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OF THE NATURE OF REGENERATION, AND ITS NECESSITY, IN ORDER TO JUSTIFICATION AND SALVATION.
For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision availeth any thing, nor uncircumcision, but a new creature.—Galat. vi. 15.
THE point which I am upon from these words is, that, according to the terms of the gospel, nothing will avail to our justification, but the real renovation of our hearts and lives.
For the full explication of this, I propounded to shew,
First, What is implied in this expression of the “new creature.”
Secondly, That this is the great condition of our justification and acceptance with God.
Thirdly, That it is highly reasonable that this should be the condition of our justification.
In speaking to the first of these, I have shewed, first, what this metaphor doth certainly import; and secondly, that it doth not import what some would extend it to, whereon to found such doctrines as these:
First, That as the creation was an irresistible act of the Divine power, so is this new creation, or the conversion of a sinner.
Secondly, As creatures were merely passive in their being made, and contributed nothing at all to it, no more do we in our conversion and regeneration.385
Thirdly, That as the creation of the several kinds and ranks of creatures was effected in an instant, by the powerful word of God, saying, Let such and such things be, and immediately they were; so this new creation is in an instant, and admits of no degrees.
The first of these I have considered, and entered upon the second; namely, that as the creatures were merely passive in their being made, and contributed nothing at all thereto, no more do we in our conversion and regeneration.
This I told yon does plainly make void all the precepts and exhortations, and all the promises and threatenings of Scripture, to argue and persuade men to repentance.
That which remains to be done upon this argument, is,
First, To answer an objection or two, which are commonly urged by the assertors of this doctrine, that we are merely passive in the work of conversion.
Secondly, To give a clear state of this matter, so as is most agreeable to Scripture, and the attributes and perfections of God. For the
First, The objections are these three:
1. That if we be not merely passive in the work of regeneration and conversion, we ascribe the whole glory of this work to ourselves, and not to God.
Or, secondly, We do, however, extenuate or lessen the grace of God, if there be any active concurrence and endeavours of our own towards this change.
Thirdly, They ask St. Paul’s question, “Who maketh thee to differ?” and think it impossible to be answered, if the efficacy of God’s grace do depend 386upon our concurrence and compliance with it. These are all the material objections I know; to every one of which I hope to give a very clear and sufficient answer.
1st Objection. If we be not merely passive in the work of regeneration and conversion, we ascribe the whole glory of this work to ourselves, and not to God. But that I certainly know this objection is commonly made, and have seen it in very consider able authors, I could not believe that men of so good sense could make it. For this is to say, that if we do any thing in this work, though we acknowledge that what we do in it, we do by the assistance of God’s grace, we ascribe it wholly to ourselves, and rob God altogether of the glory of his grace; or, in plainer terms, it is to say, that though we say God does never so much, and we but very little in this work, yet if we do not say that God does all, and we nothing at all, we take the whole work to ourselves, and say God does nothing at all; which let any one that considers what we say, judge whether we say so or no.
The Scripture, which never robs God of the glory of his grace, does I am sure ascribe our conversion and repentance, our regeneration and sanctification to several causes; to the Holy Spirit of God, to his ministers, to his word, and to ourselves. To the Holy Spirit of God, as the principal author, and efficient. Hence we are said “to be born of the Spirit, to be sanctified by the renewing of the Holy Ghost. To the ministers of God, as the instruments of our conversion. Hence they are said “to turn men to righteousness, to convert a sinner from the evil of his ways, to save souls from death, to pave themselves, and them that hear them; to be 387our spiritual fathers, and to beget us in Christ.” To the word of God, as the subordinate means and instruments of our conversion. Hence we are said “to be begotten by the word of truth, to be sanctified by the truth.” And lastly, to ourselves, as concurring some way or other to this work. Hence we are said “to believe and repent, to turn from our evil ways, and to turn to the Lord, to cleanse and purify ourselves.” Hence, likewise, are those frequent commands in Scripture, “to amend our ways and doings, to wash our hearts from wickedness, to repent and turn ourselves, and to make ourselves new hearts and new spirits.” So that all these causes, the Spirit of God, his ministers, his word, and we ourselves, do all some way or other concur and contribute to this effect. God indeed is the principal, and hath so great a hand in this work from beginning to end, that all the rest are nothing in comparison, and we do well to ascribe to him the whole glory of it, “that no flesh may glory in his sight:” but nevertheless, in strictness of speech, sufficiently warranted by Scripture, the ministers of God, and the word of God, and we ourselves, do all co-operate some way or other to our conversion and regeneration; and by ascribing to any of these such parts as they truly have in this work, God is not robbed of any part of the glory of his grace, much less of the whole. Much less is it the ascribing it all to ourselves, whom we affirm to have the least part in it, nor worthy to be mentioned in comparison of the riches of God’s grace towards us. And yet, unless we do something, what can be the meaning of “making ourselves new hearts and new spirits?” Is it only that we should be passive to the irresistible operations of God’s grace? that 388is, that we should not hinder, what we can neither hinder nor promote; that we should so demean ourselves, as of necessity we must whether we will or no. So then “to make ourselves new hearts and new spirits,” is to do nothing at all towards the hinderance or furtherance of this work: and if this be the meaning of it, it is a precept and exhortation just as fit for stones, as for men; that is, very improper for either.
