PREVIOUS CHAPTER - NEXT CHAPTER - HELP - FB - TWITTER - GR VIDEOS - GR FORUMS - GR YOUTUBE
THE decree of reprobation is said to be “contrary both to the nature and will of God, to his perfections, attributes, and glory.” It must be allowed, that the nature and will of God, and not the nature and fitness of things, as some say, are the rule and measure of the divine conduct. God cannot do any thing contrary to his nature and the perfections of it; as for instance: he cannot do any thing contrary to his justice and holiness, for he is without iniquity; nor to his truth and faithfulness, for he cannot lie; nor indeed, to any other perfection of his nature, for he cannot deny himself. If therefore the decree of reprobation is contrary to the nature and perfections of God, it ought to be rejected as against the will of God for the nature and will of God never contradict each other; and yet it is certain, that reprobation is according to the will of God; Whom he will, he hardeneth. ( Romans 9:18,22.) And, what if God, willing to show his wrath, and make his power known, etc. Besides, his making or appointing the wicked for the day of evil, ( Proverbs 16:4.) is for himself, for his own glory, as well as his making or appointing all other things: so that reprobation, or appointing the wicked to destruction, as it is not contrary to the will of God, so neither to the perfections of his nature, and the glory of them. But let us attend to what is offered in proof of this assertion, that the decree of reprobation is plainly contrary to the nature and will of God. And, I. It is observed, that “God doth immutably and unchangeably, and from the necessary perfection of his own nature, require that we should love, fear, and obey him. — That he cannot but be desirous that all men should imitate his moral and imitable perfections of holiness, justice, truth, goodness, and mercy, all which is agreeable to the light of nature and revelation; and therefore he cannot have decreed, that the greatest part of men should be for ever left under an incapacity of loving, and fearing, and obeying him; and seeing he must earnestly desire that all men should be holy, righteous, kind, and merciful, he cannot have ordained they should be otherwise, for want of any thing on his part to make them so; much less can he command them under the penalty of his severe displeasure, so to be, and yet ‘leave them under an incapacity of being so.” To which I reply: 1. It will be granted, that God requires all men, and it is their indispensable duty, to love him with all their heart, soul, and strength, to fear him always, and keep his commandments; and that he desires that all men should imitate him in his moral perfections; all which the heathen sages were, in some measure acquainted with by the light of nature; and which God has more clearly discovered as his will to his people, under the various revelations he has made: but then none of these things contradict the decree of reprobation; for they only express God’s will of command, and show what is man’s duty to do; and which, if done, would be grateful and well-pleasing to God, and approved of by him, but not his will, determining what shall be done. Now could it be proved, that God has willed, that is determined that all men should love, fear, and obey him, all men would do so; for, who hath resisted his will? This, indeed, would contradict a decree of reprobation; then a decree to reject or punish any part of mankind could never be supposed. But for God to require all men to love, fear, and obey him, and to signify that these things are approved of by him, are no contradictions to any decree of his, to leave some men to themselves, to the freedom of their own wills, or to any determination of his, to punish them who do not love, fear, and obey him. 2. It is certain, that all men, in a state of nature, are in an incapacity to love, fear, and obey God; the carnal mind is so far from loving, that it is enmity against God; there is neither any fear of God in the heart or before the eyes of an unregenerate man; nor is he subject to the law of God, or obedient to it; neither, indeed, can he be, without the grace of God. ( Romans 8:7. and Romans 3:17.) Now this incapacity arises from sin, and the corruption of nature; and therefore, as it no way lessens men’s obligations to love, fear, and obey God, nor weakens his authority to require these things, so it is not to be ascribed to the decree of reprobation.
Could it be thought that such a decree puts men into an incapacity to love, fear and obey God; it would be apparently contrary to his moral perfections, and unworthy of him. But reprobation does not, in any view of it, render men incapable of these things; for, consider the objects of preterition either as fallen or unfallen creatures; if as unfallen, it finds and leaves them so, without putting them in an incapacity, or supposing them in an incapacity to love, fear, and obey God; and therefore neither finds nor leaves them in such an incapacity; if as fallen creatures, it finds them in this incapacity; and seeing this is owing to themselves, it cannot be contrary to his moral perfections to leave them in it, or to determine to leave them in it. 3. Let it be observed, that it is the grace of God only that can remove this incapacity, or make men incapable of loving, fearing, and obeying him. “We love God, because he first loved us;” love is a fruit of the Spirit, and the produce of his grace. An heart to fear the Lord, is a part of the new covenant; in which covenant God has also promised to put his Spirit within his people, to cause them to walk in his statutes, and keep his judgments, and do them. ( 1 John 4:19; Galatians 5:22; Jeremiah 32:39,40; Ezekiel 36:27.) Now the grace of God is his own, and he may do what he will with it, bestow it on whom he pleases, and withhold it from whom he thinks fit, without any impeachment of his moral perfections; wherefore to leave men without his grace, and in an incapacity of loving, fearing, and obeying him, and to determine to do so, even though he determines and approves of these things, cannot be contrary to the perfections of his nature. For, 4. It is not to be doubted of, that God requires the very devils to love, fear, and obey him; they are under obligation to these things, and it is their sin that they do not do them; and should they be done by them would be approved of by God: and yet they are not only in an incapacity to do them, but are all of them: and that for ever, left in this incapacity. Now if it will comport with the moral perfections of God, to leave the whole body of apostate angels, for ever, in an incapacity of loving, fearing, and obeying him; though he requires these things of them, and they would be grateful to him if done, it cannot be contrary to the perfections of his nature, to leave, and to determine to leave, even the greatest part of mankind, and that for ever, in such an incapacity. 5. It is a misrepresentation of the decree of reprobation, that God has ordained that men should not be holy, righteous, kind, and merciful, for want of anything on his part requisite to make them so. Since, though by this decree God has determined to deny them his grace to make them so, yet he has not by it ordained that they should be unholy, unrighteous, unkind, and unmerciful; only has determined to leave them to themselves, and the freedom of their own wills, which issues in their being so, wherefore their being so, is not to be ascribed to the denial of his grace, much less to his decree to deny it, but to their own wickedness; nor is his command, even under the penalty of his severe displeasure, that they be holy, righteous, kind, and merciful, inconsistent with his leaving them, or his determining to leave them in an incapacity of being so; since, as has been shown, that incapacity is from themselves.
