that worketh wickedness openly, and brings forth the effects of sin visibly in a course, as a tree doth its fruit, Rom. vi. 16, may safely be concluded, whatsoever pretence in words he makes, to be a false, corrupt hypocrite, — yet, by the way of analogy and proportion, it is a rule also whereby our Saviour will have us make a judgment of those professors and teachers with whom we have to do, as to our reception and approbation of them. He bids his disciples taste and try the fruit that such persons bear, and according to that (not any specious pretences they make, or innocent appearances which for a season they show themselves in) let their estimation of them be. Yea, but says Mr Goodwin, “We do not only stand bound by the law of charity, but by the law of a righteous and strict judgment itself, to judge such persons believers.” This distinction between the law of charity and the law of a righteous judgment I understand not. Though charity be the principle exerted eminently in such dijudications of men, yet doubtless it proceeds by the rules of righteous judgment. When we speak of the judgment of charity, we intend not a loose conjecture, much less a judgment contradistinct from that which is righteous, but a righteous and strict judgment, according to the exactest rules whatsoever that we have to judge by, free from evil surmises, and such like vices of the mind as are opposed to the grace of love. By swing it is of charity, we are not absolved from the most exact procedure, according to the rules of judging given unto us, but only bound up from indulging to any envy, malice, or such like works of the flesh, which are opposite to charity in the subject wherein it is. Charity in this assertion denotes only a gracious qualification in the subject, and not any condescension from the rule; and therefore I something wonder that Mr Goodwin should make a judgment of charity (as afterward) a 94mere conjecture, and allow beyond it a righteous and strict judgment, which amounts to knowledge.
It is true, our Saviour tells us that “by their fruits we shall know them;” but what knowledge is it that he intendeth? Is it a certain knowledge by demonstration of it? or an infallible assurance by revelation? I am confident Mr Goodwin will not say it is either of these, but only such a persuasion as is the result of our thoughts concerning them, upon the profession they make and the works they do; upon which we may (according to the mind of Christ, who bare with them whom he knew to be no believers, having taken on them the profession of the faith) know how to demean ourselves towards them. So far we may know them by their fruits and judge of them; other knowledge our Saviour intendeth not, nor I believe does Mr Goodwin pretend unto. Now, notwithstanding all this, even on this account and by this rule, it is very possible, yea very easy, and practically proved true in all places and at all times, that we may judge, yea, so far know men to be or not to be seducers by their fruits, as to be able to order aright our demeanour towards them, according to the will of Christ, and yet be mistaken (though not in the performance of our duty in walking regularly according to the lines drawn out for our paths) in the persons concerning whom our judgment is; the knowledge of them being neither by demonstration nor from revelation, such as “cui non potest subesse falsum,” we may be deceived.
The saints, then, or believers (of whom alone our discourse is), may be briefly delineated by these few considerable concernments of their saintship:—
1. That whereas “by nature they are children of wrath as well as others,” and “dead in trespasses and sins,” that faith and holiness which they are in due time invested withal, whereby they are made believers and saints, and distinguished from all others whatever, is an effect and fruit of, and flows from, God’s eternal purpose concerning their salvation or election; their faith being, as to the manner of its bestowing, peculiarly of the operation of God, and as to its distinction from every other gift that upon any account whatever is so called, in respect of its fountain, termed “The faith of God’s elect.”3333 Rom. viii. 28, 29; Acts xiii. 48; Eph. i. 4; 1 Pet. i. 2–5; Titus i. 1.
2. For the manner of their obtaining of this precious faith, it is by God’s giving to them that Holy Spirit of his whereby he raised Jesus from the dead, to raise them from their death in sin, to quicken them unto newness of life, enduing them with a new life, with a spiritual, gracious, supernatural habit, spreading itself upon their whole souls, making them new creatures throughout (in respect of parts), investing them with an abiding principle, being a natural, 95genuine fountain of all those spiritual acts, works, and duties, which he is pleased to work in them and by them of his own good pleasure.3434 2 Pet. i. 1; Rom. viii. 11; Eph. i. 19, 20, ii. 1, 5, 6, 8, 10; Matt. vii. 17, xii. 33; Gal. ii. 20; 1 John v. 12; 2 Cor. v. 17; 1 Thess. v. 23; Gal. v. 22, 23, 1 John iii. 9; Eph. ii. 10; 1 Pet. i. 22, 23; Phil. ii. 13.
3. That the holy and blessed Spirit, which effectually and powerfully works this change in them, is bestowed upon them as a fruit of the purchase and intercession of Jesus Christ, to dwell in them and abide with them for ever: upon the account of which inhabitation of the Spirit of Christ in them they have union with him; that is, one and the same Spirit dwelling in him the head and them the members.3535 John xiv. 16, 26, xv. 26, xvi. 7–11; Rom. viii. 10, 11; 1 Cor. vi. 19; Rom. v. 5, 1 John iv. 4, 13; 2 Tim. i. 14; 1 Cor. vi. 17, xii. 12, 13; Eph. iv. 4.
4. By all which, as to their actual state and condition, they are really changed from death to life,3636 1 John iii. 14; Eph. ii. 1; Col. ii. 13; Rom. vi. 11, 13, viii. 2, 10. from darkness to light,3737 Acts xxvi. 18; Eph. v. 8; 1 Thess. v. 4; Col. i. 13; 1 Pet. ii. 9. from universal, habitual uncleanness to holiness,3838 Ezek. xxxvi. 25; Zech. xiii. 1; Isa. iv. 3, 4; Eph. v. 25–27; 1 Cor. vi. 11; Titus iii. 5; Heb. x. 22. from a state of enmity, stubbornness, rebellion, etc., into a state of love, obedience, delight, etc.;3939 Rom. vi. 11; Eph. ii. 12–16; Col. i. 21; Heb. xii. 22–24. and as to their relative condition, whereas they were children of wrath, under the curse and condemning power of the law, they are, upon the score of Him who was made a curse for them, and is made righteousness to them, accepted, justified, adopted, and admitted into that family of heaven and earth which is called after the name of God.4040 Eph. ii. 3; Gal. iii. 13, iv. 4–7; Rom. viii. 1; 2 Cor. v. 21; Col. ii. 10; Rom. v. 1, viii. 32, 33; 1 John iii. 1, 2; Eph. iii. 15.
These alone are they of whom we treat, of whose state and condition perseverance is an inseparable adjunct, Wherein and in what particulars they are differenced from and advanced above the most glorious professors whatever, who are liable and obnoxious to an utter and everlasting separation from God, shall be afterward at large insisted upon; and though Mr Goodwin hath thought good to affirm that that description which we have, Heb. vi. 4–6, of such as ([it] is supposed) may be apostates, is one of the highest and most eminent that is made of believers in the whole Scripture, I shall not doubt but to make it evident that the excellency of all the expressions there used, being extracted and laid together, cloth yet come short of the meanest and lowest thing that is spoken of those concerning whom we treat; as shall be manifest when, through God’s assistance, we arrive unto that part of this contest.
That the other term, to wit, “perseverance,” may be more briefly explicated, I shall take the shortest path. For perseverance in general, he came near the nature of it who said it was “In ratione bene consideratâ stabilis ac perpetua permansio.”4141 Cic. Inv., lib. ii. 54. The words and terms whereby it is expressed in Scripture will afterwards fall in to be 96considered. The Holy Ghost restrains not himself to any one expression in spiritual things of so great importance, but using that variety which may be suited to the instruction, supportment, and consolation of believers,4242 Rom. xv. 4. this grace (as is that of faith itself in an eminent manner) is by him variously expressed. To walk in the name of the Lord for ever; to walk with Christ as we have received him; to be confirmed or strengthened in the faith as we have been taught; to keep the ways of God’s commandments to the end; to run steadfastly the race set before us; to rule with God; to be faithful with the saints; to be faithful to the death; to be sound and steadfast in the precepts of God; to abide or continue firm with Christ, in Christ, in the Lord, in the word of Christ, in the doctrine of Christ, in the faith, in the love and favour of God, in what we have learned and received from the beginning; to endure; to persist in the truth; to be rooted in Christ; to retain or keep faith and a good conscience; to hold fast our confidence and faith to the end; to follow God fully; to keep the word of Christ’s patience; to be built upon and in Christ; to keep ourselves that the wicked one touch us not; not to commit sin; to be kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation; to stand fast as mount Zion, that can never be removed; to stand by faith; to stand fast in the faith; to stand fast in the Lord; to have the good work begun, perfected; to hold our profession that none take our crown;4343 2 Sam. vii. 14, 15; Ps. i. 3, xxiii. 6, xxxvii. 24, lv. 22, lxxxix. 31–33, cxxv. 1–3, cxxviii. 5; Isa. xlvi. 4, liv. 10; Jer. xxxi. 3, xxxii. 39, 40; Zech. x. 12; Matt. vii. 24, 25, xii. 20, xvi. 18, xxiv. 24; Luke viii. 8, xxii. 32; John vi. 35, 39, 56, 57, viii. 12, x. 27–29, xiv. 16, 17, xvii. 20–22; Rom. viii. 1, 16, 17, 28–37; 1 Cor. i. 8, 9, x. 13, xv. 58; 1 John v. 18, iii. 9; 1 Pet. i. 5; Rom. xi. 20; 1 Cor. xvi. 13; Phil. iv. 1, i. 6; Eph. i. 13, 14, iv. 30; Gal. ii. 20; Phil. i. 6; 1 Thess. v. 24; 2 Tim. ii. 12; 1 Pet. i. 2–5; 1 John ii. 19, 27, etc. — these, I say, and the like, are some of those expressions whereby the Holy Ghost holds forth that doctrine which we have in hand, which is usually called “The perseverance of saints,” regarding principally their abiding with God, through Christ, in faith and obedience; which yet is but one part of this truth.
