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Chapter XVI. The bearing of the doctrine of the saints’ apostasy on their consolation.
Mr G.’s seventh argument, about the tendency of the doctrine of the saints’ apostasy as to their consolation, proposed, considered — What that doctrine offereth for the consolation of the saints stated — The impossibility of its affording the least true consolation manifested — The influence of the doctrine of the saints’ perseverance into their consolation — The medium whereby Mr G. confirms his argument examine — What kind of nurse for the peace and consolation of the saints the doctrine of apostasy is — Whether their obedience be furthered by it — What are the causes and springs of true consolation — Mr G.’s eighth argument proposed to consideration — Answer thereunto — The minor proposition considered — The Holy Ghost not afraid of the saints’ miscarriages — The confirmation of his minor proposition proposed and considered — The discourse assigned to the Holy Ghost by Mr G., according to our principles, considered — Exceptions against it — The first — The second — The third — The fourth — The fifth — The sixth — The seventh — The foundation of Mr G.’s pageant everted — The procedure of the Holy Ghost in exhortations, according to our principles — Sophisms in the former discourse further discovered — His farther plea in this case proposed, considered — The instance of Christ and his obedience considered and vindicated, as to the application of it to the business in hand — Mr G.’s last argument proposed, examined — 1 John ii. 19 explained; vindicated — Argument from thence for the perseverance of the saints — Mr G.’s exceptions thereunto considered and removed — The same words farther pursued — Mr G.’s consent with the Remonstrants manifested by his transcriptions from their Synodalia — Our argument from 1 John ii. 19 fully cleared — The conclusion of the examination of Mr G.’s arguments for the apostasy of the saints.
The seventh argument, which Mr Goodwin insisteth upon in the 36th section of his 13th chapter, contains one of the greatest rarities he hath to show in the whole pack, concerning the influence of the doctrine of the saints’ apostasy into their consolation in their walking with God; an undertaking so uncapable of any logical confirmation, as that though Mr Goodwin interweaves his discourse concerning it with a syllogism, yet he quickly leaves that thorny path, and pursues it only with a rhetorical flourish of words, found out and set in order to deceive. At the head, then, of his discourse, he placeth this argument, as it is called:—
“That doctrine whose genuine and proper tendency is to advance 579the peace and joy of the saints in believing is of a natural sympathy with the gospel, and upon this account a truth; such is the doctrine which informeth the saints of a possibility of their total and final falling away: ergo.”
The proposition of this syllogism he supposes we will grant; and (not to trouble the reader with the qualifications and limitations formerly annexed to that which proposed the furtherance of the obedience of the saints as a proof of the truth of any doctrine) for my part I do. For the proof of the assumption, wherein alone Mr Goodwin’s interest in this argument doth lie, he refers us to his 9th chapter, where, as he tells us (if we may believe him), he hath “undeniably demonstrated the truth of it;” but we have considered whatever looks that way in that chapter, and have found it all as chaff and stubble before the breath of the Spirit of the Lord in the word. That which lies upon his shoulders to support (a burden too heavy for him to bear), and whose demonstration he hath undertaken, is, that it tends to the peace, joy, and consolation, of the saints of God, in their walking with him (which arises from, and solely depends upon, that assurance they have of their eternal fruition of him through Christ), to be instructed that indeed they are in themselves weak, unable to do any thing as they ought; that they have no strength to continue in the mercy of God, but carry about with them a body of death; and that they are continually exposed to a world of temptations, whereby many strong men fall down, are thrust through, and slain every day; that in this condition there is no consideration of the immutability or unchangeableness of God that may secure them of the continuance of his love to them, no eternal purpose of his that he will preserve them and keep them through his power, no promise of not leaving them, or of giving them such supplies of his Spirit and grace that they shall never forsake or leave him, nothing in the covenant, or oath of God whereby it is confirmed, to assure them of an abiding and not-to-be-destroyed communion with him; that Christ by his death and oblation hath not so taken away the guilt of their sins, nor laid such a sure foundation for the destruction of the power of them, as that they shall not arise either way to their ruin; that he intercedes not for their preservation in faith and holiness; — upon the account of which state and condition of things, many of the most eminent saints that ever served God in this world have utterly fallen out of his love and favour, and have been cast out of covenant, from whence, though perhaps some few have been recovered, yet far the greatest part of them have perished everlastingly (as is the state in reference unto many in every generation): only, such may do well to consider what a fearful and desperate issue their apostasy will have if they should so fall, and what an eminent reward, with what glory, is proposed to them, 580if they persevere. That, I say, the instruction of the saints in this doctrine is a singular means of promoting their consolation and establishing their peace is that which (doubtless with undervaluing thoughts of all with whom he hath to do) he hath undertaken to prove. I doubt not but that Mr Goodwin thought sometimes of the good old rule:—
“Sumite materiam vestris, qui scribitis, æquam
Viribus; et versate diu, quid ferre recusent,
Quid valeant humeri.”
Hor. Ep. ad Pison., 38.
Self-confidence is hereby settled and fixed with considerations; and though Mr Goodwin, in the close of this section, tells us “that sundry godly and seriously religious persons, when they heard this doctrine published which he now asserts, with their whole hearts blessed God for it,” yet truly I cannot but question whether, yea, I must positively deny that ever, any saint of God received consolation by the doctrine of the saints’ apostasy, — a lie exceedingly unsuited to the production of any such effect, any farther than that all error whatsoever is apt to defile and cauterize the conscience, so deceiving it with senselessness for peace. Perhaps some of Mr Goodwin’s hearers, (who either were so ignorant or so negligent as not to be acquainted with this doctrine before, in the attempts made for the propagation of it by the later brood of prelates and Arminians amongst us,) upon his delivery of it with enticing words of human wisdom, helped on by the venerable esteem they have of his transcendent parts and abilities, through the cunning of Satan, improving the itching after new doctrines which is fallen upon the minds and spirits of many professors in this age, have rejoiced under the shadow of this bramble, set up to rule in their congregation, and (according as is the constant manner of all in our days that are ensnared with any error, be it never so pernicious) have blessed God for it, professing they never found rest nor peace before: yet I no way question but such as fear the Lord, and are yet bowed down under the weight and carried away with the strength of Mr Goodwin’s rhetoric for a season, will quickly find a fire proceeding out of that newly-enthroned doctrine, preying upon and consuming all their joy, peace, and consolation; or (which I rather hope) a fire proceeding out of their faith “the faith once delivered to the saints,” to the utter confusion and consumption of this bramble, — [this] scratching error. In the meantime, if the eminent appearance of many thousands of the saints of God in this nation (whereof many are fallen asleep, and many continue to this day), testifying and bearing witness to the joy and consolation they have found, and that upon spiritual, demonstrative grounds, in being cast into the mould of the doctrine of the saints’ perseverance, for many days, be of no weight with Mr Goodwin, I know not why his single testimony (which yet, as to the matter of 581fact, I no way question) concerning some few persons, by himself seduced into a persuasion of their apostasy, blessing God for the discovery made to them (the constant practice of all persons in their first entanglement in the foulest and grossest error whatever), should sway us much to any good liking of it.
The influence of the doctrine of the saints’ perseverance into their consolation hath been sufficiently already evinced, when we manifested the support of their faith and love, the conquest of their fears and troubles thereby, so that I shall not need farther to insist thereon. It was in my thoughts, indeed, to have handled the nature of gospel consolation, — that which God is so abundantly willing the heirs of promise should receive, — at large, both as to the nature and causes of it, the means of its preservation, and the oppositions that lie against it; and by all the considerations of it to have manifested that it is utterly impossible to keep it alive one moment in the heart of a believer without the contribution of supportment it receives from the doctrine in hand, and that those who refuse to receive it, as usually delivered, indeed have none, nor can have any drop of it, but what is instilled into them from and by the power and efficacy which secretly in and upon their hearts that truth hath which in words they oppose, all their peace and comfort being indeed absolutely proportioned to that which the doctrine of the saints’ perseverance tends to confirm, and to nothing else: but this discourse growing under my hands beyond all thought or expectation, I shall now only keep close to the removal of the exceptions made against it, and hasten to a close.