II. The decree of reprobation is represented as “contrary to the mercy of God, and as charging him with cruelty and want of compassion to the greatest part of mankind.” The mercy of God is either general or special.
From a share in this, the decree of reprobation does not exclude any man; reprobates may have a larger share of providential mercies and goodness than others; wherefore the decree of reprobation is not contrary to the mercy of God in general. The special mercy of God, as it is guided by the sovereign will of God; for he hath mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will, he hardeneth; ( Romans 9:18.) so it is, indeed, limited to the elect, who are styled vessels of mercy, in distinction from the non-elect, who are called vessels of wrath. This mercy, which lies in pardoning sin, in regenerating men’s hearts, in their final perseverance and complete salvation, the decree of reprobation denies to the objects of it; with such a mercy dispensing these blessings of grace to all men, the decree of reprobation cannot stand, we freely own: but then it does not appear to us that there is any such mercy in God, dispensing, pardoning, regenerating, and persevering grace, to all men, for there are some, that he that made them will not have mercy on them, and he that formed them will show them no favor; ( Isaiah 27:11.) could it be proved that there is such a mercy in God, preparing for. and giving the special blessings of grace to all men the decree of reprobation must at once be exploded. But though this decree is opposite to any such .mercy in God towards those who are included in it,, yet it is no ways contrary to the mercy of God shown to the elect; wherefore we cannot but conclude, that our doctrine represents God as merciful, yea, more merciful than that which is opposite to it; since, according to our doctrine, God, of his abundant grace and mercy, has determined to give pardoning, regenerating, and persevering grace, to a certain number of men, whereby they shall be infallibly saved, when he denies it to others; whereas, according to the contrary scheme, God has not absolutely chosen one single person to salvation; but his choice proceeds upon their faith, repentance, and perseverance; which also are left to the power and will of man; so that at most, the salvation of every man is precarious and uncertain, nay, I will venture to say, entirely impossible.
I proceed to consider the particular instances of the cruelty and unmercifulness of the decree of reprobation. 1. The Supralapsarian scheme is greatly found fault with; and it is asked, What can be supposed more cruelly of God, than that he should, of his mere will and pleasure, appoint men nondum consideratos ut condendos, not yet considered as to be created, much less as sinners, to the everlasting torments of hell?” “I observe, that this learned writer greatly mistakes the Supralapsarian scheme: which considers the objects of election and reprobation as men either already created, but not fallen, or to be created, and in the pure mass of creatureship, but not as men not yet considered, whether they should be created or no. Besides, he confounds, as these men usually do, the decree of negative with positive reprobation, or the decree of preterition with that of damnation; whereas the Supralapsarians, though they think men were not considered as sinners in the act of preterition, or passing by some, when others were chosen; yet they always suppose men to be considered as sinners in the decree of damnation, and that God appointed none but sinners, and no man but for sin, to everlasting torments; and where is the cruelty of this doctrine? 2. The Sublapsarians are represented as thinking unworthily of God; who, knowing that all the lapsed sons of Adam were equally the objects of his pity and compassion equally capable of his mercy, and equally his offspring, and so no more unworthy of it than the rest, believe that his decrees of governing and disposing of them are wholly founded on such an absolute will, as no rational or wise man acts by; so that he determines of the everlasting fate of the souls he daily doth create, after the fall of Adam, without respect to any good or evil done by them, and so without respect to any reason why he puts this difference, or any condition on their parts; and yet afterwards, in all his revelations, made in order to the regulating of their lives, suspends their everlasting state upon conditions.” I reply, that all the lapsed sons of Adam are equally the offspring of God, as men, and equally capable of his mercy, as being miserable; and equally unworthy of it, as having sinned against him; and therefore the reason why he shows mercy to one, and not to another, can be no other than his sovereign will and pleasure; who hath mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth. But then it is intimated, that “this is to believe, that God’s decrees of governing and disposing of men, (by which I suppose is meant, his decrees of showing mercy to some, and withholding it from others,) are wholly founded on such as absolute will, as no rational or wise man acts by.” But it should be observed, that neither the mercy nor the will of God are to be compared with the mercy and wilt of man. The mercy of God is not to be considered, quoad affectum, as an affection moved by the misery of a creature, as it is in man, but quoad affectum, as an effect guided by the sovereign will of God, to whatsoever object he thinks fit; nor is the will of God to be judged of by the will of man, since he does according to his will in heaven and in earth, and is accountable to none of his creatures; there is a ba>qov, a depth in the riches of his wisdom and knowledge, that is unfathomable, his judgments are uusearchable, and his ways past finding out. ( Daniel 4:35; Job 33:13: Romans 11:33.)
