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Chapter X. The improvement of the doctrine.
The improvement of the doctrine of perseverance in reference to the obedience and consolation of the saints — Why its tendency to the promoting of their obedience is first handled, before their consolation — Five previous observations concerning gospel truths in general — 1. That all are to be received with equal reverence — 2. That the end of them all is to work the soul into a conformity to God — Proved by several scriptures, 2 Tim. iii. 16, 17; Titus i. 1, etc. — 3. Some truths have a more immediate tendency hereunto than others have, 2 Cor. v. 14 — 4. Most weight is to be laid by believers upon such — 5. Men are not themselves to determine what truths have most in them of this tendency, etc. — Gospel obedience, what it is, and why so called — Its nature — 1. In the matter of it, which is all and only the will of God — 2. In the form of it, which is considered — (1.) In the principle setting it on work, faith — (2.) In the manner of doing it, eyeing both precepts and promises — (3.) The end aimed at in it, the glory of God as a rewarder, Heb. xi. 6; Rom. iv. 4 — The principle in us whence it proceeds, which is the new man, the Spirit, proved, Eph. iii. 16–19, etc. — What kind of motives conduce most to the carrying on of this obedience, namely, such as most cherish this new man, which they do most that discover most of the love of God and his good-will in Christ — Such as these are alone useful to mortification and the subduing of the contrary principle of flesh, which hinders our obedience, proved, Titus ii. 11, 12; Rom. vi. — What persons the improvement of this doctrine concerns; only true believers, who will not abuse it — How this doctrine of perseverance conduces so eminently to the carrying on of gospel obedience in the hearts of these true believers — 1. By removing discouragements — (1.) Perplexing fears, which impair their faith; (2.) Hard thoughts of God, which weaken their love: without which two, faith and love, no gospel obedience performed — 2. Unspeakable obligations to live to God hence put upon the souls of the saints — Objections concerning the abuse of this truth to presumption and carelessness discussed, examined at large, and removed — The mortification of the flesh, wherein it consists, how it is performed — The influence of the doctrine of the saints’ perseverance thereinto — Dread and terror of hell not the means of mortification, at large proved by showing quite another means of mortifying the flesh, namely, the Spirit of Christ, Rom. viii. 13; applying the cross and death of Christ, chap. vi. 5, 6 — 3. This doctrine is useful to promote gospel 380obedience, in that it tends directly to increase and strengthen faith and love both towards God and towards our Lord Jesus Christ — How it strengthens their love to God, namely, by discovering his love to them in three eminent properties of it, freedom, constancy, fruitfulness — How it strengthens their love to Jesus Christ, namely, by discovering his love to them in two eminent acts of it, his oblation and his intercession — 4. This doctrine conduces, etc., by giving gospel obedience its proper place and due order — 5. By closing in with the ends of gospel ordinances, particularly the ministry, one eminent end whereof is to perfect the saints, Eph. iv. 12, 13, which is done by discovering to them the whole will of God, both precepts on the one hand, and promises, exhortations, threatenings, on the other — That of the promises more particularly and more largely insisted on.
That which remains to complete our intendment, as to that part of the work which now draws towards a close, is the importment of that doctrine so long insisted on (having in some measure vindicated and cleared up the truth of it) as to the effectual influence it hath into the obedience and consolation of them that are concerned therein; and this I shall do in the order that I have named, giving the pre-eminence unto their obedience, which, more immediately respecting the glory of God and the honour of the gospel, is to be preferred before their consolation. Yea, though God should never afford his saints any drop of that consolation which we affirm to stream from the truth discussed, yet it is honour unspeakable for them that he is pleased to admit them and enable them to do him service in this life, and it will be their infinite consolation that they have done so, to eternity.
For the making our way clear to the demonstration of that influence which the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints hath into their obedience and close walking with God, and so to manifest what weight is to be laid upon it on that consideration, I shall give some previous observations, which may direct and give us light in our passage, both concerning gospel truths, gospel obedience, and gospel motives thereunto. I hope it will not be thought amiss if I look a little backward, to fortify and clear this part of our progress, there being no concernment of our doctrine that is more clamoured [against] by the adversaries of it; nor can any respect of it or any truth of God more causelessly meet with such entertainment, as I hope will abundantly, in the progress of our business, be evinced to the consciences of all who know indeed what it is to walk before God in a course of gospel obedience, and who have their communion with the Father and his Son Jesus Christ. For the first:—
1. Every truth revealed from God is to be received not only with faith and love, but with equal reverence to any that is revealed, though we are not able to discern such an immediate tendency unto usefulness in our communion with him as in some others we may. The formal reason whereinto our faith, love, and reverence 381unto the word of God is resolved is that it is His. Now, this is common to the whole, for he is the author of every part and portion alike; and though perhaps we may want some part of it at a less fatal, price than some other, yet to reject any one tittle or jot of it, as that which is revealed of God, is a sufficient demonstration that no one jot or tittle of it is received as it ought. Upon whatever this title and inscription is, Verbum Jehovæ, there must we stoop and bow down our souls before it, and captivate our understandings to the obedience of faith. Whatsoever, then, may hereafter be spoken concerning the usefulness of the truth under consideration, and the comparative regard which, in respect of others, ought on that account to be had thereunto, doth not in the least exalt it, as it is in itself, in respect of the faith and reverence due thereunto, above arty other truth whatsoever that is in Scripture revealed.
2. That next to the revelation of God, his will and his grace, the grand immediate tendency of the whole Scripture is to work them to whom the revelation is made into a conformity to himself, and to mould them into his own image. “All Scripture,” the apostle tells us, 2 Tim. iii. 16, 17, “is given by inspiration of God, and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness: that the man of God may be perfect, throughly furnished unto all good works.” Hereunto all Scripture tends, and is useful and profitable for this end. And the gospel is called “the truth that is according to godliness,” Titus i. 1; as “the end of the law is charity out of a pure heart, and a good conscience, and faith unfeigned,” 1 Tim. i. 5. That which in respect of the prime Author of it is λόγος Θεοῦ, “the word of God,” 1 Thess. ii. 13; and in respect of the principal matter of it is ὁ λόγος ὁ τοῦ σταυροῦ, “the word of the cross,” 1 Cor. i. 18; in respect of its end and tendency towards us is λόγος εὐσεβείας, “the word,” or truth, “that is according to godliness.” The word is that revealed will of God, which is our sanctification, 1 Thess. iv. 3, and the instrument whereby he works our holiness, according to that prayer of our Saviour, “Sanctify them by thy truth: thy word is truth,” John xvii. 17. And that which, when we are cast into the mould of our obedience, is in some measure wrought, Rom. vi. 17, the substance also or matter being written in our hearts, is the grace and holiness promised unto us in the covenant, Jer. xxxi. 33. And that this is the improvement which ought to he made by believers of every gospel truth, or rather, that it hath an efficacy to this purpose, the apostle tells us, 2 Cor. iii. 18, “We all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord.” By apprehensions of the glorious truths discovered in the glass or mirror of the gospel, we are changed and moulded into the frame and image therein discovered by the power of the Spirit, effectually accompanying 382the word in the dispensation thereof. And unless this be done, whatsoever we may pretend, we have not received any truth of the gospel as it is in Jesus, in the power of it: Eph. iv. 20–24, “Ye have not,” saith the apostle, “so learned Christ; if so be that ye have heard him, and have been taught by him, as the truth is in Jesus: that ye put off concerning the former conversation the old man, which is corrupt according to the deceitful lusts; and be renewed in the spirit of your mind; and that ye put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.” Whatsoever men may profess, if we have learned the truth as it is in Jesus, it will have these effects in us, even universal relinquishment (as to sincerity) of all ungodliness, and a thorough change, both as to principles and practices, unto holiness and to righteousness, which’ the gospel teaches us; which if we have not learned, we have not yet learned it “as it is in Jesus” Titus ii. 11, “The Mace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world.”