I must not leave this argument without taking notice of the medium whereby Mr Goodwin supposeth himself to have confirmed the truth of the assumption laid down at the entrance, or to have manifested “the good complexion,” as he phrases it, “of that nurse he hath provided” for the consolation of the saints. A nurse with breasts of flint and a heart of iron hath this cruel man provided for them; — a nurse whom God will never admit into his family, nor ever expose his children’s lives to any such wolf or tiger as will certainly starve them, if not devour them; — rather a curst, yea, an accursed stepdame than a nurse, who when the children ask for bread gives them a stone, and when they beg for a fish gives them a scorpion; — a false and treacherous hireling, doing not the least service for God, but labouring to stir up strife in his family, to set his poor children and their heavenly Father at variance; filling them with hard thoughts of him, as one that takes little or no care for them, and discouraging them in that obedience which he requireth at their hands; continually belying their Father to them, and that in reference to the most desirable excellencies of his faithfulness, truth, mercy, and grace; never speaking one good or comfortable word to 582them all their days, nor once urging them to do their duty but with holding a rod, yea scorpions, over their heads, and casting the eternal flames of hell into their faces. This is that sanguine, indeed truly spiritually bloody, complexion of this new nurse, which is offered to be received in the room of that sad, melancholy piece, the perseverance of the saints. Thus, then, he proceeds:—
“The consolation of true believers depends upon their obedience; their obedience is furthered by this doctrine: and therefore their consolation also.”
Ans. What are the springs of true, spiritual, heavenly consolation, the consolation which God is willing believers should receive, whence it flows, the means of its continuance and increase, how remote it is from a sole dependency on our own obedience, hath been in part before declared. But yet if the next assertion can be made good, namely, “That the doctrine of the saints’ apostasy hath a tendency, instituted of God, to the promotion of their obedience and holiness,” I shall not contend about the other, concerning the issuing of their consolation from thence. All that really is offered in the behalf of apostasy, as to its serviceableness in this kind, is, that it is suited to ingenerate in believers a fear of hell, which will put them upon all ways of mortifying the flesh and the fruits of it, which otherwise would bring them thereinto. And is this indeed the great mystery of the gospel? Is this Christ’s way of dealing with his saints? or is it not a falling from grace, to return again unto the law? Those of whom alone we speak, who are concerned in this business, are all of them taken into the glorious liberty of the sons of God; are every one of them partakers of that Spirit with whom is liberty; are all endued with a living principle of grace, faith, and love, and are constrained by the love of Christ to live to him; are all under grace, and not under the law; all have their sins in some measure begun to be mortified, and the flesh with the lusts thereof, the old man, with all his ways and wills, crucified, by the death and cross of Christ, brought with their power and efficacy by the Spirit into their hearts; are all delivered from that bondage wherein they were, for fear of death and hell, all their days, by having Christ made redemption unto them I say, that these persons should be most effectually stirred up to obedience by the dread and terror of the iron rod of vengeance and hell, and that they should be so by God’s appointment, is such a new, such another gospel, as, though preached by an angel from heaven, we should not receive. That indeed no motive can be taken from hence, or from any thing in the doctrine by Mr Goodwin contended for, suited to the principle of gospel obedience in the saints; that no sin or lust whatsoever was ever mortified by it; that it is a clog, hinderance, and burden to all saints, as far as they have to do with it, in the ways of God, — hath been before demonstrated: and therefore, 583leaving it, with all the consolation that it affords, unto those who of God are given up thereunto, we proceed to the consideration of another argument, his eighth in this case, which is thus proposed, sect. 37:—
“That doctrine which evacuates and turns into weakness and folly all the gracious counsels of the Holy Ghost, which consist partly in the diligent information which he gives unto the saints, from place to place, concerning the hostile, cruel, and bloody mind and intention of Satan against them; partly in detecting and making known all his subtle stratagems, his plots, methods, and dangerous machinations against them; partly, also, in furnishing them with special weapons of all sorts, whereby they may be able to grapple with him and to triumph over him; partly, again, in those frequent admonitions and exhortations to quit themselves like men in resisting him, which are found in the Scripture; and, lastly, in professing his fear lest Satan should circumvent and deceive them; — that doctrine, I say, which reflects disparagement and vanity upon all these most serious and gracious applications of the Holy Ghost must needs be a doctrine of vanity and error, and consequently that which opposeth it, by a like necessity, a truth; but such is the common doctrine of absolute and infallible perseverance: ergo.”
Ans. Not to engage into any needless contest about ways of arguing when the design and strength of the argument are evident, I shall only remark two things upon this:—
First, The Holy Ghost professing his fear lest Satan should beguile believers is a mistake. It was Paul that was so afraid, not the Holy Ghost, though he wrote that fear by the appointment and inspiration of the Holy Ghost. The apostle was jealous lest the saints should, by the craft of Satan, be seduced into errors and miscarriages; which yet argues not their final defection. This, indeed, he records of himself; but of the fear of the Holy Ghost, arising from his uncertainty of those issues of the things, and want of power to prevent the coming on of the things feared, I suppose there is no mention. And, —
Secondly, That the consequent of the supposition in the inference made upon it is not so clear to me as to Mr Goodwin, — namely, “Suppose any doctrine to be false, whatsoever doctrine is set up in opposition to it is true.” I have known, and so hath Mr Goodwin also, when the truth hath lain between opposite doctrines, assaulted by both, entertained by neither. With these observations I pass the major of this syllogism; the minor he thus confirms:—
“If the saints be in no possibility of being finally overcome by Satan, or of miscarrying in the great and most important business of their salvation, by his snares and subtleties, all that operoseness and diligence of the Holy Ghost, in those late-mentioned addressments 584of his unto them, in order to their final conquest over Satan will be found of very light consequence, of little concernment to them; yea, if the said addressments of the Holy Ghost be compared with the state and condition of the saints, as the said doctrine of perseverance representeth and affirmeth it to be, the utter uselessness and impertinency of them will much more evidently appear.”