Besides, wise and rational men, whose wills are the most absolute, as kings and princes, when their subjects have rebelled against them, and have fallen into their hands, have thought it most advisable to show both their clemency and justice, by pardoning some, and not others, who were equally their subjects, equally objects of their pity and compassion, equally capable of mercy, and no more unworthy of it than the rest; so that such a method in justified by the conduct of the wisest and most rational men. But the most cruel part seems to be thought to lie in “determining the everlasting fate of the souls he daily doth create after the fall of Adam, without respect to any good or evil done by them.” By determining the everlasting fate of souls, I apprehend is meant, God appointing them either to salvation or damnation. Now, God’s appointment of men to salvation, that is, to eternal glory, is not without respect to any good firing done by them, but with respect to their faith, repentance, and perseverance: for God chooses to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit, and belief of the truth; though not with respect to these, as causes of his decree, but as means unto the end, or as graces which he prepares, determines to bestow, and does bestow upon them, in order to bring them to glory: so that their everlasting fate is not determined without respect to any good done by them, nor without any reason on the part of God, though without conditions on their parts. So the determining the everlasting fate of souls, or the appointing of them to damnation, is not without respect to evil done by them: though this is to be considered, not as the cause of God’s decree, which is his own sovereign pleasure, but as the cause or reason of the thing decreed: so that this is not without reason on the part of God, nor without cause on their parts. And hence the entrance of each of these persons upon their everlasting state, so determined, though not the determination of it, is suspended until these several things take place. And where is the injustice or unmercifulness of such a procedure? But, perhaps the cruelty lies here, that “God determines of the everlasting fate of the souls he daily doth create after the fall of Adam;” the meaning of which is, either that God has determined the everlasting fate of souls, and appointed them to damnation after the fall of Adam, which is what we deny; since no decree or determination of God is temporal, but eternal: or that God has appointed men to damnation for the sin of Adam, in consideration of his fall, and their concern in it a doctrine, by no means to be rejected, since death hath passed upon all men: for that, or in him, that s, Adam, all have sinned ( Romans 5:12,18.); and by the offense of one, judgment came upon all men to condemnation; it can never be unworthy of God, or contrary either to his justice or mercy, to determine the everlasting fate of men, considered as fallen in Adam, by resolving to punish some and spare others. Though none, as I know of, affirm, that God has appointed such wire live to riper years, to damnation purely for the sin of Adam, but for their own actual transgressions; and as for such who die in infancy, God’s determinations about them are a secret to us; and if they perish, it is for, and in the corruption of nature in which they are born. Or the meaning is, that “it must be a piece of cruelty in God, daily to create souls after the fall of Adam, whose everlasting fate was before determined, without any respect to good or evil, done by them.” Now, though God’s decree or determination concerning the final state of man, was before they had done either good or evil, nor was good or evil the cause of his decree; yet neither salvation nor damnation were decreed without respect to good or evil, as has been shown; and, therefore, it could not be unworthy of God to bring creatures into being, whose everlasting fate he had before determined, no, not after the fall of Adam; since the souls he has since created, and daily does create, are not made sinful by him, nor are they created by him for misery, but for his own glory. 3. This decree is represented as unworthy of the God of love and mercy, since it “leaves men incapable of salvation; and then God not only bids them save themselves, invites, encourages, sends messengers to entreat them to be reconciled, knowing he doth all this in vain, when he does no more; and then eternally torments them for neglecting that salvation; though he knows they never call do otherwise, without that grace which he hath absolutely purposed for ever to deny to, or withhold from them.” I answer: negative reprobation, or the act of preterition, in the Supralapsarian way, neither finds nor leaves men incapable of salvation; but as it finds so it leaves them, in the pure, unfallen, and uncorrupted mass.
The decree of damnation finds and leaves men sinners; yet not the decree, but final impenitence and infidelity, leave them incapable of salvation; for the gospel declaration is indefinitely made, Whosoever believeth shall be saved ( Mark 16:16): but though the Gospel is preached or published to all men, yet God no where bills all men to save themselves; nor does he anywhere invite, encourage, or, by his messengers, entreat all men to he reconciled to him.
