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From reason, and the nature of things, it is objected,
1. That for men to be so kept by the power of God, that it is impossible they should fall away, is inconsistent with their being left to act as free agents. A creature left to the freedom of his own will, it is said, may choose the way which leadeth to destruction: nor can he be kept from this by the power of another, without being deprived of all power of his own, of acting freely. To this I answer,
1. If to keep men so that they cannot destroy themselves, be an infringement of the privilege of free agency; then, to be kept in any measure from sin and folly, must be an infringement of the same kind, though not in the same degree. According to the principle of this objection, God cannot restrain or influence men at all, by his Holy Spirit, without so far depriving them of freedom.
2. If being secured from apostacy and perdition by divine power, be inconsistent with human freedom in this world, it must be equally so in the world to come. Consequently, according to this objection, there can never be any such thing as the confirmation of rational creatures in holiness and happiness, without depriving them of all power of will
, and making them mere machines. On supposition it will ever be possible for moral agents to be secured from destruction, why should it not, in the nature of things, be as possible in this world as in any other? But if God Almighty can never keep a free agent from sinning unto death, the moral creation is certainly in a very evil case. I answer, therefore,
3. The present objection is doubtless grounded on some wrong idea, either of moral agency, or of the manner of divine operation in keeping rational creatures from sin, and exciting them to duty. When good men are kept unto salvation by the pow.
er of God, it is not by any forcible restraint, or constraint, contrary to their own dispositions. God doth not work in them to do, whether they will or not; but first he works in them to will : and when once they are made willing, they act with freedom. As far as any one acts his own choice, he is a free agent. Or, will it be said, an agent is not free, un. less he could will contrary to what he wills, as well as do contrary to what he does, if he would ? Will any one insist upon it, that the essence of freedom, is to be able at any time, to will right, or to will wrong: to choose to do evil, or to choose to do well ? But let us see to what this will lead. If this be es. sential to freedom, certainly God himself is not free. He can do whatever seemeth good in his sightwhatever he will : but he cannot will contrary to his will-contrary to his nature-contrary to his moral perfections. He cannot do, because he cannot will, any thing but what is wise, just, and good. Were not this the case, his infinite wisdom, justice and goodness, would be no ground of certainty, that he might not act in the weakest, most unrighteous, and worst manner, of any being in the universe. Let this notion of freedom, as essential to moral agency be true ; that it must imply a power to will and do this way or the other, contrary to one's own mind, as well as according to it; and there is an end, not only of all possible confirmation of creatures, but of all immutability in the Supreme Being, further than free agency is overthrown. God is free, because he ever does what seemeth him good : not because it might seem good to him to do the reverse of what he does, in all instances, or in any instance. So likewise men are free, whenever they act their own choice : or whenever they choose to act according to their own disposition. This they may do, and yet be kept from ruining themselves, by having a good disposition given them, and kept alive in them; and by being habitually influenced to love the
ways of holiness, and to hate every evil and false way. But,
2. It is still objected, that for men to be so kept as to render it impossible they should fail of eternal life, is inconsistent with their being in a state of probation : for what probation can there be of those who are so upheld that they cannot fall so justified that they can never come into condemnation?
I answer : to be able to judge whether there be any weight in this, what is meant by a state of probation must be understood. I understand by it, a state of trial, in order to a righteous retribution. Now, if men may be kept unto salvation, and yet be free agents, why may they not be so kept, consistently with all the ends of a proper state of probation? In order to a fair trial of men, it is only necassary that they should be able to act themselves, and to discover what is in their hearts. It is not needful by any means, that there should be no divine influence to incline them to good, or to keep them so inclined. Nor is it requisite that they should have a power of will, to give themselves a contrary inclination. It may be known what they are, with . out their being able to make themselves otherwise, That God is good, he discovers by doing good; not. withstanding his goodness is necessary and unalterable : and in like manner, men may discover the goodness of their dispositions, though they cannot will, or wish, to have opposite dispositions. That they have faith, may be manifest by their works, though both the beginning and continuance of their faith be from God, and not of themselves. Creatures need not be independent of their Creator, in order to its being known what they are, or what they deserve. They may be made upright, and kept upright, by divine power ; and yet their uprightness be as real, as discoverable, and as justly rewardable, as if it had been self-created, and self-kept.
Such a self-determining power of will as some contend for, is so far from being necessary to discover what is in a man's heart, that it would render a discovery of it altogether impossible. Had God a power of willing and acting contrary to his perfecsions ; what his perfections are, could never be at all known from his works. And had men the power of producing volitions in themselves, and of conducting contrary to their dispositions, what their dispositions are, could not be at all ascertained by their actions. Our Saviour
By their fruits ye shall know them.” And he gives the reason—the only possible reason : “A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit; neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit.” If a good man, out of the good treas. ure of his heart, might bring forth evil things; and an evil man, out of the evil treasure, might bring forth good things; how could one ever be known from the other, by their fruits? The design of a state of probation is to discover what is in men's hearts : but had men such a self-determining power of will, that the sinner might act like a saint, and the saint like a sinner, in spite of their hearts, how could this end ever be obtained by any probation ? Were men made to act contrary to their own hearts, by divine power, the end of a state of probation would indeed be frustrated. But this is not the way that God keeps good men. He works in them to will, agreeably to the new heart which he has given them. The doctrine of the saints' perseverance, is therefore no way inconsistent either with their free agency, or with their being proper subjects of a state of probation.
Yet, after all : the bad tendency of this doctrine, is alledged against it, as a serious and weighty objection. We are told, the natural and necessary tendency of it is, to encourage those who think themselves saints, in carelessness and sin : for what occasion have persons to give themselves any con
cern about what they believe, or how they live, when there is no possibility of their being lost, or failing of eternal life?
To which we answer : A misunderstanding of the doctrine of the saints' perseverance, has a tendency to encourage self-deceived hypocrites in inattention and licentiousness, and may often have this effect; but not the doctrine itself, rightly understood. Did we teach that true believers may become unbelievers, or that those who have been born of God may live in sin, like the world that lieth in wick, edness, and yet, that they will infallibly be saved, the objection would be just. But it is not so, when our doctrine is, that all real saints are kept unto salvation, “ through sanctification of the Spirit, and belief of the truth.” What encouragement can this give, to cast off fear, to neglect prayer, to be inattentive to the word, or to live in allowed transgression and disobedience ? The grace of God which bringeth salvation, effectually keeps true believers from all these. Those, therefore, who are not thus kept, have no part nor lot in the comfort of this doctrine ; for they have abundant reason to conclude, that they were never in a state of
grace. It only remains that we apply the subject, in two or three serious practical inferences.
1. Hence we should hold fast, and contend earnestly for, this doctrine.
It appears very evidently, I apprehend, that the infallible safety of all true believers in Christ, is a plain article of the faith once delivered to the saints ; and that the most specious objections against it have no solid foundation, in scripture or reason : and we may easily see that it is a very important doctrine. In regard to the comfort and edification of saints, it is certainly of great importance. Without it, the heirs of promise could not have that strong consolation which God is willing to give them. They could