3. Some truths have a more immediate, direct, and effectual tendency to the promotion of godliness and gospel obedience than others. This the apostle emphatically ascribes as a privilege to that doctrine that reveals the love of Christ unto us: 2 Cor. v. 14, “The love of Christ constraineth us.” Other things effectually persuade, but the love of Christ constrains us to live to him. It hath an importunity with it not to be denied, an efficacy not to be put off or avoided. And what is in the things themselves, as in the love of Christ, that is in its manner, in “the word of truth,” whereby it is revealed.
4. That there is, by all that walk with God, great weight to be laid on those doctrines of truth which directly and effectually tend to the promotion of faith, love, fear, reverence of God, with universal holiness in their heart, and ways; this being that whereunto they are called, and whereby God is glorified, Jesus Christ and the gospel exalted, wherein his kingdom in them consists, on which their own peace in their own bosoms, their usefulness unto others in this world, their being made meet for the inheritance of the saints in light, do much depend. If these things be of weight or moment unto them (as surely they are all that is so to believers), then, doubtless, great valuation and dear esteem will be entertained of those helps and assistances which they have, leading and carrying them on thereunto.
5. That a judgment of what truths and doctrines are peculiarly conducing unto the promotion of piety and godliness is not to be made upon the apprehensions and reasonings of men, wrested with a thousand corruptions and prejudices, full of darkness and vanity, but according to what the Scripture itself holds forth, and the nature 383of the things themselves (that is, the evidence and consequence that is between the truth revealed and obedience) doth require. If the testimonies of the sons of men must be admitted in this case, to determine what doctrine is according to godliness, the cry and noise of them will be found so various, discrepant, confused, and directly contradictory to itself, that none will ever thereby be led to establishment. Then Papists will cry out for their merits, penance, vows, purgatory; the Socinians, familists, formalists, all contend, upon the foundation of their own persuasions, as to the tendency to godliness of their abominations. That doctrine Which hath no other proof of its truth and worth but that men, some men, profess it tends to godliness and holiness of conversation, I dare say is a lie and vanity, and did never promote any thing but vain, legal, superstitious, counterfeit holiness. Indeed, upon a supposition of its truth, it is of concernment, for the advancement of any doctrine in the esteem and opinion of the saints, to manifest that it leads to godliness; but to prove it to be true because men who perhaps never knew any thing beyond formal, legal, pharisaical holiness nit their days, say it tends to the promotion of holiness, is but to obtrude our conceptions upon others that are no way moulded into the frame of them. “That the embracement of such a truth will further us in our obedience and walking with God, therefore value and prize it,” is good arguing; but, “That such a doctrine will further us in a way of godliness, therefore it is a truth,” when we may be mistaken both in godliness itself and in the motives to it and furtherances of it, is but a presumption. To commend, then, the truth which we have at large otherwise confirmed to the hearts and consciences of the saints of God, and to lay a foundation for the full removal of those vain and weak exceptions which, on this account, are laid against it, I shall manifest what influences it hath into their obedience, and with what eminent efficacy it prevails upon their souls to “perfect holiness in the fear of God.” For the more clear declaration whereof I shall give the reader the sum of it, under the ensuing considerations concerning gospel obedience, and the motives that are proper thereunto.
That which I call gospel obedience, wherein the saints of God are furthered by the belief of the truth we have in hand, is variously expressed in the Scripture. It may in general be described to be a voluntary orderly subjection to the whole will of God. I call it obedience in reference unto the will of God, which is the rule and pattern of it, and whereunto it is in a regular subjection. The psalmist expresses it to the full, both as to the root and fruit: Ps. xl. 8, “I delight to do thy will, O my God: yea, thy law is within my heart.” The law in the heart gives us to do, and to delight in doing, the will of God. Peter calls it being “holy in all manner of conversation,” 1 Pet. i. 14, 15; Paul, a “cleansing of ourselves from all filthiness 384of the flesh and spirit in the fear of God,” 2 Cor. vii. 1; or, as it is more eminently described, Rom. xii. 1, 2, in that pathetical exhortation of the apostle thereunto, “I beseech you, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed unto this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind, that ye may prove what is that good, and acceptable, and perfect, will of God,” as he had formerly at large described it in the sixth chapter of that epistle throughout. And I call it gospel obedience, not that it differs in substance, as to the matter of it, from that required by the law, which enjoins us to “love the Lord our God with all our heart,” but that it moves upon principles and is carried on unto ends revealed only in the gospel.
In reference to our design, there are these four things considerable in it:— First, The nature of it; Secondly, The principle in us from whence it proceeds; Thirdly, The motives that are proper to the carrying it on, the cherishing and increasing of it in them in whom it is; Fourthly, The persons who are to be moved and provoked to a progress therein.
By a brief consideration of these things, we shall make way for what we have undertaken, — namely, to manifest the efficacy of the doctrine we have insisted on for the promotion of this gospel obedience, it being accused and charged with the clean contrary tendency; whereof, God assisting, we shall free and discharge it in the progress of this discourse.
First, In the nature of it, I shall consider only these two things:— 1. The matter or substance of it; what it is as it were composed of, and wherein it doth consist. 2. The form or manner of its performance, whence it receives its distinct being as such.
1. The matter or substance of it contains those things or duties to God wherein it doth consist. Now, it consisting, as I said before, in conformity and submission to the will, that is, the commanding revealed will, of God, the matter of it must lie in the performance of all those things, and only those things, which God requireth of believers in walking before him; I say, all those things that God commandeth, with an equal respect to all his precepts. The authority of God, the commander and lawgiver, is the same in every command; and therefore was the curse denounced upon “every one that continued not in all things written in the law to do them;” and the apostle tells us that in the transgression of any one precept there is included the transgression of the whole law, because the authority of the lawgiver, both in the one and the other, is despised: James ii. 10, 11, “Whosoever shall keep the whole law, and yet offend in one point, he is guilty of all. For he that said, Do not commit adultery, said also, Do not kill.” And I say, it is only to the command, 385for “in vain do men worship him, teaching for doctrines the commandments of men.” The most stupendous endeavours of men, the most laborious drudgery of their souls, in duties not commanded, are so far from obedience that they are as high rebellions against God as they can possibly engage themselves into.
I might rather distinguish the matter or substance of this obedience into the internal elicit act of our souls, in faith, love, and the like acts of moral and everlasting obedience, — which are naturally, necessarily, and indispensably, required in us upon the account of the first commandment, and the natural subjection wherein we stand unto God as his creatures, improved and enlarged by the new obligation put upon us in being his redeemed ones (wherein, indeed, the main of our obedience doth consist), — and the outward instituted duties of religion, which God hath appointed for those former acts of obedience to be exercised in and exerted by; but the former description of it, with the intimation of its universality, may suffice.
2. The formality, if I may so speak, of this obedience, or that which makes the performance of duties commanded to be obedience, consists in these three things:—
(1.) The principle that begins it and sets it on work immediately in us, and that is faith: “Without faith it is impossible to please God,” Heb. xi. 6. Could a man do all that is commanded, yet if he did it not in faith, it would be of no value. Hence it is called “The obedience of faith,” Rom. i. 5; not “For obedience to the faith,” but202202 Owen refers to the expression in the original, Εἰς ὑπακοὴν πίστεως. — Ed. “The obedience of faith,” which faith bringeth forth. Therefore are believers called “obedient children,” 1 Pet. i. 14, and we are said to “purify our souls in obeying the truth,” verse 22. “Christ dwells in our hearts by faith,” and “without him we can do nothing,” John xv. 5. All that we do is no better, seeing we can no way “draw near unto God with a trim heart” but “in full assurance of faith,” Heb. x. 22.
(2.) The manner of doing it, which consists in a due spiritual regard to the will of God in those ways whereby he calls men out to this obedience, — namely, in his precepts and promises. There is no obedience unto God but that which moves according to his direction; it must in every motion eye his command on the one hand, and his promise, whether of assistance for it or acceptance in it, on the other. Saith David, “I have respect unto all thy commandments,” Ps. cxix. 6; and saith the apostle, “Having these promises, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God,” 2 Cor. vii. 1.