Ans. What possibility or not possibility the saints are in of final apostasy from God; what assurance themselves have, may have, or have not, concerning their perseverance; with what is the use of admonitions and exhortations to them in that condition, — have been already declared. For the present I shall only add, that let their final apostasy in respect of the event be never so impossible, yet, in the state and condition wherein they are, and from the things which they are exercised about, with the principles on which they proceed, and the ways whereby they are led on, considerations enough may be raised to set forth those exhortations, admonitions, and encouragements, appointed by the Holy Ghost to be used and insisted on in the administration of the word, in the beauty and splendour of infinite wisdom, love, and kindness. The glory of God being so eminently concerned as it is in the obedience and fruitfulness of the saints; the honour of the Lord Jesus in this world, with the advancement and propagation of the gospel, in like manner relating thereunto; their own peace lying so much as it doth upon their close walking with God; the Spirit being so grieved by their failing into sin as he is; God so dishonoured, and themselves exposed to such fearful desertions, darkness, trouble, sorrow, and disquietments as they are, upon their being overcome by the temptations of Satan, and prevailed upon to turn aside into ways and sins short of total apostasy; and it being the purpose of the Lord to lead them on in obedience, in ways suitable to that nature he created them withal, and that new nature wherewith he hath endued them (both apt to be wrought upon by motives, exhortations, and persuasions), without any such supposal as that of final apostasy; — there is a sufficient bottom and foundation of exalting the motives and admonitions insisted on to the possession of that glory of wisdom and goodness which is their due. But Mr Goodwin having borrowed another pageant from the Remonstrants, had a great mind to show it to the world in its English dress, and therefore introduces the Holy Ghost thus speaking in the admonitions above pointed at:—
“Suppose we, then, the Holy Ghost should speak thus unto the saints: ‘O ye that truly believe, who, by virtue of the promises of that God that cannot lie, are fully persuaded and possessed that ye shall be kept by God, by his irresistible grace, in true faith until death; so that though Satan should set all his wits on work, and 585by all his stratagems, snares, and cunning devices, seek to destroy you; yea, though he should entice you away from God by the allurements of the world, and entangle you with them again; yea, and should cause you to run and rush headlong, against the light of your own consciences, into all manner of horrid sins; yet shall all his attempts and assaults upon you in every kind be in vain, and you shall be in never the more danger or possibility of perishing; — unto you, I say, attend and consider how sore and dangerous a contest you are like to be engaged in; for you are to wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities and powers, the governors of this world, and spiritual wickednesses, against that old serpent the devil, the great red dragon, who was a murderer from the beginning, and who still goes about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour, who will set himself with all his might to thrust you headlong into all manner of sins, and so to separate between you and your God for ever. And truly I am afraid lest, as the serpent by his subtlety deceived Eve, so your minds should be corrupted from the simplicity which is in Jesus Christ, — lest the tempter should any way tempt you, and my labour about you be in vain. Therefore watch, pray, resist him steadfast in the faith. Take unto you the whole armour of God, that you may be able to resist in an evil day, and having done all things stand fast, — stand, having your loins girt with the girdle of truth, and the breastplate of righteousness upon you.’ Would such an oration or speech as this be any way worthy the infinite wisdom of the Holy Ghost? Or is it not the part of a very weak and simple person to admonish a man, and that in a most serious and solemn manner, of a danger threatening him or hanging over his head, and withal to instruct him with great variety of direction and caution how to escape this danger, when, as both himself knows and the person admonished knows likewise, it is a thing altogether impossible that ever the danger should befall him, or the evil against which he is so solemnly cautioned come upon him? Therefore, those who make the Holy Ghost to have part and fellowship in such weakness as this are most insufferably injurious unto him.”
Ans. To support the stage for to act this part of the pageant in hand upon, there are many supposals fixed by our author, that are to bear up the weight of the whole; which, upon trial, will appear to be arrant false pretences, painted antics, that have not the least strength or efficacy for the end and purpose whereunto they are applied.
1. It is supposed that the end of all these admonitions is merely and solely to prevent the saints from final apostasy, and that they are to beware of the wiles and assaults of Satan, only lest he prevail over them to cause them to depart utterly from God. That this is supposed in this discourse is evident, because upon the granting of a promise that they shall not be so prevailed against, they are judged 586all useless and ridiculous. Now, who knows not but that Satan may winnow, and in some measure prevail against, the saints, to the dishonour of God, the reproach of the gospel, grieving of the Spirit, and scandal of the church, although they fall not totally and finally from God? And that many of those admonitions tend to the preservation of believers from such falls and failings is more evident than to need any demonstration by consideration of the particular instances.
2. It supposeth, as is expressed, that believers may fall into “all manner of horrid sins and abominations;” which is the thing in question, and by us punctually denied. Whatever their surprisals may be, yet there are sins which they cannot fall into; and the great abomination of every sin that is committed with the whole heart and with full consent they are not at all exposed or liable unto, as hath been proved.
3. That there is an inconsistency between promises and precepts in reference to the same object; that God should promise to work any thing effectually in us and yet require it of us, is thought ridiculous; and on this account the great folly here imputed to the discourse framed for the Holy Ghost is proposed to consist in this, that God should exhort us to watch against the assaults of the devil, and yet promise that by his grace he will effectually work in us and for us the very same thing, — a supposal destructive to the whole nature of the new covenant, easily disproved by innumerable instances.
4. That believers are to be wrought upon to obedience always, whatever the frame of their spirits be, by the same ways and means. Hence it is that promises, promises of highest and greatest assurance, are in this discourse coupled with cautions of the deepest charge, as though they must at the same time operate the same way to believers, or else the Holy Ghost be liable to be traduced as inconsistent with himself; when the great variety that is in their spiritual frame and temper, the manifold temptations wherewith they are assaulted, the light and dark places they walk through, etc., give occasion sufficient to the exercising towards them all the “piping” and “mourning” that is provided for them.
5. That all believers are assured of their perseverance, and that to such a degree as not to fear any apostasy or to care what becomes of them (that is, assured to presumption, not believing), — and therefore are those cautions and admonitions of the Holy Ghost on that account, tending to stir up in them any godly care or fear, rendered frustrate, — when Mr Goodwin himself thinks that very few of them do upon any good and abiding foundation know themselves to be believers, and we never once supposed that all of them have assurance of their perseverance, nor any of them upon the terms here proposed. All the strength of what is here insinuated lies in this, that God gives assurance to men of the steadfastness and constancy 587of his love under supposal of their failing into all manner of abominable sins; which supposal alone renders an inconsistency between the sense of the promises we embrace and that of the admonitions that are given to the saints charging them to walk heedfully and to watch diligently against the attempts and assaults of Satan. Now, this supposal is in itself false and ridiculous; neither ever did the Lord, nor do we say he ever did, tender men assurance of his love on such terms, neither is it possible for any one ever to have a true persuasion of his own perseverance under such notions.
6. That there is an inconsistency betwixt faithful promises of attaining an end by the use of means, and exhortations with admonitions to make use of those means So that if it be supposed that God promiseth that Satan shall not in the issue prevail over us, prescribing to us the means whereby we shall be preserved from his prevalency, it is in vain to deal with us for the application of ourselves unto the use of those means.
7. It is also supposed that an assurance of the love of God, and of the continuance of it to the saints unto the end, so that they shall never be utterly rejected by him, is an effectual way and means to induce them to carnal and loose walking, and a negligence in those things which are a provocation to the eyes of his glory; and therefore, if he promise faithfully never to leave us nor forsake us, it is an inducement for us to conclude, Let the devil now take his swing, and do with us what he pleaseth. To exhort us to take care for the avoidance of his subtleties and opposition is a thing altogether ridiculous. The vanity of this supposal hath been sufficiently before discovered and itself disproved.
Upon such hypotheses as these, I say, upon such painted posts, is the whole pageant erected which we are here engaged withal; and these being easily cast down, the whole rushes to the ground, in the room whereof, according to our principles, this following discourse may be supplied:—
“Ye that are true believers, called, justified, sanctified, by the Spirit and blood of Christ, adopted into my family, ingrafted in and united unto the Son of my love, I know your weakness, insufficiency, disability, darkness, how that without my Son and continual supply of his Spirit ye can do nothing. The power of your indwelling sin is not hid from me, how with violence it leads you captive to the law thereof. And though ye do believe, yet I know ye have also some unhealed unbelief, and on that account are often overwhelmed with fears, sorrows, disconsolations, and troubles, and are ready often to think that your way is passed over from me, and your judgment hidden from your God. And in this condition I know the assaults, temptations, and oppositions of Satan that you are exposed to, how he goes up and down like a roaring lion, seeking to destroy you. His 588ways, methods, wiles, and baits, that he lays for you, and whereby he seeks to destroy you, are many. He acts against you as a serpent, subtilely and wisely; as a lion, dreadfully and fearfully; and [as a fowler,] with snares not of you, by yourselves, to be resisted. You have principalities and powers to wrestle withal, and the darts of the wicked one to defend yourselves against. Wherefore beware of him, be not ignorant of his devices, stand fast in the faith, take to you the whole armour of God, resist him, overcome him, cast him out by prayer and the blood of the Lamb; watch night and day that ye be not surprised nor seduced (as Eve was) by him, that he turn you not out of the way into paths leading to destruction, and thrust you headlong into such sins as will be a dishonour to me, a grief to my Spirit, a scandal to the church, and bitterness to your own souls. And as for me, who know your disability of yourselves to do any of these things, and so to hold out to the end, because it pleased me to love you, and set my heart upon you, having chosen you before the foundation of the world, that ye should be holy and unblamable before me in love; and having given my only Son for you, who is your peace, and through whom ye have received the atonement, with whom I will not deny you or withhold from you any thing that may safeguard your abiding with me unto salvation, — I will, through the riches of my grace, work all your works for you, fulfilling in you all the good pleasure of my goodness and the work of faith with power. I will tread down Satan, this cruel, proud, malicious, bloody, enemy of your souls, under your feet; and though at any time he foil you, yet ye shall not be cast down, for I will take you up, and will certainly preserve you by my power to the end of your hope, the salvation of your souls. Whatever betide you or befall you, I will never leave you nor forsake you. The mountains may depart, and the hills be removed, but my kindness shall never be removed from you. Comfort ye, be of good courage, and run with patience the race that is set before you.” This, I say, is the language which, according to the tenor of the doctrine whose maintenance we are engaged in, God speaks to his saints and believers; and if there be folly and inconsistency found therein, let the Scriptures vindicate and plead for themselves.
