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Chapter XI. Arguments against the doctrine considered.
The entrance into an answer to Mr G.’s arguments against the doctrine of the saints’ perseverance — His sixth argument about the usefulness of the doctrine under consideration to the work of the ministry proposed — His proof of the minor proposition considered and answered — Many pretenders to promote godliness by false doctrines — Mr G.’s common interest in this argument — His proofs of the usefulness of his doctrine unto the promotion of godliness considered and answered — The consequence of his arguing discovered — The doctrine by him opposed mistaken, ignorantly or wilfully — Objections proposed by Mr G. to himself to he answered — The objection as proposed disowned — Certainty of the love of God, in what sense a motive to obedience — The doctrine of apostasy denies the unchangeableness of God’s love to believers placeth qualifications in the room of persons — How the doctrine of perseverance promiseth the continuance of the love of God to believers — Certainty of reward encouraging to regular action — Promises made to persons qualified, not suspended upon those qualifications — Means appointed of God for the accomplishment of a determined end certain — Means not always conditions — Mr G.’s strange inference concerning the Scripture considered — The word of God by him undervalued and subjected to the judgment of vain men as to its truth and authority — The pretended reason of the former proceeding discussed — The Scripture the sole judge of what is to be ascribed to God, and believed concerning him — The doctrine of the saints’ perseverance falsely imposed on, and vindicated — Mr G.’s next objection made to himself against his doctrine — Its unseasonableness as to the argument in hand demonstrated — No assurance of the love of God, nor peace left the saints, by the doctrine of apostasy — The ground of peace and assurance by it taken away — Ground of Paul’s consolation, 1 Cor. ix. 27 — The meaning of the word ἀδόκιμος — Another plea against the doctrine attempted to be proved by Mr G. — That attempt considered — Not the weakness of the flesh naturally, but the strength of lust spiritually pretended — The cause of sin in the saints farther discussed — The power ascribed by Mr G. to men for the strengthening and making willing the Spirit in them considered — The aptness of the saints to perform, what and whence — The opposition they have in them thereunto — Gospel obedience, how easy — The conclusion — Answer to chap. xiii. of his book proposed.
The argument wherein Mr Goodwin exposeth the doctrine under contest to the trial concerning its usefulness as to the promotion of 407godliness in the hearts and ways of them by whom it is received, he thus proposeth, chap. xiii. sect. 32, p. 333, “That doctrine which is according to godliness, and whose natural and proper tendency is to promote godliness in the hearts and lives of men, is evangelical, and of unquestionable comportance with the truth; such is the doctrine which teacheth the possibility of the saints’ declining, both totally and finally: ergo.”
Of this argument he goeth about to establish the respective propositions, so as to make them serviceable to the enforcement of the conclusion he sinneth at, for the exaltation of the Helena whereof he is enamoured; and as for the major proposition (about which, rightly understood, we are remote from contesting with him or any else, and will willingly and cheerfully at any time drive the cause in difference to issue upon the singular testimony of the truth wrapped up in it), he thus confirmeth it:—
“The reason of the major proposition, though the truth of it needed no light but its own to be seen by, is, because the gospel itself is a doctrine which is according unto godliness, a mystery of godliness, — is a doctrine, truth, and mystery, calculated, contrived, and framed by God with a singular aptness and choiceness of ingredients for the advancement of godliness in the world. Therefore, what particular doctrine is of the same spirit, tendency, and import, must needs be a natural branch thereof, and hath perfect accord with it. This proposition, then, is unquestionable.”
Ans. According to the principles formerly laid down, I have something to say, though not to the proposition itself, as in the terms it lieth, but only as to the fixedness and staidness of it, that it may not be a nose of wax, to be turned to and fro at every one’s pleasure, to serve their turns; for what sort of men is there in the world, professing the name of Christ, that do not lay claim to an interest in this proposition for the confirmation of their opinions? It is but as a common exordium in rhetoric, a useless flourish: “The doctrine which is according to godliness,” — that is, which the Scripture teacheth to be true, and to serve for the promotion of godliness (not what doctrine soever any dark, brain-sick creature doth apprehend so to do), in the state and condition wherein the saints of God walk with him, — “is a branch of the gospel.” I add, “In the state and condition wherein we walk with God;” for in the state of innocency, the doctrine of the law, as a covenant of life, was of singular aptness and usefulness to promote obedience, which yet is not therefore any branch or part of the gospel, but opposite to it and destructive of it. All the advantage, then, Mr Goodwin can expect, from this argument to his cause dependeth upon the proof of the minor proposition, which also must be effected in answerable proportion to the restrictions and qualifications given to the major, or the whole will be void and of none effect; 408that is, he must prove it by the testimony of God to be “according to godliness,” and not give us in (by a pure begging of the thing in question) that it is so in his apprehension, and according to the principles whereon he doth proceed in the teaching and asserting of godliness. Mr Goodwin knows that there is no less difference between him and us about the nature and causes of godliness than there is about the perseverance of the saints; and therefore his asserting any doctrine to be suited to the promotion of godliness, that assertion being proportioned to his other hypothesis of his own, wherein we accord not with him, and in particular to his notions of the causes and nature of godliness, with which conceptions of his we have no communion, it cannot be of any weight with us unless he prove his affirmation according to the limitations before expressed. Now, this he attempteth in the words following:—
“What doctrine,” saith he, “can there be more proper and powerful to promote godliness in the hearts and lives of men, than that which on the one hand promiseth a crown of blessedness and eternal glory to those that live godlily without declining, and on the other hand threateneth the vengeance of hell-fire eternally against those that shall turn aside into profaneness, and not return by repentance? whereas the doctrine which promiseth, and that with all possible certainty and assurance, all fullness of blessedness and glory to those that shall at any time be godly, though they shall the very next day or hour degenerate, and turn loose and profane, and continue never so long in such a course, is most manifestly destructive to godliness, and encouraging above measure unto profaneness.”