(3.) The principal end of it, which is the glory of God as a rewarder; for “he that cometh unto God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him,” Heb. xi. 6. 386The end of legal obedience was the glory of God as a rewarder according to merit in strict justice. The end of gospel obedience is the glory of God as a rewarder according to bounty, free grace, and mercy; under which consideration, neither needs the obedience rewardable to be commensurate to the reward, nor is the reward procured by that obedience. If it were, then it were of works, and not of grace, as the apostle tells us, Rom. iv. 4. So that the end of our obedience is to exalt God as a rewarder; yet that being as a rewarder of grace and bounty, the use of our obedience is not to procure that reward (for that were to work, and to have a reward reckoned to us of debt, and not of grace), but only to make the Lord gracious, and to exalt him in our present subjection and in his future gift of grace, in nature of a free, bounteous reward. This, I say, is that, gospel obedience which, by the doctrine insisted on, is promoted in the souls of believers.
Secondly, This being so, as was said, the gospel obedience whereof we speak, it is evident what principle it proceedeth from. Whereas there are two contrary principles in every regenerate man, as shall more fully afterward be declared, called in the Scripture “flesh and Spirit, the old and new man, indwelling sin and grace,” which have both of them their seats and places in all and the same faculties of the soul, it is most evident that this obedience flows solely and merely from the latter principle, the Spirit, the new or inner man, the new creature which is wrought in believers. The strengthening and heightening of this principle the Holy Ghost lays at the bottom of the renewal and increase of gospel obedience. Eph. iii. 16–19, “I pray,” saith the apostle, “that God would grant you, according to the riches of his glory, to be strengthened with might by his Spirit in the inner man; that Christ may dwell in your hearts by faith; that ye, being rooted and grounded in love, may be able to comprehend with all saints what is the breadth, and length, and depth, and height; and to know the love of Christ, which passeth knowledge, that ye might be filled with all the fullness of God.” Their “strengthening with might by the Spirit in the inner man” is the foundation of their acting of and increasing in faith, love, knowledge, and assurance unto all the fullness of God. It is the “new man, which after God is created in righteousness and tree holiness,” that carries men out unto all acceptable obedience, as chap. iv. 24, of the same epistle. Look, whatsoever influences the other principle of the flesh hath into our obedience, so far it is defiled: for “that which is born of the flesh is flesh,” John iii. 6, and all the fruits of it are abominable; hence are all the pollutions that cleave to our holy things. Yea, if at any time poor and mere selfish considerations do put men upon duties of obedience and abstaining from sin, as fear of vengeance and destruction, and the like (which is made almost the only 387motive to obedience by the doctrine of the saints’ apostasy), their obedience in doing or abstaining is but as their fear of the Lord who were taught it by lions, and abominable unto him, 2 Kings xvii. 25, 32–34. This, then, being the nature of gospel obedience, and this the principle from whence it flows, it is evident, —
Thirdly, What are those motives which are suited to the promotion and carrying of it on in the hearts of believers; and what doctrines have an eminent and singular tendency thereunto is also to be considered. Now, these must all of them be such as are suited to the cherishing of that principle of the new or inner man in the heart, to the nourishing and strengthening of the new creature; such as are apt to ingenerate faith and love in the heart unto God; such as reveal and discover those things in his nature, mind, and will, which are apt to endear and draw out the heart to him in communion. Discouraging, perplexing doctrines do but ill manure the soil from whence the fruits of obedience are to spring and grow. Look, then, I say, whatsoever gospel truth is of eminent usefulness to warm, foment, stir up, and quicken, the principle of grace in the heart, to draw out, increase, and cherish faith and love, that doctrine lies in a direct, immediate tendency to the promotion of holiness, godliness, and gospel obedience. Yea, and whereas to the carrying on of that course of obedience, it is necessary that the contrary principle unto it, which we mentioned before, be daily subdued, brought under, crucified, and mortified; there are no doctrines whatsoever that are of such and so direct and eminent a serviceableness to that end and purpose as those which inwrap such discoveries of God and his goodwill in Christ as are fitted for the improvement also of the principle of grace in us. Hence the work of mortification in the Scripture is everywhere assigned peculiarly to the cross and death of Christ, — his love manifested therein, and his Spirit flowing therefrom. The doctrine of the law, indeed, humbles the soul for Christ; but it is the doctrine of the gospel that humbles the soul in Christ.203203 Rom. vi. 2–6, viii. 13, 2 Cor. v. 15; Rom. vii. 7; Gal. iii. 23. It is “the grace of God that hath appeared, that teacheth us effectually to deny all ungodliness and worldly lusts, and to live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world,” Titus ii. 11, 12. He that will but with a little heed read chap. vi. to the Romans will know from whence mortification flows: which truly, by the way, makes me admire at the extreme darkness and blindness of some poor men who have of late undertaken to give directions for devotion and walking with God; who, indeed, suitably to the most of the rest of their discourses, — all manifesting an “ignorance of the righteousness of God,” Rom. x. 4, and a zealous endeavour to establish their own, — coming to propose ‘ways and means for the mortifying of any sin or lust, tell you stories of biting the tongue, thrusting needles under the nails, 388with such like trash as might have befitted popish devotions five hundred years ago. Were not men utterly ignorant what it is to “know the Lord Jesus Christ, and the power of his resurrection, and the fellowship of his sufferings, and to be made conformable to his death,” they could never feed on such husks themselves, nor make provision of them for those whose good they pretend to seek, Phil. iii. 10; Gal. vi. 14. Unto what hath been spoken add, —
Fourthly, Who are the persons that are to be provoked to holiness and godliness by the doctrine insisted on. Now, they are such as do believe it, and are concerned in it. We say, the truth under consideration is of an excellent usefulness to further gospel obedience in the hearts of believers and saints of God, who are taught of God not to turn the doctrine of grace into wantonness. What use, or abuse rather, men of corrupt minds and carnal principles, who stumble at Jesus Christ, and abuse the whole doctrine of the gospel by their prejudices and presumptions, will make of it, we know not, nor are solicitous. “If the gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost,” 2 Cor. iv. 3, 4. It is sufficient that the food be good and wholesome for them for whom it is provided. If some will come and steal it that have no right to it, and it prove, through their own distempers, gravel in their mouths or poison in their bowels, they must blame themselves and their own wormwood lusts, and not the doctrine which they do receive, 2 Cor. ii. 16. It is provided for them that fear God, and love the Lord Jesus Christ in sincerity, not for dogs, swine, — unbelievers. We shall not marvel if they trample on this pearl, and rend them that bring it. To such as these, then, I say, the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints, or the stability or unchangeableness of the love of God unto believers, and of their continuation in faith and obedience, is full of exceeding effectual motives and provocations unto holiness, in all manner of gospel obedience and holy conversation, exceedingly advantaging the souls of men in a course thereof. Now, the influence it hath into the obedience of the saints floweth from it upon a twofold account:— By removing all discouragements whatsoever that are apt either to turn them aside from their obedience, or to render their obedience servile, slavish, or unacceptable to God; it sets them, through Christ, at perfect liberty thereunto. [And] by, putting unconquerable and indissoluble obligations upon them to live unto God and to the praise of his glorious grace; and evidently draws them forth unto the obedience required.
1. It removeth and taketh out of the way all discouragements whatsoever, all things which are apt to interpose to the weakening of their faith in God or their love to God; which, as hath been said, are at the bottom of all obedience and holiness that is acceptable to God in Christ. Now, these may all be referred unto two heads:— (1.) Of perplexing, anxious fears, which are apt to impair and weaken 389the faith of the saints. (2.) Of hard thoughts of God, which assault and shake their love.