The reasons and causes investing this proposition, that saints, such as we have described, shall so persevere, with a necessity of consequence, and on which the truth of it doth depend, both negatively considered and positively; with the limitation of perseverance, what it directly asserts, what not; with what failing, backsliding, and declensions, on the one hand and other, it is consistent, and what is destructive of the nature and being of it; the difference of it, as to being and apprehension, in respect to the subject in whom it is; with the way and manner whereby the causes of this perseverance have their operation on and effect in them that persevere, not in the least prejudicing their liberty, but establishing them in their voluntary 97obedience, — will afterward be fully cleared. And hereon depends much of the life and vigour of the doctrine we have in hand, it being oftener in the Scripture held forth in its fountains, and springs, and causes, than in the thing itself, as will upon examination appear.
As to what is on the other side affirmed, that believers may fall totally and finally away, something may be added to clear up what is intended thereby, and to inquire how it may come to pass. We do suppose (which the Scripture abundantly testifieth) that such believers have the Holy Spirit dwelling in them;4444 Ezek. xxxvi. 27; Isa. lix. 21; Luke xi. 13; Ps. li. 11; Rom. viii. 9, 11, 15; 1 Cor. ii. 12; Gal. iv. 6; 2 Tim. i. 14; Rom. v. 5; Gal. v. 22; John xiv. 16, 17, xvi. 13; 1 Cor. iii. 16, vi. 19. and, by his implanting, a new holy habit of grace.4545 Matt. xii. 33; 2 Cor. v. 17; 2 Pet. i. 4; Gal. v. 22, 23; Eph. iv. 23, 24. The inquiry then is, how believers may come utterly to lose this Holy Spirit, and to be made naked of the habit of grace or new nature bestowed on them. That, and that only, whereunto this effect is ascribed is sin. Now, there are two ways whereby sin may be supposed to produce such effects in reference to the souls of believers:— 1. Efficiently, by a reaction in the same subject, as frequent acts of vice will debilitate and overthrow an acquired habit whereunto it is opposite. 2. Meritoriously, by provoking the Lord to take them away in a way of punishment; for of all punishment sin is the morally procuring cause. Let us a little consider which of these ways it may probably be supposed that sin expels the Spirit and habit of grace from the souls of believers.
First, [As] for the Spirit of grace which dwells in them, it cannot with the least colour of reason be supposed that sin should have a natural efficient reaction against the Spirit, which is a voluntary indweller in the hearts of his: he is indeed grieved and provoked by it,4646 Eph. iv. 30; Heb. iii. 10, 11; Isa. lxiii. 10. but that is in a moral way, in respect of its demerit; but that it should have a natural efficiency by the way of opposition against it, as intemperance against the mediocrity which it opposeth, is a madness to imagine.
The habit of grace wherewith such believers are endued is infused, not acquired by a frequency of acts in themselves. The root is made good, and then the fruit, and the work of God. It is “a new creation,” planted in them by “the exceeding greatness of his power,” as “he wrought in Christ when he raised him from the dead;” which he also “strengthens with all might”4747 Col. ii. 12; 2 Cor. v. 17; Eph. i. 19, 20; Col. i. 11. and all power to the end. Is it now supposed, or can it rationally be so, that vicious acts, acts of sin, should have in the soul a natural efficiency for the expelling of an infused habit, and that implanted upon the soul by the exceeding greatness of the power of God? That it should be done by any one or two acts is impossible. To suppose a man, in whom there is a 98habit set on by so mighty an impression as the Scripture mentions, to act constantly contrary thereunto, is to think what we will, without troubling ourselves to consider how it may be brought about. Farther; whilst this principle, life, and habit of grace is thus consuming, doth their God and Father look on and suffer it to decay, and their spiritual man to pine away day by day, giving them no new supplies, nor increasing them with the increase of God?4848 Eph. i. 23; Col. ii. 19; Eph. iv. 16; 1 Thess. iii. 12; Phil. i. 6; 1 Cor. x. 13. Hath he no pity towards a dying child? or can he not help him? Doth he, of whom it is said that he is “faithful,” and that he “will not suffer us to be tempted above what we are able, but will with the temptation make a way to escape,” let loose such flood-gates of temptations upon them as he knows his grace will not be able to stand before, but will be consumed and expelled by it? What, also, shall we suppose are the thoughts of Jesus Christ towards a withering member, a dying brother, a perishing child, a wandering sheep?4949 Heb. ii. 17, 18, iv. 15, vii. 25; Isa. xl. 11, lxiii. 9; Ezek. xxxiv. 4, 12. Where are his zeal, and his tender mercies, and the sounding of his bowels? Are they restrained? Will he not lay hold of his strength, and stir up his righteousness, to save a poor sinking creature? Also, “He that is in us is greater than he that is in the world;” and will he suffer himself to be wrought out of his habitation, and not stir up his strength to keep possession of the dwelling-place which he had chosen? So that neither in the nature of the thing itself, nor in respect of him with whom we have to do, doth this seem possible. But, —
Secondly, Sin procureth, by the way of merit, the taking away of the Spirit and removal of the habit graciously bestowed. Believers deserve by sin that God should take his Spirit from them, and the grace that he hath bestowed on them: they do so indeed; it cannot be denied. But will the Lord deal so with them? Will he judge his house with such fire and vengeance?5050 Isa. xlviii. 9. Is that the way of a father with his children? Until he hath taken away his Spirit and grace, although they are rebellious children, yet they are his children still. And is this the way of a tender father, to cut the throats of his children when it is in his power to mend them? The casting of a wicked man into hell is not a punishment to be compared to this; the loss of God’s presence is the worst of hell. How infinitely must they needs be more sensible of it who have once enjoyed it than those who were strangers to it from the womb! Certainly the Lord bears another testimony concerning his kindness to his sons and daughters than that we should entertain such dismal thoughts of him.5151 Isa. xlix. 15, 16, lxvi. 18; Jer. ii. 1–3; Hos. ii. 14, etc. He chastises his children, indeed, but he doth not kill them; he corrects them with rods, but his kindness he takes 99not from them. Notwithstanding of the attempt made by the Remonstrants, in their Synodalia, I may say that I have not as yet met with any tolerable extrication of these difficulties. More to this purpose w!ill afterward be insisted on.
That which we intend when we mention “the perseverance of saints,” is their continuance to the end in the condition of saint-ship whereunto they are called. Now, in the state of saintship, there are two things concurring:— 1. That holiness which they receive from God; and, 2. That favour which they have with God, being justified freely by his grace, through the blood of Christ. And their continuance in this condition to the end of their lives, both as to their real holiness and gracious acceptance, is the perseverance whereof we must treat, — the one respecting their real estate, the other their relative; of which more particularly afterward.
And this is a brief delineation of the doctrine which, the Lord assisting, shall be explained, confirmed, and vindicated, in the ensuing discourse; which being first set forth as a mere skeleton, its symmetry and complexion, its beauty and comeliness, its strength and vigour, its excellency and usefulness, will, in the description of the several parts and branches of it, be more fully manifested.