Peter, ( Acts 2:40.) indeed, exhorted and encouraged the three thousand converts to sure themselves from that untoward generation, among whom they lived, by separating from them, and professing the name of Christ: and the apostle Paul entreated ( 2 Corinthians 5:20.) the members of the church at Corinth, to be reconciled to God neither of which were ever thought to be placed under any absolute decree of reprobation. And though no man, without the gram of God, can savingly and cordially embrace the Gospel, and that salvation which it publishes; which grace God is not obliged to give, and which he may determine to deny to and withhold from men, without any impeachment of his perfections; yet it is not the denial of his grace, nor his purpose to deny and withhold it, that is the cause of their neglecting and despising the Gospel of salvation, but their own iniquity, for which they are justly punished. Besides, though this is an aggravation of condemnation, ( John 3:19.) that the light of the Gospel, and the good news of salvation by Christ, are come into the world, and men love .the darkness of sin, error, and infidelity, rather than these; yet God does not eternally torment them merely for the contempt of the Gospel and their unbelief, but for their many sins and transgressions against his law. 4. It is observed “that sorely he thinks more worthily of the God of love and mercy, who looks upon him as an universal lover of the souls of men, who therefore would have all men to be saved, and gives them all things necessary unto life and godliness; draws them to him with the cords of a man, the cords of love, and by the most alluring promises, and by the strivings of his holy Spirit; swears to them, that he would not they should perish; warns them of, and conjures them to avoid the things which tend to their eternal ruin; directs them to the means by which they may certainly escape it; rejoiceth more at the conversion of one sinner, that at the righteousness of ninety-nine persons who need no repentance: and when all the methods of his grace are lost upon them, breaks forth into compassionate and melting wishes, that they had known the things which belong to their eternal peace!” But it unhappily falls out for this author, that not one part of this pathetic harangue can be applied to all the individuals of mankind, as it should, to prove that the God of mercy and love is an universal lover of the souls of men, respecting their everlasting salvation. It is not the determining will of God, that every individual of human nature should be saved: for then every one of them would be saved; besides, whom he wills should be saved, he wills that they should come to the knowledge of the truth: ( 1 Timothy 2:4.) whereas, to multitudes, he does not so much as afford the means of knowledge. Nor does he give to all men all things necessary to life and godliness, only to those whom he calls to glory and virtue, to whom are given exceeding great and precious promises, and who are made partakers, of the divine nature. ( 2 Peter 1:3,4.) Nothing is more untrue, than that God draws all men with the cords of love; for as none can come to Christ, and believe in him, but whom the Father draws, so all that he draws in this manner come to him, and are saved by him. The persons he swears he would not that they should perish, or die, but live, were not all mankind, but the house of Israel, and respects not their eternal but temporal ruin; as the compassionate, melting wishes of Christ, regard not the eternal, but temporal peace of Jerusalem.
To conclude: where is the mercifulness of this universal scheme, and how unworthy is it of the God of love, that after all the kind things spoken of to men, all the methods of his grace should be lost upon them, be it even through their own wickedness; when it lay in the power of his hands, had it been in his heart, notwithstanding all their wickedness, to have made them effectual?
III. The decree of reprobation is objected to as “irreconcileable with the wisdom of God:” this, if it can be fairly made out, must remove any such decree from God; for nothing unbecoming that glorious perfection of Deity ought to be ascribed to him. Though it should be observed, that we finite, shortsighted creatures, who are of yesterday, and know nothing, comparatively speaking, are very improper judges of what does or does not become the wisdom of God to do. But, 1. We are desired to “consider, whether he conceives more truly and honorably of God, who thinks he chooses his favorites without reason, and rewards them without any qualifications but those he irresistibly works in them; or he who looks upon him as one who dealeth with all men, not according to his, but their own works, as they are willing and obedient, as they render themselves fit objects of his love, and rewards them as they use duly, or receive his grace in vain, as they improve the talents he has given them, or hide them in a napkin?” Now, not to take any notice of the impertinency of what is submitted to consideration—the former part of it respecting the decree of election, and not reprobation; and the latter, God’s rewarding of men according to their own works—let it be observed, that though God chooses his favorites, without respect to any thing in them, or done by them, as the reason of such a choice, yet not without a reason in himself, which is his own sovereign will and pleasure. And shall we deny that to the King of kings, which is allowed to every earthly prince, to choose his own favorites as he pleases? Should it be said, that no wise prince would choose and reward men unworthy of his favors, or unqualified for his service: it ought to be considered, that in the case before us, none of all the human race are worthy to be the favorites of God, or qualified for his service; none of them are willing and obedient, or willing to be obedient, until they are made so, in the day of the power of his grace upon them; none can render themselves fit objects of his love, or duly use and improve even the common gifts and mercies of life, without his grace: since then, if he chooses any of them to be his favorites, and he must give them the necessary qualifications for usefulness, service, and ends of his own glory, his wisdom is most highly displayed in fixing upon the most unworthy and unpromising in themselves, in this the foolishness of God is wiser than men: for ye see your calling, brethren, how that not many wise men after the flesh; not many mighty, not many noble, are called; but God hath chosen the foolish things of the world to confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the earth to confound the things which are mighty; and base things of the world, and things which are despised, hath God chosen; yea, and things which are not, to bring to nought things that are, that no flesh should glory in his presence? ( 1 Corinthians 1:25-29.) 