2d Objection. But however, we do extenuate and lessen the grace of God, if there be any active concurrence and endeavours on our part towards this change. For answer to this, three things deserve to be considered:
First, It is very well worthy our consideration, that they who make this objection, have the confidence to pretend that they do not diminish the grace of God, by confining it to a very small part of mankind in comparison; nay, they will needs face us down, that by this very thing they do very much exalt and magnify it, and that the grace of God is so much the greater, by how much the fewer they are that are partakers of it. But I hope they only mean that the grace is greater to themselves (in which conceit there is commonly as much of envy as gratitude); but surely they cannot mean that the grace which is limited to a few, is greater in itself, and upon the whole mat ter, than that which is extended to a great many; it being a downright contradiction, to say that the grace of God is magnified by being confined. For at this rate of reasoning, the lesser it is, the greater it must be, and by undeniable consequence would be greatest of all, if it were none at all. So that it the grace of God may be extenuated in favour 389of ourselves, but when we do so we must say we magnify it.
Secondly, But to come close to the objection; though it be true, that if God’s grace in our conversion do not do all, it does not do so much as if it did all; yet this is really no injury or dishonour to the grace of God; and though in some sense it doth extenuate it, it doth not in truth and reality take off from the glory of it. In my opinion, the grace and favour of a prince is not the less in offering a pardon to a traitor, who puts forth his hand and gladly receives it, than if he forced it upon him whether he would or no. I am sure, it is in the first case much fitter to give it, and he on whom it is conferred much better qualified to receive it. It is no disparagement to a prince’s favour, that it is bestowed on one who is in some measure qualified to receive it. But be it more or less in one case than the other, this is certain, that in both cases the man owes his life to the great grace and goodness of his prince; and I cannot see how it lessens the grace, that the miserable object of it, the guilty and condemned person, was, either by his humble submission, or thankful acceptance of it, in some degree better qualified to receive such a favour, than an obstinate refuser of it.
Thirdly, Which is the principal consideration of all, we must take great heed, that while we endeavour to make God to do all in the conversion of sinners, we do not by this means charge upon him the ruin and destruction of impenitent sinners, which I doubt we should do, if we make the reason of their impenitency and ruin their utter impotency and disability to repent; and we certainly make this the reason of their impenitency and ruin, if 390there be no other difference but this between penitent and impenitent sinners; namely, that in the one God works repentance by an irresistible act of his power, so that he cannot but repent, and denies this grace to the other, without which he cannot possibly repent. But the Scripture chargeth the destruction of men upon themselves, and lays their impenitency at their own door. “O Israel! thou hast destroyed thyself; but in me is thy help;” (Hosea xiii. 9.) But where is the help, when the grace absolutely necessary to repentance is denied? And how is their destruction of themselves, if it is unavoidable, let them do what they can? (Isa. v. 3, 4.) God appeals to his people Israel that no thing was wanting on his part, that was fit and necessary to be done, that they might bring forth the fruits of repentance, and better obedience: “And now, O inhabitants of Jerusalem, and men of Judah, judge I pray you between me and my vineyard: what could have been done more to my vineyard, that I have not done in it? Wherefore, when I looked that it should bring forth grapes, brought it forth wild grapes?” Is it true that God hath done all that was necessary, to have brought them to repentance? Then if irresistible grace be necessary, he afforded them that; but that was not afforded them, because then they must unavoidably have repented, and there had been no cause for this complaint; if he did not afford it, but only the out ward means of repentance without the inward grace (as some say), then it is easy to judge why they did not repent; because they could not; and there seems to be no cause either of wonder, or complaint. Besides that, it will be hard to justify that saying, “What could I have done more to my 391vineyard, that I have not done in it?” when it is acknowledged by the assertors of this doctrine, that the main thing was not done, and that without which all the rest signified nothing, leaving them under the same impossibility of repentance, as if nothing at all had been done to them.