(1.) That slavish, perplexing, troublesome fears are contrary to the free and ingenuous state of children, whereunto the saints are admitted, and (however sometimes, yea, oftentimes, they are at the bottom, and are the occasion of burdensome, servile, and superstitious obedience) impairers of their faith, I suppose I need not labour to prove. That kind of fear whereof we speak (of which more afterward) is the greatest traitor that lurks in the soul. To “fear the Lord and his goodness” is the soul’s keeper, Hos. iii. 5; but this servile, perplexing fear is the betrayer of it in all its ways, and that which sours all its duties, — a thing which the Lord sets himself against, in rebukes, reproofs, dehortations, as much as any failing and miscarriage in his saints whatever. It is the opposite of faith; hence the “fearful and unbelieving” are put together in their exclusion from the New Jerusalem, Rev. xx. 8. It is that which is direct contrary to that which the apostle adviseth the saints unto, Heb. x. 19–22. It is that which mixeth faith with staggering, Rom. iv. 20, prayer with wavering, making it ineffectual, James i. 6, 7.
Let us now suppose a man to have attained some assurance of the love of God, and, “justified by faith,” to have “peace with him”204204 Rom. v. 1. (which, as to his present condition, the adversaries of the doctrine of perseverance acknowledge that he may attain, though how, upon their principles, I understand not); consider a little how he can safeguard his peace for a moment, and deliver himself from perplexing thoughts and fears, renouncing any interest in the engagement of the love and faithfulness of God for his preservation, lie may say within himself, “I am for the present in some good state and condition; but were not the angels so that are now devils in hell? were not they in a far better and more excellent state than I am? and yet they are now shut up under chains of everlasting darkness to the judgment of the great day. Adam in paradise had no lust within him to tempt and seduce him, no world under the curse to entangle and provoke him, and yet, ‘being in that honour, he had no understanding, he abode not,’ but ‘became like the beasts that perish.’ Was it not in their power to persevere in that condition if they would? Did they want any means that were useful thereunto? And what hope is there left to me, in whom there ‘dwelleth no good thing, who am sold under’ the power of ‘sin,’205205 Rom. vii. 14, 18. and encompassed with a world of temptations, that I shall endure unto the end? I see thousands before mine eyes, partakers of the same heavenly calling with myself, of the same grace in Jesus Christ, every day falling into irrevocable perdition. There is not any promise of God that! should be preserved, no promise that I shall never depart 390from him, no prayer of Christ that my faith may not fail, but I am rolled upon mine own hands; and what will be the end of this whole undertaking of mine in the ways of God I know not.” Let, I say, a man be exercised with such thoughts as these, and then try if any thing under heaven can bring his soul to any possible composure, until, it be “cast into the mould of that doctrine which hath been delivered.” But of this more directly afterward, when we come to treat of the consolation which from the breasts of it doth flow.
(2.) It is exceedingly suited to the deliverance of the souls of the saints from all such hard thoughts of God as are apt to impair and weaken their love towards him and delight in him; so setting the two principles of all their obedience, faith and love, at liberty, and free from their entanglements, to act in the duties they are called unto. He that had hard thoughts of his absent lord as an austere man, though he was not excused in his disobedience by it, yet was evidently discouraged as to his obedience. When men shall be taught that God takes no more care of his children in his family, but that the devil may enter in among them and take them away, making them children of hell, when he might with the greatest advantage of glory and honour to himself imaginable prevent it; that the Lord Jesus Christ, “the great shepherd of the sheep,” takes no more care of his flock and fold, but that the lion, bears, and wolves, may enter in, and make havoc, and spoil at their pleasure; — may they not think that God is little concerned in the salvation of his, and that all that which is so gloriously expressed of his peculiar and special love carries nothing but an empty noise, the burden of their preservation being thrown solely upon their own shoulders? And are not such thoughts fit only to cast water upon their flames of love to God, and insensibly to weaken that delight which they ought always to take in the riches of his grace and love? Is there any thing possible more endearing to the heart of a creature than to hear such a testimony as that, Zeph. iii. 17, concerning the stability of the love of God, and its excellency, “The Lord thy God in the midst of thee is mighty; he will save, he will rejoice over thee with joy; he will rest in his love, he will joy over thee with singing? God’s resting in his love towards his saints fixes their souls in their love to him.
2. It puts high and unspeakable obligations on the saints to live to God, and to “perfect holiness in the fear of God.” Saints we suppose to have their birth from above, to be begotten of the will of God, through the immortal seed of the word, and to be quickened with a noble, child-like ingenuity, befitting the family of God; neither is there any thing more injurious to the work of God’s grace than to suppose that those whom God calls “children, friends, heirs of heaven and glory, his crown, his diadem, brethren of his only Son,” are to be dealt withal, or that God deals with them, as if they were 391wholly acted by a servile, slavish principle, and were wholly under the power of such an unworthy disposition.
There are two things usually spoken to the prejudice and disadvantage of the truth we have under consideration, much insisted on by Mr Goodwin, chap. ix.; as, —
(1.) “That a persuasion of the certain continuance of the love of God to any one is a ready way to make them careless, negligent, and to give up themselves to all manner of abominations.”
But what vipers, snakes, and adders, do such men suppose the saints of God to be, theft their new nature, their heavenly principles (for what the flesh in them is prone unto we now consider not), should conclude that it is good to sin “that grace may abound;” that because God “loves them with an everlasting love,” therefore they will hate him with a perpetual hatred; that because he will assuredly give them “grace to serve him with reverence and godly fear,” therefore they will despise him and trample on all his goodness; that because he will “never forsake them,” they will no more abide with him What is in the inner man, what is in the new creature, what is in the nature of any grace wherewith they are endowed, that is apt or inclinable to make such hellish conclusions? If we hear of any such thing among the sons of men, — if we see a child or a servant resolving to be profligate, wicked, stubborn, prodigal, because his father or master is kind, loving, and will not disinherit him or put him away, — we look upon him as a monster in nature, and think that it would be good service to the interest of mankind to take him off from the face of earth; and yet such monsters are all the saints of God supposed to be, who, if their Father once give them the least assurance of the continuance of his love, they presently resolve to do him all the dishonour, despite, and mischief they can! I appeal to all the experience of all the saints in the world whether, if any such thought at any time arise in them, that they may “continue in sin because grace hath abounded,” that they may live in all filth and folly because God hath promised never to forsake them nor turn away his love from them, they do not look upon it as a hellish abuse of the love of God, which they labour to crucify no less than any other work of the flesh whatsoever. Presuppose, indeed, the saints of God to be dogs and swine, wholly sensual and unregenerate, that is, no saints, and our doctrine to be such, that God will love them and save them continuing in that state wherein they are, and you make a bed for iniquity to stretch itself upon; but suppose that we teach that the “wrath of God” will certainly come upon the “children of disobedience,” that “he that believeth not shall be damned,” and that God will keep his own “by his power through faith unto salvation,” and that, in and by the use of means, they shall certainly be preserved to the end, and the mouth of iniquity will be stopped.
392(2.) They say, “It takes away that strong curb and bridle which ought to be kept in the mouth of the flesh, to keep it from running headlong into sin and folly, — namely, the fear of hell and punishment, which alone hath an influence upon it to bring it to subjection and under obedience.”
But now, if there be nothing in the world that is of use for the mortification and crucifying of the flesh and the lusts thereof but it receives improvement by this doctrine, this crimination must of necessity vanish into nothing.
(1.) Then, it tells us that the flesh and all the deeds thereof are to be crucified and slain, God having ordained good works for us to walk in; that for the works of the flesh, the wrath of God cometh upon the children of disobedience; and if any say, “Let us continue in sin, because we are not under the law, or the condemning power of it for sin, but under grace,” it cries out, “God forbid!” Rom. vi. 14, 15, and saith, this is argument enough and proof sufficient that sin shall not have dominion over us, “because we are not under the law, but under grace.” It tells you, also, that there is a twofold fear of hell and punishment of sin; — first, Of anxiety and doubtfulness in respect of the end; secondly, Of care and diligence that respecteth the means.
And for the first, it saith that this is the portion of very many of the saints of God, of some all their days. Though they are so, yet they know not that they are so; and therefore are under anxious and doubtful fears of hell and punishment, notwithstanding that they are in the arms of their Father, from whence, indeed, they shall not be cast down; — as a man bound with chains on the top of a tower cannot but fear, and yet he cannot fall. He cannot fall, because he is fast bound with strong chains; he cannot but fear, because he cannot actually and clearly consider oftentimes the means of his preservation.