Ans. There are two parts of this discourse, the one κατασκευαστική, or confirmatory of his own thesis; the other ἀνασκευαστική, or destructive of that which he opposeth. For the first, it is upon the matter all that he produceth for the confirmation of his minor proposition, wherein any singular concernment of his opinion doth lie. Now, that being, in a sound sense, the common inheritance of all that profess the truth, under what deceits or mistakes soever, the sum of what is here insisted on is, that the doctrine he maintaineth, concerning “the possibility of the saints’ defection, promiseth a crown to them that continue in obedience, and threateneth vengeance of fire to them that turn to profaneness;” which, taken as a proof of his former assertion, is liable to some small exceptions: as, —
1. That this doth not at all prove the doctrine to be a branch or parcel of the gospel, it being, as it standeth severally by itself, the pure tenor of the covenant of works; which we confess to have been of singular importance for the propagation of godliness and holiness in them to whom it was given or with whom it was made, being given and made for that very end and purpose. But that this alone by itself is a peculiar branch or parcel of the gospel, or that it is of 409such singular importance for the carrying on of gospel obedience, as so by itself proposed, that should here have been proved.
2. As it is also a part of the gospel, declaring the faithfulness of God, and the end and issue of the proposal of the gospel unto men, and of their receiving or refusing of it, so it is altogether foreign to the doctrine of Mr Goodwin under contest. And he might as well have said that the doctrine of apostasy is of singular import for the promotion of holiness, because the doctrine of justification by faith is so; for what force of consequence is betwixt these two: “That God is a rewarder of them that obey him, and a punisher of them that rebel against him, is an incentive to obedience; therefore the doctrine that true believers united to Jesus Christ may utterly fall out of the favour of God, and turn from their obedience, and be damned for ever, there being no promise of God for their preservation, is also an incentive to holiness?”
3. What virtue soever there may be in this truth for the furtherance and promotion of holiness in the world, our doctrine layeth as dear claim to it as yours; that is, there is not any thing in the least in it inconsistent therewithal. We grant God threateneth the vengeance of hell-fire unto those that turn aside from their profession of holiness into profaneness, the gospel itself becoming thereby unto them “a savour of death unto death,” the Lord thereby proclaiming to all the world that “the wages of sin” and infidelity “is death,” and that “he that believeth not shall be damned;” but that any thing can hence be inferred for the apostasy of true believers, or how this assertion cometh to be appropriated to that doctrine, we see not.
The latter part of this discourse, whereby its author aimeth to exclude the doctrine hitherto asserted by us from any claim laid to usefulness for the promotion of godliness, is either a mistake of it, through ignorance of the opinion he hath undertaken to oppose, or a wilful perverting of it, contrary to his own science and conscience. Is that the doctrine you oppose? Is it so proposed by those who, through grace, have laboured to explain and vindicate it? Doth not the main weight of the doctrine turn on this hinge, that God hath promised to his saints, true believers, such supplies of the Spirit and grace as that they shall never degenerate into such loose and profane courses as are destructive to godliness? Doubtless that doctrine is of a most spotless, untainted innocency, which its adversaries dare not venture to strangle before they have violently and treacherously defloured it.
And thus Mr Goodwin leaveth his arguments in the dust, like the ostrich’s eggs, under the feet of men, to be trampled on with ease.
The residue of this discourse, onwards to the next argument, being spent in the answering of pretended objections, put in against himself 410in the behalf of the doctrine of perseverance, not at all called out by the import of his present arguments and discourses, I might pass them over; but inasmuch as that which is spoken thereunto tendeth to the farther clearing of what formerly hath been evidenced concerning the suitableness of the doctrine contended for unto the promotion of holiness, I shall farther consider what he draweth forth on this occasion. Sect. 33, he giveth us an objection, and a fourfold answer thereunto, pp. 333–335. That which he calleth an objection he layeth down in these words:—
“If it be objected and said, ‘Yea, but assurance of the unchangeableness of God’s love towards him that is godly is both a more effectual and persuading motive unto godliness, and more encouraging to a persevering in godliness, than a doubtfulness or uncertainty whether God will be constant in his affection to such a man or no; certainty of reward is more encouraging unto action than uncertainty.’ ”
Ans. If any one hath been so weak as to make use of this plea in behalf of that doctrine it seemeth to defend (which I scarcely believe), it will, I doubt not, be an easy task to undertake that he shall be no more admitted or entertained as an advocate in this cause. The assurance of the unchangeableness of God’s love to them that are godly is but one part of the doctrine in hand, and that such as may perhaps be common to it with that which is brought into competition with it. It is the assurance of the unchangeableness of God’s love to a man, to keep him up to godliness, to preserve him in that state and condition of holiness to the end, and of the certainty of the continuance of the love of God unto him on that account and in that way, that is that great gospel motive to obedience wherein, as its peculiar, our doctrine glorieth, as hath formerly been manifested. Perhaps Mr Goodwin doth not think that any man is bound to lay more blocks in his own way than he judgeth himself well able to remove; and therefore he framed that objection, so that he might be sure to return at least a specious answer thereunto, and this he attempteth accordingly, and telleth us in his first paragraph three things:—
1. “That the doctrine teaching the saints’ defection doth also maintain the unchangeableness of the love of God to them that are godly.”