For the close of this discourse of our author, charging this course of procedure with folly, — namely, to give admonition to the use of means, when the end is certainly determined to issue upon the use of those means, — he must first evince it, as to the application of it to the business in hand, before I can close with him in the managing thereof. For the present, I rather think the folly of this charge, as far as it looks towards the doctrine under consideration, to arise from other things: as, —
First, An impertinent comparison instituted between God and 589man in their admonitions and dealings with men, as though nothing might beseem him, in spiritual things of eternal concernment, but what is squared to the rules of our proceedings one towards another in things natural or civil. And, —
Secondly, A false supposal that the end is promised and assured to any without or beside the use of means, or walking according to the rules, precepts, and instructions, given for that purpose, or for attainment of the end so promised. Now, what folly there is to charge men to use means for the attaining of an end, when they are, although exhorted, also assured that in their so doing they shall attain the end aimed at, is yet under contest, and may pass for the present with those other “ridiculous supposals” formerly mentioned.
But Mr Goodwin proceeds farther in the vindication of this argument, sect. 38:—
“And whereas,” saith he, “they still plead, or pretend rather, that such admonitions as those lately specified may well stand with an unconditional promise of perseverance, we have formerly showed that they are not able to make good this plea, nor to give any reasonable account of it. Whereas they add, that their sense and opinion is not that it is a thing absolutely or every way impossible for true believers to fall away totally or finally from their faith, but that they willingly grant that true believers, what through their own weakness, and what through the subtle baits and temptations of Satan, may so fall away; I answer, But this is but a fig-leaf sought out to cover the nakedness of their opinion, which hath no strength at all nor weight in it; for what though it were in a thousand other respects never so possible for true believers to perish, yet if it be altogether impossible in such a respect which overrules all those others, and which will, and of necessity must, hinder the coming of it to pass, all those others notwithstanding, it is to be judged simply and absolutely impossible, and all those respects whereby it is pretended possible are not to be brought into account in such a case.”
Ans. 1. Whether we are able to make good our plea concerning the consistency of admonitions with the promises of perseverance, Mr Goodwin is not the sole judge, neither do either we or our plea stand or fall at his arbitrament. What hath been lately spoken for the re-enforcement of that plea against his exceptions, he may, if he please, take time to consider.
2. For what is now added in this place as a part of that plea of ours, as it is here proposed, we own not. We do not grant that true believers may fall away, on any account whatever, totally and finally, if the expression, “May fall away,” relate to the issue and event. We say, indeed, that by the temptations of Satan believers may be prevailed against to the committing of many sins, the root whereof is in themselves, whilst the lust remains in them which tempteth and 590ensnareth them, whereby God may be dishonoured and their own consciences wounded, — which is a sufficient ground and bottom for all the admonitions that are given them, to beware of his deceits, to strengthen themselves against his assaults, to be built upon, — though, through the grace and faithfulness of God and his good-will, manifested and secured unto them in his covenant and promises, he can never totally prevail against them.
We say, moreover, that it is not from believers themselves, nor any thing in them, nor from any faith that they have received, that they cannot so fall finally away, there being in them a proneness to sin, and the seed of all sin still remaining, yea, a root of bitterness ready to spring up and trouble them; but from those outward principles of the will, purposes, covenant, and promises of God, which we have formerly insisted on: farther, that there is no need of granting any such possibility, taking that term as relating to the issue and event, and not the internal principle of operation in men, to manifest the harmony that is between the admonitions under consideration and the promises we have insisted on, it being sufficiently evinced on other considerations: so that Mr Goodwin’s ensuing discourse concerning “absolute impossibility” is not at all related to any thing that we have asserted.
3. Neither yet doth the reason by Mr Goodwin produced in any measure evince what he intends, though we be not concerned therein. He will not easily persuade us that that which is possible in any respect, much less in many, and impossible only in one, is always to be judged “simply and absolutely impossible.” Much less are we concerned in it, who say that simply and absolutely the falling away of believers is possible, namely, as the term “possible” relates to the principle of operation in them; but in some respect only it is impossible, that is, not of itself, but in respect of the external prohibiting cause. It was simply and absolutely possible that the bones of our Saviour should have been broken, in the nature of the thing itself; impossible, in respect of the decree of God. So are a thousand things absolutely possible in their own nature, as to the power of the causes whereby they might be produced, but impossible in respect of some external prohibiting cause; — absolutely possible in respect of their proper cause and principle; impossible in respect of the event, upon the account of some external prohibiting cause, as was showed. So it is in the business in hand. We assert not any possibility in respect of the event, as though in the issue it might so come to pass that believers should fall totally and finally from God, which is the thing we oppose; but grant it in respect of the causes of such apostasy, with reference to the nature of the thing itself, though how the possibility might be reduced into act Mr Goodwin cannot declare. As for the close of this section, concerning the absolute, 591peremptory, irresistible decree of perseverance, which he ascribes to us as our assertion, when he shall have convinced us of the conditional, non-peremptory, reversible decree of God, which he endeavours to introduce in the place thereof, he may hear more of us; in the meantime, μένομεν ὥσπερ ἐσμέν.
Sect. 39, 40, he seeks to alleviate the instance commonly given of our Saviour Christ, who though assured of the end, and in respect of whom it was utterly impossible that his glorious exaltation should not follow in the issue, he being wholly out of all danger of being detained under the power of death, yet he laboured, and prayed, and fasted, and resisted Satan’s temptations, and watched against him, and dealt with him by weapons taken out of the word of God; and in especial, when the devil urged him with the argument in hand, “that there is no need of means or the using of them, when there is a certainty of the end, and an impossibility that it should otherwise fall out, or the end not be brought about and accomplished,” as he did when he tempted him to cast himself headlong from a pinnacle of the temple, because the angels had charge over him, that not so much as his foot should be hurt against a stone, whatever he did, as Satan intimated, — which is the tenor of the argument wherewith we have to do, — he returns to him the very answer that we insist upon, namely, that though it be the good pleasure of God to bring us to the end we aim at, yet are we not to tempt him by a neglect of the means which he hath appointed. It is true, there are arguments used to us that could have no place with Christ, being taken from the estate and condition of infirmity and weakness through sin wherein we are; which is a ground only of an inference, that if Christ, who was “holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners,” did yet watch, and pray, and contend against Satan, much more should we do so. But this doth not at all take off from the parity of reason that is in the ease of diligent using of the means for the compassing of the end, that in some respect is under an impossibility of not being accomplished. For the removal of this instance, Mr Goodwin enters into a large discourse of the cause and reason, vesting the Lord Christ with an immutability in good, and how it is not competent to any creature; which that it is, never entered into the thoughts of any to assert that I ever heard of, nor is it of the least importance to the removal of our instance, as to its serviceableness unto the end for which it is produced. He tells us also, “That in ease men be caused necessitatingly and unavoidably to act righteously, it will take away all rewardableness from their actings; and the reason is, because such a necessitating of them makes them merely passive, they having not any internal principle of their own to contract such a necessity;” which discourse is pursued with many other words to the same purpose. And a discourse it is, —
592First, Exceeding irrelative to the business in hand. There is not any thing now under consideration that should minister occasion at all to consider the manner of our yielding obedience, and the way of God’s grace in the bringing forth the fruits thereof; but only of the consistency that is between admonitions for the using of the means, when it is supposed impossible that the end prevented by them should ever come to pass, which may or may not be so, whatever be the manner and way of our yielding obedience, upon the exertion of the efficacy of the grace of God. Diversion is one of Mr Goodwin’s ordinary ways of warding those blows which he is not able to bear.