Now, because Mr Goodwin, though he was not pleased to fix any orderly state of the question under debate, — a course he hath also thought good to take in handling those other heads of the doctrine of the gospel wherein he hath chosen to walk (for the main with the Arminians) in paths of difference from the reformed churches, — yet having scattered up and down his treatise what his conceptions are of the doctrine he doth oppose, as also what he asserts in the place and room thereof, and upon what principles, I shall briefly call what he hath so delivered, both on the one hand and on the other, to an account, to make the clearer way for the proof of the truth which indeed we own, and for the discovery of that which is brought forth to contest for acceptance with it upon the score of truth and usefulness.
First, then, for the doctrine of the saints’ perseverance, how it stands stated in Mr Goodwin’s thoughts, and what he would have other men apprehend thereof, may from sundry places in his book, especially chap. ix., be collected, and thus summarily presented. “It is,” saith he, sect. 3, “a promising unto men, and that with height of assurance, under what looseness or vile practices soever, exemption and freedom from punishment.” So sect. 4, “It is in vain to persuade or press men unto the use of such means in any kind which are in themselves displeasing to them, seeing they are ascertained and secured beforehand that they shall not fail of the end however, whether they use such means or no; — a luscious and fulsome conceit (sect. 5), intoxicating the flesh with a persuasion that 100it hath goods laid up for the days of eternity; a notion comfortable, and betiding peace to the flesh (sect. 15), in administering unto it certain hope that it shall, however, escape the wrath and vengeance which is to come, yea, though it disporteth itself in all manner of looseness and licentiousness in the meantime. A presumption it is that men (sect. 18) may or shall enjoy the love of God, and salvation itself, under practice of all manner of sin and wickedness; representing God (sect. 20) as a God in whose sight he is good that doth evil; promising his love, favour, and acceptance, as well unto dogs returning to their vomit, or to swine wallowing in the mire after their washing” (that is, to apostates, which that believers shall not be is indeed the doctrine he opposeth), “as unto lambs and sheep. A doctrine this whereby it is possible for me certainly to know, that how loosely, how profanely, how debauchedly soever, I should behave myself, yet God will love me, as he doth the holiest and most righteous man under heaven.”
With these and the like expressions doth Mr Goodwin adorn and gild over that doctrine which he hath chosen to oppose; with these garlands and flowers doth he surround the head of the sacrifice which he intends instantly to slay, that so it may fall an undeplored victim, if not seasonably rescued from the hands of this sacred officer. Neither through his whole treatise do I find it delivered in any other sense, or held out under any other notion to his reader. The course here he hath taken in this case, and the paths he walks in towards his adversaries, seems to be no other than that which was traced out by the bishops at Constance, when they caused devils to be painted upon the cap they put on the head of Huss before they cast him into the fire. I do something doubt (though I am not altogether ignorant how abominably the tenets and opinions of those who first opposed the Papacy are represented and given over to posterity, by them whose interest it was to have them thought such as they gave them out to be) whether ever any man that undertook to publish his conceptions to the world about any opinion or parcel of truth debated amongst professors of the gospel of Christ, did ever so dismember, disfigure, defile, wrest, and pervert, that which he opposed, as Mr Goodwin hath done the doctrine of perseverance, which he hath undertaken to destroy, rethinks a man should not be much delighted in casting filth and dung upon his adversary before he begin to grapple with him. In one word, this being the account he gives us of it, if he be able to name one author, ancient or modern, any one sober person of old or of late, that ever spent a penful of ink, or once opened his mouth in the defence of that perseverance of saints, or rather profane walking of dogs and swine, which he hath stated, not in the words and terms, but so much as to the matter or purpose here intimated by him, it shall be accepted as a just defensative 101against the crime which we are enforced to charge in this particular, and which otherwise will not easily be warded. If this be the doctrine, which, with so great an endeavour, and a contribution of so much pains and rhetoric, he seeks to oppose, I know not any that will think it worth while to interpose in this fierce contest between him and his man of straw. Neither can it with the least colour of truth be pretended that these are consequences which he urgeth the doctrine he opposeth withal, and not his apprehensions of the doctrine itself: for neither doth he in any place in his whole treatise hold it out in any other shape, but is uniform and constant to himself in expressing his notion of it; nor doth he, indeed, almost use any argument against it but those that suppose this to be the true state of the controversy which he hath proposed. But whether this indeed be the doctrine of the perseverance of saints which Mr Goodwin so importunately cries out against, upon a brief consideration of some of the particulars mentioned, will quickly appear.
First, then, doth this doctrine “promise, with height of assurance, that under what looseness or vile practices soever men do live, they shall have exemption from punishment?” Wherein, I pray? — in that it promiseth the saints of God, that through his grace they shall be preserved from such looseness and evil practices as would expose them to eternal punishment?5252 Ps. xxiii. 6; Jer. xxxi. 33; 1 Cor. x. 13, 1 Pet. i. 5. Doth it teach men that it is vain to use the means of mortification, because they shall certainly attain the end whether they use the means or no? Or may you not as well say that the doctrine you oppose is, that all men shall be saved whether they believe or no, with those other comfortable and cheering associate doctrines you mention? Or is this a regular emergency of that doctrine which teaches that there is no attaining the end but by the means, between which there is such a concatenation by divine appointment that they shall not be separated? Doth it “speak peace to the flesh, in assurance of a blessed immortality, though it disport itself in all folly in the meantime?” Do the teachers of it express any such thing? doth any such abomination issue from their arguings in the defence thereof? Or doth the doctrine which teaches believers (saints, who have tasted of the love and pardoning mercy of God, and are taught to value it infinitely above all the world) that such is the love and good-will of God towards them, in the covenant of mercy in the blood of Christ, that having appointed good works for them to walk in, for which of themselves they are insufficient, he will graciously continue to them such supplies of his Spirit and grace as that they shall never depart from following after him in ways of gospel obedience,5353 Eph. ii. 10; 2 Cor. iii. 5. — doth this, I say, encourage any of them to continue in sin that this grace may abound? Or are any doctrines of the gospel to be measured by the rules and lines of the 102use or abuse that the flesh is apt to make of them? or rather by their suitableness to the divine nature, whereof the saints are made partakers, and serviceableness to their carrying on to perfection in that attainment? Or is this an argument of validity against an evangelical truth, that the carnal, unbelieving heart is apt to turn it into wantonness? And whether believers walking after the Spirit,5454 Rom. viii. 1, 14. — in which frame the truths of God in the gospel are savoury and sweet to them, — do experience such attendancies of the doctrine under consideration as are here intimated, I am persuaded Mr Goodwin will one day find that he hath not a little grieved the Holy Spirit of God by these reproaches cast upon the work of his grace.
Farther; doth this persuasion assure men that “they shall enjoy the love and favour of God under the practices of all manner of sin?” or can this be wrested by any racks or wheels from this assertion, that none indeed enjoy the love and favour of God but only they towards whom it is effectual to turn them from the practices of all manner of sin and wickedness, to translate them from darkness into marvellous light, and from the power of Satan into the kingdom of Jesus Christ; whom the grace that appears unto them teacheth to deny all ungodliness and worldly lusts, and to live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world; whom that love constrains not to live unto themselves, but unto him that died for them? Doth it “promise the love and favour of God to dogs returning to their vomit, and swine wallowing in the mire,” when the very discriminating difference of it from that doctrine which advanceth itself into competition with it is, that such returning dogs and wallowing swine did indeed, in their best estate and condition, never truly and properly partake of the love and favour of God, but notwithstanding their disgorging and washing of themselves, they were dogs and swine still? But to what end should I longer insist on these things? I am fully persuaded Mr Goodwin himself cannot make room in his understanding to apprehend that this is indeed the true notion of the doctrine which he doth oppose. Something hath been spoken of it already, and more, the Lord assisting, will be discussed in the progress of our discourse, abundantly sufficient to manifest to the consciences of men not possessed with prejudice against the truth that it is quite of another nature and consistency, of another complexion and usefulness, than what is here represented. I cannot but add, that this way of handling controversies in religion, — namely, in proposing consequences and inferences of our own framing (wire-drawn with violence and subtilty from principles far distant from them, disowned, disavowed, and disclaimed by them on whom they are imposed) as the judgment of our adversaries, and loading them with all manner of reproaches, — is such as (being of all men in the world 103most walked in by the Arminians) I desire not to be competitor with any in, “Haud defensoribus istis,” etc.
