Page images
PDF
EPUB

act or course and frequency of actions, but a propension and leaning, as it were, of the heart and soul towards it ? And how comes the heart or soul of a man to propend or lean towards any thing but by apprehending and considering somewhat that is, seemingly at least, if not really also, good for him therein ? And the greater the good is that is apprehended herein, and the clearer, the more raised and multiplied the apprehension is, the greater proportionably, the fuller of strength, vigour, and power must the propension and inclination of the heart and soul needs be thereunto. So that if, 1. There be worth and goodness sufficient in any object whatsoever to bear it; and, 2. If a man be in a capacity of discovering and apprehending this good clearly ; and, 3. Be in a like capacity of revising or considering this his vision as oft as he pleaseth, certainly he is in a capacity and at liberty to work himself to what strength or degree of desire and inclination towards it he pleaseth. Now, evident and certain it is to every man, or else easily may be, 1. That there is more good in abstaining from things, either eminently dangerous or apparently destructive to his soul, than in forbearing things apparently destructive to his natural being. 2. As evident it is that every man is capable of attaining, or coming to the certain knowledge of, and of clearly apprehending this excess of good to him in the former above the latter. 3. Neither is it a thing less evident than either of the former, that every man is as capable of ruminating or re-apprehending the said excess of good as much and as oft as he pleaseth, as he is simply of apprehending it. All which supposed as undeniably true, it follows with a high hand, and above all contradiction, that the saints may, and have means and opportunities fair and full for the purpose, plant an inclination or disposition in themselves to refrain all manner of sins apparently dangerous and destructive to the safety of their souls, fuller of energy, vigour, life, strength, power, than that natural inclination in them which teacheth them to refrain all actions which they know must needs be accompanied with the destruction of their natural beings. Therefore, if they be more, yea, or so much, afraid of destroying their lives voluntarily and knowingly, as by casting themselves into the fire, or the water, or the like, than they are of falling away through sin, the fault or reason hereof, is not at all in that doctrine which affirms and informs them that there is a possibility that they may fall away, but in themselves, and in their voluntary negligence: they have means and opportunities, as we have proved, in abundance, to render themselves every whit as secure, yea, and more secure, touching the latter, as they are, or reasonably can be, concerning the former, The possibility they live under of destroying their natural lives with their own hands doth not occasion the least trouble or fear of death in them in such a way: nor needs the possibility they lie under of falling away, being grounded only upon a possibility of their own voluntary actings, occasion the least

disturbance, uncomfortableness, or fear in their spirits, that they shall fall away. Therefore,

2. To the main objection in hand, I answer further : concerning the manifold weaknesses of the saints, their aptness to sin, &c., these indeed are sufficient and proper to cause them to fear,

but not the fear of falling away from God or from his grace, but that fear which the Scripture is wont to oppose to highmindedness. “ Be not highminded, but fear," Rom. xi. 20. This fear is nothing else but a humble reflection upon a man's own weakness and insufficiency to stand in his own strength, which necessarily draweth along with it a humble dependence upon God for strength whereby to stand, together with an acknowledgment of strength received from him when and whilst he doth stand. This is evident from that of the apostle: Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling," i. e. with humility, with a sense and acknowledgment of no sufficiency as from yourselves for so important a work; “ for it is God that worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure,” Phil. ii. 12, 13; i. e. you are debtors unto him both for every disposition you find in yourselves to act, and likewise for every action wherein you do act, in order to your salvation. But of this passage of Scripture more hereafter, God willing. In the meantime, certain it is that the infirmities and weaknesses of the saints, through which they are apt to sin, do not require any such decree in God which includeth in it an impossibility of their falling away, to render them secure from or against such falling: for as the lighter crosses and discontents which men daily meet with in their household affairs, conversings with men, and dealings in the world, bring them into no danger or fear of making away themselves or destroying their own lives, though there be no absolute decree of God to secure them in this behalf, the natural desire of self-preservation which God hath planted in them, easily overruling, by the power and strength of it, all notions or dispositions towards self-destroying which are wont to arise from such occasions. In like manner, the strength of that inclination or desire which is or ought to be, and very possibly, as hath been proved, might be in the saints to save their souls, and consequently to preserve themselves from apostasy, is sufficient, without any such decree of God as was mentioned, to secure them both from all danger and from all fear of apostatising to destruction, notwithstanding all weaknesses or infirmities that they are subject unto. The truth is, that the infirmities and weaknesses of the saints, as such, are so far from being any necessary or just ground of fear unto them that they shall fall away; that the sense and acknowledgment of them are most clear, pregnant, and effectual antidotes and preservatives against falling away: for he that is inwardly and truly sensible of his own weakness and inability to stand, will, especially being a saint or believer, most certainly depend upon him for strength who is both able and willing to supply and furnish him upon such terms.