Secondly, False, charging a crime on the doctrine which he doth oppose whereof it is not guilty, neither it nor they that maintain it affirming that there is a necessitation upon the wills of men by the grace of God, such a necessitation as should in the least prejudice their freedom, or cause them to elicit their acts as principles natural and necessary. All the necessity ascribed by them to the efficacy of the operation of the grace of God respects only the event. They say it is necessary that the good be done which God works in us by his grace, when he works it in us; but for the manner of its doing, they say it is wrought suitably to the state and condition of the internal principle whence it is to proceed, and doth so, and of the agents whereby it is wrought, which are free. Neither do they say that good is not wrought by any native and inward principle that is in men, unless they will allow no principle to be native but what is in them by nature; and then, indeed, they say, that though naturally and physically there is, yet morally and spiritually there is not in them any native principle to that which is spiritually good, seeing in that sense “no good thing dwells in men.” But if it may suffice to evince that they work from a native, inward principle, — that their wills, which are their natural faculties, quickened, improved, and heightened, by inward, indwelling habits of grace, properly theirs when bestowed on them, are the principles of all their actings, — then they assert them to work no less from a native, internal principle than Christ himself did. So that notwithstanding this diversion, given in to supply the absence of an answer, the instance, as to that wherein alone the parallel was intended, stands unmoved, and Mr Goodwin’s whole charge of folly and inconsistency on the proceeding of the Holy Ghost falls to the ground; which is the issue of his eighth argument in this case. His last follows.
The last argument which he proposeth, sect. 41, and ends his chapter withal, is faint, and, as the droppings after a shower, will easily be blown over. He thus proposeth it:—
“That doctrine which naturally and directly tendeth to beget and foment jealousies and evil surmises between brethren in Christ, or 593such as ought cordially to love, reverence, and honour one another, is not confederate with the gospel, nor from God; and consequently that which contradicteth it must needs be a truth; — the common doctrine of unquestionable and unconditional perseverance is a doctrine of this tendency, apt to beget and foment jealousies, suspicions, and evil surmises between brethren, or such as ought to love and respect one the other, as brethren in Christ: ergo.”
Ans. Not to take notice of any thing by-the-by, which sundry expressions, and one inference at the least, in this argument do readily administer occasion unto, I await the proof of the minor, which in the following discourse amounts to this: “That judging all those who fall finally away not to have been true believers, we cannot but have evil surmises of all that stand that they are not true believers, seeing as good as they have fallen away; hence jealousies of their hypocrisy will arise.” And he tells us, for his part he knows no Christian in the world that he hath more reason to judge a true believer than he had to judge some who are turned wretched apostates. To which I say briefly, —
1. I doubt not but Mr Goodwin knows full well that this is not a rule given us to make a judgment of believers by, with whom we walk, and towards whom it is required we bear “love without dissimulations” Rom. xii. 9, — toward such as “show us their faith by their works.” Our rule of walking, from the principle of love and charity, is laid down in 1 Cor. xiii. And if all that any man knows at this day to be professors in this world should turn apostates, save only one, and he had reckoned that one and them that are apostatized, before their apostasy, of the same rank of believers, and had had no evil thoughts of that one above the rest, he was hound, without any evil surmises, “to believe all things, and to hope all things,” and not to let go his sincere love towards that one, embracing of him, delighting in him, holding communion with him to his life’s end, without suspicion of hypocrisy, or other hard thoughts of him, unless he also should degenerate. It is said, John ii. 23, that “many believed on Christ,” because of the profession of faith that they made; and, chap. vi. 34, they pray earnestly to be fed with the bread of life, so that they were accounted among his disciples, verse 60, and yet upon a temptation they left our Saviour, and “walked no more with him,” verse 66. Now, notwithstanding the profession of these men, our Saviour plainly says that they “believed not,” verse 64. They falling thus away who had professed to believe, and were accounted as believers, so called and named among the disciples of Christ, and Christ declaring, on the account of their apostasy, that indeed they did never believe, how was it that the remaining twelve had not hard thoughts and jealousies one of another (especially considering that there was one hypocrite still left among them) whether they had true faith or no, 594seeing our Saviour had declared that those who so fell off, as those before mentioned, had none? Doubtless they were instructed to walk by a better and a straiter rule than that Mr Goodwin here assigns to believers. Let who will or can fall away, whilst we are taught of God to love one another, and are acted by the principle of love, which “thinketh no evil,” and do contend against evil surmises as the works of the flesh, there is not any thing in the least attending the discovery of one man’s hypocrisy, to work us to a persuasion that another (not in any thing discovered) is so also. That because we see some goodly house fall under storms and temptations to the ground, and so manifest itself to have been built on the sand, therefore we must conclude that those which stand are not built upon the rock, is not suited to any principle or rule that our Master hath given us to walk by, in order to the exercise of that love which he calleth for in us towards one another.
2. I say this way of proceeding in our thoughts and judgments doth the Holy Ghost lead us to, 1 John ii. 19. The apostle giving an account of some who had formerly walked with him in the profession of the faith, and of the fellowship which they had with the Father and the Son, and fell away from Christ into an opposition against him, so far as to deserve the title of Antichrists, having not only forsaken the gospel, but making it also their business to oppose it, and to seduce others from the simplicity of the same; — these, he informs the scattered believers of the Jews, were apostates, having formerly walked with them, but [who had] deserted their fellowship, and thereby manifested themselves never to have been true believers, nor ever, indeed, to have had fellowship with the Father and the Son, no more than they of whom our Saviour spake in the place before mentioned; and yet, doubtless, the apostle may not be supposed to lay a foundation for jealousies, evil suspicions, and surmises among believers, though he plainly and evidently affirms that those who fall away were never true believers, and that if they had been so, they would have continued in their faith and fellowship with the people of God. “They went out from us,” saith he, “but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us: but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us.” A passage, by the way, clearly confirming the main of the doctrine we have hitherto insisted on; and therefore I shall turn aside, before I come to the close of this chapter, having this occasion administered, to vindicate it from the exceptions Mr Goodwin gives in against the testimony it bears in this case.
The argument that it readily furnisheth us withal is of this import: “If all they who fall away totally from the fellowship and society of the church and saints of God, whatever their profession 595were before that apostasy, were never true believers, and are thereby manifested never to have been so, then those who are true believers cannot fail away; but the first is true, therefore the latter.” The words are so disposed as to be cast into an hypothetical proposition, which virtually includes a double argument, as every discreet axiom doth; — it is not thus, therefore thus. If true believers might so depart and apostatize as those here mentioned, no unquestionable proof could be drawn from such apostasy that men were never true believers; which yet is plainly insisted on in the text.
Mr Goodwin, chap. x. sect. 21–24, pp. 189–192, gathers up sundry exceptions from the Remonstrants, which (as they also did) he opposeth to this interpretation of the words, and the inferences from them insisted on. I shall briefly consider and remove them in that order as by him they are laid down. He saith, —
First, “This inference presumeth many things, for which neither it nor any of the authors of it will ever be able to give any good security of proof; as, —
“First, That this phrase, ‘They were not of us,’ imports that they were never true believers. This certainly can never be proved, because there is another sense, and this every whit as proper to the words, and more commodious for the context and scope of the place, which may be given of them, as we shall see anon.”
