Chapter 5: PerseveranceThe Sovereignty of God by Elisha Coles
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PERSEVERANCE OR THE INVINCIBLE PROGRESS OF BELIEVERS IN FAITH AND HOLINESS
for the firmer support and comfort of his people (notwithstanding the present weakness of their faith, and daily infirmities of the flesh,) as also to allure and bring in others who are hankering about the door, or yet in the highways and hedges, it has pleased the holy and only wise God to indulge us with plain and positive assurance of the certain continuance, and going on, of all who have once believed and received the grace of God in truth, notwithstanding many concerned in this assurance attain not to it. That faith and holiness do inseparably follow election, is shewn before: our business now is to shew, that faith and holiness are of an abiding nature, and shall never be lost: and this is what we call perseverance; which being the crown and glory of all the former points, and that which secures to us the comforts arising thence, being also as much impugned as any of those, the proof and confirmation thereof is apparently necessary, and tending to profit. And, I trust, it shall not only appear that the doctrine is true, but also replete with arguments promotive of holiness, by which the contrary opinion will best be contradicted: for so it is, in the wisdom of God, that every truth has that in it which properly tends to its own defense and establishment. It is the property of men truly wise, to enterprise only attainable things, and things worthy their wisdom, as also, so to frame and model the means, as not to miss their intent: much more must it become, and be incumbent on him who is wisdom itself so to do. If then the ultimate end of all things is the glory of God; and the second great end the salvation of his chosen; it may well be concluded, that the properest means for attainment are pitched on, and those, such as will compass his end. Hence also we may be satisfied that all intermediate occurrences, however improper in their own nature, and casual to us, were all foreappointed of God, and that by a decree most wise and fixed; and consequently are, and shall be, so dispensed and overruled as not to hinder, but help on, and bring about the thing principally designed; which therefore shall not (cannot) miscarry, nor be finally defeated. However, therefore, men of corrupt minds may stumble at the word, change the truth of God into a lie, and turn his grace into lasciviousness; and some others, not of design, but by mistake, and unacquaintedness with the true state of the question, may disapprove and object against it: yet may not the truth be discarded, nor its friends shy to own it; but strive the more industriously, by their sobriety, meekness, holiness, and all good fruits, to make the world know, that “to the pure, all things are pure;” while to other men, through the impurity of their own spirits, all things are defiled, and turned into sin; and, in particular, that the doctrine of God’s unchangeable love to his chosen, and their endless abiding therein, is no way an inlet or encouragement to sin, or remissness in duty; but the most powerful strengthener against apostasy, and most effectual quickener to gospel obedience.
The substance of what I intend lies in this proposition: namely,
That all and every one of God’s elect, being once regenerate and believing, are, and shall be, invincibly carried on, to the perfect obtainment of blessedness and glory.
Towards the evidencing of this truth,
- Let us take in things of a lower consideration than that of eternal salvation, and observe how those persons, Formerly instanced, being destined of God to eminent service in the world, were carried through, and that completely, to the end of their work; notwithstanding the greatest of difficulties, and natural impossibilities, which stood in the way to obstruct it: by which will appear the certain effect of God’s purposes; and will contribute not a little to illustrate the point in hand.
- I begin with Abraham’s seed. In Genesis 12:7. the land of Canaan is given them by promise: Isaac, in whom this seed should be called, was not yet born; nor yet, until both his parents were past age, Genesis 19:11. To help this, the Lord brings back the sun many degrees; makes it a new spring time with them, and gives them Isaac, chapter 21:2. When Isaac was married, his wife proves barren: after twenty years waiting, the Lord, in answer to prayer, gives her conception, chapter 25:21. Now, two children they had; the elder of which the Lord rejects, verse 23, and the other, to whom the promise belonged, in danger every day to be killed by his brother, and so the line of the promise in danger of failing, chapter 27:41. Jacob, to save his life, flies to Padan Aram, chapter 28:2. there Laban deals hardly with him, chapter 31:41, and when he made homewards, follows him with evil intent: but the Lord, in a dream, takes him off, verse 23, 24. No sooner is he escaped from him, but Esau comes against him with four hundred men, full bent to revenge the old grudge, chapter 32:6. the Lord turns his heart in a moment, and melts him into brotherly affection; that, instead of destroying Jacob, he proffers himself to be his guard and convoy, chapter 33- 4. 12.