3. And lastly, upon the former account, and for a close of this chapter, I answer, that if the doctrine of falling away be so uncomfortable unto the saints as the objection pretends, the truth is, as we have in the premises of this chapter made it appear, they are not much relieved at this point by the received doctrine of perseverance; for this doctrine, as hath been shown, scarce suffereth any man to believe upon any rational, competent, or sufficient grounds that he is a true saint or believer, yea, and doth little less than tempt him to such things which are exceeding apt and likely to fill him with fears and questionings touching the truth of his faith. And what great comfort can it then be unto him to hear or believe that true believers cannot fall away or perish ? whereas the other doctrine leaveth them a good latitude of competent ground whereon to judge themselves true saints and true believers; nor doth it deprive them of sufficient ground on which to secure themselves both against the danger and against all fear of danger of apostatising or falling away to perdition. This doctrine, therefore, of the two, is questionless of the more benevolous aspect and influence upon the peace and comforts of the saints.

CHAPTER X.

A continuation of the former digression ; wherein the texts of Scrip

ture commonly alleged to prove the impossibility of saints' declining unto death, are taken into consideration, and discharged from that service.

Being occasioned, and, after a sort, necessitated, for the securing of some passages of interpretation, (chap. viii.) being of main concernment to the principal cause undertaken in this discourse, to engage home in the question about perseverance, I should, according to ordinary method, and that hitherto observed in the traverse of the main doctrine, first, have argued my sense and judgment in the question κατασκευαστικώς, assertively; and then ανασκευαστικώς, i. e. by answering such objections, whether from Scripture or otherwise, which are wont to be levied by men of contrary judgment in opposition thereunto. But finding by experience that weaker men, through too much fulness and abundance, in their own sense, in matters of controversy, and this chiefly by means of some texts of Scripture running still, and working in their heads, which in sound of words, and surface of letter, seem to stand by them in their sense and notion, are under a very great disadvantage, either for minding or understanding such things which are spoken unto them for their information in the truth; I thought it best, for their relief in this case, to invert that method in the present dispute; and first to endeavour to take from them those weapons, whether of Scripture

ever.

or argument, wherein they trust; and afterwards present them with such other Scriptures and grounds which are able, pregnant, and proper, to build them up, and establish them in the truth.

We shall not tie ourselves to any rule, or prescript of order, in bringing those Scriptures upon the theatre of our discourse, which men of differing judgment in the cause in hand are wont to plead in defence thereof, themselves, as far as I have observed, observing none; but shall produce them one by one, as God shall please to bring them to mind, unless, haply, two or more of them, by reason of affinity or likeness in phrase or import, may commodiously enough be handled together. Most of the places compelled to serve in this warfare I find situate in the New Testament. The first that cometh to hand is that of our Saviour unto Peter, “ And upon this Rock will I build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it,” Matt. xvi. 18. From hence it is argued, that those that are once built by faith upon the Rock, Christ, or upon the truth of the gospel, are not in danger, or in a possibility of being prevailed against, viz., to destruction, by all the powers of darkness whatso