Ans. That there is not any thing presumed for the eduction of the inference proposed but what is either directly expressed or evidently included in the words of the text, will appear in the farther consideration of what Mr Goodwin hath to offer to the contrary. That expression, “They were not of us,” imports evidently that they were not of them in the fellowship and communion which he was now exhorting believers to continue and abide in. He tells them at the head of this discourse, chap. i. 3, that the end of his writing to them was to draw them into, and keep them in, communion with himself and the saints with him; which communion or “fellowship,” be tells them, “they had with the Father and with his Son:” but as for the persons of whom in these words he is speaking to them, describing them by their former and present condition, with the causes of it, he tells them that though they abode with them for a season, yet they were never of them as to the communion and fellowship they had with the Father and Son; and so were never true members of the church. The only reason Mr Goodwin gives to invalidate this sense of the words is, that he is able to give another meaning of them, in his own judgment, “more proper to the words and more commodious to the scope of the place;” which whether it have any more efficacy to take off the force and evidence of the interpretation given, lying plain and clear in the first view of the words and context, than it hath to evade the eduction of any truth whatever from 596any place of Scripture whatever, seeing some or other suppose themselves able to give another sense of the words, let the reader judge. But he adds, —
“Secondly, That this expression, ‘They were of us,’ signifies that they were true believers, is presumed. Of the uncertainty of this supposition we shall,” saith he, “give the like account.”
Ans. When we come to take Mr Goodwin’s farther account, we shall be able, I make no doubt, to reckon with him, and to discharge his bill. In the meantime, we say, that supposition, “If they had been of us” (whence our inference is made), evidently includes a fellowship and communion with the apostle and true believers in their fellowship with God; which is asserted as a certain foundation of men’s abiding in the communion of the saints. But, says he, —
“Thirdly, It is supposed that these words, ‘They went out from us,’ signify their final defection, or abdication of the apostle’s communion, or their total and final renunciation of Christ, his church, and gospel. This supposition hath no bottom at all or colour for it.”
Ans. Divide not the words from their coherence and the intendment of the place, and the signification denied is too evident and clear for any one, with the least colour of reason, to rise up against it. “They went out,” so out from the communion of the church, as to become antichrists, opposers of Christ, and seducers from him; and certainly in so doing did totally desert the communion of the apostle, renounce the Lord Christ as by him preached, and forsake utterly both church and gospel, as to any fellowship with the one or the other. And we know full well what is the bottom of this and the like assertions, “that such and such things have no bottom at all,” which never yet failed Mr Goodwin in his need.
“Fourthly,” saith he, “It is supposed that this clause, ‘They would no doubt have continued with us,’ signifies They would have continued in the same faith wherein we persevere and continue. Nor is there,” saith he, “any competent reason to enforce this sense of those words, because neither doth the grammatical tenor of them require it, and much less the scope of the passage.”
Ans. The fellowship John invited believers unto, and to continue in (as hath often been observed), with him and the saints, was that which they held with the Father and the Son. To continue with them therein, in the literal, grammatical sense of the words, is to continue in the faith, it being faith whereby they have that fellowship or communion. This also is evident from the scope of the whole passage, and is here only impotently denied. But, saith he, —
“Fifthly, The said inference supposeth that John certainly knew that all those who for the present remained in his communion were true believers; for if they were not true believers, they that were 597gone out from them, in the sense contended for, might be said to be ‘of them,’ that is, persons of the same condition with them. But how improbable this is, I mean that John should infallibly know that all those who as yet continued with them were true believers, I refer to consideration.”
Ans. Had Mr Goodwin a little poised this passage before he took it up, perhaps he would have cast it away as a useless trifle; but, his masters having insisted on it, perhaps he thought it not meet to question their judgments in the least, for fear of being at liberty to deal so with them in matters of greater importance. I say, then, that there is not the least colour for any such supposal from the inference we make from the text, nor is there any thing of that nature intimated or suggested in the words, or argument from them. The body of them whom the apostates forsook were true believers, and their abiding in the fellowship of the saints was a manifestation of it, sufficient for them to be owned as such, which the others manifested themselves never to have been, by their apostasy. But, saith he, —
“Sixthly, The inference under contest yet farther supposeth that John certainly knew that they who were now gone out from them neither were now, nor ever were before, true believers; yea, and that he certainly knew this by their departure or going out from them.”
Ans. This is the very thing that the apostle affirms, that he certainly knew those apostates never to have been true believers, and that by their apostasy or falling totally from the gospel, becoming seducers and opposers of Christ. Let him argue it out with the Holy Ghost if he can, whose plain and clear expression this is, and that confirmed by the ensuing argument of the perseverance of them who were true believers, and whose fellowship is with the saints, in their communion with the Father and the Son. Wherefore, saith he, —
“Lastly, It presumeth yet farther, that all true believers do always abide in the external communion of the church; and that when men do not so abide, they plainly declare herein that they never were true believers; which is not only a manifest untruth, but expressly contrary to the doctrine itself of those men who assert the inference; for they teach (as we heard before) that a true believer may fall so foully and so far, that the church, according to the command of Christ, may be constrained to testify that she cannot tolerate them in her external communion, nor that ever they shall have any part or portion in the kingdom of Christ, unless they repent. Doubtless, to be cast out of the church, according to the institution and command of Christ (who commands no such thing but upon very heinous and high unchristian misdemeanours), is of every whit as sad importance as a voluntary desertion of the church’s communion can be for a season.”
598Ans. It supposeth that no true believers fall so off from the church as to become antichrists, opposers of Christ and the church, so as to deny that Christ is come in the flesh; which was the great business of the antichrists in those days. It is true, and granted by us, that a true believer may forsake the outward communion of some particular church for a season; yea, and that upon his irregular walking, and not according to the rule of Christ, he may, by the authority of such a church, be rejected from its communion, for his amendment and recovery into the right way (of which before): but that a true believer can voluntarily desert the communion of the saints, and become an antichrist, that this text denies, and we from it, and the many other witnesses of the same truth that have been produced.
Notwithstanding, then, all Mr Goodwin’s exceptions, there is nothing presumed in the inference we make from these words, but what is either expressly contained or evidently included in them.
But Mr Goodwin will not thus give over. He prefers his exceptions to this testimony in another whole section; which, because the demonstration of the truth in hand from this place, though here handled by-the-by, is of great importance, and such as by its single strength is sufficient utterly to cast to the ground the figment set up in opposition to it, I shall present entirely to the reader, that our author may be heard out, and nothing omitted that he pleads for the waiving of the force of the argument in hand in that whole section. Thus, then, he proceeds:—
“Suppose that these two suppositions be granted to the inference makers, first, that this phrase, ‘To go out from us,’ signifies voluntarily to forsake the society and communion of Christians; and, secondly, that this expression, ‘To be of us,’ signifies true and inward communion with those from whom they went out; yet will not these contributions suffice for the firm building of the said inference. The reason is, because the apostle expressly saith that ‘They would have continued with us;’ not that they would have continued such as they were, in respect of the truth or essence of their faith. And if the apostle’s scope in this place were to prove or affirm that they who are once true Christians, or believers, always continue such, then, when he saith ‘They would have continued with us,’ he must of necessity mean either that ‘They would have continued faithful as we continue faithful,’ or else that ‘They would have continued always in our society, or in the profession of Christianity.’ But that neither of these senses is of any tolerable consistency is evident by the light of this consideration, namely, that the apostle then must have known that the persons he speaks of, and who went out from them, neither were nor ever had been true Christian believers, when they went thus from them. Now, if he had this knowledge of them, it must be supposed either that he had it by extraordinary revelation 599(but this is very improbable, and howsoever cannot be proved), or else that he gained and obtained it by their departure or going out from them: but that this could be no sufficient argument or ground to beget any such knowledge in the apostle concerning them is evident from hence, because it may very easily, and doth very frequently, come to pass that they who are true Christians do not always continue in the society to which they have joined themselves, no, nor yet in the external profession of Christianity itself; yea, our opposers themselves frequently, and without scruple, teach that even true believers themselves may, through fear, or shame, or extremity of sufferings, be brought to deny Christ, and, without any danger of being shipwrecked of their faith, forbear making a profession of the name of Christ afterward.”