Let us now a little, in the next place, consider what Mr Goodwin gives in for that persuasion which, in opposition to the other, before by him displayed, he contendeth with all his strength to advance. I do not doubt but all that are acquainted with his way of expression (“elato cothurno”) will, as they may reasonably, expect to have it brought forth μετὰ πολλῆς φαντασίας, adorned with all the gallantry and ornaments that words can contribute thereunto; for of them there is with him store to be used on all occasions, Πολὺς νομὸς ἔνθα καὶ ἔνθα.
The sum of the doctrine he is so enamoured of he gives us, chap. ix. sect. 21, p. 115. “Longa est fabula, longæ ambages;” this is “Caput rei.” “It is not any danger of falling away in them that are saints and believers, or probability of it, that he maintains, but only possibility of it; such as there is that sober and careful men may voluntarily throw themselves down from the tops of houses or steeples (though, perhaps, they never come there), or run into the fire or water, and be burned or drowned, having the use of their reason and understanding to preserve them from such unusual and dismal accidents:”5555 “Quidam sunt, qui jam aliquamdiu luce veritatis collustrati fuerunt, et in ejus cognitione pietatisque studio tantum profecerunt, ut habitum tandem credendi sancteque vivendi comparaverint: hos non tantum ad finem usque vitæ perseverare posse, sed facile posse, ac libenter et cum voluptate perseverare velle credimus, adeo ut non nisi cum lucta et molestia ac difficultate deficere possint.” — Act. Synod. Dec. Sent. A. 5, pp. 189, 190. which seems to be an instance of as remote and infirm a possibility as can likely be imagined. Yea, he tells you farther, sect. 22, “That the saints have as good security of their perseverance as he could have of his life to whom God should grant a lease of it for so long, upon condition that he did not thrust a sword through his bowels, or cast himself headlong down from a tower; so that his doctrine indulgeth to the saints as much assurance as that of perseverance,, but only it grants them not a liberty of sinning:” which, I presume, his own conscience told him that neither the other doth.
But is this indeed Mr Goodwin’s doctrine? is this all that he intends his arguments and proofs shall amount unto? “Ad populum phaleras.” Strange, that when there is not so much as a probability or danger of falling away, yet so many and so eminent saints should so fall! How seldom is it that we hear of wise and sober men running into the fire, throwing themselves headlong from towers, thrusting swords through their own bowels! and nothing more frequent than the apostasy of saints, if these things stood upon equal terms of unlikelihood and improbability! The stony field in the parable seems to be every whit as large as the good ground, whose fruit abideth, Matt. xiii. 20, 21, 23. That ground, in Mr Goodwin’s sense, is 104true believers, so that a moiety at least must be granted to fall away, and never come to perfection. Doubtless this is not easy to be received, that one half of a company of men in succession should constantly, from one generation to another, fall into ruin in such a way as wherein there is no danger of it, or probability that it should so come to pass. Methinks, we should scarce dare to walk the streets, lest at every step we be struck down by sober men voluntarily tumbling themselves from the tops of houses, and hardly keep ourselves from being wounded with the swords wherewith they run themselves through. Was this indeed the case with David, Solomon, Peter, and others, who totally apostatized from the faith? But if it be so, if they are thus secure, whence is it that it doth arise? what are the fountains, springs, and causes of this general security? Is it from the weakness of the opposition, and slightness of all means of diversion, from walking with God to the end, that they meet withal? or is it from the nature of that faith which they have, and grace wherewith they are endued? or is it that God hath graciously undertaken to safeguard them, and to preserve them in their abiding with him, that they shall not fall away? or is it that Christ intercedeth for them that their faith fail not, but be preserved, and their souls with it, by the power of God, unto the end? or from what other principle doth this security of theirs arise? from what fountain do the streams of their consolation flow? where lie the heads of this Nilus?
That it is upon the first account, I suppose cannot enter into the imagination of any person who ever had the least experience of walking with God, or doth so much as assent to the letter of the Scripture. How are our enemies there described, as to their number, nature, power, policy, subtlety, malice, restlessness, and advantages! with what unimaginable and inexpressible variety of means, temptations, baits, allurements, enticements, terrors, threats, do they fight against us! Such and so many are the enemies that oppose the saints of God in their abiding with him, so great and effectual the means and weapons wherewith they fight against them, so unwearied and watchful are they for the improvement of all advantages and opportunities for their ruin, that upon the supposal of the rejection of those principles and those means of their preservation which we shall find Mr Goodwin to attempt, they will be found to be so far from a state of no danger and little probability of falling, or only under a remote possibility of so doing, that it will appear utterly impossible for them to hold out and abide unto the end. Had the choicest saint of God, with all the grace that he hath received, but one of the many enemies, and that the weakest of all them which oppose every saint of God, even the feeblest, to deal withal, separated from the strength of those principles and supportments 105which Mr Goodwin seeketh to cast down, let him lie under continual exhortations to watchfulness and close walking with God, he may as easily move mountains with his finger or climb to heaven by a ladder as stand before the strength of that one enemy. Adam in paradise had no lust within to entice him, no world under the curse to seduce him, yet at the first assault of Satan, who then had no part in him, he fell quite out of covenant with God, Ps. xxx. 6, 7.
I shall give one instance, in one of the many enemies that fight against the welfare of our souls; and “ex hoc uno” we may guess at the residue of its companions. This is indwelling sin, whose power and policy, strength and prevalency, nearness and treachery, the Scripture exceedingly sets out, and the saints daily feel I shall only point at some particulars:—
First, Concerning its nearness to us, it is indeed in us; and that not as a thing different from us, but it cleaveth to all the faculties of our souls. It is an enemy born with us,5656 Ps. li. 5; Matt. v. 29, 30; James iii. 5, 6. bred up with us, carried about in our bosoms, by nature our familiar friend, our guide and counsellor, dear to us as our right eye, useful as our right hand, our wisdom, strength, etc. The apostle, Rom. vii. 17, 20, calleth it the “sin that dwelleth in us.” It hath in us, in the faculties of our souls, its abode and station. It doth not pass by and away, but there it dwells, so as that it never goes from home, is never out of the way when we have any thing to do; whence, verse 21, he calls it the “evil that is present with him.” When we go about any thing that is good, or have opportunity for or temptation unto any thing that is evil, it is never absent, but is ready to pluck us back or to put us on, according as it serves its ends. It is such an inmate that we can never be quit of its company; and so intimate unto us that it puts forth itself in every acting of the mind, will, or any other faculty of the soul. Though men would fain shake it off, yet when they would do good, this evil will be present with them. Then, —
Secondly, Its universality and compass. It is not straitened in a corner of the soul; it is spread over the whole, all the faculties, affections, and passions of it. That which is born of the flesh is flesh; it is all flesh, and nothing but flesh. It is darkness in the understanding, keeping us, at best, that we know but in part, and are still dull and slow of heart to believe. Naturally we are all darkness, nothing but darkness; and though the Lord shine into our mind, to give us in some measure the knowledge of his glory in the face of Jesus Christ, yet we are still very dark, and it is a hard work to bring in a little light upon the soul. Especially this is seen in particular practical things; though in general we have very clear light and eviction, yet when we come to particular acts of obedience, how often doth our light grow dim and fail us, causing us to judge amiss 106of that which is before us, by the rising of that natural darkness which is in us! It is perverseness, stubbornness, obstinacy in the, will, that carries it with violence to disobedience and sin; it is sensuality upon the affections, bending them to the things of the world, alienating them from God; it is slipperiness in the memory, making us like leaking vessels, so that the things that we hear of the gospel do suddenly slip out, whenas other things abide firm in the cells and chambers thereof; it is senselessness and error in the conscience, staving it off from the performance of that duty which, in the name and authority of God, it is to accomplish: and in all these is daily enticing and seducing the heart to folly, conceiving and bringing forth sin.5757 John iii. 6; Matt. vi. 23, xi. 27; Luke xi. 34–36; Acts xxvi. 18; 2 Cor. vi. 14; Eph. v. 8; Isa. xxix. 18, xxxv. 5, xlii. 7; Rom. ii. 19; Col. i. 13; 1 Pet. ii. 9; Luke iv. 18; Eph. iv. 18; Rev. iii. 17; Matt. xxiii. 16, iv. 16; John i. 5; 2 Cor. iv. 6; Luke xiv. 18; John viii. 34; Rom. vi. 16, vii. 18, viii. 7, 8; Jer. vi. 13; Gen. vi. 5; Jer. xiii. 23; Heb. ii. 1; James i. 14, 15.