Ans. But what love, I pray you, is that which, when it might prevent it, will yet suffer those godly ones to become such ungodly villains and wretches as that it shall be utterly impossible for the Lord to continue his love to them? Is the love you mention indeed a love to their persons, or only an approbation of their duties and qualifications? If the first, whence is it that God ceaseth at any time to love them? Doth he change and alter his love like the sons 411of men? “Why, they change, therefore he changeth also.” That God changeth not, and therefore we, who are subject to change, are yet preserved from being consumed, we have heard; but that, upon the change that is in men, God also should change, we are yet to be instructed; and the immutability of God hath taken greater hold upon our understandings and in our hearts than that we should easily receive any thing so diametrically opposite thereunto. If the love mentioned be only an approbation of the qualifications that are in them, and of the duties that they do perform, then is it no more a love to them or to their persons than it is to the persons of the most profligate wretches that live. The object is duty solely, where-ever it may be found, and not any person at all; for it is an act of God’s approving, not purposing or determining, will. This is not our sense, of the continuance of the love of God to them that are godly. So that there is no comparison betwixt the doctrines under contest, as to the asserting of the love of God to believers, or to them that are godly. Wherefore he saith, —
2. “That the doctrine he opposeth promiseth God’s love and the unchangeable continuance of it unto men, though they change to profaneness.” Though this is said over and over a hundred times, yet I cannot believe it, because the doctrine openly affirmeth the continuance of the love of God to them that are godly to be effectually and eventually preventive of any such profaneness as is inconsistent therewithal. And therefore much more vain is that which he affirmeth in the third place, namely, —
3. “That the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints doth not so much absolutely promise the love of God to them that are godly as it promiseth it conditionally to them that are profane, in case they have been godly; that is, it teacheth that God promiseth the certain continuance of his love to him that is godly, on condition he cease to be so and turn profane.”
“Claudite jam rivos, pueri.” We have enough of this already.
He addeth yet, “Neither is certainty of reward in every sense or kind more encouraging unto action than uncertainty in some kind. To promise with all possible assurance the same reward or prize to him that shall not run in the race which is promised to him that shall run, is not more encouraging unto men thus to run than to promise it conditionally upon their running; which is a promising of it with uncertainty in this respect, because it is uncertain whether men will run in the said race or no, and consequently whether they shall receive the said prize or no, upon such a promise. Uncertainty of reward is, then, and in such cases, more encouraging unto action than certainty, when the certainty of obtaining or receiving it is suspended upon the act, not when it is assured unto men whether they act or no.”
412Ans. (1.) Persuade your servants, your labourers, if you can, of that great encouragement that lies in the uncertainty of a reward above that which may be had from an assurance thereof. We are not as yet of that mind. And yet, —
(2.) We do not lay the motive unto obedience tendered by the doctrine we contest for only on the certainty of reward which it asserteth, — which yet is such that without it all others must needs be of little purpose, — but it hath also other advantageous influences into the promotion of holiness, which in part have been insisted on.
(3.) It seemeth we say that “God promiseth a reward to them that shall not run a race,” because we maintain that he promiseth it to none but those who do run in a race, promising withal to give them strength, power, and will, that they may do so to the end.
(4.) For the close, which amounteth to this, that the certainty of reward when it is uncertain (for so it is made to be when it is suspended on actions that are uncertain) is more encouraging to action than certainty of reward not so suspended, I shall add only (because I know not indeed how this discourse hangeth on the business under consideration), that we neither suspend the certainty of reward upon our actions in the sense intimated, neither do we say that it is assured to men whether they act or no; but we say that the reward, which is of grace, through the unchangeable love of God, shall be given to them that act in holiness; and through the same love shall all believers be kept to such an acting of holiness as God thinketh good to carry them out unto, for the “fulfilling of all the good pleasure of his goodness in them, and for making them meet for the inheritance of the saints in light.” We do not think mediums designed of God for the accomplishment of any end are such conditions of the end that it is suspended on them in uncertainty in respect of the issue before its accomplishment; neither do we grant, nor can it be proved, that God assigneth any medium for the accomplishment of a determinate end (such as we have proved the salvation of all believers to be), and leaves it in such a condition as that not only it shall be effected and produced suitably to the nature of the immediate cause of which it is, whether free, necessary, or contingent, but also shall be so far uncertain as that it may or may not be wrought and accomplished.
The former part of this third paragraph is but a repetition of an assertion which, upon the credit of his own single testimony, we have had often tendered, namely, “That an assurance given him that is godly of the love of God not depending on any thing in him, which it is uncertain whether he will perform or no, is no motive to men to continue in the ways of holiness.” This, as I said before, I cannot close withal. That that which is a motive to faith and love, and eminently suited to the stirring of them up, and setting them on 413work, is also a motive to the obedience which is called “work of faith and labour of love,” hath been declared. If there be any thing of the new and heavenly nature in the soul, any quality or disposition of a child therein, what can be more effectual to promote or advance the fear, honour, and reverence of God in it, than an assurance of his Spirit to continue and preserve it in those ways which are well pleasing unto him? It is confessed that, in many promises of acceptation here and reward hereafter, the things and duties that are the means and ways of enjoying the one and attaining the other are mentioned, not as conditions of the grace and love of God to them to whom the promises are made, as though they should depend on any thing of their uncertain accomplishment, as hath been declared, but only as the means and ways which God hath appointed for men to use and walk in unto those ends, and which he hath absolutely promised to work in them and to continue to them.
