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Fife, whether the covenant of grace was conditional or absolute. Mr Erskine, with other accurate divines, Messrs Hog, Bathgate, and his brother, in that province, apprehended that this covenant is, in its making between the Father and the Son, strictly conditional; but in its dispensation, a legacy free to sinners of mankind, and entirely absolute: This they reckoned the scriptural view of the matter, and also agreeable to our standards. With reference to this Mr Erskine makes the following remarks: "I am convinced many dark notions and apprehensions of the gospel flow from mistaking the nature of the covenant of grace, and the proper parties therein, and consequently the proper condition thereof; and though many excellent divines (for whose character I have a very great respect) have represented it as a mutual bargain between God and man, with stipulation and re-stipulation, yet, without disparagement to them, I owe more regard to our excellent standards, agreeable to the word of God, wherein it is held forth as a covenant that was made with Christ as the second Adam, and in him with all the elect as his seed; and if God and Christ be the parties, we may thence consider what are the proper terms, or what is the condition, thereof, and by whom performed. I am persuaded that the general receding from this good old way and manner of speaking, and the confounding of the parties contracting in the covenant of grace, viz. God and Christ, with the parties consenting in a day of power, and brought into the covenant, viz. elect believers, with the confounding of the proper condition of the covenant with the proper qualities of the covenanted, and even the covenant itself with the manner of its manifestation, and the method of its application, and the not duly attending and adhering to our standards in this and the like matters, is at the root of a great deal of mistaken views." + "Some worthy divines make faith the condition of the covenant of grace; but their sound explication of what they mean, shews that they dare not make it the proper condition. If any that pretend to soundness do so, they but expose their darkness, and discover their mistake concerning the covenant of grace, which is a free promise in Christ Jesus, wherein faith itself, and all the blessings that attend it, are freely and absolutely promised. Indeed, conditions on our part, properly so called, would destroy the nature of the gospel, and turn the free covenant of grace into a conditional covenant of works. It would destroy the peace of the poor
The conditionality of the covenant of grace, was a doctrine too common in the
Scottish church at this period. With relation to this Mr Boston says, "I had no great fondness for the doctrine of the conditionality of the covenant of grace. remember that upon a young man's mentioning, in a piece of trial before the Presbytery, the conditions of the covenant of grace, I quarrelled it, having no great gust for faith's being called the condition thereof, but abhorring the joining other conditions with it. Mr Ramsay answered for the young man, that the covenant of grace was indeed a testament, and not, properly speaking, conditional. Herewith I was satisfied, and declared I would not insist, but withal thought it was a pity, that such an improper way of speaking of faith should be used, since it was not scriptural, was liable to be abused, and ready to lead people into mistakes."-Boston's Memoirs.
Preface to Sonnets.
humble sinner, to think that there is such and such a condition to be fulfilled by him before lie meddle with the promise. Then he stands back, he dares not believe, because he wants this and that condition and qualification. This legal dream hardens his heart against the gospel, and fosters his unbelief, to the dishonour of God, and to his own ruin. But if he could see the promise free and absolute, and that there is no condition in the covenant, but Christ's obedience unto death, which is performed to God's satisfaction, then a door is opened to him to plead for all upon this ground, saying, Give me faith, repentance, all grace, for Christ's sake. If faith itself were a condition, the grand objection is, O but I cannot believe. Why, if faith were not absolutely promised, there could be no relief in that strait; the gospel could not be a joyful sound to sinners, that are humbled to see the want of faith. Though the use of means be required both of saints and sinners, and though we be under a command and obligation to faith, repentance, and other duties, yet the covenant of grace is a free, absolute, unconditional promise. There is indeed a condition of order and connection between one promised blessing and another, they being like so many links in a chain: hence, in the dispensation of the gospel, many promises are expressed in a conditional way. But there is not a conditional promise in the Bible, but what is reductively absolute. But I will tell you, there is no conditional form put upon any promise in the Bible, to keep back a soul from applying and taking hold of that promise, but rather to draw it to embrace the promise, in the way of taking Christ for the condition, in whom all the promises are yea and amen, or running to an absolute promise, where that condition is promised."*
This scriptural view of the covenant of grace, adopted by the Westminster divines, Dr Owen, Witsius, Boston, &c. was represented by legal teachers as leading to licentiousness. On this he gives the following hints: "Perhaps some may be saying, The thing that fears me at this occasion is this, I am put all in confusion with the differences that are among you that are ministers. What do I know but the reproach of a new scheme does justly belong to some of you,t and that I may be in a delusion? what do I know, but your way of opening the covenant of grace, may be such as others will call an enemy to the law and holiness?' Why, what shall I say to you? The Lord forbid that we should speak wickedly for God, and talk deceitfully for him. If there be any person here, that never found this doctrine of grace have any other tendency than to lead them to licentiousness, I will pledge my life he is not a believer, but a person ignorant of the mystery of the gospel. But what say you, believer ? cannot your experience bear witness for God and his gracious covenant, that however vile and unholy you find yourself to be, yet when the new-covenant cord of free grace is wrapt about your heart, does it draw you to the love of sin, or to the love of holiness? The more lively faith you have of Christ being your treasure, your righteousness, your covenant, your all for debt and duty both, do you not find holi
• Pregnant Promise, with its Issue.