Thirdly, Its power. The apostle calls it “a law, a law in his members, a law of sin,” Rom. vii. 21, 23; such a law as fights, makes war, and leads captive, selling us under sin, not suffering us to do the good we would, forcing us to do the evil we would not, drawing us off from that we delight in, bringing us under bondage to that which we abhor. A powerful, unmerciful, cruel tyrant it is. O wretched men that we are! verse 24. There is no saint of God but in the inward man doth hate sin, every sin, more than hell itself, knowing the world of evils that attend the least sin; yet is there not one of them but this powerful tyrant hath compelled and forced to so many as have made them a burden to their own souls.
Fourthly, Its cunning, craft, and policy. It is called in Scripture “the old man;” not from the weakness of its strength, but from the strength of its craft,. “Take heed,” saith the apostle, “lest any of you be hardened by the deceitfulness of sin,” Heb. iii. 13. There is abundance of deceitfulness in it, being ready, fit, and prompt to beguile; lying in wait for advantages, furnished for all opportunities, and ready to close with every temptation: yea, the ways of it are so large and various, its wiles and methods for deceiving so innumerable, its fruitfulness in conceiving and bringing forth of sin so abundant, its advantages and opportunities so many, that it is like “the way of a serpent upon a rock,” — there is no tracing or finding of it out.
A serious consideration of the opposition made unto our perseverance by this one enemy, which hath so much ability, and is so restless in its warfare, never quiet, conquering nor conquered, which can be kept out of none of our counsels, excluded from none of our actings, is abundantly sufficient to evince that it is not want or weakness of enemies which putteth believers out of danger of falling away.
But all this perhaps will be granted. Enemies they have enough, 107and those much more diligent and powerful every one of them than all we have spoken of that now described amounteth unto; but the means of preservation which God affords the saints is that which puts them almost out of gun-shot, and gives them that golden security mentioned, which cometh not, in administering consolation, one step behind that which ariseth from the doctrine of absolute perseverance. Let, then, this be a little considered, and perhaps it will allay this whole contest. Is it, then, that such is the grace that is bestowed upon them, in respect of the principle whence it is bestowed (the eternal love of God), and the way whereby it is for them procured (the blood-shedding and intercession of Christ), with the nature of it (being the seed of God, which abideth and withereth not), and that such seems to be the nature of infused habits, that they are net removed but by the power and immediate hand of him by whom they are bestowed? Is it from hence that their assurance and security doth arise? “Alas! all this is but a fiction. There is no faith that is the fruit of election; Christ purchased it not for any by his death; infused habits are not; the grace that perisheth and that that abideth are the same. These things are but pretences.” Is it, then, that God hath purposed from eternity to continue constant in his love towards them, never to leave them nor forsake them? “Nay, but of all things imaginable this is the greatest abomination, which if the Scriptures did anywhere affirm, it were sufficient to make a rational, considering man to question their authority.” What then? Hath the Lord promised to give them such continued supplies of his Spirit and grace in Jesus Christ as that they shall be supported against all opposition, and preserved from all or any such sins as will certainly make a separation between God and their souls? “Nay, there is not one such promise in all the book of God; they are conditional;, for the enjoyment of the good things whereof believers stand all their days upon their good behaviour.” Is it, then, that the Lord Jesus, who is always heard of his Father, intercedes for them that their faith fail not, and that they may be preserved by the power of God unto salvation, and that not only upon condition of their believing, but chiefly that they may be kept and preserved in believing? Or is it that their enemies are so conquered for them and on their behalf, in the death and resurrection of Christ, that they shall never have dominion over them, that their security doth arise? Neither the one nor the other, nor any nor all of these, are the grounds and foundations of their establishment., but they are wholly given up to the powerful hand of some considerations, which Mr Goodwin expresseth and setteth out to the life, chap. ix. sect. 32–34, pp. 174, 175.
Now, because the Remonstrants5858 Coll. Hag. A. 5, Act. Synod. Dec. Sent. A. 5, thes. ii. have always told us that God 108hath provided sufficiently for the perseverance of the saints, if they be not supinely wanting to themselves in the use of them, but have not hitherto, either jointly or severally, that I know of, taken the pains to discover in particular wherein that sufficiency of provision for their safety doth consist, or what the means are that God affords them to this end and purpose, Mr Goodwin, who is a learned master of all their counsels, having exactly and fully laid them forth as a solid foundation of his assertion concerning only a remote possibility of the saints’ total defection, let it not seem tedious or impertinent if I transcribe, for the clearer debate of it before the reader, that whole discourse of his, and consider it in order as it lies.
“If,” saith he, “it be demanded what are the means which God hath given so abundantly to the saints, to make themselves so free, so strong in inclinations to avoid things so apparently destructive to the spiritual peace and salvation of their souls, as naturally men are to forbear all such occasions which are apparently destructive to their natural lives, so that they need not to be any whit more afraid of losing their souls through their own actings than men are, or need to be, of destroying their natural lives upon the same terms? I answer, —
“First, He hath given them eyes wherewith, and light whereby, clearly and evidently to see and know that it is not more rational or man-like for men to refrain all such acts which they know they cannot perform but to the present and unavoidable destruction of their natural lives, than it is to forbear all sinful acts whatsoever, and especially such which are apparently destructive to their souls.
“Secondly, God hath not only given them the eyes and the light we speak of, wherewith and whereby clearly to see and understand the things manifested, but hath farther endued them with a faculty of consideration, wherewith to reflect upon, and review, and ponder, so oft as they please, what they see, understand, and know in this kind. Now, whatsoever a man is capable, first, of seeing and knowing, secondly, of pondering and considering, he is capable of raising or working an inclination in himself towards it, answerable in strength, vigour, and power, to any degree of goodness or desirableness which he is able to apprehend therein; for what is an inclination towards any thing but a propension and laying out of the heart and soul towards it? So that if there be worth and goodness sufficient in any object whatsoever to bear it; and, secondly, if a man be in a capacity of discovering and apprehending this good clearly; and, thirdly, be in a like capacity of considering this vision, — certainly he is in a capacity and at liberty to work himself to what strength or degree of desire and inclination towards it he pleaseth. Now, it is certain to every man that there is more good in abstaining from things either eminently dangerous or apparently destructive to his soul, than in forbearing things apparently destructive to his natural 109being. Secondly, As evident it is that every man is more capable of attaining or coming to the certain knowledge and clear apprehending of this excess of good to him in the former good than in the latter. Thirdly, Neither is it a thing less evident than either of the former, that every man is as capable of ruminating or re-apprehending the said excess of good as much and as oft as he pleaseth, as he is simply of apprehending it at all. Which supposed as undeniably true, it follows with a high hand, and above all contradiction, that the saints may (and have means and opportunities fair and full for that purpose) plant inclinations or dispositions in themselves to refrain all manner of sins apparently dangerous and destructive to the safety of their souls, fuller of energy, vigour, life, strength, power, than the natural inclination in them which teacheth them to refrain all occasions which they know must needs be accompanied with the destruction of their natural beings. Therefore, if they be more, or so much, afraid of destroying their lives voluntarily and knowingly (as by casting themselves into the fire or the water, or the like) than they are of falling away through sin, the fault or reason thereof is not at all in the doctrine, which affirms or informs them that there is a possibility that they fall away, but in themselves and their own voluntary negligence. They have means and opportunities (as we have proved) in abundance to render themselves every whit as secure, yea, and more secure, touching the latter, as they are or reasonably can be concerning the former.”