Ans. 1. What is meant and intended by these expressions, “Went out from us,” and “To be of us,” hath been declared. We are not to teach the Holy Ghost to speak. Whatever conceit we may have of our own abilities, when we deal with worms of the earth like ourselves, to his will, to his expressions, we must vail and submit. He is pleased to phrase their continuance in the faith, their “Continuance with us;” that is, with the saints in the fellowship and communion of the gospel, which they had with God in Christ. The expression is clear and evident to the purpose in hand, and there is no contending against it.
2. We do not say that it is the direct scope and intent of the apostle in this place to prove that those who are tree believers cannot fall away and depart from the faith, — which he afterward doth to the purpose, chap. iii. 9; but his mind and intendment was, to manifest that those who forsake the society of Christians, and become antichrists and seducers, were indeed never true believers, using the other hypothesis as a medium for the confirmation of this assertion.
3. By that phrase, “They would have continued with us,” the apostle intends their continuance in the society and fellowship of the faithful, by the profession of Jesus Christ, whom now they opposed, denying him to be come in the flesh; that is, They would not have so fallen off as they have done, upon the account of the estate and condition of true believers and real saints, who are kept by the power of God to salvation.
4. The apostle did know, and professed himself to know, that they were not, nor ever had been, true believers, when they were once so gone out from them as they went; as our Saviour Christ professed them not to have been true believers who followed him for a while, and were called and accounted his disciples, when they fell in an hour of temptation. Neither have we the least reason to suppose that the apostle had this knowledge by revelation, seeing the 600thing itself, in reference and proportion to the principles he lays down of the continuance of believers, did openly proclaim it.
5. That true Christians, or believers, can so fall away from the society of the saints as those here mentioned did, is denied, and a grant of it ought not to be begged at our hands. It is true that (as was before granted) a true believer may for a season desert the communion or fellowship of a church wherein he hath walked, and that causelessly; yea, he may be surprised through infirmity to deny, under mighty temptations, in words, for a moment, the Lord Christ, whom yet his heart loves and honours, as in the case of Peter was too evident: but that such an one may forsake the external profession of Christianity, or cease profession-making, and betake himself to a contrary interest, opposing Christ and his ways, as those here insisted on did, that is denied, and not the least attempt of proof made to the contrary.
Whilst I was upon consideration of these exceptions of Mr Goodwin’s to our testimony from this text of Scripture by us insisted on, there came to my hands his exposition on the 9th chapter to the Romans; in the epistle whereof to the reader he is pleased, sect. 6, studiously to waive the imputation of having borrowed this exposition from Arminius and his followers, — an apology perhaps unworthy his prudence and great abilities; which testimony yet, I fear, by having cast an eye on the body of the discourse, will scarcely be received by his reader without the help of that vulgar proverb, “Good wits jump.” But yet on this occasion I cannot but say, however he hath dealt in that treatise, this discourse I have under consideration is purely translated from them, — the condition of very much of what hath been already considered being the same; which I had then thought to have manifested by placing their Latin against his English in the margin. But these things are personal, not belonging to the cause in hand. Mr Goodwin is sufficiently known to have abilities of his own, such as wherewith he hath done, in sundry particulars, considerable service to the truth, — as sometimes they have been unhappily engaged in ways of a contrary nature and tendency.
It being evident, from these considerations, that our author is not able in the least to take off this witness from speaking home to the very heart of the cause in hand, that it may not seem to be weakened and impaired by him in the least, I shall farther consider that diversion which he would entice the words unto from their proper channel and intendment, and so leave the apostasy of the saints dead at the foot of it. He gives us, then, sect. 23, 24, an exposition of this place of Scripture, upon the rack whereof it seems not to speak what formerly we received from its mouth. For the occasion of the words, he says, —
“For the true meaning of this place, it is to be considered that 601the apostle’s intent in the words was, to prevent or heal an offence that weak Christians might take by the doctrine which was taught and spread abroad by those antichrists or antichristian teachers spoken of in the former verse (and they are said to have been many); and that especially because they had sometimes lived and conversed with the apostles themselves in Christian churches, and had professed the same faith and doctrine with them. By reason hereof, some Christians, not so considerate or judicious as others, might possibly think or conceive that surely all things were not well with the apostles and those Christian societies with which they consorted, — that there was something not as it ought to have been, either in doctrine or manners, or both, which ministered an occasion to these men to break communion with them and to leave them.”
Ans. 1. The intendment of the apostle in the context is evidently to caution believers against seducers; acquainting them also with the sweet and gracious provision that God had made for their preservation, in the abiding, teaching, anointing, bestowed on them. In the verse under present consideration he gives them a description of the persons that did seduce them, in respect of their present state and condition. They were apostates, who, though they had some time made profession of the faith, yet indeed were never true believers, nor had had any fellowship with Jesus Christ, as he and the saints had; which also they had abundantly manifested by their open apostasy, and ensuing opposition to the doctrine of the gospel and the eternal life manifested therein.
2. That any Christians whatsoever, from the consideration of these seducers falling away, did entertain any suspicion that all things were not well in that society of which the apostle speaks (not with the “apostles,” which were all dead, himself only excepted, when John wrote this epistle), either as to doctrine or manners, so supposing them to take part with the apostates in their departure, is a surmise whereunto there is not any thing in the least contributed in the text or context, nor any thing like to it, being a mere invention of our author, found out to serve his turn, and confidently, without any induction looking that way or attempt of proof, imposed upon his credulous reader. If men may assume to themselves a liberty of creating occasions of words, discourses, or expressions in the Scripture, no manner of way insinuated nor suggested therein, they may wrest it to what they please, and confirm whatever they have a mind unto.
This false foundation being laid, he proceeds to build upon it; and, suitably thereunto, feigns the apostle to speak what never entered into his heart, and unto that whereof he had no occasion administered:—
“To this,” saith he, “the apostle answereth partly by concession, 602partly by exception. First, by concession, in these words, ‘They went out from us;’ which words do not so much import their utter declining or forsaking the apostles’ communion, as the advantage or opportunity which they had to gain credit and respect both to their doctrine and persons among professors of Christianity in the world, inasmuch as they came forth from the apostles themselves, as men sent and commissioned by them to teach. The same phrase is used in this sense, and with the same import, where the apostles write thus to the brethren of the Gentiles: Acts xv. 24, ‘Forasmuch as we have heard, that certain which went out from us have troubled you with words, subverting your souls, saying, Ye must be circumcised, and keep the law: to whom we gave no such commandment.’ So that in this clause, ‘They went out from us,’ the apostle grants, first, That those antichristian teachers had indeed for a time held communion with them; and secondly, That hereby they had the greater opportunity of doing harm in the world by their false doctrines. But secondly, he answers farther by way of exception, ‘But they were not of us;’ — ‘Whilst yet they conversed with us, they were not men of the same spirit and principles with us. We walked in the profession of the gospel with single and upright hearts, not aiming at any singular greatness or worldly accommodations in one kind or other; these men loved this present world, and when they found the simplicity of the gospel would not accommodate them to their minds, they brake with us and with the truth of the gospel itself at Once.”