And for the latter, a fear of the ways and means leading to punishment, as such, that continues upon all the saints of God in this life; neither is there any thing in this doctrine that is suited to a removal thereof. And this, it says, is more, much more of use for the mortification of the flesh than the former.
(2.) It says that the great and principal means of mortification of the flesh is not fear of hell and punishment, but the Spirit of Christ, as the apostle tells us, Rom. viii. 13, “If ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live.” It is the Spirit of Christ alone that is able to do this great work. We know what bondage and religious drudgery some have put themselves unto upon this account, and yet could never in their lives attain to the mortification of any one sin. It is the Spirit of Christ alone that hath sovereign power in our souls of killing and making alive. As no man quickeneth his own soul, so no man upon any consideration whatsoever, or 393by the power of any threatenings of the law, can kill his own sin. There was never any one sin truly mortified by the law or the threatening of it. All that the law can do of itself is but to entangle sin, and thereby to irritate and provoke it, like a bull in a net, or a beast led to the slaughter. It is the Spirit of Christ in the gospel that cuts its throat and destroys it. Now, this doctrine was never in the least charged with denying the Spirit of God to believers; which whilst it doth grant and maintain in a way of opposition to that late opinion which advanceth itself against it, it maintains the mortification of the flesh and the lusts thereof upon the only true and unshaken foundation.
(3.) It tells you that the great means whereby the Spirit of Christ worketh the mortification of the flesh and the lusts thereof is the application of the cross of Christ, and his death and love therein, unto the soul, and says that those vain endeavours which some promote and encourage for the mortification of sin, consisting, for the most part, in slavish, bodily exercises, are to be bewailed with tears of blood as abominations that seduce poor souls from the cross of Christ; for it says this work is only truly and in an acceptable manner performed when we are “planted into the likeness of the death of Christ, having our old man crucified with him, and the body of sin destroyed,” Rom. vi. 5, 6, and thereupon by faith “reckoning ourselves dead unto sin, but alive unto God,” verse 11. It is done only by “knowing the fellowship of the sufferings of Christ, and being made conformable to his death,” Phil. iii. 10. “By the cross of Christ is the world crucified unto us, and we unto the world,” Gal. vi. 14. The Spirit brings home the power of the cross of Christ to the soul for the accomplishing of this work, and without it it will not be done. Moreover, it says that, by the way of motive to this duty, there is nothing comes with that efficacy upon the soul as the love of Christ in his death; as the apostle assures us, 2 Cor. v. 14, 15, “For the love of Christ constraineth us; because we thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead: and that he died for all, that they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again.” Now, it was never laid to the charge of this doctrine that it took off from the virtue of the death and cross of Christ, but rather, on the contrary, though falsely, that it ascribed too much thereunto; so that, these importune exceptions notwithstanding, the doctrine in hand doth not only main-rain its own innocency as to any tendency unto looseness, but also manifestly declareth its own usefulness to all ends and purposes of gospel obedience whatsoever: for, —
(4.) It stirs up, provokes, and draws out into action, every thing that is free, noble, ingenuous, filial, and of a heavenly descent, in the saints of God. Thus, —
394[1.] It strengthens their faith in God and in Jesus Christ; which is the bottom of all acceptable obedience whatsoever, all that which proceedeth from any other root being but a product of labouring in the fire, which in the end will consume both root and branch. That which prevails upon and draws out the soul to faith and believing, I mean as it is peculiar to the gospel and justifying, — that is, as it is in God as a Father, and in the Lord Christ as a Mediator, — is the discovery of the good-will of God to the soul in Christ, and his design to advance his glory thereby. I speak not of the formal cause of faith in general, but of the peculiar motive to faith and believing in the sense before mentioned. So our Saviour giving the command in general to his disciples, John xiv. 1, “Ye believe in God, believe also in me,” in the whole ensuing chapter provokes them to it with gracious discoveries of the good-will of God, — his Father’s and his own good-will towards them. And, indeed, propose what other considerations ye will, provoke the soul by all the fear and dread of hell, and the most dismal representation of the wrath to come, until it be convinced of this, it will never take one step towards God in Christ. Now, “our adversaries themselves being judges,” the doctrine we have had under consideration abounds above all others with the discoveries of the good-will and kindness of God to poor sinners; yea, the great crime that is laid to the charge of it is that it extends it too far. It doth not only assert that God freely “begins the good work in them,” but that he will also powerfully “perfect it to the day of Jesus Christ.” It assures the souls of the poor saints of God that he who “looked upon them in their blood, and said unto them Live, when no eye pitied them, who quickened them when they were dead in trespasses and in sins, begetting them of his own will by the word of truth, that they should be a kind of first-fruits to himself, washing them in the blood of his Son,” and delivering them from the old tyrant Satan, — that he will not now leave them to themselves and to the counsel of their own hands, to stand or fall according as they shall of themselves and by themselves be able to withstand opposition and seduction; but that he will keep them in his own hand, giving them such constant supplies of his grace and Spirit as that, in the rise of means, they shall wait upon him to the end; and that howsoever or whensoever, by the power of temptation and surprisals of corruptions, they are carried aside from him, he will “heal their backslidings, and love them freely,” and though they change every day, yet “he changeth not, and therefore they are not consumed.” And hereby, I say, it confirms and strengthens their faith in God as a Father in Jesus Christ, taking everlasting care of them.
[2.] Of their love there is the same reason. God’s love to us is of his free grace; he loves us because so it seems good to him. Our 395love to him is purely ingenerated by his love to us, and carried on and increased by farther revelations of his desirableness and excellency to our souls: “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us” first. There is no creature in the least guilty of sin that can put forth any acceptable act of love towards God, but what is purely drawn out upon the apprehension of his love and loveliness in his grace and mercy. A man, I confess, may love God when he hath no sense of his love to him in particular; but it must all be built upon an apprehension of his love to sinners, though he may come short in the application. It is the “terror of the Lord” that causes us to “persuade” others, but it is the “love of Christ that constraineth us” to live to him. She loved much to whom much was forgiven. Look, then, the more abundant discoveries are made of the loveliness and desirableness [of God] in the riches of his grace, the more effectual is the sole and only motive we have to love him with that filial, chaste, holy love, that he requires.
For the love of God to his saints, our doctrine of their perseverance sets it forth with the greatest advantage for the endearment of their souls, to draw out their streams of love to God; especially doth it give it its glory in three things:—
1st. In its freedom. It sets forth the love of God to his saints as that which they have no way in the least deserved, as hath been manifested from Isa. xlviii. 8, 9, 11, liv. 9, 10. As he “first loved them, not because they were better than others, being by nature children of wrath, and lying in their blood, when he said to them Live, quickening them when they were dead in trespasses and sins;” so he doth not continue his love to them, nor purpose so to do, because he foresees that they will so and so walk with him in holiness and uprightness (for he foresees no such thing in them, but what he himself purposeth effectually to work upon the account of his loving them), but he resolves to do it merely upon the account of his own grace. He neither resolves to continue his love to them on condition that they be so and so holy, at random, and with uncertainty of the event, but freely, that they may and shall be so. And this is the glory of love, the most orient pearl in the crown of it, Eph. i. 4. It is not mercenary, nor self-ended, nor deserved; but, as a spring and fountain, freely vents and pours out itself upon its own account. And what ingenuous, truly noble, heavenly-descended heart can hold out against the power of this love? It is effectually constraining to all manner of suitable returns. Let the soul but put itself into the actual contemplation of the love of God, as it lies represented in this property of it, every way free, undeserved, the great love of God to a poor worm, a sinner, a nothing, and it cannot but he wrought to a serious admiration of it, and delight in it, and be pained and straitened, until it make stone suitable returns 396of love and obedience unto God; if not, it may well doubt it never tasted of that love or enjoyed any fruits of it.