4. The close of this paragraph, in the fourth place, deserveth a little more clear consideration, it containing an assertion which some would not; believe when it was told them, and which hath stumbled not a few at the repetition of it. Thus, then, he proceedeth:—
“Besides, whether any such assurance of the unchangeableness of the love of God towards him that is godly, as the objection speaketh of, can be effectually and upon sufficient grounds cleared and proved, is very questionable, yea, I conceive there is more reason to judge otherwise than so. Yea, that which is more, I verily believe that in case any such assurance of the unchangeableness of God’s love were to be found in, or could regularly be deduced from, the Scriptures, it were a just ground to any intelligent and considering man to question their authority, and whether they were from God or no; for that a God infinitely righteous and holy should irreversibly assure the immortal and undefiled inheritance of his grace and favour unto any creature whatsoever, so that though this creature should prove never so abominable in his sight, never so outrageously and desperately wicked and profane, he should not be at liberty to withhold this inheritance from him, is a saying doubtless too hard for any man who rightly understandeth and considereth the nature of God to bear.”
Ans. The love mentioned in the foregoing objection is that which God beareth to them that are godly in Jesus Christ, exerting itself partly in his gracious acceptation of their persons in the Son of his love, partly in giving to them of his Holy Spirit and grace, so that they shall never depart utterly and wickedly from him, and forsake him, or reject him from being their God. Whether an assurance of this love may on good grounds be given to believers bath been already considered, and the affirmative, I hope, in some good measure confirmed; the farther demonstration of it awaiting its proper season, 414which the will of God shall give unto it. This Mr Goodwin saith to him is “questionable;” yea, I suppose it is with him out of question, that it cannot be, else surely he would not have taken so much pains in labouring to disprove it. And that this is his resolved judgment he manifesteth in the next words, “I verily believe that in case any such assurance were to be found,” etc.; that is, “Si Deus homini non placuerit, Deus non erit.” What more contemptible could the Pagans of old have spoken of their dunghill deities, with their amphibolous [i.e., ambiguous] oracles? Were it not fitter language for the Indian conjurers, who beat and afflict their hellish gods if they answer not according to their desires? The whole authority of God, and of his word in the Scriptures, is here cast down before the consideration of an “intelligent man” (forsooth), or “a vain man that would be wise, but is like the wild ass’s colt.” And this “intelligent man,” it seems, may contend to reject the word of God, and yet be accounted most wise! Of old, the prophet thought not so. To what end is any farther dispute? If the Scripture speaketh not to Mr Goodwin’s mind (for doubtless he is “an intelligent and considering man”), he seeth sufficient ground to question its authority. By what way possible any man can more advance himself into the throne of God than by entertaining such thoughts and conceptions as these, I know not. An “intelligent man” is supposed to have from himself, and his own wisdom and intelligence, considerations of God’s nature and perfections by which he is to regulate and measure all things that are affirmed of God or his will in the Scripture. If what is so delivered suit these conceptions of his, that Scripture wherein it is delivered may pass for canonical and authentic; if otherwise, “eadem facilitate rejicitur qua asseritur,” which was sometimes spoken of traditionals, but, it seems, may now be extended to the written word. The Scripture is supposed to hold out things contrary to what this “intelligent man” hath conceived and considered, and this is asserted as a just ground to question its authority; and if this be not a progress in the contempt of the word of God to whatever yet Papists, Socinians, or enthusiasts, have attempted, I am deceived. “To the law and to the testimony” with all the conceptions and notions of the most intelligent men: if they answer not to this rule, “it is cause there is no light in them.”
But he addeth the reason of this bold assertion; for saith he, “That a God infinitely righteous and holy should irreversibly,” etc.
Ans. Neither yet doth this at all mend the matter. Neither doth the particular instance given alter at all, but confirm the first general assertion, — namely, “That if there be any thing in the Scriptures contrary to those thoughts of God which an intelligent man (without the Scripture) doth conceive of him, he hath just grounds to question their authority;” which wholly casts down the word of God from its 415excellency, and setteth a poor, dark, blind creature, under the notion of an “intelligent man,” at liberty from his subjection thereunto, making him his own rule and guide as to his apprehensions of God and his will. And is it possible that such a thought should enter into the heart of a man fearing God and reverencing his word, which God hath magnified above all his name? There is scarce any one truth in the whole book of God, but some men, passing in the world for “intelligent and considering men,” do look upon it and profess it to be unworthy of an infinitely righteous and holy God. So do the Socinians think of the doctrine of the satisfaction of Christ, the great treasure of the church. At the rate that men pass at in this world, it will be difficult to exclude many of them from the number of “intelligent and considering men;” and are they not all absolved here by Mr Goodwin, on this principle, from bowing to the authority of God in the Scriptures, hawing “just ground to question whether they are from God or no?” The case is the same with the Papists and others, in sundry particulars. Frame the supposition how you will, in things never so uncouth and strange, yet if this be the position, that in things which appear so to men, upon their consideration, if any thing in the Scripture be hem out or may be deduced from this to the contrary, they are at liberty from submitting their understandings to them, and may arraign them as false and supposititious, their whole divine authority is unquestionably cast down to the ground, and trampled on by the feet of men. Καὶ ταῦτα μὲν πρὸς παῦτα. God will take care for the vindication of the honour of his word.