2. It is asked, “doth it become the wisdom of God to use, or to appoint these means, for the effecting what he would have done which he knows to be no means, because no ways sufficient to produce the assigned end, and to withhold, yea, to decree to withhold that which alone could make them so?” I reply, that what God would have done, that is, whatever is his determining will, shall be done, is done either with or without means; if with means, he not only appoints and uses them, but makes them every, way sufficient to produce the designed end; nor does he withhold, nor decree to withhold, that which alone can make them so; should he, it would highly reflect on his wisdom indeed. Now could it be proved that God, in this sense, would have all men converted, regenerated, be brought to repentance unto life, and everlastingly saved; and that he has appointed, and uses means for the effecting of all this, and yet withholds, and has decreed to withhold that which alone can make these means sufficient; as there would be an apparent contradiction in his will, his purposes, and decrees, and actions, so it would be a most gross impeachment of his wisdom. But then we utterly deny that God has willed converting and regenerating grace evangelical repentance, and everlasting salvation, to every individual of mankind; or that he has appointed, or uses means for the effecting of these in all men; and therefore, as it is no contradiction to his eternal purposes, nor to his methods of acting in time, to withhold, and to decree to withhold from, or to deny his grace to some men, so it can be no reflection upon his wisdom to do so. It is true, indeed, it is his will of command, that all men should repent, and turn from the evil of their ways, but this is more properly expressive of what is man’s duty, than of what is the will of God; or in other words, this shows what God has made it man’s duty to do, and not what he himself has willed shall be done. Now God has appointed means, and he uses them, and makes them sufficient to acquaint men that he has made such and such things their duty; whereby they are left inexcusable, though he does not give them grace to repent and turn, which he is not obliged to. 3. It is said, that “this decree cannot be reconciled to the divine wisdom, because it introduces God expecting what he never would have done, and which cannot be done, the conversion of the reprobates; and enjoining, under a promise of eternal life, what he himself will do, and which, unless he does it, cannot be done, namely, faith and obedience in the elect.” It is strange! that the decree of reprobation should have anything to do with the elect, or introduce God enjoining them faith and obedience: though for God to enjoin his elect these things, under a promise of eternal life, when they cannot be done without his grace, is no ways alien from his wisdom; since hereby he secures his own authority to command, shows his people their weakness, and magnifies the riches of his grace. But it is stranger still! that the decree of reprobation should introduce God expecting the conversion of the reprobates, when one part of the decree is to deny them that grace by which their infidelity and impenitence can only be removed, and they be savingly converted. Nor do the Scriptures anywhere represent God looking for or expecting any such thing in them.
IV. The decree of reprobation is thought greatly to affect the truth and sincerity of God in his declarations, calls, commiserations, promises, and offers of grace to men. And, 1. It is asked, “Whether he represents God honorably, who believes that God, by his revealed will, hath declared, he would have all men to be saved; and yet by an antecedent secret will, would have the greatest part of them to perish?” I answer; that we do not believe, nor do the Scriptures teach us to believe, that God by his revealed will hath declared, that he would have all the individuals of mankind saved; for then all of them would be saved; whereas they are not, neither will they be all saved. The Scriptures, which are God revealed will, declare Judas to be the son of perdition; and antichrist the man of sin, goes by the same name; whom the Lord shall consume with the spirit of his mouth, and shall destroy by the brightness of his coming; yea, that there are some that should believe a lie, that they all might be damned; and that God is willing to show his wrath upon the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction. ( John 17:12; 2 Thessalonians 2:4,11,12; Romans 9:22. ) Wherefore it is no contradiction to the revealed will of God, and so no ways opposes his truth; nor is it any dishonorable representation of him, to believe, that by his secret will he has determined that some should perish; and it should be observed, that we do not believe that God has determined that any one should perish but for sin; or that he has secretly willed that any should perish, whether they believe and repent or not: therefore his secret will does not in the least contradict his revealed one, that whosoever believeth shall not perish, but have everlasting life. ( John 3:16.)