+ Messrs Hog, Bathgate, &c.
Bess the more lovely to you, and his love constraining you the more to delight in his service? Let the word of God, and the experience of the saints in agreeableness thereto, decide matters of this sort. But, O poor believer! do not fall out with Christ, though even many of his friends should differ with one another; be not stumbled in a day of reproaches and offences. Blessed are they who shall not be offended in Christ."*
Mr Erskine, along with his colleague Mr Wardlaw, joined those worthy ministers who gave in a representation in favour of some truths condemned in Act 5. General Assembly 1720. As appears by his writings, he was a strenuous and zealous advocate for these gospel-truths. He suffered the same obloquy and severe usage from the church-courts, as his other brethren embarked in the same cause did. Under this he says: "Let us not be deterred from gospel principles by the invidious name of a sect; it is better to be under the reproach of men for following Christ, than to be under the curse of God for forsaking him."+"O who would be ashamed of the reproach. of Christ? If ye be reproached for the name of Christ, happy, happy are ye, for the Spirit of God and of glory resteth on you. Who would be ashamed of his truth, though called to bear witness thereunto over the belly of cruel calumny, and bitter opposition from earth or hell." "Now-a-days (1726) the gospel is brought under much disparagement, under much suspicion, as if it were some new dangerous scheme of doctrine, as the Athenians said of Paul, Acts xvii. 19. Yea, it was said of Christ, What new doctrine is this? Such is the natural bias towards the law as a covenant, and so natively does a church and people fall into it, even after and under a profession of sound principles, that when evangelical doctrine comes to be revived in any measure, it is still branded with novelty.” §
Mr Erskine was particularly arraigned before the Synod of Fife, for his concern in the Marrow doctrine. This their act bears in the following words:
"Cupar, Sept. 28, 1721.
"Whereas the Synod of Fife had, by their act at Cupar, 28th of September 1710, enjoined all the ministers in their bounds to observe the form of sound words; and the General Assembly in the year 1720, in their fifth act anent the Marrow of Modern Divinity, did
Christ the People's Covenant.
+ World's Verdict of Christ and his Followers.
The legal scheme of doctrine, maintained by Mr Baxter and others, had now spread its pernicious influence in many places in Scotland, particularly among ministers: this as usual paved the way for exhibiting a charge of Antinomianism against all those ministers who most accurately preached the doctrines of grace, especially those who taught the absolute freeness of the covenant of grace, and the unlimited grant that God had made of Christ, and salvation with him, to mankindsinners as such. Mr Erskine and his associates were enemies to all previous legal qualifications, to be performed by the sinner, in order to fit and qualify us for coming to, and closing with Christ; at the same time, these first-rate divines constantly urged conformity to the law as a rule, and assiduously inculcated the practice of holiness in all its extent.
§ Sermon 55.