The supposition here made by Mr Goodwin, and imposed on his adversaries, is, as hath been showed, wretchedly false, not once spoken or owned by them with whom he hath to do, not having the least colour given unto it by the doctrine they maintain; yea, it is diametrically opposite thereunto. The main of what they teach, and which Mr Goodwin hath opposed in this treatise, endeavouring to answer that eminent place of John iii. 9, with many others produced and argued to that purpose, is, that God will, according to the tenor of the covenant of grace, so write his law in the hearts of his, and put his fear in their inward parts, that they shall never depart from him, so as to become “desperately and outrageously profane,” but be preserved such to the end as that the Lord, with the greatest advantage of glory to his infinite wisdom, righteousness, and holiness, may “irreversibly assure the immortal inheritance of his love and favour unto them.” So that Mr Goodwin’s discourse to the end of this section, concerning the continuance of the love of God to them that are wicked, with an equal measure of favour to them that are godly, according to this doctrine, is vain and grossly sophistical, and such as he himself knoweth to be so. To say “every one that doth evil is good in the sight of the Lord, and that he delighteth in him,” — that 416is, he approveth wicked and ungodly men, — we know is sufficiently dishonourable to him; but yet to say that he delighteth in his church and people, washed and made holy in the blood of Christ, notwithstanding their failings, or their being sometimes overtaken with great sins, when he pleaseth, in an extraordinary way, for ends best known to himself, to permit them to fall into them (which yet he doth seldom and rarely), is that which himself affirmeth and ascribeth to himself in innumerable places of Scripture (if their authority may pass unquestioned), to the praise of the glory of his grace. But it seemeth, if we take any care that Mr Goodwin may not call the authority of the Scriptures into question (he being fully resolved that the doctrine of the saints’ perseverance is unworthy of a holy and righteous God), we must give over all attempts of farther deducing it from them; but yet, for the present, we shall consider what he hath farther to object against it.
Sect. 34, he farther objecteth against himself and his doctrine, in the behalf of that which he doth oppose, in these words:—
“It is possible that yet some will farther object against the argument in hand: ‘Unless the saints be assured of the perpetuity of their standing in the grace and favour of God, they must needs be under fears of falling away, and so of perishing; and fear, we know, is of a discouraging and enfeebling nature, an enemy unto such actions which men of confidence and courage are apt to undertake.’ ”
Ans. What this objection maketh in this place I know not. It neither asserteth any eminency in the doctrine by Mr Goodwin opposed, as to the promotion of godliness, nor immediately challengeth that which he doth maintain of a contrary tendency, but only intimateth that the saints’ consolation and peace is weakened by unnecessary fears, — such as his opinion is apt to ingenerate in them. But, however, thus far I own it, as to the main of the observation in hand, that the doctrine of the apostasy of believers is apt and suited to cut the saints of God and heirs of the promise short of that strong consolation which he is so abundantly willing that they should receive, and to fill their souls and perplex their consciences with cares, fears, and manifold entanglements, suited to weaken their faith and love, and alienate their hearts from that delight in God to which they are called, and otherwise would be carried forth unto. They being all of them, in some measure, acquainted with the strength, subtlety, and power, of indwelling sin; the advantages of Satan in his manifold temptations; the eminent success which they see every day the “principalities and powers in heavenly places,” which they wrestle withal, to have against them; and being herewithal taught that there is neither purpose nor promise of God for their preservation, that there is nothing to that purpose in the covenant of grace; — the consideration of their condition must of necessity fill them with innumerable 417perplexities, and make them their own tormentors all their days. Thus far, I say, I own the objection. That it is not properly courage or confidence, but faith, love, and reverence, that are the principles of our actions in walking with God, hath been declared.
But what saith Mr Goodwin to the objection as by himself laid down? Besides what he relateth of his conquest of it in other places, he addeth, —
That “the saints, notwithstanding the possibility of their final falling away, have, or may have, such an assurance of the perpetuity of their standing in the grace and favour of God as may exclude all fear, at least that which is of a discouraging or enfeebling nature. The apostle, as we have formerly showed, lived at a very excellent rate both of courage and confidence, notwithstanding he knew that it was possible for him to become a reprobate. The assurance he had, that, upon a diligent use of those means which he knew assuredly God would vouchsafe unto him, he should prevent his being a reprobate, was a golden foundation unto him of that confidence and courage Wherein he equalized the holy angels themselves.”
Ans. 1. The grounds asserted by Mr Goodwin on which believers may build the assurance pretended, of the perpetuity of their standing in the grace and favour of God, notwithstanding the possibility of their defection (the assertion whereof costs no less than the denying of all or any influence from the purpose, promises, covenant, or oath of God, or mediation of Christ, into their preservation), I have formerly considered, and manifested them to be so exceeding unable to bear any such building of confidence upon as is pretended, that it is almost a miracle how any thoughts of such a structure on such quicksands could ever find place in the mind of a man any thing seriously acquainted with the ways of God. The whole of the saints’ preservation in the love and favour of God (as it is also expressed in this section) is resolved into men’s self-considerations and endeavours. Being weary, it seemeth, of leaning on the power of God, to be kept thereby unto eternal salvation, men begin to trust to themselves and their own abilities to be their own keepers; but what will They do in the end thereof? The sum of what Mr Goodwin hath formerly said, and what he repeateth again to the end of this section, is, “Men need not fear their falling away, though it is possible, seeing they may easily prevent it if they will;” — expressions sufficiently contemptive of the grace of God, and the salvation that God assureth us thereby; an assertion which those ancients which Mr Goodwin laboureth to draw into communion with him would have rejected and cast out as heretical. Man’s ability thus to preserve himself in the grace and favour of God to the end is either from himself or from the grace of God? If from himself, let us know what that ability is, and wherein it doth consist, and how he comes 418by it. Christ telleth us that” without him we can do nothing;” and the apostle, that “we are not sufficient of ourselves to think a good thought, but that all our sufficiency is of God:” so that this self-ability for preservation extendeth not to the thinking a good thought, — indeed is nothing. Is it from the grace of God? Then the assurance of it must be either because God promised absolutely so to “work in him both to will and to do of his good pleasure” as that he should certainly be preserved; which you will not say, as I suppose, or because he will so afford him his grace as that he may make use of it to the end proposed if he please. But now what assurance hath he that he shall so make use of his grace as to make it effectual for the end designed? And is this good use of grace of himself., or of grace also? If of himself, it is “nothing,” as was showed from that of our Saviour, John xv. 5, neither can a man promise himself much assistance from the ability of doing nothing at all. If you shall say it is of grace, the same question ariseth as formerly, manifesting that there is not the least assurance imaginable of our continuance in the grace and favour of God, but what ariseth from his faithful promises (efficaciously overcoming all interveniencies) that we shall so do.
