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OF THE PERSEVERANCE OF THE SAINTS.
INOW proceed to consider the arguments taken from reason, against the doctrine of the saints’ perseverance; to which will be added, those that proceed upon rational accounts, in favor of it; with a vindication of such as are excepted to. I shall begin with the arguments or objections against it.
And, I. It is objected, that “this doctrine gives a great encouragement to those, who have once gotten an opinion that they are the children of God, to indulge themselves in the like iniquities (that is, such as Lot, David, Solomon, and Peter committed,)as being never able to separate them from the love of God.” To which may be replied, that though the sins committed by the persons mentioned, were of such a nature, that those who do the like, and die without repentance for them, and faith in the blood and sacrifice of Christ, have no inheritance in the kingdom of God and Christ; to which the law of Moses threatened death, without admission of any atonement by sacrifice, and the severest of God’s judgments; yet the persons of these men being high in the favor of God, remained so, when these sins of theirs were abominable in his sight, displeasing to him, and resented by him. He visited their transgression with a rod, and their iniquity with stripes; nevertheless his loving kindness he did not utterly, not at all, take from them, nor suffer his faithfulness to fail. ( Psalm 89:32,33.) These instances of the falls of good men are not recorded to encourage men in sin, but to caution against it, and to set forth the free, unchangeable, and everlasting love of God, in pardoning and accepting his people, notwithstanding their aggravated transgressions, and so to encourage souls distressed with sin. What use such persons may make of this doctrine, to indulge themselves in sin, who have only gotten an opinion that they are the children of God, I know not; however, I am sure, that those who are the children of God by faith, or who have reason to believe, and do believe that they are so, or who have received the spirit of adoption, witnessing their sonship to them, under the influence of that Spirit, neither can nor will make any such use of it. Nothing has a greater tendency to promote holiness of heart and life, than the absolute promises of God, respecting grace and glory, the assurance of adoption, the certainty of perseverance to the end, and the sure enjoyment of eternal life: and every man that hath this hope in him, purifieth himself, even as he is pure ( 1 John 3:2,3. ) The force of the prohihitions of sin, of exhortations to avoid it, and of cautions to resist and flee from temptations to commit it, is not abated by this doctrine of the saints’ perseverance; seeing these things are made use of by the Spirit of God with great energy and power, as means in order to the thing itself. How preposterous and irrational must it be in a man who thinks himself to be a child of God, and believes he shall persevere to the end, from this consideration to endulge himself in all manner of sin, as if resolving that he will persevere no longer!
II. It is said, that “this doctrine lessens the force of all the motives offered in the Scripture, to engage us to persevere in righteousness and goodness, and to have our fruit unto holiness, that the end may be eternal life.” I answer; the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints, and the absolute promises of God concerning their everlasting safety and happiness, are so far from lessening the force of Scripture motives to righteousness, that they are made use of in Scripture to encourage the saints to the practice of them, and to engage them to continue in them. The apostles did not judge it irrational to argue from them to this purpose; nor did they think that hope and fear were excluded by them, when they reason after this manner:
Should it be asked what promises these were; they were such as these:
I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people; and I will be a father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty. ( 2 Corinthians 6:16,18.)
So the apostle Peter, having asserted that the elect of God, and such as are begotten again through abundant mercy, are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation, proceeds to exhort them to gird up the loins of their mind, to be sober, and hope to the end; and to pass the time of their sojourning here in fear; ( 1 Peter 1:2,3,5,13,17) not once imagining that the force of these exhortations was lessened or weakened by the doctrine he had before advanced; or that this left no room for hope and fear, and the proper exercise of them.
III. It is urged, that “it seems not well consistent with the truth, righteousness, and holiness of God, to give an absolute promise of his favor, and the fruition of himself for ever, to any creature, though he fall into the sins forementioned.” For God to give an absolute promise of his favor, and the fruition of himself for ever, can never be inconsistent with his truth, righteousness, and holiness. The seeming inconsistency lies in his giving such assurance to any of his creatures, though they fall into sin. That God has given an assurance of his everlasting favor and loving-kindness to his children, though they fall into sin, is certain.
If his children, says he, forsake my law, and walk not in my judgments, if they break my statutes, and keep not my commandments, then will I visit their transgressions with the rod, and their iniquity with stripes; nevertheless, my loving-kindness I will not take from him, nor suffer my faithfulness to fail. My covenant will I not break, nor alter the thing that is gone out of my lips. ( Psalm 89:29-34.)
Though he sometimes chides his people in a providential way, and hides his face from them on account of their sins, yet with everlasting kindness will he have mercy on them.