I observe, that the emphasis is laid upon the greatest part of mankind being willed to perish by the secret will of God: how many, and who they are, God has willed should perish, we know not: but supposing there was but one man, whom God, by an antecedent, secret will, had determined should perish, would not this be thought to be a contradiction to his revealed will, and a dishonorable representation of God? Could the truth and sincerity of God be supported, notwithstanding this instance? If they could, why may it not be thought that he has, by his secret will determined that two, or two hundred, or two thousand, or many millions, yea, even the greatest part of men should perish in and for their sins, without any impeachment of his truth and sincerity. 2. It is further asked, “whether he represents God honorable, who believes that he hath imposed a law on men, which he requires them to obey, on penalty of his eternal displeasure; though he knows they cannot do it without his irresistible grace, and yet is absolutely resolved to withhold his grace from them, and then to punish them eternally for what they could not do without it; and after all inquires, why will ye die? etc. or he that believes it more agreeable to the truth and sincerity of the divine nature, to deal plainly with his creatures, and mean what he says?” I reply; that it can be no dishonorable representation of God, to believe that he has imposed a law upon men, who are his creatures, and over whom he has a sovereign dominion, or that he requires them to obey it on penalty of his eternal displeasure, since it is holy, just, and good, and every way agreeable to his nature and perfections; and especially when it is considered, that when his law was imposed on man, as it was agreeable to his nature, make, and condition, so he was sufficiently furnished with abilities to obey and keep it; and though man has, by the fall, lost his power to obey, God has not lost his authority to require obedience, and which he does require; though he knows man cannot perform it without grace from him, which he is not obliged to give; and in all this he deals plainly with his creatures, and means what he says. But perhaps the insincerity is thought to lie here: that after God had absolutely resolved to withhold, and had withheld that grace, without which they could not yield obedience to his law, he inquires what was wanting on his part to enable them to do it. But no such inquiries are made by God; the passages referred to regard not the spiritual and eternal state of all mankind, only the civil and political state of the Jews; towards the welfare and prosperity of which civil state nothing had been wanting on the part of God. 3. It is also asked, “does it become his (GOD’s) sincerity, to seem so earnest in his calls to them (men) to repent, and turn themselves from their transgressions, and live; when he himself hath passed that act of preterition on them, which renders it impossible for them to repent, or turn from the evil of their ways, and therefore impossible that they should live?” I answer, that whenever God calls men to repent, he not only seems to be, but he really is serious, and in good earnest; but then the calls referred to in Ezekiel, ( Ezekiel 18:30-32.) respect not internal conversion, and evangelical repentance, but a national repentance, and an external reformation of manners, as has been shown in the first part of this performance; of which reprobates are capable, and by which they may be preserved from temporal calamities, as the Ninevites were. And it will be difficult to prove, that God anywhere calls and invites all mankind, and particularly such who are not eventually saved, to spiritual and evangelical repentance; for, whom he thus calls, to them he gives repentance and remission of sin. Besides, it is not the act of preterition, but the corruption of nature, which makes this repentance impossible; and therefore, supposing the corruption of nature, and no act of preterition and reprobation, repentance and conversion would be impossible without the grace of God: hence the same charge of insincerity, and want of seriousness in the calls of God .to repentance and conversion, would remain, supposing no act of preterition, where the grace of God is not given. 4. The decree of reprobation is thought to be “inconsistent with the sincerity of God, in his ardent wishes, vehement desires, and passionate concern for the welfare of men; such as are expressed in Deuteronomy 5:29, and Deuteronomy 32:29; Psalm 81:13,14; Ezekiel 18:8, 30-32.” But, as has been made to appear in another part of this work, these things are only to be ascribed to God, after the manner of men, in a figurative, and improper sense: and, at most, only show what would be agreeable to him if done, but not what is his determining will should be done. Besides, they relate only to the people of Israel, and respect not their spiritual and eternal, not civil and temporal welfare. Whereas, if anything is done to purpose on this head, in order to disprove the decree of reprobation, it ought to be proved that God has ardently wished for, vehemently desired, and has shown a passionate concern for the spiritual and eternal welfare of every individual of human nature, even of those who are not eventually saved. 5. It is argued, that “if God promises pardon and salvation for the nonelect, on a condition which his own act of preterition hath rendered impossible for them to perform, how can a God of truth and sincerity be said to promise seriously, and in good earnest?” I reply, that the promise of pardon is not made to any, no not to the elect, upon a condition to be performed by them; it is an absolute unconditional one, and runs thus; I will be merciful to their unrighteousness, and their sins and their iniquities will I remember no more ( Hebrews 8:12) and though this promise is made to faith, yet not as a condition of it, but as descriptive of the persons who enjoy it, and as the hand by which they receive it. And, it is so far from being made upon a condition to the nonelect, that it is not made to them at all, the promise of pardon being a new covenant one, reaches to no more than to those who are in that covenant, and they are only the elect of God, and much less upon a condition rendered impossible by the act of preterition; since not that, but the corruption of nature, renders faith, repentance, conversion, or whatever else of a spiritual kind that may be thought to be the condition, impossible without the powerful grace of God. 6. It is intimated, that, “supposing an absolute decree of reprobation, the tenders of the gospel to reprobates must be false and hypocritical; and the offers of grace are not made in good earnest, and with sincerity.” But it should first be proved, that there are any offers of grace at all, made to any, whether elect, or non-elect. The gospel is not tendered to the elect, but is the power of God unto salvation to them. The grace of God is bestowed upon them, applied to them, and wrought in them, but not offered. And as for the non-elect, grace is neither offered to them, nor bestowed on them, and therefore there can be no falsehood or hypocrisy, dissimulation or guile, nothing ludicrous or delusory in the divine conduct towards them, or anything which disproves God’s act of preterition or reprobation.