2. He telleth us that “Paul lived at an excellent rate of assurance, and yet knew that it was possible for him to be a reprobate.” I confess, indeed, he lived at an excellent rate of assurance, which he manifesteth himself to have received upon such principles and foundations as were common to him with all true believers, Rom. viii. 32–35. That it was possible in respect of the event that he might have been a reprobate who was chosen from eternity is not proved. He saith, indeed, 1 Cor. ix. 27, “I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection, lest by any means I should be found ἀδόκιμος.” That by ἀδόκιμος, there, any more is intended than “not approved or accepted” in that service he had in hand, Mr Goodwin laboureth not to evince; and if that be the sense of the words (as the scope of the whole manifesteth it to be), then all that Paul there expresseth is, that he endeavoured always to approve himself, and by all means, an acceptable workman, not to be rejected or disallowed in the labour of preaching the gospel which he had undertaken. And we acknowledge that this thought and contrivance may well become him who liveth at the greatest rate of assurance that God affordeth to any here below; yea, that such thoughts and endeavours do naturally and genuinely flow from the assurance of the love of God we also grant. But yet, supposing that being a reprobate, by a metonymy of the effect, may here signify to be damned, how doth this prove that it was possible in respect of the event that he should be damned!” Why, because he laboured that he might not be so.” That is, no man can use the means of avoiding any thing, but he must be uncertain whether in 419the use of those means it may be avoided or no! This looketh like begging the thing in question. Paul, labouring and endeavouring in the ways expressed, evidently manifesteth such a labour and endeavour, in such a way, to be the appointed means of avoiding the condition of being ἀδόκιμος. That there is an infallible connection betwixt the use of such means and the deliverance from that state is proved. But that Paul had not assurance of the sufficiency of the grace of God with him for his certain use of those means, and certain, infallible deliverance from that end, nothing in the least is intimated in the text, or brought in from any place else by Mr Goodwin, to give colour thereunto. But of this scripture at large afterward.
Supposing himself to have fairly quit himself of the former plea in the behalf of our doctrine, as by himself proposed, he addeth other pretension in the behalf of the same plea formerly produced, which he attempteth also to take out of the way, having in some measure prepared it in his proposal of it for an easy removal. Thus, then, he proceedeth, “To pretend that, the weakness of the flesh in the Lest of saints considered, and their aptness to go astray, they must needs lie under many troublesome and tormenting fears of perishing, unless they have some promise or assurance from God to support them, that notwithstanding any declinings or going astray incident unto them yet they shall not lose his favour or perish, is to pretend nothing but what hath been thoroughly answered already, especially in chap. ix.”
Ans. Before I can admit this plea to be put in in our behalf, I shall crave leave a little to rectify and point it more sharply against the doctrine it aimeth to oppose. I say, then, —
1. It is not the “weakness of the flesh,” or the feebleness and disability of our natural man to act in, or go through with, great duties and trials, but the strength and wilfulness of the flesh, that is, of the corrupted man, even in the best of saints, continually provoking and seducing them, with sometimes an insuperable efficacy leading them captive, and working in them continually with a thousand baits and wiles (as hath been in part discovered), labouring to turn them aside from God, that fills the saints of God with tormenting, perplexing fears of perishing; and must needs do so if they have no promise of God for their preservation. Besides all this strength and wilfulness of the flesh, they are exposed to the assaults of other most dreadful adversaries, “wrestling with principalities and powers in heavenly places,” and contending with the world as it lieth under the curse, all their days. To refer all the oppositions that believers meet withal in the course of their obedience, and which may fill them with fears that they shall one day perish, if not supported by an almighty hand, and “kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation,” unto the “weakness of the flesh,” — which, in the place where 420the expression is used, plainly pointeth at the disability of the natural man to abide in and go through with great duties and trials, — is a most vain and empty contemplation. Those who have to do with God in the matter of gospel obedience, and know what it is indeed to “serve him under temptations,” can tell you another manner of story; and among them Mr Goodwin could do so to the purpose, if his thoughts were not prejudiced by any biassing opinions that must be leaned unto.