Nothing shall ever be able to separate from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. ( Romans 8:38,39. ) Nor is this at all inconsistent with the truth, righteousness, and holiness of God, since the same covenant which gives this assurance, and contains these absolute promises, not only provides fatherly chastisements for sin, but a full and complete Savior from it; who, by the sacrifice of himself, has made such an entire satisfaction for it, that the purity and holiness of God, in the abhorrence of sin, the truth of his threatenings against it, and his strict justice and righteousness in the punishment of it, are perfectly reconciled to the everlasting standing of these persons in the love and favor of God. As for the promises and declarations of the Old and New Testament concerning this point, they have been taken notice of in the two former parts of this work; and what was the sense of the ancient writers upon this head, will be considered in another. I shall only add a few arguments in favor of this doctrine. And, I. It seems not agreeable to the perfections and attributes of God, that he should take any into his love and favor, show grace and mercy to them, send his Son to die for them, and his Spirit to begin a good work in them, if any of them should fall short of eternal glory and happiness. It would be contrary to his immutability, should he cease to love those whom he once loved, withhold his grace from them, and show no more mercy to them, let it be on what account soever: it would be contrary to his justice, to take satisfaction at the hands of his Son for their sins, and yet punish them eternally for them; and it would greatly reflect upon both his wisdom and power, to begin a work of grace upon the souls of any he does not go through with, and which does not spring up unto, and issue in eternal life.
II. That the saints should not persevere to the end, is not consistent with the purposes and counsels of God, which are absolute, unchangeable, and unfrustrable; for if God has chosen and appointed any unto salvation, and these should miscarry of it upon any account, he must be disapppointed of his end; which disappointment must arise either from want of foresight of those things which obstruct the attaining of the end, or from want of power to accomplish it; neither of which is to be once thought of him, whose understanding is infinite, and who is the Lord God Almighty.
III. The defectibility, or total and final apostacy of the saints, is contrary to the promises of God, which are absolute, unconditional, and all yea, and amen, in Christ Jesus; for if God has promised, as he certainly has, that he will put his fear into the hearts of his people, that they shall not depart from him, that they shall hold on their way, be preserved blameless to the coming of the Lord, and be eternally saved; and yet some of them at last eternally perish; the reason must be, either because he could not, or because he would not fulfill his promises: to say he could not fulfill his promises, is to impeach his wisdom in making them, and his omnipotence in not being able to keep them; to say he would not make them good, is to reflect upon his truth and faithfulness.
IV. The glory of Father, Son, and Spirit, is greatly concerned in the final perseverance of the saints. Should any of them come short of eternal happiness, the glory of the the Father in election, the Son in redemption, and of the Spirit in sanctification, would be entirely lost; for the purpose of God, according to election, would not stand; the price of Christ’s blood would be paid and the purchase by it made in vain, and the work of grace upon the soul come to nothing; and consequently, Jehovah must be frustrated of his grand and ultimate end in choosing, redeeming, and sanctifying persons, even his own glory, which is not reasonable to suppose.
V. That the saints may totally and finally fall away from grace, is obstructive of the peace and comfort of believers, impairs their humble confidence in God, and fills them with continual fear and dread of falling from their happy state. To this last argument, many things are excepted; as, 1. In general, that “the doctrine of the saints apostacy truly teacheth, with the holy Scriptures, that a well-grounded peace is the fruit of righteouness; that all true peace and comfort arise from the testimony of an upright conscience: that then only have we ground of confidence with God, when our heart doth not condemn us of wilfully departing from him; that we ought to work out our salvation with fear and trembling, and to pass the time of our sojourning here in fear; and that happy is the man that feareth always, with the fear of caution, which renders him more watchful against sin.” To which I reply, that a well-grounded peace is, indeed, the fruit of righteousness; but not of our own, which is polluted and imperfect, but of Christ’s; for, being justified by faith in his righteousness, which for ever secures from all condemnation, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ. ( Romans 5:1) True peace and comfort do not arise from the testimony of conscience, which, being thought to be upright, speaks a false peace; but from the blood of Christ, by which the heart ( Hebrews 10:22. ) is sprinkled from an evil conscience, and though then have we confidence towards God when our hearts do not condemn us; yet our confidence in him does not arise from the noncondemnation of our hearts, but from the freedom from condemnation which we apprehend we have through the blood, righteousness, and sacrifice of the Son of God. The fear which the Scriptures referred to speak of, is not a fear and dread of falling from a state of grace, and into hell-fire and everlasting damnation; but a holy, filial, reverential fear of the Divine Majesty, which is consistent with an humble dependence upon him, strong confidence in him, full assurance of his favor, and of final perseverance in grace. 2. It is objected more particularly, that “a doctrine is not therefore true, because it is comfortable, if it be liable to just exceptions on other accounts; for very comfortable was the doctrine of the rabbins to the Jews; of Simon Magus, and the Valentinians, to their followers; and of Antinomians and other Solifidians to men of carnal minds; but very opposite to and destructive of the doctrine which is according to godliness.” I reply, As to the doctrine of the Jewish rabbins, Simon Magus, and the Valentinians, I have nothing to say in the defense of; but as to those who are reproachfully called Antinomians and Solifidians, who, with the apostle, assert, ( Romans 3:28. ) that a man is justified by faith without the deeds of the law; I know of no doctrines they hold which are opposite to and destructive of that which is according to godliness.