Ans. 1. I suppose it is evident, at the first view, that this new gloss on the apostle’s words is inconsistent with that which was proposed for the occasion of them in the words foregoing. There, an aspersion is said to be cast upon the churches and societies whereof the apostle speaks, from the departure of these seducers from them, as though they were not sound in faith or manners; here, an insinuation quite of another tendency is suggested, — as though these persons found countenance in their teachings and seductions from the society and communion which they had had with the apostles, — as though they had pretended to come from them by commission, and so, instead of casting reproach upon them by their departure, did assume authority to themselves by their having been with them. But to the thing itself I say, —
2. That the apostle is not answering any objection, but describing the state and condition of the antichrists and seducers, concerning whom and their seduction he cautioneth believers, hath been formerly, beyond contradiction, manifested and maintained. That expression, then, “They went out from us,” is not an answer, “by concession,” to an objection, but a description of seducers by their apostasy; which words, also, in their regard to the persons as before 603by him described, do manifest their utter declining and forsaking the communion of the saints, they so going from them as also to go into an opposition to the doctrine of the gospel.
3. That the apostle here insinuates an advantage these antichrists had to seduce, from their former communion with him (a thing not in the least suggested, as was observed, in the occasion of the words as laid down by Mr Goodwin himself), is proved from the use of the words, “They went out from us,” Acts xv. 24; whence this undeniable argument may be educed, “Some who went out from the apostles had repute and authority in their preaching thereby; these antichrists went out from the apostle: therefore they had repute and authority thereby!” Younger men than either Mr Goodwin or myself know well enough what to make of this argument. Besides, though there be an agreement in that one expression, all the neighbouring parts of the description manifest that in the things themselves there and here pointed at there is no affinity. Those in the Acts pretended to abide still in the “communion and faith of the apostles;” these here expressly departed both from the one and the other, to an opposition of them both. The former seemed to have pretended a commission from the apostles; these, according to Mr Goodwin himself, did so far declare against them that it was “a scandal to some, fearing that all had not been well among the apostles.”
4. That which is called “an answer by way of exception,” as it lies, the expression of it so used upon the matter is as much as we urge from these words. The import of them is said to be, “ ‘They were not of us.’ Though they were with us, yet they were not such as we are, did not walk in that uprightness of heart as we do; they were not men of the same principles and spirit with us;” — that is, they were not true, thorough, sincere, and sound believers at all, no, not while they conversed with the apostle. Now, evident it is that in those words, — as is manifest by the resuming of them again for the use of an inference ensuing, “For if they had been of us, they would have continued with us,” — the apostle yields a reason and account how they came to apostatize and fall to the opposition of the gospel from the profession wherein they walked; it was because they were not men of thorough and sound principles, true believers: and consequently he supposeth and implieth that if they had been so, they would not, they could not, have so apostatized; for if they might, there had been no weight in the account given of the reason of their revolt.
In what follows, “That these words, ‘But they were not of us,’ do not necessarily imply they were believers formerly, but perhaps they had been so, and were before fallen away, being choked by the cares of the world,” an observation is insinuated directly opposite to the apostle’s design, and such as makes his whole discourse ridiculous. 604An account he gives of men’s falling away from the faith, and he tells them it is because, though they had been professors, yet they were never true believers. “Yea, but perhaps they were true believers and then fell away, and after that fell away;” — that is, they fell from the faith, and then fell from the faith; for that is plainly intimated in and is the sense of this doughty observation.
But to proceed with his exposition, he says, “It follows, ‘For if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us.’ In these words the apostle gives a reason of his exception, telling them to whom he writes that this was a sign and argument that those antichristian teachers were not of them in the sense declared, namely, that they did not continue with them; that is, they quitted their former intimacy and converse with the apostles, refused to steer the same course, to walk by the same principles, any longer with them: ‘which,’ saith he, ‘doubtless they would not have done had they been as sincerely affected towards Jesus Christ and the gospel as we.’ By which assertion John plainly vindicated himself and the Christian churches of his communion from giving any just occasion of offence unto those men, whereby they should be any ways induced to forsake them, and resolves their unworthy departure of this kind into their own carnal and corrupt hearts, which lusted after some fleshly accommodations and contentments that were not to be obtained or enjoyed in a sincere profession of the gospel with the apostles, and those who were perfect of heart with them.”
Ans. First, that no aspersion was cast on John or the “churches of his communion” by the apostasy of the antichrists of whom he speaks, from which he should need to vindicate himself and them, was before declared. There was not, indeed, nor possibly could be, the least occasion for any surmise of evil concerning them from whom men departed in turning ungodly opposers of Christ. For any thing that is here offered, it is but an obscuring of the light that breaks forth from the words for the discerning of the truth in hand. It is granted that the apostle manifests that “they were not of them,” — that is, true, uptight, sound believers, that walked with a tight foot in the doctrine of the gospel, — because they forsook the communion of the saints to fall into the condition of antichristianism, wherein they were now engaged. Now, if this be an argument that a man was never a true believer, in the highest profession that he makes, because he falls from it and forsakes it, certainly those that are true believers cannot so fall from their steadfastness, or the argument will be of no evidence or conviction at all; neither is any thing here offered by Mr Goodwin but what, upon a thorough consideration, doth confirm the inferences we insist upon, and make to the work in hand. Truth will, at one time or other, lead captive those who are most skilful in their rebellion against it.
605What is added, sect. 24, concerning the righteous judgment of God, and the gracious tendency of his dispensations to his church’s rise, in suffering these wretches so to discover themselves, and to manifest what they were, I oppose not. The discovery that was made was of what they had been before, — that is, not true believers, — and not what now they were; yea, by what they now showed themselves to be was made manifest what before they were. Words of the like import you have, 1 Cor. xi. 19, “For there must be also heresies among you, that they which are approved may be made manifest among you.” As here those who fall away are manifested to be corrupt, so there those who abide are to be sincere.
From what hath been occasionally spoken of the intendment and scope of this place, of the design which the apostle had in hand, of the direct sense of the words themselves, — Mr Goodwin’s exceptions to our interpretation of the words and inferences from it being wholly removed, and his exposition, which he advanceth in the room of that insisted on, manifested to be, as to the occasion and scope of the place assigned, utterly foreign unto it, and, as to explication of the particulars of it, not of any strength or consistency for the obscuring of the true sense and meaning of the place, in the eye of an intelligent reader, — it is evidently concluded, beyond all colourable contradiction, that those who are true believers indeed, having obtained communion with the Father and his Son Jesus Christ, cannot fall into a total relinquishment of Christ or of the faith of the gospel, so as to have no portion nor interest in the communion they formerly enjoyed.
To return to Mr Goodwin’s close of this 13th chapter, and “nine arguments,” as he calls them, from which he labours to evince the apostasy of believers, he shuts up the whole with a declamation against and reviling of the doctrine he opposeth, with many opprobrious and reproachful expressions, calling it “an impostor, and an appearance of Satan in the likeness of an angel of light,” with such like terms of reproach as his rhetoric at every turn is ready to furnish him withal, threatening it farther with calling it in question before I know not how many learned men of all sorts, and to disprove it by their testimony concerning it; and so all that is required for its destruction is, or shall be, speedily despatched! God knows how to defend his truth; and as he hath done this in particular against as fierce assaults as any Mr Goodwin hath made or is like to make against it, so I no way doubt he will continue to do. It is not the first time that it hath been conformable to its Author, in undergoing the contradiction of men, and being laden with reproaches, and crucified among the thievish principles of error and profaneness. Hitherto it hath not wanted, in due time, its resurrection, and that continually with a new glory and an added estimation to what before 606it obtained among the saints of God; and I no way doubt but that it will grow more and more until the perfect day, when those opinions and inventions of men, derogatory to the grace and covenant of God, his truth, unchangeableness, and faithfulness, which now make long their shades to eclipse the beauty and lustre of it shall consume and vanish away before its brightness; — in which persuasion I doubt not but the reader will be confirmed with me, upon the farther consideration of what Mr Goodwin’s endeavours are in opposition hereto, wherewith now, by the grace of God, contrary to my first intendment, I shall proceed.
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