2. We do not say that the saints of God, in the condition mentioned, stand in need of any promise of God, that notwithstanding any declinings or goings astray incident unto them, they shall not lose his favour or perish; but, that they shall have such a presence of his Spirit and sufficiency of his grace with them all their days, that they shall never, notwithstanding all the oppositions and difficulties they meet withal, utterly fail in their faith, nor be prevailed against to depart wickedly and utterly from God. And now I see not but that, supposing that it is necessary that the saints be delivered from troublesome, perplexing fears of perishing, and that God hath made provision for that end and purpose (which that he hath seems to be granted by our author), — I say, I cannot see but that this plea striketh at the very heart of the apostasy of saints, though not very fitly brought in in this place, in reference to the argument that occasioned it. But our author, knowing his faculty to lie more in evading what is objected against him than in urging arguments for his own opinion, doth everywhere, upon the first proposal of any argument, divert to other considerations and to the answering of objections, though, perhaps, not at all to the plea in hand, nor any way occasioned by it. But what saith he, now, in defence of his dearly beloved, thus attempted, to vindicate it from this sore imputation of robbing and despoiling the saints of God of their peace and assurance, purchased for them at no less rate than the blood of the Lord Jesus? He telleth you, then, three things:—
1. “That the weakness of the flesh, or aptness of miscarrying through this, is no reasonable ground of fear to any true believer of his perishing, considering that no man loseth or forfeiteth the grace and favour of God through sins of weakness or infirmity. It is only the strength of sin and corruption in men that exposeth to the danger of losing the love of God.”
Ans. The latter part of these words plainly discovers the vanity of the former, as produced for any such end and purpose as that in hand: for though I willingly grant that that which is termed “The weakness of the flesh” is enough to make any man whatever fear that he shall not hold out in the course of his obedience to the end, if he have no promise of supportment and preservation by an almighty power (notwithstanding it is affirmed that it draweth men only to 421“sins of weakness or infirmity,” which I thought had not been called so from weakness of the flesh, but of grace in believers), yet it is the strength, the power, the law, the subtlety of the flesh, or indwelling sin, that is the matter of our plea in this case; not that which Paul “gloried in,” even his “infirmity,” but that which made him cry out, “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?” and from the distress by reason whereof he found no deliverance, but only in the assured love of God in Jesus Christ, Rom. vii., viii. 1. So that notwithstanding this reply, shaped to fortify the minds of men against their failings upon the account of the weakness of grace, rather than of the flesh (which yet it is not able to do, for if there be no promise to the contrary, why may not the principle which carrieth men forth to lesser carry them also forth to greater and more provoking sins? what boundaries will you prescribe unto these sins of infirmity?), the pretension from the strength of the flesh (yea, from the weakness of it) holdeth good against the saints’ establishment in peace and assurance, upon the account of their being destitute of any promise of preservation by God.
2. “If the saints be willing,” saith he, “to strengthen the Spirit in them, and make him willing proportionably to the means prescribed and vouchsafed unto them by God for such a purpose, this will fully balance the weakness of the flesh, and prevent the miscarriages and breaking out hereof. ‘This, I say, then,’ saith the apostle, ‘walk in the Spirit, and ye shall not fulfil the lusts of the flesh.’ And again, ‘If ye be led by the Spirit, ye are not under the law,’ and consequently are in no danger of losing the favour of God, or of perishing for such sins which, under the conduct of the Spirit, ye are subject unto.”
Ans. But that all now must be taken in good part, and nothing called strange or uncouth, since we have passed the pikes in the last section, I should somewhat admire at the doctrine of this paragraph; for, —
(1.) Here is a willing, in reference to a great spiritual duty, supposed in men antecedent to any assistance of Him who “worketh both to will and to do of his good pleasure.” What he worketh, he worketh by the Spirit; but this is a willing in us distinct from and antecedent to the appearing of the Spirit, for the strengthening thereof.
(2.) That whereas we have hitherto imagined that the Spirit strengtheneth the saints, and that their supportment had been from him, as we partly also before declared (at least we did our mind to be so persuaded), it seemeth they “strengthen the Spirit in them,” and not he them! How, or by what means, or by what principles in them, it is that so they do is not declared. Besides, what is here intended by “the Spirit” is not manifested. If it be the holy and blessed Spirit of God, he hath no need of our strengthening; he is able of 422himself to “make us meet for the inheritance of the saints in light,” If it be the gracious principles that are bestowed upon the saints that are intended, the “new creature,” the “inward man,” called “the Spirit” in the Scripture, in opposition to “the flesh;” if our strengthening this Spirit be any thing but the acting of the graces intended thereby in us, I know not what you mean. Especially, in what is or consists their acting to make “the Spirit willing proportionably to the means we do receive,” am I to seek. To say that we receive outward means of God (for so they must be, being distinguished from the Spirit), and thereupon of ourselves do make the Spirit willing, and strengthen him to the performance of God, surely holds out a very sufficient power in spiritual things inbred in us and abiding with us, whereof there is not the least line or appearance in the whole book of God, nor in any author urged by Mr Goodwin to give countenance to his persuasion.