But now, upon our supposition, that sufficient grace was afforded to them, which they wilfully neglected to make use of, the reason and equity of this complaint is evident, and God is acquitted, as having done what was needful on his part, and the sinner justly condemned, for not concurring with the grace of God as he might have done; which shews that we are not merely passive in this work; but something is expected from us, after God hath done his part, which if we neglect to do, our destruction is of ourselves. Whereas the contrary supposition, upon pretence of glorifying God’s grace, by making him to do all in the conversion of sinners, endangers the honour of his justice, by laying the impenitency of sinners, and their ruin consequent upon it, at his door; which is to advance one attribute of God upon the ruin of another; when as it is a fundamental principle of religion, to take care to reconcile the attributes and perfections of God to one another; for that is not a Divine perfection, which contradicts any other perfection.
The third objection is grounded upon that question of St. Paul, (1 Cor. iv. 7.) “Who maketh thee to differ?” which they think impossible to be answered, if the efficacy of God’s grace depend upon our concurrence and compliance with it. For, say they, when God offers his grace to two persons for their repentance, if the true reason why the one repents, and the other remains impenitent, be this, 392that the one complieth with this grace of God, and yieldeth to it, the other resists and stands out against it; then it is not the grace of God which makes the difference, for that is equal to both, but something in themselves, and so it is not God that makes them to differ, but they themselves.
But this question is impertinent to this case. The apostle speaks it concerning spiritual gifts, upon account of which they factiously admired some of the apostles above others, and concerning them the question is very proper, “who maketh thee to differ?” Miraculous gifts were so ordered by God, that men were merely passive in the receiving of them, and contributed nothing to the obtaining of them; and therefore, if one had greater gifts than another, it was merely the pleasure of God that made the difference. But the case is not the same in the graces of God’s Spirit, towards the obtaining and improving whereof we ourselves may contribute something; our Saviour having assured us, that “to him that hath shall be given.” And here the question is not proper, nor is it true, that the grace of God makes all the difference. It is indeed the foundation of all the good that is in us: but our different improvement makes different attainments in grace and goodness. Among those to whom the talents were entrusted, what made the difference between the man who wrapped his talent in the napkin, and buried it, and those who gained double by theirs, but that the one improved the grace conferred on him, the other neglected it, and this without any manner of reflection upon, or diminution of the grace of God, or any danger from St. Paul’s question, “who maketh thee to differ?” Put the case: a pardon is offered to two malefactors, the 393one accepts, the other refuses it; their own choice makes the difference between them; but he that is saved is nevertheless beholden to the king’s pardon for his life; and it were a senseless ingratitude in him, because he accepts the pardon, when the other refuseth it, to say, that he did not owe his life to the grace and favour of his prince, but might thank himself for it; whereas that he was in a capacity to accept a pardon, was wholly due to the clemency of his prince, who offered it to him when he no wise deserved it. In this case the thing plainly appears as it is; by which every man may see, that it is against common sense to pretend that the grace of God is destroyed, if there be any compliance on our part with it: that it is no grace, if it be not forced upon us, and we be not merely passive in the reception of it. I proceed, in the
Second place, To give a clear state of this matter, so as is most agreeable to the doctrine of the Holy Scriptures, and the essential attributes and perfections of God. In order to which, I will give you a short view of the several opinions concerning this matter. And there are two extreme, and two middle opinions, concerning the operation of God’s grace in the conversion of a sinner.
The first of the extreme opinions is, that which all this while I have been arguing against; namely, that all that are converted and regenerated, are wrought upon in an irresistible manner, and are merely passive in it; and that those who are not thus wrought upon, their repentance and conversion is impossible. What the inconveniences of this opinion are, I have shewed at large.
The other extreme opinion is, that none are thus wrought upon, because it would be a violence and 394injury to man’s natural liberty; but that sufficient grace is offered to all, one time or other, who live under the gospel, which they may comply with or resist; and consequently, if they be not brought to repentance, their impenitency and ruin is the effect of their own choice, and God is free from the blood of all men. But this opinion, though infinitely more reasonable than the other, seems not to have any necessary foundation either in Scripture or reason. There are some instances in Scripture of the conversion of men after a very violent, if not an irresistible manner, which seems to be attributed to a particular predestination of God; as that of St. Paul, who says of himself, (Gal. i. 15.) that he was separated from his mother’s womb to that work to which he was called; and the manner of his conversion was answerable to such a predestination; and there is nothing in reason against this, since it is no injury to any man to be made good and happy against his will.