I answer, 1. That this promissory assertion of Christ, “ the gates of hell shall not prevail, &c., doth not necessarily respect every individual and single person who de præsenti is a member of his church, so as to secure him of his salvation, against all possible sins, or ways of sinning, whereunto he may or can be drawn by Satan; but may well be understood of the church in general, i.e. considered as a body of men, separate and distinguished from the world. Now the church, in this sense, may be said to stand, and be secured against all the power and attempts of the devil, though not only some, but even all the particular saints, of which this body consists at present, should be prevailed against by Satan to destruction. Because the ratio formalis, or essence of the church, in this sense, doth not consist in the persons of those who do at present believe, and so are members of it; for then it would follow, that in case these should die, or when they shall die, Christ should have no church at all upon the earth, inasmuch as nothing can be without the essence of it; but in the successive generation of those who, in their respective times, believe, whether they be fewer or whether they be more, whether they be such and such persons, or whether others. As

suppose there be not now one drop of that water in the channel of the river of Thames, as it is like there is not, which was in it seven years since, yet is it one and the same river which it was then: and so put the case there be not one person now alive in any of the companies in London of which they respectively consisted forty years since, yet are they the self same companies which they were then. So, then, the saying of Christ, that “the gates of hell shall not prevail against his church,” may stand clear and firm, though many particular members thereof should be overcome. Therefore there is nothing in this Scripture to evince that universal

perseverance of all saints which is commonly taught and received amongst us.

2. When our Saviour promiseth that “ the gates of hell shall not prevail against his church,” his meaning, questionless, is this, that death, or the grave, which may very properly be called “the gates of hell,” because they that go, or are sent to hell, enter by them thereinto, or else that hell itself “shall not prevail,” i.e. shall not have a full or final conquest over those that shall die, built upon the rock he speaks of, by faith, as, by reason of their most formidable strength, they are like to have over all other men. According to this interpretation, his meaning only is, that those that shall continue firmly built upon him by faith shall in time be rescued and delivered out of the hand of all adverse powers, yea, from death and the grave themselves, the most formidable of all others.

This exposition fully accords with what Chrysostom hath upon the place. * “ If,” saith he, paraphrasing the words of Christ, they shall not prevail against it, (my church,') much more shall they not prevail against me. Therefore, be not troubled when thou shalt hear that I shall be betrayed and crucified."* These words clearly imply, that by " the prevailing of the gates of hell,” the author understands the final prevailing of death or the grave; and not the prevailing of Satan by subtlety or temptations in one kind or other.

Amongst our late Protestant divines, Cameron, who commonly strikes as happy a stroke in opening the Scriptures which he undertakes as any man, doth not only deliver, but with a high hand asserts, argues, and evinceth this interpretation. “This then," saith he,

seems to have been the mind of Christ in this place: Let those who believe, lie for a time dead, let death have dominion over them, let death exercise his right (or execute his law) upon them, hold them fast shut up in the grave, as in a prison, bound with bands or fetters, yet shall he not always have his will over them; he may or shall do much against them, but shall never have a full conquest over them.”+ This exposition he confirms, 1, by instancing several other places of Scripture, as Job xxxviii. 17; Psa. ix. 13; cvii. 18; in all which, by the gates of hell," or of death, is clearly meant the grave. To which he adds, Psa. xviii. 16, and cxvi. 3, as places of affinity with these. 2. By showing that the word çồns, here translated hell, is never in Scripture, except once, used to signify hell, properly so called, i. e. the place or state of the damned, but constantly, either the grave, or the state and condition of those that are dead. 3. By minding us that qons and Dávaros, the grave and death, are elsewhere termed the enemies of the church, yea, the last enemies, as 1 Cor. xv. 26; to which he

* Ει δε εκείνης ουκ αντισχύσεσι, πολλώ μάλλον εμού ώστε μη θορυβηθής, επειδάν μελλής ακούειν, ότι παραδοθήσομαι, και σταυρωθήσομαι.

+ Hæc ergo Christi hoc in loco mens fuisse videtur : Jaceant fideles ad tempus demortui, mors in illos dominetur, exerceat jus suum, in sepulchro (veluti in carcere) eos teneat conclusos et vinculis quasi constrictos, haud tamen usque et usque obtinebit: valebit quidem certè, at non prevalebit, ισχύσει μέν, ούγε μεν κατισχύσει.

« PreviousContinue »