Ans. When I first cast an eye on this discourse of Mr Goodwin, I confess I was surprised to as high a degree of admiration, and some other affections also, as by any thing I had observed in his whole book; as having not met (if without offence I may be allowed to speak my apprehensions) with any discourse whatsoever of so transcendent a derogation from, and direct tendency to the overthrow of, the grace of Christ, but only in what is remembered, by Austin, Hilary, Fulgentius, with some others, of the disputes of Pelagius, Cœlestius, Julianus, with their followers, and the Socinians of late, with whom Mr Goodwin would not be thought to have joined in their opposition to the merit and grace of Christ. As I said, then, before, if this should prove in the issue to be the sum of the means afforded to preserve the saints from apostasy and falling away into ruin, I shall be so far from opposing a possibility of their defection that I shall certainly conclude their perseverance to be impossible, being fully persuaded that, with all the contribution of strength which the considerations mentioned are able of themselves to afford unto them, they are no more able to meet their adversaries, who come against them with twenty thousand subtleties and temptations, than a man with a straw and a feather is to combat with and overcome a royal army. The Scripture tells us, and we thought it had 110been so, that we “are kept by the power of God unto salvation;” and that to this end he puts forth “the exceeding greatness of his power in them that believe, according to the working of his mighty power, which he wrought in Christ when he raised him from the dead;” whereby he “strengthens them with all might, according to his glorious power,” “making them meet to be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light.”5959 1 Pet. i. 5; Eph. i. 17–20; Col. i. 11, 12. It seems, though there be a glorious sound of words in these and innumerable the like expressions of the engagement of the power and faithfulness of God for the safeguarding of his saints, yet all this is but an empty noise and beating of the air; that which is indeed material to this purpose consisting in “certain considerations which rational men may have concerning their present state and future condition.” But let us a little consider the discourse itself.
First, It is all along magnificently supposed that there is the same power and ability in a rational, enlightened man to deliberate and conclude of things in reference unto the practical condition of his spiritual estate as there is of his natural, and that this ability is constantly resident with him, to make use of upon all occasions, whatever our Saviour say to the contrary, — namely, that “without him we can do nothing,” John xv. 5.
Secondly (to make way for that), That such an one is able to know and to desire the things of his peace in a spiritual and useful manner, notwithstanding the vanity of those many seemingly fervent prayers of the saints in the Scripture, that God would give them understanding in these things, and his manifold promises of that grace.6060 Ps. cxix. 144; 1 Cor. ii. 14.
Thirdly, That upon such deliberation, men are put into a capacity and liberty, or are enabled, to work themselves to what strength or degree of desire and inclination towards that good considered they please; and according as the good is that men apprehend (as abiding with God is the greatest good), such will be the strength and the vigour and power of their inclination thereto. That they have a law in their members rebelling against the law of their minds, and leading them captive under the law of sin, needs not to be taken notice of. This sufficiency, it seems, is of themselves. He was a weak, unskilful man who supposed that of ourselves we could not think a good thought, seeing we are such perfect lords and masters of all good thoughts and actings whatsoever.6161 Rom. vii. 8–24; 2 Cor. iii. 5.
Fourthly, The whole sum of this discourse of the means afforded believers to enable them to persevere amounts to this, that being rational men, they may, first, consider that some kinds of sins will destroy them and separate them from God, and that by obedience they shall come to the greatest good imaginable; whereupon it is in their power so strongly to incline their hearts unto obedience that 111they shall be in no more danger of departing from God than a wise and rational man is of killing or wilfully destroying himself; the, first part whereof may be performed by them who are no saints, the latter not by any saint whatsoever.
And is not this noble provision for the security and assurance of the saints enough to make them cast away with speed all their interest in the unchangeable purposes and gracious and faithful promises of God, intercession of Christ, sealing of the Spirit, and all those sandy and trivial supports of their faith which hitherto they have rejoiced in? And whatever experience they have, or testimony from the word they do receive, of the darkness and weakness of their minds, the stubbornness of their wills, with the strong inclinations that are in them to sin and falling away, — whatever be the oppositions from above them, about them, within them, on the right hand and on the left, that they have to wrestle withal,6262 Eph. vi. 12; Heb. xii. 1; Rom. vii. 17. — let them give up themselves to the hand of their own manlike considerations and weighing of things, which will secure them against all danger or probability of falling away; for if they be but capable, first, of seeing and knowing, secondly, of pondering and considering, and that rationally (it matters not whether these things are fruits of the Spirit of grace or no, nay, it is clear they must not be so), that such and such evil is to be avoided, and that there is so and so great a good to be obtained by continuing in obedience, they may raise and work inclinations in themselves, answerable, in strength, vigour, and power, to any degree of goodness which they apprehend in what they see and ponder.
The whole of the “ample sufficient means” afforded by God to the saints to enable them to persevere branching itself into these two heads, — first, The rational considering what they have to do; secondly, Their vigorous inclination of their hearts to act suitably and answerably to their considerations, — I shall, in a word, consider them apart.
First, The considerations mentioned, of evil to be avoided and good to be attained (I mean that which may put men upon creating those strong inclinations: for such considerations may be without any such consequence, as in her that cried, “Video meliora proboque, deteriora sequor”), are either issues and products of men’s own natural faculties, and deduced out of the power of them, so that as men they may put themselves upon them at any time; or they are fruits of the Spirit of his grace, who “worketh in us both to will and to do of his good pleasure.”6363 Phil. ii. 18. If they be the latter, I ask, seeing all grace is of promise, whether hath God promised to give and continue this grace of self-consideration unto believers or no? If he hath, whether absolutely or conditionally? If absolutely, then he 112hath promised absolutely to continue some grace in them; which is all we desire. If conditionally, then would I know what that condition is on which God hath promised that believers shall so consider the things mentioned. And of the condition which shall be expressed, it may farther be inquired whether it be any grace of God, or only a mere act of the rational creature as such, without any immediate in-working of the will and deed by God? Whatsoever is answered, the question will not go to rest until it be granted that either it is a grace absolutely promised of God, which is all we desire, or a pure act of the creature contradistinct thereunto, which answers the first inquiry. Let it, then, be granted that the considerations intimated are no other but such as a rational man who is enlightened to an assent to the truth of God may so exert and exercise as he pleaseth; then is there a foundation laid of all the ground of perseverance that is allowed the saints in their own endeavours, as men without the assistance of any grace of God. Now, these considerations, be they what they will, must needs be beneath one single good thought, for as for that we have no sufficiency of ourselves; yea, vanity and nothing, for without Christ we can do nothing; yea, evil and displeasing to God, as are all the thoughts and imaginations of our hearts that are only such.6464 2 Cor. iii. 5; John xv. 5; Gen. viii. 21. I had supposed that no man in the least acquainted with what it is to serve God under temptations, and what the work of saving souls is, but had been sufficiently convinced of the utter insufficiency of such rational considerations, flowing only from conviction, to be a solid foundation of abiding with God unto the end. If men’s houses of profession are built on such sands as these, we need not wonder to see them so frequently falling to the ground.
Secondly, Suppose these considerations to act their part upon the stage raised for them, to the greatest applause that can be expected or desired, yet that which comes next upon the theatre will, I fear, foully miscarry, and spoil the whole plot of the play, — that is, “men’s vigorous inclination of their hearts to the good things pondered on to what height they please;” for besides that, —
First, It is liable to the same examination that passed upon its associates before, or an inquiry from whence he comes, whether from heaven or men; upon which I doubt not but he may easily be discovered to be “a vagabond upon the earth,” to have no pass from heaven, and so be rendered liable to the law of God.
Secondly, It would be inquired whether it hath a consistency with the whole design of the apostle, Rom. vii. And therefore, —
Thirdly, It is utterly denied that men, the best of men, have in themselves and of themselves, arising upon the account of any considerations whatsoever, a power, ability, or strength, vigorously or at 113all acceptably to God, to incline their hearts to the performance of any thing that is spiritually good, or in a gospel tendency to walking with God. All the promises of God, all the prayers of the saints, all their experience, the whole design of God in laying up all our stores of strength and grace in Christ, jointly cry out against it for a counterfeit pretence. In a word, that men are able to plant in themselves inclinations and dispositions to refrain all manner of sin destructive to the safety of their souls, fuller of energy, vigour, life, strength, power, than those that are in them to avoid things apparently tending to the destruction of their natural lives, is an assertion as full of energy, strength, and vigour, life, and poison, for the destruction and eversion of the grace of God in Christ, as any which can be invented.
To shut up this discourse and to proceed: If these are the solid foundations of peace and consolation which the saints have concerning their perseverance; if these be the means “sufficient,” “abundantly sufficient,” afforded them for their preservation, that are laid in the balance, as to the giving of an evangelical, genuine assurance, with the decrees and purposes, the covenant, promises, and oath of God, the blood and intercession of Christ, the anointing and sealing of the Spirit of grace, — I suppose we need not care how soon we enter the lists with any as to the comparing of the doctrines under contest, in reference to their influence into the obedience and consolation of the saints; which with its issue, in the close of this discourse, shall, God willing, be put to the trial.