The two middle opinions are these:
First, That irresistible grace is afforded to all the elect, and sufficient grace to all others who live under the gospel (for of those only we speak, the case of others being peculiar, and belonging to the extraordinary mercy of God); but then they say, that none of those to whom this sufficient grace is afforded shall effectually comply with it, and be saved. This opinion seems more moderate, and hath this advantage in it, that it acquits the justice of God in the condemnation of those, who, having sufficient grace afforded to them, did yet notwithstanding continue impenitent; but yet it hath two great in conveniences in it.
First, That this supposition is to no purpose, as 395to any real effect for the salvation of men, because not one person more is saved, notwithstanding this universal sufficient grace, which they say is afforded to all; for they take it for granted it is never effectual; and then it seems very unreasonable to suppose, that a means sufficient to its end should universally prove ineffectual; nay, on the contrary, it is next to a demonstration against the sufficiency of a means, if perpetually and in all instances it fails of its end. This would tempt any man to think that surely there is some defect in it, or something that hinders the efficacy of it; if being perpetually and generally afforded, it doth perpetually and universally miscarry, without so much as one instance among so many millions to the contrary. So that this opinion seems rather to be contrived for a colour and shelter against some absurdity, which men know not how to avoid otherwise, than to serve any good purpose, or to be embraced for the truth and probability of it.
The other middle opinion is, that some are converted in an irresistible manner when God pleaseth, and whom he designs to be extraordinary examples and instruments for the good of others, and that sufficient grace is afforded to others, which is effectual to the salvation of many, and rejected by a great many. And this avoids all the inconveniency of the other opinion, and is evidently most agreeable both to the tenor of Scripture and to the best notions which men have concerning the attributes and perfections of God, and gives greatest encouragement to the endeavours of men. It agrees very well with the solemn declarations of Scripture, that God is not wanting, on his part, to afford men sufficient means to bring them to repentance; that he 396 “desires not the death of a sinner, but rather that he should turn from his wickedness and live;” that “he would have all men to be saved, and to come to the knowledge of the truth;” that “he would not that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance;” that men’s destruction is of themselves. And this makes all the exhortations and motives of Scripture to repentance to be of some force and significancy, and gives encouragement to the resolutions and endeavours of men to be come better. This clearly acquits the justice of God in the condemnation of impenitent sinners, and fixeth the reason of their ruin upon their own choice. This perfectly reconciles the operation and assistance of God’s grace in our conversion and regeneration, in our sanctification and perseverance in a good course, with the concurrence of our own endeavours, and makes those plain texts of Scripture have some sense and significancy in them: “Work out your own salvation; repent and turn yourselves from all your evil ways; make ye new hearts and new spirits.” These are more than a thousand metaphors to convince a man, that we may, and ought to do, something towards our repentance and conversion. And if any man be sure that we neither do nor can do any thing in this work, then I am sure that these texts signify nothing. Finally, those texts which speak most clearly of the necessity of the Divine grace and assistance, to our doing of any thing that is spiritually good, do suppose something to be done on our part. That of our Saviour, “without me you can do nothing,” implies, that with his grace and assistance we can. That of St. Paul, “lam able to do all things through Christ strengthening me,” implies, that what we do by the strength of Christ, 397is truly our own act; “I am able to do all things.” And this does not in the least prejudice nor obscure the glory of God’s grace. St. Paul, it seems, knew very well how to reconcile these two, and to give the grace of God its due, without rejecting all concurrence of our own industry and endeavour: (1 Cor. xv. 10.) “But by the grace of God I am what I am; and his grace, which was bestowed upon me, was not in vain;” not because it was irresistible, and he merely passive in the reception of it; but because he did concur and co-operate with it. So he tells us, “his grace, that was bestowed upon me, was not in vain, but I laboured more abundantly than they all; yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.” So that our concurrence and endeavour in the doing of any thing that is good, does not derogate from the grace of God, provided that we ascribe the good which we do to the assistance of Divine grace, to which it is incomparably more due than to our own activity and endeavour. And so St. Paul does: “I laboured abundantly; yet not I, but the grace of God which was with me.”
So that the glory of God’s grace may be advanced to its due pitch, without asserting that we are merely passive to the operations of it. God’s grace may be abundantly bestowed upon us, and yet we may labour abundantly; God may work in us “to will and to do,” and yet we may work out our own salvation. I have done with the second doctrine, grounded upon this metaphor of a new creature.398
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