2dly. It gives the love of God the glory of its constancy and unchangeableness. This is another star of an eminent magnitude in the heaven of love. It is not a fading, a wavering, an altering thing, but abides for ever; God “rests in his love,” Zeph. iii. 17. It is a great thing, indeed, to apprehend that the great God should fix his love upon a poor creature, but add hereunto that he may love them one day and hate them the next, embrace them one hour and the next cast them into hell, one day rejoicing over them with joy, another rejoicing to destroy them; as it is dishonourable to God, and derogatory to all his divine excellencies and perfections, so, in particular, it clotheth his love with the most uncomely and undesirable garment that ever was put upon the affections of the meanest worm of the earth. What can ye say more contemptible of a man, more to his dishonour among all wise and knowing men, or that shall, render his respects and affections more undesirable, than to say, “He is free of his love, indeed, but he abides not in it. What a world of examples have we of those who have been in his bosom and have again been cast out!” Though among men something may be pretended in excuse of this, with respect unto their ignorance, the shortness of their foresight, disability to discern between things and appearances, yet in respect of God, “before whom all things are open and naked,” in whose eye all incidences and events lie as clearly stated as things that are already past and gone, what can be said of such a vain supposal for the vindication of his glory? It is said that “men change from what they were when God loved them, and therefore his love changeth also.” But who first made them fit to be beloved? did not the Lord? Do they make themselves differ from others? On what account did he do it? was it not merely on the account of his own grace? Can he not as well preserve them in a state of being beloved as put them into it? And if he determined that he would not preserve them in that condition, why did he set his love upon them when himself knew that he would not continue it to them? Was it only to give his love the dishonour of a change? I say, then, the doctrine contended for gives the love of God the glory of its immutability, asserts it to be like himself, unchangeable, — that there is not, indeed, in itself the “least shadow of turning.” It may be eclipsed and obscured, as to its beams and influences, for a season; but changed, turned away, it cannot be. And this consideration of it renders it to the souls of the saints inestimably precious. The very thought of it, considering that nothing else could possibly save or preserve them, is marrow to their bones and health to their souls, and makes them cry out to all that is within them to love the Lord and to live unto him.
3973dly. It gives it the glory of its fruitfulness. A barren love is upon the matter no love. Love that hath no breasts, no bowels, that pities not, that assists not, deserves not that heavenly name. Will ye say she is a tender, loving, mother who can look on a languishing, perishing child, yea, see a ravenous beast, whom yet she could easily drive away, take it out of her arms and devour it before her face, and not put forth her strength for its assistance or deliverance? or will ye say she is a tiger, and a monster in nature? And shall we feign such a love in God towards his children (which is such that all the bowels of a tender parent to an only child are but as a drop to the ocean in comparison of it) as that he looks on whilst they languish and perish, fall, sink, and die away into everlasting calamity? yea, that notwithstanding it he will suffer the roaring lion to come and snatch them away out of his arms, and devour them before his face; that he will look upon them sinking into eternal separation from him, and such destruction as that it had been infinitely better for them never to have been born, without putting forth his power and the efficacy of his grace for their preservation? “O foolish people and unwise! shall we thus requite the Lord” as to render him so hard a Master, so cruel a Father to his tender ones, the lambs of his Son, washed in his blood, quickened by his Spirit, owned by him, smiled on, embraced ten thousand times, as to suffer them so to be taken out of his hands? Is there nothing in his love to cause his “bowels to move and his repentings to be kindled together” towards a poor dying child, that surely departeth not without some sad looks towards his Father? “Nemo repente fit turpissimus.” Is this the kindness which he exalteth above the love of a woman to her sucking child, of a mother to the fruit of her womb? Oh that men should dare thus foolishly to charge the Almighty, to ascribe such a barren, fruitless love to him who is love, towards his children, who are as the apple of his eye, his dear and tender ones, as would be a perpetual blot and stain to any earthly parent to have righteously ascribed to him! I say, then, our doctrine gives the love of God the glory of its fruitfulness. It asserts it to be such a fountain-love as from whence continually streams of grace, kindness, mercy, and refreshment do flow: “Because he loveth us with everlasting love, therefore with loving-kindness he draweth us,” Jer. xxxi. 3. From that love proceed continual supplies of the Spirit and grace by which those of whom it is said they “abide” are preserved lovely and fit by him to be beloved. It tells us that because God “loveth his people,” therefore are they “in his hand,” Deut. xxxiii. 3. It declares it to be such a love as is the womb of all mercy, whence pardon, healing, recovery from wounds, sicknesses, and dying pangs, do continually flow; a love upon the account whereof the persons loved may make conclusion that they shall lack nothing, Ps. xxiii. 1; a love whose 398fruitfulness is subservient to its own constancy, preserving the saints such as he may rest in it unchangeably, Rom. viii. 29, 30; a love whereby God “sings to his vineyard, watches over it, and waters it every moment,” Isa. xxvii. 2, 3. And now, what flint almost in the rock of stone would not be softened and dissolved by this love? When we shall think that it is from the love of God that our wasted portion hath been so often renewed, that our dying graces have been so often quickened, our dreadful backslidings so often healed, our breaches and decays so often repaired, and the pardon of our innumerable transgressions so often sealed, unless we suck the breasts of tigers, and have nothing in us but the nature of wolves and unclean, beasts, can we hold out against the sweet, gracious, powerful, effectual influence that it will have upon our souls? Thus, I say, doth the doctrine which we have in hand set out the love of God unto us in its eminent endearing properties, wherein, he being embraced through Christ, a foundation is laid, and eminent promotion given unto the holiness and obedience which he requireth of us.
This doctrine renders Jesus Christ lovely to our souls, to the souls of believers. It represents him to them as the “standard-bearer206206 So some render דָּגוּל, Cant. v. 10. — Ed. to ten thousand,” as one “altogether lovely,” as exceeding desirable in the work of his oblation, and lovely and amiable in the work of his intercession, as hath been manifested.
1st. [As for his oblation], it imports him as one who, in his death, hath made an end of the controversy between God and our souls, Dan. ix. 24, becoming “our peace,” Eph. ii. 14, “having obtained for us eternal redemption,” Heb. ix. 12; that he hath not suffered all that sorrow, anguish, pain, torment, dereliction, whereunto for our sakes he was given up, and willingly exposed himself, for an uncertain end, not fighting in his death as one beating the air, nor leaving his work in the dust, to be trampled on or taken up as it seems good to us, in our polluted, dark, dead estate of nature; but hath filled it with such immortal seed, that of itself, by itself, and its own unconquerable efficacy, it bath sprung up to the bringing forth of the whole fruit intended in it, and the accomplishment of all the ends aimed at by it; — that is, that it shall certainly and infallibly bring all those to God for whom he offered himself, by justifying, sanctifying, and preserving them, through the communication of his own Spirit and grace to them for that end and purpose, “all his promises being yea and amen in him,” confirmed by his death, 2 Cor. i. 20; Heb. x. 12–17. Some of those who abuse the truth we have insisted on indeed pretend to grant “That by his death he made satisfaction for sin, but only on condition that men believe on him, and continue so doing; that they shall so believe, and so continue” (though he is said to be the “captain of our salvation,” and the “author and finisher of our faith,” though it 399be “given unto us for his sake to believe on him,” and we are “blessed with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in him”), that he takes no care about beyond the general administration of outward means. He neither procured any such thing by his oblation, nor doth intercede for it. These things are left unto men, to be educed, drawn forth, and exercised, by virtue of sundry considerations that they may take upon themselves.” Never, doubtless, did men take more pains to stain the beauty and comeliness of our dying Saviour.