strictly prohibit and discharge all the ministers in this church, either by preaching, writing, or printing, to recommend the said book, or in discourse to say any thing in favour of it; but, on the contrary, did thereby enjoin and require them to exhort and warn the people in whose hand the book is, or may come, not to read or use the same: Yet it being represented to the committee for overtures of the Synod, that some brethren within the bounds of this Synod had contravened the same, as —— and —, and also Mr Ralph Erskine of Dunfermline, at a late solemnity, by his advancing tenets and expressions in favour of some doctrines in the Marrow, censured in the said act. The committee, when most of the members of the Synod were present, having heard the said brethren upon the particulars, Mr Ralph Erskine answered, that he had always paid a dutiful respect to the authority of the judicatories of the church, particularly to that of the General Assenibly, and in testimony hereof, had never publicly recommended the Marrow since the act of Assembly 1720, notwithstanding that his mind concerning that act is known. Neither was he resolved to vent himself publicly concerning those truths which he reckons condemned by that act, so long as that affair is in dependence, had he not been obliged thereto, by hearing that he and his brethren subscribers were reproached and misrepresented on that account, as if they had been Antinomians, new schemers, and the like; and that he had at public occasions preached some doctrines which are in terminis in the Marrow; such as, that a believer is not under the law as a covenant of works; that he is neither under the commanding nor condemning power of the law as a covenant.* sides that, he had not meddled with any other doctrines of the Marrow, except such as are contained in the representation given unto the Assembly with his subscription, which he hath never seen ground
"The Synod, upon report of said committee, did, and hereby do, declare their high dissatisfaction with such practices, and strictly enjoin the said brethren, and all the ministers within this Synod, punctually to observe the foresaid Act of Synod and Assembly; with certification, the contraveners shall be censurable by their respective presbyteries and this Synod, according to the demerit of their offences."
The Synod of Fife also, in the bounds of which Mr Erskine lived, in resentment against the Marrow-men, made an act for a new subscription of the Confession of Faith, in agreeableness to the Act of Assembly condemning the Marrow, in order to bring all their members to an unanimous submission. This Mr Erskine refused, declaring at the same time his readiness to renew his subscription to the Westminster Confession and Catechisms, in the sense of the compilers, and as received by the Church of Scotland in 1647, but by no means as they were by the Synod interpreted in agreeableness to the Act of Assembly 1721, in which so many precious truths were con-, demned and injured. This was refused. Afterwards, with the al
* See these excellent Sermons, Vol. II.
lowance of the presbytery of Dunfermline, he subscribed the Confession in the following form:
I Mr Ralph Erskine, minister at Dunfermline, do subscribe the above-written Confession of Faith, as the confession of my faith, according to the above-written formula, conform to the Acts of the General Assembly allenarly.—Dunfermline, March 20, 1729.
"In the same form," says Mr Erskine, "did Mr James Hog in Carnock, and Mr Wardlaw, my colleague, sign the foresaid formula. The word allenarly imported our subscribing not in conformity to an act of the Synod of Fife at that time requiring a new subscription." This controversy Mr Erskine thought eminently important; he offers his judgment about it, and the truths controverted, in several parts of his works. We select a few: "Whereas our fathers transmitted to us, their posterity, precious truths and pure Confessions of Faith, worthy of the name of Reformers; how are we like to transmit to our posterity a world of trash and lumber, instead of precious treasure; while, among other things, old Reformation principles and doctrines are like to be carried down to succeeding generations after us, under the lash of wildness, new schemes and Antinomian cants."* "If we would go back to our Reformers, we would see a gospel-spirit amongst them, but now the gospel-scheme is come under reproach, as if it were a new scheme; and some preach against it, write against it, reason against it, as if it were Antinomianism, and a going off from the law. Why? what is the matter? a legal spirit reigns in the world." + "The law is to be preached indeed, but only in subserviency to the gospel. The sinner must hear what the law hath to charge upon him, that so, when he takes with the charge, he may haste to flee to the discharge that is presented in the gospel-promise, or to Christ, as the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth. None can lawfully preach the law as a covenant, unless they preach Christ as the end of it; nay, nor can any preach the law as a rule, unless they preach Christ as the beginning of it. I mean, Christ for our righteousness, is the end of the law as a covenant, and Christ for our strength, is the spring of our obedience to the law as a rule. Think it not strange we harp so much upon this string, especially in a day wherein the gospel is brought under so much contempt, reproach, and suspicion, as if it were a door of licentiousness." "Now-a-days we are become so far ashamed of the gospel of Christ, that as all imaginable methods have been taken to disparage the preaching of it, so some, that have but a faint inclination to preach! it, are discouraged from meddling too much with this theme, and others betake themselves to a legai strain; or, if they preach grace, it is in such a hampered way, and with so many cautions and circumlocutions, as if there were great danger in preaching free grace, but no danger in preaching the law. Is there need of caution in preaching Christ, and no caution to be used in preaching Moses? I am not against suitable caution on all hands; but it is to be feared there The Pregnant Promise.
Sermon on the Best Bond. + Law Death.