(3.) Neither is the sum of all this answer any other but this: “If we are willing, and will prevent all miscarriages from the weakness of the flesh, we may.” But how we become willing so to do, and what assurance we have that we shall be so willing, seeing all in us by nature as to any spiritual duty is flesh, is not intimated in the least, John iii. 6. This is strenuously supposed all along, that to be willing unto spiritual good in a spiritual manner is wholly in our own power; and an easy thing it is, no doubt, The plea in hand is: Such is the strength of indwelling sin in the best of the saints, and so easily doth it beset them, that if they have not some promise of God to assure them that they shall have constant supply of grace from him, and by his power be preserved, it is impossible but that they must be filled with perplexing fears that they shall not hold out in giving him willing obedience to the end, their will being in an especial manner entangled with the power of sin. It is answered, “If men be but willing, etc., they need not fear this or any such issue;” that is, “If they do the thing which they fear, and have reasons invincible to fear, that they shall not, they need not fear but that they shall do it;” which is nothing but an absurd begging of the thing in question. Neither is there any thing in the Scripture that will give a pass to this beggar, or shelter him from due correction. The apostle, indeed, saith, that if we “walk in the Spirit, we shall not fulfil the lust of the flesh.” And good reason there is for it; for, as he told us, these are contrary to one another, and opposite to one another, and bring forth such diverse and contrary fruits in them in whom they are, that if we walk in the one we shall, not fulfil the lusts of the other. But what assurance have we that we shall “walk in the Spirit,” if it be not hence, that God bath promised that “his Spirit shall never depart from us?” And he saith, “If we are led by the Spirit we are not under the law;” which, by the way, letteth us see that the 423Spirit leadeth us, — that is, maketh us willing, and strengtheneth us, not we him. But on what account shall or dare any man promise to himself that the Spirit will continue so to do, if God hath not promised that he shall so do? or, if his leading of us be only on condition that we be willing to be led, how shall we be in the least ascertained (supposing us in any measure acquainted with the power of indwelling sin) that we shall be always so willing? Let, then, this pass with what was said before, as nothing to the thing in hand.
3. “It is answered, then (thirdly and lastly), there is no such aptness or proneness unto sin, — sins, I mean, of a disinheriting import, — in saints or true believers, as is pretended; but, on the contrary, a strong propension or inclination unto righteousness reigneth in them. We heard formerly from the apostle,1 John iii. 9, that ‘he that is born of God cannot sin;’ and also from 1 John v. 18. From these suppositions, with many other of like import, it is evident that there is a pregnant, strong, overpowering propension in all true believers to walk holily and to live righteously: so that to refrain sinning in the kind intended is no such great mastery, no such matter of difficulty, unto such men; and that when they are overcome and fall into sin, it is through a mere voluntary neglect. And thus we see, all things impartially weighed and debated to and fro, that the ‘doctrine which supposeth a possibility of the saints’ declining is the doctrine which is according to godliness,’ and the corrival of it an enemy thereto.”
Ans. We, have here an assertion, an inference, and a conclusion. The assertion is, that “there is no such aptness and proneness to sin in believers as is intimated,” and that “because there is such a strong propensity in them to righteousness,” which that they have is proved from sundry places of Scripture. That is, because the Spirit is in believers, the flesh is not in them; because they have a new man in them, they have not an old; because they have a principle of life, they have not a body of death. That is, where the Spirit lusteth against the flesh, the flesh lusteth not against the Spirit. We thought the doctrine of Paul, Rom. vii., Gal. v. 17, and in innumerable other places, with the experience of all the saints in the world, had lain against this piece of sophistry. It is true, their propension unto righteousness reigneth in them, but it is as true their propension unto sin rebelleth in them. Though the land be conquered for Christ, yet the Canaanites will dwell in it; and if the saints leave off but one day the work of killing, crucifying, and mortifying, they will quickly find an actual rebellion in them not easy to be suppressed. They have, indeed, a propension to holiness ruling in them, but also a propension unto sin dwelling in them; so that “when they would do good, evil is present with them, and the good they would do they cannot.” But when Mr Goodwin can prove this consequence, 424that saints have strong inclinations to righteousness, therefore they have not so to sin, for my part I will forbear for ever disputing with him. If he can beat us, not only from Scripture, but from all our spiritual sense and experience, doubtless it is to no purpose to contend any longer with him. Hence, then, —
He inferreth that “to abstain from sinning,” — that is, sinning customarily and against conscience, so as to endanger the loss of the favour of God, — “is no such great mastery, no such matter of difficulty, to such men.” This abstaining from such sins on the one hand is the whole course of our gospel obedience; which, it seemeth, however it be compared to “running in a race,” “striving for masteries,” and be called “resisting unto blood,” “wrestling with principalities and powers,” and requiring for its carrying on “the exceeding greatness of the power of God,” with suitable “help in time of need” from Jesus Christ, who is sensible of the weight of it, as no small matter, knowing’ what it is to “serve God in temptations,” yet is it indeed but a trifling thing, a matter of no great difficulty or mastery. Do men watch, pray, contend, fight, wrestle with God and Satan? Doth the Lord put forth his power, and the Lord Jesus Christ continually intercede, for the preservation of the saints? “Ad quid perditio hæc?” To what end is all this toil and labour about a thing of little or no weight? “Egregiam vero laudem!” We know, indeed, the “yoke of Christ is easy, and his commandments not grievous; that we can do all things through him that enableth us:” but to make gospel obedience so slight a thing that it is no great mastery, or matter of no great commendation to hold out in it to the end, this we were to learn till now, and are as yet slow of heart to receive it.
The conclusion is, “Iö, Pæan, vicimus.” “All things impartially weighed, the case is ours, and godliness exceedingly promoted by the doctrine of the possibility of the saints’ defection (Ὅπερ ἔδει δεῖξαι), and the corrival of it an enemy to it;” — to prove which not one word in the argument hath been spoken, nor to free the other from a charge of a direct contrary importance, one word to the purpose. And of Mr Goodwin’s sixth argument for his doctrine of the apostasy of saints, this is the end.
But this is not all he hath to say in this case in hand. Indeed the main design of his whole 13th chapter, consisting of forty-one sections, and about so many pages in his book, and containing all which, in an argumentative way, he insisteth on in the case in hand, looketh this way; and therefore, having already plucked away one of the main props of that discourse, I shall apply myself to take away those which do remain, that the whole may justly fall to the ground, and therefore shall, as briefly as I can, consider the whole of that discourse, containing nine arguments against the perseverance of saints, for the possibility of their total and final defection.
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