V. The decree of reprobation is thought to be “repugnant to the holiness of God;” since it is said, 1. “It makes God the author of sin, according to the doctrine both of the Supralapsarians and the Sublapsarians; seeing the former affirm, that God, before he decreed to make man, decreed his destruction; and that he might justly inflict it, decreed, that man should fall into sin, as a means of bringing the reprobate to appointed ruin, and the latter, though they do not assert that God decreed sin as a means of attaining his own end, yet say that Adam fell into sin necessarily, by the decree of God, from whence all after sins, and the corruption of all mankind, necessarily follow; and both agree that God imputes that sin of Adam to all his posterity; and from that imputation follows a necessity of sinning; and therefore God, by this imputation of his, is the cause of all the sins which follow it.” I reply, this author seems to mistake the doctrine both of the Supralapsarians and Sublapsarians. The Supralapsarians distinguish the decrees of God into the decree of the end, and the decree of the means; the former respects not man’s salvation, or damnation, but the glory of God as the end; the latter, with respect to the elect, includes the decree of creation, the permission of sin, redemption by Christ, the giving of grace, perseverance in it, and eternal salvation, as one complete mean to bring about the glory of God in a way of mercy tempered with justice; with respect to the reprobate, it includes the decree of creation, the permission of sin, dereliction in it, damnation for it, as one entire complete mean for the bringing about of God’s glory in a way of vindictive justice. Now let it be observed, that though God decreed man’s destruction before his creation, yet he decreed to damn no man but for sin; and though he has willed, or decreed, that sin should come to pass, or that man should fall into sin; yet he wills this not by effecting, but by permitting it; and therefore is not the author of it.
Besides, it is not sin, but the permission of sin, that is the mean, in order to the end; which end is not man’s destruction, but God’s glory; the permission of sin is, with other things, the means of God’s glory, but not of man’s destruction; for permission of sin stands in the same place in the decree of the means, with respect to the reprobate, as it does in the decree of the means, with respect to the elect. As therefore the permission of sin, is not the means of the salvation of the elect, so it is not the means of the damnation of the reprobate; but, as with respect to the elect, it is, together with their salvation, the means of, and is requisite to, the manifestation of God’s glory, in a way of mercy mixed with justice; so it is, together with the damnation of the reprobates, the means of, and requisite to, the display of his glory, in a way of wrath and justice; and therefore permission of sin no more supposes, or proves God to be the author of sin in the reprobates than in the elect. And though the Sublapsarians hold, that Adam’s fall was according to the decree of God; yet they do not say, that Adam fell into sin necessarily by that decree, or that he was laid under a force, or necessity of sinning by it, or that his sinning followed upon it, as ,the effect follows the cause: for though God’s decree made his fall infallibly necessary, as to the event, yet not by way of efficiency, or by force and compulsion on the will; it put nothing in him, or at all infringed the liberty of his will. And though both Supra and Sublapsarians agree in saying, and that very rightly, that God imputes the first sin of Adam to all his posterity; yet not from that act of imputation, but from the corruption of nature derived from Adam, follows the necessity of sinning in his posterity: which necessity of sinning is perfectly agreeable to the natural liberty of the will; wherefore the corrupt heart and will of man, and not God, by this imputation of his, is the cause of all the sins that are committed. 2. It is observed that “no man can think that man hath a true love for holiness, who will do nothing that is in his power to make others so, as far as he is able, and it is fit for him to do it.” And it is asked; “Can then that God, whose love to holiness, doth infinitely transcend the love which the most holy man bears to it, and who commands us to be holy as he is holy, have passed a decree from all eternity, which renders the want of holiness in most men an infrustrable event?” I reply, the holiness of God and man are not to be compared; the love of God to holiness, infinitely transcends the love of the most holy man to it; nor is there any proportion between the power of the one and of the other to make men holy. A sinful creature can neither make himself nor others holy; and could he, God does not lie under the same laws and obligations to act to the uttermost of his power and ability in such things as man does. Certain it is, he could, if he would, make all men perfectly holy, as the angels in heaven, but it is evident he does not; and yet this is no impeachment of his holiness. It is enough that he made man upright and holy, who, by sinning against him, has lost the uprightness and holiness of his nature, which God is not obliged to restore unto him.
Now, if it is not contrary to the holiness of God to leave men, as he does many, destitute of holiness, in a want of it, it cannot be contrary to his holiness, to decree to leave them in such a case. Besides, it is not any decree, passed from eternity, that renders the want of holiness an infrustrable event: but the corruption of nature, through sin, has rendered it so, without the grace of God. And, whereas, it is suggested, as if there was a contradiction between the decree of reprobation, which leaves men in a want of holiness, and God’s command to men, that they should be holy as he is holy. It may be replied, that the words ( 1 Peter 1:16.) referred to, are not a command to all men to be holy, but an exhortation to the Israel of God, to such who were called, by the grace of God, to be holy and unblameable, to which they were chosen in Christ, before the foundation of the world; but admitting they are a command to all men to be holy, God’s command only expresses what is his will should be man’s duty, not what he has determined shall be done. It may be every man’s duty to be holy, and yet God may resolve not to give his grace to some persons to make them holy, without which they cannot be so. Hence it follows, that between God’s command of holiness to all men, and, his decree to leave some in the want of holiness, is no contradiction; nor is such a decree repugnant to the holiness of his nature, nor to his love of it.