2dly. [As] for his intercession, the doctrine hitherto insisted on renders him therein exceeding lovely and desirable. It tells you that he doth “pray the Father,” who thereupon “sendeth us the Comforter,” the Holy Spirit, for all the gracious acts and works, ends and purposes, before mentioned, with innumerable other privileges that the saints by him are made partakers of, and that to “abide with us for ever,” never to leave us nor forsake us; that he continually “appears in the presence of God for us,” interceding that our faith may not fail, pleading for us in and under all our decays, making out to us suitable supplies in all our distresses, temptations, trials, troubles, taking care that “no temptation befall us,” but that “a way also of escape be given to us together with it;” — it tells us his eye, even now he is in glory, is still upon us, seeing our wants, taking notice of our weakness, and providing for us, as his only concernment in the world, that we be not lost; that he hath not left one jot of that kindness which he bare to his flock, his lambs, his little ones, but pursues with all his strength, and all the interest he hath in heaven, the work of their salvation, which he came from his Father’s bosom to enter on, and returned to him again to carry on unto perfection; that, as the high priest of old, he bears our names on his breast and on his shoulders continually before his Father: so that in all our falls and failings, when we are in ourselves helpless and hopeless, when there is nothing in us nor about us that can do us any good, or yield us any help or consolation, yet on this account we may say, “ ‘The Lord is our shepherd, we shall not want:’ he hath undertaken for us, and will bear us in his arms, until he bring us to the bosom of his Father.”
Now, whether such considerations as these, of the oblation and intercession of Christ, do not fill his love in them with a more constraining efficacy, and more draw out the hearts of the saints unto faith and love, than any instruction can do informing men of the uselessness of the one or other of these eminent acts of his mediation for any of the ends and purposes mentioned, let believers judge. That which men repose upon in their greatest necessities, and for the things of the greatest concernment, thereof they have the greatest valuation, and the thoughts of it are most fixed in their minds. What is there of so great concernment in this world unto the saints as their abiding with God unto the end? How many, 400how great, urging, pressing, are the difficulties, dangers, troubles, they meet withal in their so doing! What, then, they have most frequent recourse unto, and what they rest most upon under their pressures, in the things of that concernment before mentioned, that will deserve the name of their treasure, where their hearts will and ought to be. Now, if this (setting aside, as things of no consideration in such a case, the purposes, covenant, and promises of God, the oblation and intercession of the Lord Christ) be men’s own rational abilities to consider what is for their good, and what will be hurtful and destructive to them, what can hinder but that men will, yea, and that they often should, spend the flower and best of their affections upon and about themselves and their own wisdom in and for their preservation? — that doubtless will take up their hearts and thoughts, so that there will be very little room left for the entertainment of the Lord Jesus Christ with any regard or respect on this account. If that, then, may pass which was formerly laid down, — namely, that the doctrines and things which are apt and suited to the ingenerating, quickening, increasing, and building up, of faith and love towards God and our Lord Jesus Christ, are the most eminent gospel motives to spiritual, acceptable obedience (as it is an unquestionable truth and certainty), — doubtless that doctrine which represents the Father and Son so rich in mercy, so loving and lovely to the soul, as that doth which we insist upon, must needs have a most effectual influence into that obedience.
(5.) The doctrine insisted on hath an effectual influence into the obedience of the saints, upon the account of giving it its proper place, and setting it aright upon its basis, carrying it on in due order. It neither puts upon it the fetters of the law, nor turns it loose from the holy and righteous rule of it. Let men be as industrious as can be imagined in the performance of all commanded duties, yet if they do it on legal motives and for legal ends, all their performances are vitiated, and all their duties rejected. This the apostle asserts against the Jews, Rom. ix. 31, 32, “They sought for righteousness, but as it were by the works of the law;” and therefore he tells them, chap. x. 3, that “being ignorant of God’s righteousness, and going about to establish their own righteousness, they did not submit to the righteousness of God.” And the Papists will one day find a fire proceeding out of their doctrine of merits, consuming all their good works as “hay and stubble.” There are also many other ways and principles whereby obedience is vitiated, and rendered an abomination instead of sacrifice, wherein our doctrine is no sharer; but this I must not enter into, because it would lead me into other controversies, which with this I shall not intermix.
(6.) It naturally and sweetly mixeth with all the ordinances of Christ instituted for the end under consideration; in particular, with that great ordinance, the ministry of the gospel, in reference to 401the great fruit and effect of it mentioned Eph. iv. 12, 13, “The perfecting of the saints, the edifying of the body of Christ: till we all come in the unity of the faith, and of the knowledge of the Son of God, unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ.” That which the Lord Jesus aimed at and intended principally in giving pastors and teachers to his church was, that they might carry on the work of the ministry for the perfecting of the saints, and their filling up the measure allotted unto them; and this they do by revealing the whole counsel of God unto them, keeping back nothing that is profitable for them; as was the practice of Paul, Acts xx. 20, 27. Of this counsel or will of God, as by them managed, there are two parts:—
[1.] The discovery of God and his will to them, as to the state and condition whereunto he calls them, and which he requires them to come up unto; and this consists in doctrines revealing God and his will, which, contain rules and precepts for men to walk by and yield obedience unto.
[2.] That which is suited to the carrying on of men in the state and condition whereunto they are called, according to the mind of God, as also to prevail with them to whom the word doth come to enter into the state of obedience and walking with God; and this is usually branched into three general heads, of promises, exhortations, and threatenings. The management of these aright with power and efficacy, with evidence and demonstration of the Spirit, is no small part, yea, it is the greatest part, of the work of the ministry, the greatest portion of what is doctrinal in the word or book of God relating to these heads. And of this part of that ordinance of Christ, the “ministry of the word,” the pressing of men into a state of obedience and to a progress in that estate, by promises, exhortations, and threatenings, I shall briefly speak, either by way of demonstration and proof of what lieth before me, or in vindication of what is affirmed in the same kind from the objections and exceptions of him in particular with whom I have to do; aiming still at my former assertion, that the doctrine I have insisted on naturally and clearly closeth with those promises and exhortations, to help on their efficacy and energy for the accomplishment of the work intended.
1st. For the first, let us take a taste of the promises, which are, as it were, the very life and beauty of the covenant of grace, and the glory of the ministry committed unto men; and they are of two sorts, both of which have their effectual influence into the obedience of saints:—
(1st.) There are promises which express only the work of God’s grace, and what he will freely do in and upon the hearts of his thereby, as to the working holiness and obedience in them, as also of his pardoning mercy in his free acceptance of them in Jesus Christ; and these are in a peculiar manner those “better promises” 402of the covenant of grace, upon the account whereof it is so exceedingly exalted above that of works, which by sin was broken and disannulled, Heb. viii. 6–12.
(2dly.) There are promises of what good and great things God will farther do unto and for them who obey him; as, that he will keep them and preserve them that they shall not be lost, that their labour and obedience shall end in the enjoyment of God himself, with an immortal crown of glory which shall never fade away, Heb. xi. 9, 10.