Now, that I may lay a more clear foundation for what doth ensue, I shall briefly deduce not only the doctrine itself, but also the method wherein I shall handle it, from a portion of Scripture, in which the whole is summarily comprised, and branched forth into suitable heads, for the confirmation and vindication thereof. And this also is required to the main of my design, it being not so directly to convince stout gainsayers, in vanquishing their objections, as to strengthen weak believers, in helping them against temptations; and therefore I shall at the entrance hold out that whereinto their faith must be ultimately resolved, — the authority of God in his word being that ark alone whereon it can rest the sole of its foot. Now, this is the fourth chapter of Isaiah, of which take this short account: It is a chapter made up of gracious promises, given to the church in a calamitous season; the season itself is described, verses 25 and 26 of the third chapter, and the first of this, — all holding out a distressed estate, a low condition. It is, indeed, God’s method, to make out gracious promises to his people when their condition seems most deplorable, — to sweeten their souls with a sense of his love in the multitude of the perplexing thoughts which in distracted times are ready to tumultuate in them.
114The foundation of all the following promises lies in the second verse, even the giving out of the “Branch of the Lord” and the “Fruit of the earth” for beauty and glory to the remnant of Israel. Who it is who is the “Branch of the Lord “the Scripture tells us in sundry places, Isa. xi. 1; Jer. xxiii. 5, xxxiii. 15; Zech. iii. 8. The Lord Jesus Christ, the promise of whom is the church’s only supportment in every trial or distress it hath to undergo, he is this branch and fruit; and he is placed in the head here as the great fountain-mercy, from whence all others do flow. In those that follow, the persons to whom those promises are made, and the matter or substance of them, are observable. The persons have various appellations and descriptions in this chapter. They are called (first) “The escaping of Israel,” verse 2; “They that are left in Zion,” verse 3; “Jerusalem” itself, verse 4; “The dwelling-places and assemblies of mount Zion,” verse 5. That the same individual persons are intended in all these several appellations is not questionable. It is but in reference to the several acts of God’s dwelling with them, and outgoings of his love and good-will, both eternal and temporal, towards them, that they come, under this variety of names and descriptions. First, In respect of his eternal designation of them to life and salvation, they are said to be “Written among the living,” or unto life “in Jerusalem;” their names are in the Lamb’s book of life from the foundation of the, world,6565 Rev. iii. 12, xiii. 8; Luke x. 20. and they are recorded in the purpose of God from all eternity. Secondly, In respect of their deliverance and actual redemption from the bondage of death and Satan, which for ever prevail upon the greatest number of the sons of men, shadowed out by their deliverance from the Babylonish captivity (pointed at in this place), they are said to be “A remnant, an escaping, such as are left and remain in Jerusalem.”6666 Rev. v. 9; Eph. v. 25–27; Zech. iii. 2; John xvii. 9; Rom. viii. 33. From the perishing lump of mankind God doth by Christ snatch a remnant (whom he will preserve), like a brand out of the fire. Thirdly, In respect of their enjoyment of God’s ordinances and word, and his presence with them therein, they are called “The daughter of Zion,” and “The dwelling-places thereof.”6767 Ps. xlviii. 11–14, xvi. 1–3, etc.; Jer. l. 5; Zech. viii. 2; John xii. 15; Ps. cx. 3; Isa. xlix. 14. There did God make known his mind and will, and walked with his people in the beauties of holiness: these are they to whom these promises are made, the elect, redeemed, and called of God; or those who, being elected and redeemed, shall in their several generations be called, according to his purpose who worketh all things according to the counsel of his own will.
For the matter of these promises, they may be reduced to these three heads:— first, Of justification, verse 2; secondly, Of sanctification, 115verses 3, 4; thirdly, Of perseverance, verses 5, 6. First, Of justification, Christ is made to them, or given unto them, for beauty and glory; which how it is done the Holy Ghost tells us: Isa. lxi. 10, “I will greatly rejoice in the Lord, my soul shall be joyful in my God; for he hath clothed me with the garments of salvation, he hath covered me with the robe of righteousness,” saith the church. He puts upon poor deformed creatures the glorious robe of his own righteousness, to make us comely in his presence and the presence of his Father, Zech. iii. 3, 4. Through him, his being given unto us, “made unto us of God righteousness,” becoming “the Lord our righteousness,”6868 1 Cor. i. 30; Isa. liv. 17, xlv. 24, 25; Jer. xxiii. 6; Rom. v. 1, viii. 1; Col. ii. 10. do we find free acceptation, as beautiful and glorious, in the eyes of God. But this is not all. He doth not only adorn us without, but also wash us within. The apostle acquaints us that that was his design, Eph. v. 25–27; and therefore you have, secondly, the promise of sanctification added, verses 3, 4. Verse 3, you have the thing itself: they “shall be called holy,” made so, — called so by him who “calleth things that are not as though they were,” and by that call gives them to be that which he calls them. He said, “Let there be light; and there was light,” Gen. i. 3. And then the manner how it becomes to be so, verse 4; first, setting out the efficient cause, “the Spirit of judgment, and the Spirit of burning,” — that is, of holiness and light; and, secondly, the way of his producing this great effect, “washing away filth and purging away blood.” Spiritual filth and blood is the defilement of sin; the Scripture, to set out its abomination, comparing it to the things of the greatest abhorrency to our nature, even as that is to the nature of God.6969 Ezek. xi. 19; John iii. 5; Rom. viii. 1; John xvi. 8–11; Ps. xxxviii. 5, 7; Prov. xiii. 5, 6; Isa. i. 5, 6, lxiv. 6; Ezek. xvi. 4, 5, xxiv. 6; Hos. viii. 8; Zech. xiii. 1; Rom. iii. 13; 2 Pet. ii. 22. And this is the second promise that in and by the “Branch of the Lord” is here made to them “who are written unto life in Jerusalem.” But now, lest any should suppose that both these are for a season only, that they are dying privileges, perishing mercies, jewels that may be lost, so that though the persons to whom these promises are made are once made glorious and comely, being in Christ freely accepted, yet they may again become odious in the sight of God and be utterly rejected, — that being once washed, purged, cleansed, they should yet return to wallow in the mire, and so become wholly defiled and abominable, — in the third place he gives a promise of perseverance, in the last two verses, and that expressed with allusion to the protection afforded unto the people of the Jews in the wilderness by a cloud and pillar of fire; which as they were created and instituted signs of the presence of God, so they gave assured protection, preservation, and direction, to the people in all their ways. The 116sum of the whole intendment of the Holy Ghost in these two verses seeming to be comprised in the last words of the fifth, and they being a suitable bottom unto the ensuing discourse, comprising, as they stand, in relation to the verses foregoing, the whole of my aim, with the way or method wherein it may conveniently be delivered, I shall a little insist upon them: “Upon all the glory shall be a defence.”
The words are a gospel promise expressed in law terms, or a new testament mercy in old testament clothes: the subject of it is “All the glory;” and the thing promised is “A defence over it,” or upon it. By “The glory,” some take the people themselves to be intended, who are the glory of God, Isa. xlvi. 13, in whom he will be glorified, and who are said to be made glorious, chap. iv. 2. But the pillar of fire and the cloud lead us another way. As the protection here promised must answer the protection given by them of old, so the glory here mentioned must answer that which was the glory of that people, when they had their preservation and direction from these signs of the presence of God in the midst of them. It is very true, the sign of God’s presence among them itself, and the protection received thereby, is sometimes called his “glory,” Ezek. x. 4, 18; but here it is plainly differenced from it, that being afterward called a “defence.” That which most frequently was called the “glory” in the ancient dispensation of God to his people was the ark. When this was taken by the Philistines, the wife of Phinehas calls her son I-chabod, and says, “The glory is departed from Israel,” 1 Sam. iv. 21, 22; which the Holy Ghost mentions again, Ps. lxxviii. 61, “And delivered his strength into captivity, and his glory into the enemy’s hand.” The tabernacle, or the tent wherein it was placed, is mentioned, verse 60, “He forsook the tabernacle of Shiloh, the tent which he placed among them;” and the people to whom it was given, verse 62, “He gave his people over also unto the sword;” — that ark being the glory and strength which went into captivity when he forsook the tabernacle, and gave his people to the sword. That this ark, the “glory” of old, was a type of Jesus Christ (besides the end and aim of its institution, with its use and place of its abode), appears from the mercy-seat or plate of gold that was laid upon it; which Jesus Christ is expressly said to be, Rom. iii. 25, 26, compared with Heb. ix. 5. It is he who is the “glory” here mentioned, not considered absolutely and in his own person, but as he is made “beauty and glory” unto his people, as he is made unto them righteousness and holiness, according to the tenor of the promises insisted on before. And this is indeed all the glory of the elect of God,7070 Isa. xiv. 25. even the presence of Christ with them, as their justification and sanctification, their righteousness and holiness.