VI. The decree of reprobation is represented as “incompatible with the justice of God, for these reasons. 1. “Because, by this decree, God reprobates men, considered as innocent, and appoints innocent persons to eternal destruction, according to the Supralapsarian scheme, or such whom, of his mere will and pleasure, he was about to make nocent, having deserved no such thing, according to the Sublapsarian scheme.” Another writer observes, “this obvious exception lies against the equity of his proceedings with the sons of men, that most of the sons of Adam lie under death eternal by his peremptory decree, for the sin of their forefather, committed long before they had a being, and so before they were in a capacity of any personal offense.” I answer, the Supralapsarians distinguish reprobation into negative and positive; negative reprobation is non-election, or preterition, a passing by of some, when others were chosen; the objects of this decree, are men considered as not yet created, and so neither wicked nor righteous. Positive reprobation is the decree of damnation, or that which appoints men to everlasting ruin, to which it appoints no man but for sin. It is therefore a most injurious representation of the Supralapsarians, that they assert that God has reprobated, that is, appointed innocent persons to eternal destruction; when they, over and over, say, as may easily be observed in the writings of that famous Supralapsarian, Dr. Twiss, that God has not decreed to damn any man, but for sin: and that the decree of reprobation is of no moment, or reason of nature, before, and without the consideration of sin. Now, if it is not incompatible with the justice of God, to damn men for sin, it can be no ways incompatible with his justice, to decree to damn men for sin. The Sublapsarians are equally abused, when they are represented as holding, that God reprobates such, whom, of his mere will and pleasure, redditurus erat nocentes, he was about to make innocent, having deserved no such thing: whereas they neither say that God of innocent creatures, makes nocent, or sinful ones, and then reprobates them; though with the scriptures, that God made man upright; but they have sought out many inventions, ( Ecclesiastes 7:29.) sinful ones; whereby they have lost their uprightness and innocency, and so justly deserve the displeasure of God: nor that the objects of reprobation are such, who are to be made innocent or sinful, either through themselves or any others, when it is well known that these divines always consider the objects of reprobation as men already created and corrupted. But let the objects of the decree of reprobation be considered either in the pure, or in the corrupt mass; that decree puts nothing in them, it leaves them as it finds them, and therefore does them no injustice. Nor is it any obvious exception against the equity of God’s proceedings with the sons of men, that most of the sons of Adam lie, yea, if even all of them had laid under death eternal, by his peremtory decree, for the sin of their forefather; if the wages of sin is death eternal, and all the sons of Adam, were concerned in that sin, as the Scriptures declare; for in him all have sinned; and by his offense judgment came upon all men to condemnation. ( Romans 5:12,18.)
Though none as I know of, say, that any of the sons of Adam, who live to riper years, are laid under eternal death only for the sin of Adam, but for their numerous actual sins and transgressions, and for their final impenitence and unbelief. And as for infants dying in infancy, their case is a secret to us; yet inasmuch as they come into the world children of wrath, should they go out as such, is there any unrighteousness in God? 2. This decree is said to be “contrary to the justice of God; because by it God is made to require faith and obedience of persons from whom he has either taken away strength to perform, or to whom he has absolutely decreed not to give it; which makes it impossible for them to believe and obey: and no man is bound to do that which is impossible.” I reply, that the rule, which is to frequent in the mouths and writings of our opponents, Nemo obligatur ad impossibile, no man is bound to that which is impossible, in many cases will not hold good; a debtor may be in such a case as that it is impossible to pay his creditor, and yet he is obliged to it. It is impossible for man in his present sinful state, to keep the whole law of God, and yet he is obliged to it. It will be owned, by those who are on the other side of the question, that a man, by a long train of sinning, or by a continued course of vicious practices, may be so habituated to sin, as that it is as impossible for him to do good, as it is for the:Ethiopian to change his skin, or the leopard his spots; yet it will not follow that he is obliged any longer to do that which is good. It is man’s duty to believe the word of the Lord, and obey his will, though he has not a power, yea, even though God has decreed to withhold that grace without which he cannot believe and obey. So it was Pharaoh’s duty to believe and obey the Lord, and let Israel go; though God had determined to harden his heart, that he should not let them go. However there are many things which may be believed and done by reprobates, and therefore they may be justly required to believe and obey; it is true, they are not able to believe in Christ to the saving of their souls, or to perform spiritual and evangelical obedience, but then it will be difficult to prey, that God requires these things of them, and should that appear, yet the impossibility of doing them, arises from the corruption of their hearts, being destitute of the grace of God, and not from the decree of reprobation, which though it denies them that grace and strength, without which they cannot believe and obey in this sense, yet it takes none from them, and therefore does them no injustice.
From the whole it appears, that the decree of reprobation is not contrary to the nature and perfections of God, or unworthy of him; and therefore, since it has the testimony of divine revelation, ought to be believed by us. But we are told, that “infinite are the demonstrations which might be produced against this tremendous decree, which our author, at present, waves, intending in the next section, containing arguments against an absolute election, to confute both these decrees together:” whither I shall next follow him.