Now, the doctrine of the saints’ perseverance, and the stability of the love of God unto them, closeth with the promises of both these sorts, as to the end of carrying on and increasing obedience and holiness in them. Take an instance in the first. The promises of the work of God’s grace in us and towards us are effectual as appointed to this end: so in that great word, Gen. xvii. 1, (which the apostle calls “The promise,” Gal. iii. 17,) “I am the Almighty God;” — “I am so, and will be so to thee, and that for and to all ends and purposes of the covenant whatsoever.” The inference is, “Walk before me, and be thou perfect.” Walking with God in uprightness and sincerity is the proper fruit in us of his promise to be our all-sufficient God in covenant; as, Jer. xxxi. 33, our becoming the “people of God” in walking with him in all ways of obedience is the effect of his promise “to be our God, and to write his law in our hearts,” not only because by the grace of the promise we are brought into a state of acceptance, and made the people of God, but also upon the account of the engagement that is put upon us by that gracious promise to live unto him; whence in the close it is affirmed “we shall be his people.” The word of the gospel, or the word of faith, doth mainly consist in this; and what the aim of that is the apostle declares, Titus ii. 11, 12, “The grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly, in this present world.” Which general purport of the promises in this way is farther asserted, 2 Cor. vii. 1, “Having,” saith he, “these promises, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.” And most eminently is this assigned to the promises of that sort which we now peculiarly insist upon, 2 Pet. i. 3, 4. To know the way whereby these or any other promises are effectual to the end and purpose intimated, two things are considerable:— First, What is required to make them so effectual; Secondly, Wherein and how they do exert that efficacy that is in them. For the first, the apostle acquaints us on what account alone it is that they come to be useful in this or any other kind: Heb. iv. 2, “The word of the gospel,” the promise preached to them of old, “did not profit them,” did them no good at all. And the reason of this sad success in the preaching of the gospel and declaration of the promises he gives 403you in the same verse; it is that the word was “not mixed with faith in them that heard it.” It is the mixing of the promises with faith that renders them useful and profitable. Now, to whatever faith is required, the more firm, strong, and stable it is, the more effectual and useful it is. That, then, which is apt to establish faith, to support, and strengthen it, to preserve it from staggering, that renders the promise most useful and effectual for the accomplishment of any work whereunto it is designed, Rom. iv. 20. Now, faith in the promises respects the accomplishment of the things promised, as the apostle tells us in that commended and never-enough-imitated example of the faith of Abraham: Rom. iv. 19–21, “Being not weak in faith, he considered not his own body now dead, when he was about an hundred years old, neither yet the deadness of Sarah’s womb: he staggered not at the promise of God through unbelief; but was strong in faith, giving glory to God; and being fully persuaded that what he had promised he was able also to perform.” Laying aside all considerations that might tend to the impairing of his confidence, he firmly believed that it should be to him as God had promised. That the doctrine we insist on is clearly conducing to the establishing of faith in the promises cannot tolerably be called into question. Whatsoever is in those promises, whatsoever considerations or concernments of Him whose they are, as his faithfulness, unchangeableness, and omnipotency, that are apt to strengthen faith in them, it preserves entire and exalteth. It is a wild assertion, which men scarce search their own hearts (if, indeed, men know what belongs to believing in sincerity) when they make, that the efficacy of the promises unto our obedience should arise from hence, that the things promised may not be fulfilled, and that the weakness of faith (and every such supposal doth at least weaken it, yea, and tends to its subversion) should render the promise useful, which hath no use at all but as it is “mixed with faith.” For instance, the promise that God will be an all-sufficient God unto us, that he will “circumcise our hearts and write his law in them, that we shall fear him,” is, as was manifested before, a useful meditation for the ingenerating and quickening of obedience and holiness in us. That it may be such a means, it is required that it be “mixed with faith in them that hear it,” as was declared. According as faith is strong or weak, so will its usefulness be. I ask, then, whether this be a proper way to set this promise on work for the end proposed, namely, to persuade them that should believe it that all this may be otherwise, — God may cease to be their God, their hearts, may not be circumcised, nor the law mentioned written in theme. Is this the way to strengthen their faith and to keep them from staggering? or rather, to subvert and cast down all their confidence to the ground? The doctrine we have under consideration 404continually sounds in the ears of believers that “God is faithful” in all his promises, 1 Cor. i. 9; that he can, that he will, make them good; that his own excellencies, his own perfections, require no less at his hands. And this it doth, not on any grounds that carry any thing with them that may seem to incline to the least neglect of God, or contempt of any property, excellency, or word of his, and so be apt to breed presumption, and not faith, but on such only as give him the glory of all that he hath revealed of himself unto us. And therefore its genuine tendency must be to beget and increase precious and saving faith in the hearts of men; which we conceive to lie in a more direct way of efficacy towards holiness and obedience than the ingenerating of servile fears gendering unto bondage can do.
This, then, we have obtained:— first, That the promises peculiarly insisted on are motives to and furtherances of obedience; secondly, That the way whereby they become so is by being mixed with faith, and the stronger faith is, the more effectual will the working of those promises unto holiness be; thirdly, That the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints, and stability of God’s love to them, giving him the glory of all his excellencies, which in his promises are to be considered, is suited to the carrying on of faith in its growth and increase. Indeed, that which makes our belief of the promises of faith divine is the rise it hath and the bottom whereinto it is resolved, — namely, the excellencies of Him who makes the promises, as that he is true, faithful, all-sufficient; the glory of all which is given him in believing, as the apostle informs us, Rom. iv. 20, 21. Yea, and all this he must be believed to be in reference to the accomplishment of his promises, or we believe them not with divine, supernatural (if that term may be allowed), and saving faith. Surely they must needs think us very easy of belief, and wholly unexperienced in any communion with God, who shall suppose that we will be persuaded that the doctrine which eminently asserts and ascribes unto God the glory of all his attributes, which he would have us to eye in his promises, strengthening faith on that account, doth annihilate the promises in the word of the ministry, as to their usefulness unto our obedience. Let us deal by instance: God hath promised to “begin and perfect a good work in us.” According as the promise is “mixed with faith,” so it will be useful and profitable to us. If there be no faith, it will be of no use; if little, of little; if more, of more. Let a man now be supposed to be wavering about his mixing this promise with faith, whereupon the issue of its efficacy and fruitfulness, as was said, doth depend, and let the doctrine we teach be called in to speak in this ease, and let us try whether what it says be prejudicial to establishment of faith, or whether it be not all that looks towards its confirmation. It says, then, unto the soul of a believer, “Why art thou so cast down, thou poor soul? and why are thy 405thoughts perplexed within thee? It is true, thou art weak, unstable, ready to fall away, and to perish. Thy temptations are many, great, and prevalent, and thou hast no strength to stand against the power and multitude of them. But look a little upon Him who hath promised that thou shalt never depart from Him, who hath promised to finish the good work begun. He is unchangeable in his purposes, faithful in his promises, and will put forth the ‘exceeding greatness of his power’ for the accomplishment of them; so that though thou failest, he will cause thee to renew thy strength, though thou fallest, thou shalt not be cast down. He hath undertaken to work, and who shall let him? The counsel of his heart, as to the fulfilling of it, doth not depend on any thing in us. What sins thou art overtaken withal he will pardon, and will effectually supply thee with his Spirit, that thou shalt not fall into or continue in such sins as would cut off thy communion with him.” And doth not this mix the forementioned promises with faith, and so render it effectual to the carrying on of the work of love and obedience, as was mentioned? And as this doctrine is suited to the establishment of the soul in believing, and to the stirring of men up to mix the promises with faith, so there is not any thing that is or can be thought more effectual to the weakening, impairing, and shattering, of the faith of the saints than that which is contrary thereunto, as shall afterward be more fully manifested. Tell a soul that God will write his law in him, and put his fear in his inward parts, that he shall never depart from him; what can ye possibly pitch upon to unsettle him as to a persuasion of the accomplishment of this promise, and that it shall be so indeed as God hath spoken, but only this: “According as thou behavest thyself (which is left unto thee), so shall this be made good or come short of accomplishment: if thou continue to walk with God (which that thou shalt do he doth not promise, but upon condition thou walk with him), it shall be well; and if thou turn aside, which thou mayst do, notwithstanding any thing here spoken or intimated, then the word spoken shall be of none effect, the promise shall not be fulfilled towards thee?” I know not what the most malicious devil in hell (if they have degrees of malice) can invent more suited to weaken the faith of men, as to the accomplishment of God’s promise, than by affirming that it doth not depend upon his truth and faithfulness, but solely on their good behaviour, which he doth not effectually provide that, it shall be such as is required thereunto. God himself hath long since determined this difference, might he be attended unto.
What hath been spoken of the promises of the first sort might also be manifested concerning those of the second; and the like might also be cleared up in reference to those other weapons of ministers’ warfare, in casting down the strongholds of sin in the hearts of men, to wit, exhortations and threatenings, But because Mr Goodwin 406hath taken great pains, both in the general, to prove the unsuitableness of our doctrine to the promotion of obedience and a holy conversation, and in particular its inconsistency with the exhortations and threatenings of the word, managed by the ordinances of the ministry, what is needful farther to be added to the purpose in hand will fall in with our vindication and rescuing of the truth from the false criminations wherewith it is assaulted and reproached as to this particular; and therefore I shall immediately address myself to the consideration of his long indictment and charge against the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints as to this very thing.
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