However, let it be observed, that our argument does not proceed upon the comfortableness of the doctrine we plead for, but upon the uncomfortableness of the opposite to it; for though a doctrine may not be true, which is seemingly comfortable to a carnal mind; yet that doctrine is certainly not true, which is really uncomfortable to a sanctified heart, or which manifestly breaks in upon the true peace and comfortof a believer, as the doctrine of the saints’ falling away from grace evidently does. 3. It is said that “a possibility of falling into a very great evil, though it be such an one into which I see daily others fall, and to which I may be obnoxious, creates no trouble or anxiety to any man, provided he knows he cannot fall into it, unless he will and chooseth so to do: and unless he acts contrary to all the rules of reason and discretion, and the strongest motives and sufficient means vouchsafed to avoid it.” I answer: that if the evil is of such a nature, as threatens at once an entire deprivation of the grace of God, and a total and final apostacy from him, of which there is a possibility of a man’s falling into, which he sees others fall into, and he himself is obnoxious to; it must needs create great trouble and anxiety in one sensible of the weakness of human nature, the strength of temptation, and the insufficiency of moral suasion; if his preservation from it depends upon his own fickle and mutable will, and the power of it, and his conformity to the rules of reason and discretion, under the influence of that; notwithstanding all the motives and means vouchsafed to avoid it; whereas, on the other hand, though there is a possibility o falling into such an evil, through the corruption of nature, and the temptation of Satan yet if preservation from it is secured by the power of God, which is promised to be engaged, and is engaged for that purpose, it creates no trouble and anxiety; though it puts a man upon the diligent use of those means, which, by the will of God, are signified to him, and which the power of God makes use of to that end. 4. It is observed, that this doctrine of the impossibility of saints falling finally from grace, cannot be truly comfortable, for two signal reasons. f752 (1.) “Because though it seems comfortable to a man, who thinks himself a good Christian, to believe he ever shall continue so; yet the reverse of this doctrine is as uncomfortable, namely, that he who does not so continue to the end, let him have been never so fruitful in the works of righteousness, or in the labor of love, or in religious duties, or in a zeal for God and goodness, was never better than an hypocrite.” To which may be replied, it is certain that such who have made a profession of religion, and drop it, and do not continue to the end, appear to be hypocrites, formal professors, and such who never received the grace of God in truth; yet it will not be easy to prove that ever any, fruitful in the works of righteousness, which I think a man cannot be without the grace of God, did not continue to the end, or ever proved an hypocrite; nor has such an one who acts from an internal principle of grace, any reason to doubt either of his sincerity or of his continuance in the way of righteousness; for though he cannot prove the truth of his faith by better works than an hypocite may do in show, yet he is conscious to himself of inward principles of love to God, and regard to his glory, from whence he acts which an hypocrite is an utter stranger to. It is, indeed, uncomfortable for a man to doubt either of his sincerity, or of his continuance in the way of righteousness, and a true believer may be left to doubt of both, and yet his final perseverance be certain; which does not depend upon his frames, but the power of God, the consideration of which may yield him relief and comfort, when the contrary doctrine must be distressing. (2.) “Let men hold what doctrines they please, yet, as it is with them who question providence and a future judgment, their impious persuasions cannot remove their fears, arising from the dictates of a natural conscience; so neither can men’s theological persuasions remove the fears and doubtings, which do as naturally arise from the dictates of a conscience “enlightened by the word of God.” We are obliged to this writer, for the kind and good-natured comparison he makes between us and the disputers of providence and a future judgment; between their impious persuasions concerning these things, and our theological ones, as he calls them, about the doctrine of perseverance; and between their fears arising from the dictates of a natural conscience, and those of others, arising from the dictates of an enlightened one. Though it should be observed, that the doubts and fears of believers concerning falling from grace, do not arise from the dictates of a conscience enlightened by the word, but rather from a conscience darkened by sin, and loaded with the guilt of it, upon which a wrong judgment is formed of their state and condition. A believer may fall into sin, and conscience may pronounce him guilty of it, and condemn him for it, whereby his peace may be broken, and his comfort lost; which are restored, not by sincere repentance, removing the guilt, as is intimated; but by application of the blood of Christ, which speaks peace, yields comfort, and encourages confidence in God, notwithstanding all the condemnations of his heart and conscience. It is in this way he only desires to have peace and comfort; nor does the word of God deny it him this way, but gives it and receives it, though his heart cannot afford it, but suggests the contrary; for if our heart condemn us; God is greater than our heart, and knows all things. ( 1 John 3:20.)
And though a believer may lose the comfort of the divine favor, when his interest in it remains firm and inviolable: yet his loss of comfort does not necessarily cut off his assurance of being a child of God, and of his perseverance to the end; nor has he any reason, upon every fall into sin and condemnation of conscience for it, to suspect his fall from grace, and the truth of his sincerity; nor does this doctrine of perseverance make men less careful, but more so, to avoid all wilful violations of the law; nor less speedy, but more so, in their application to the blood of Christ, for pardon and cleansing, in the exercise of faith and repentance, and in the performance of every religious duty; since these are means of their holding out and persevering to the end.