The matter of the promise made in reference to this “glory” and 117them upon whom it doth abide is, that there “shall be a defence upon it.” The word translated here “A defence” comes from a root that is but once read in Scripture, Deut. xxxiii. 12, where it is rendered to cover: “The Lord shall cover him all the day long.” So it properly signifies. From a covering to a protection or a defence is an easy metaphor, a covering being given for that end and purpose. And this is the native signification of the word “protego,” “to defend by covering;” as Abimelech called Abraham “the covering of Sarah’s eyes,” or a protection to her, Gen. xx. 16. The allusion also of a shade, which in Scripture is so often taken for a defence,7171 Ps. xvii. 8, xxxvi. 7, lvii. 1, lviii. 7, cxxi. 5; Isa. xxx. 2, xlix. 2; Ezek. xxxi. 6, etc. ariseth from hence. This word itself is used twice more, and in both places signifies a bride-chamber, Ps. xix. 5, Joel ii. 16, from the peace, covert, and protection of such a place. The name of the mercy-seat is also of the same root with this. In this place it is, by common consent, rendered “A defence” or protection, being so used either by allusion to that refreshment that the Lord Christ, the great bridegroom, gives to his bride in his banqueting-house,7272 Cant. ii. 4. or rather in pursuit of the former similitude of the cloud that was over the tabernacle and the ark, which represented the glory of that people. Thus, this “defence” or covering is said to be “upon” or above the “glory,” as the cloud was over the tabernacle, and as the mercy-seat lay upon the ark. Add only this much to what hath been spoken (which is also affirmed in the beginning of the verse), namely, that this defence is “created,” or is an immediate product of the mighty power of God, not requiring unto it the least concurrence of creature power, and the whole will manifest the intendment of the Lord everlastingly to safeguard the spiritual glories of his saints in Christ.
As was before shown, there are two parts of our spiritual glory, the one purely extrinsical, to wit, the love and favour of God unto us, his free and gracious acceptation of us in Christ. On this part of our glory there is this defence created, that it shall abide for ever, it shall never be removed. His own glory and excellencies are engaged for the preservation of this excellency and glory of his people. This sun, though it may be for a while eclipsed, yet shall never set, nor give place to an evening that shall make long the shade thereof; whom God once freely accepts in Christ, he will never turn away his love from them, nor cast them utterly out of his favour. The other is within us, and that is our sanctification, our portion from God by the Spirit of holiness, and the fruits thereof, in our faith, love, and obedience unto him. And on this part of our glory there is this defence, that this Spirit shall never utterly be dislodged from that soul wherein he makes his residence, nor resign his habitation to the spirit of the world, — that his fruit shall never so decay as that the fruits of 118Sodom and the grapes of Gomorrah should grow in their room, nor they wherein they are everlastingly, utterly, and wickedly, grow barren in departing from the living God. These two make up their perseverance whereof we speak. Whom God accepts in Christ, he will continue to do so for ever; whom he quickens to walk with him, they shall do it to the end. And these three things, acceptance with God, holiness from God, and a defence upon them both unto the end, all free and in Christ, are that threefold cord of the covenant of grace which cannot be broken.
In the handling, then, of the doctrine proposed unto consideration, I shall, the Lord assisting, show, —
First, That the love and favour of God, as to the free acceptation of believers with him in Christ, is constant, abiding, and shall never be turned away; handling at large the principles both of its being and manifestation.
Secondly, That the Spirit and grace of sanctification, which they freely receive from him, shall never utterly be extinguished in them, but so remain as that they shall abide with him for ever; the sophistical separation of which two parts of our doctrine is the greatest advantage our adversaries have against the whole. And [I shall] demonstrate, —
Thirdly, The real and causal influences which this truth hath into the obedience and consolation of the saints, considered both absolutely, and compared with the doctrine which is set up in competition with it.
In the pursuit of which particulars I shall endeavour to enforce and press those places of Scripture wherein they are abundantly delivered, and vindicate them from all the exceptions put in to our inferences from them by Mr Goodwin in his “Redemption Redeemed;” as also answer all the arguments which he hath, with much labour and industry, collected and improved in opposition to the truth in hand. Take, then, only these few previous observations, and I shall insist fully upon the proof and demonstration of the first position, concerning the unchangeableness of the love of God towards his, to whom he gives Jesus Christ for beauty and glory, and freely accepts them in him:—
First, As to their inherent holiness, the question is not concerning acts, either as to their vigour, which may be abated, or as to their frequency, which may be interrupted; but only as to the spirit and habit of it, which shall never depart. We do not say they cannot sin, fall into many sins, great sins, which the Scripture plainly affirms of all the saints that went before, (and who of them living doth not this day labour under the truth of it?) but through the presence of God with them, upon such grounds and principles as shall afterward be insisted on, they cannot, shall not, sin away the Spirit and habit of grace (which without a miracle cannot be done away by any one 119act, and God will not work miracles for the destruction of his children), so as to fall into that state wherein they were before they were regenerated, and of the children of God become children of the devil, tasting of the second death after they have been made partakers of the first resurrection, Rev. xx. 6.7373 Rev. ii. 5, iii. 2; Isa. lvii. 17, 18; Hos. xiv. 4; Isa. lix. 21; John xiv. 16; 1 John iii. 9, i. 8; James iii. 2; 1 Kings viii. 38; Isa. lxiv. 5, 6.
Secondly, The question is not about the decay of any grace, but the loss of all, not about sickness and weakness, but about death itself; which alone we say they shall be preserved from. Neither do we say that believers are endowed with any such rich and plentiful stock of grace as that they may spend upon it without new supplies all their days; but grant that they stand in continual need of the renewed communication of that grace which hath its abode and residence in their souls, and of that actual assistance whereby any thing that is truly and spiritually good is wrought in them.7474 Ps. xxiii. 6; Isa. xxxv. 1, 2, etc.; John xv. 3–7; Rom. xi. 18; John i. 16; Col. ii. 19; Luke xvii. 5; Phil. ii. 13.
Thirdly, Whereas there is a twofold impossibility, — first, that which is absolutely and simply so in its own nature, and, secondly, that which is so only upon some supposition, — we say the total falling away of the saints is impossible only in this latter sense, the unchangeable decree and purpose of God, his faithful promises and oath, the mediation of the Lord Jesus, being in the assertion supposed. And, —
Fourthly, whereas we affirm they shall assuredly continue unto the end, the certainty and assurance intimated is not mentis but entis, not subjective but objective, not always in the person persevering, but always relating to the thing itself.7575 Isa. xlix. 14–16, lxv. 17; Cant. v. 2, 6; Ps. lxxiii. 26.
Fifthly, That the three things formerly mentioned, acceptance with God, holiness from God, and the defence upon them both unto the end, are that threefold cord of the covenant which cannot be broken. This will appear by comparing these two eminent places together, which afterward must more fully be insisted on, Jer. xxxi. 33, 34, xxxii. 38–40. In general, God undertakes to be “their God,” and that they shall be “his people,” chap. xxxi. 33, xxxii. 38. And this he manifests in three things:— First, That he will accept them freely, give them to find great favour before him, in the forgiveness of their sins; for which alone he hath any quarrel with them: “I will,” saith he, “forgive their iniquity, and remember their sin no more,” Jer. xxxi. 34; as it is again repeated Heb. viii. 12. Secondly, That they shall have sanctification and holiness from him: “I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts,” Jer. xxxi. 33; “I will put my fear in their hearts,” chap. xxxii. 40; which Ezekiel, chap. xxxvi. 27 calls the “putting his Spirit in them,” who is the author of that grace and holiness which he doth bestow. Thirdly, That in both these there 120shall be a continuance for ever: Jer. xxxii. 40, “I will not turn away from them to do them good, but I will put my fear in their hearts, that they shall not depart from me;” or, as verse 39, “They shall fear me for ever;” which distinguisheth this covenant from the former made with their fathers, in that that was broken, which this shall never be, chap. xxxi. 32. This is the crowning mercy, that renders both the others glorious:— as to acceptation, he will not depart from us; as to sanctification, we shall not depart from him.
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