When Simeon and Levi had so highly provoked the Canaanites, that it was a thousand to one but they would come and cut off Jacob’s family at once, chapter 24:25. the Lord causes a terror to fall on them, that they do not so much as look after them, chapter 35:5. When a seven years’ famine was coming on the land, likely enough to eat up poor Jacob and his house, the Lord, by a strange providence, sends a harbinger to make provision for them in Egypt, chapter 37:28. with chapter 41:54. When oppressed by the Egyptians, and all means used to destroy them, and that both with craft and cruelty, the Lord so orders the matter, that the more they were oppressed, the faster they grew, Exodus 1:12, and by an high hand brings them out at last. In the wilderness, they carry themselves as unworthily towards God as ever people did; doing all that in them lay to cut off the entail of that good land, by their unbelief, and daily repeated rebellions; insomuch that the Lord threatens to dispossess them: but, for his promise’ sake made with Abraham, withdraws his hand, and spares them. I might instance also the great straits and dangers they were in at the Red Sea, which the Lord divided for them: afterwards for want of water, which he brings them out of a rock: then for bread, which also he gives them from heaven: how they were denied passage by some, and waylaid by others; and yet carried on and delivered: and at last, how the Lord drove out those giants, whom they despaired of overcoming, and so gave them the land in possession, according to his promise hundreds of years before: “there failed not aught of any good thing the Lord had promised: it all came to pass,” Joshua 21:45.
- Little Joseph is one the Lord will honor; which in several dreams he intimates to him, Genesis 37:7. 9. 11. His brethren therefore hate him: and to frustrate his dreams, which signified their subjection to him, they conspire to kill him, verse 18, and how shall Joseph escape? they are ten to one, and he the least. Reuben, who, being the eldest, was most concerned, in point of honor, to hinder Joseph’s advancement, he shall relent at the very moment of taking him away; and, out of respect to his father, shall deliver him, verse 22. Well, though they will not presently kill him, they will cast him into a pit, where, in all likelihood, he must perish: but, in the good providence of God, the Ishmaelite merchants pass by in the very instant, ere any wild beast shall have found him, or his brethren determined worse against him, verse 24. 28. to them they sell him, and by them he is brought into Egypt (far enough out of Jacob’s inquiry,) and sold to the captain of Pharaoh’s guard, a person likely enough to deal roughly with him. But here the Lord owns him, and, to bring him into favor, makes all that he doeth to prosper; which his master observing, puts the management of all his estate in Joseph’s hands, chapter 39:3. 4. Now there is fair hopes of his coming to honor; but how soon is it dashed! Joseph being a goodly person, his lascivious mistress tempts him to folly; which the fear of God keeping him from, she misreports him to his master, charging her own wickedness on him. Hereby Potiphar’s favor is lost, and Joseph cast into prison, and laid in irons, Genesis 39:7. 9. 17. 20. Psalm 105:18. Now all hopes of preferment are gone, and what will become of his dreams? yet still the counsel of the Lord, that shall stand; and this downfall of Joseph shall prove another step to his rising: and to make way for it, two of Pharaoh’s servants shall fall under their lord’s displeasure, be put in prison, and committed to Joseph’s keeping: here they shall dream, Joseph shall interpret, and the event shall answer it. Now the day begins again to dawn on Joseph, and, by the chief butler’s restorement, some hopes of his enlargement: but this again is soon overcast; for the butler forgot him, Genesis 40:23. notwithstanding all which, the providences of God do still pursue his decree, and cease not until Joseph is lord over Egypt, and his brethren bow down before him, chapter 41, and chapter 42:6, and chapter 50:18.
- David. God promised David to give him the kingdom, and anoints him to it, 1 Samuel 16:12. What, notwithstanding all possible interveniencies? Yes, for the promise is absolute: has the Lord said it, and shall he not do it? If, therefore, Saul cast a javelin at him (unsuspected,) to nail him to the wall, a sharpness of eye, and agility of body, shall be given him to discern and avoid it, chapter 18:11. If he determine evil against him, Jonathan shall advertise him of it, chapter 19:7. If he send messengers to Naioth to apprehend him, they shall forget their errand, and fall a prophesying: and if he send others, and others after them, they shall do likewise; yea, Saul himself shall turn prophet for a day and a night together, that David may have time to escape, verse 20—24. If he be in a city that will betray him, and not a friend among them to advise him of it, the Lord himself will be his intelligencer, and send him out, chapter 33:12. If Saul’s army have encompassed him, and no way left to escape, the Philistines shall invade the land, and tidings shall come in the very instant, and take him off, verse 26, 27. If an host do encamp against him, he will not be afraid, Psalm 27:3. Why so? The Lord had made an absolute promise; and, therefore, if no help on earth, “he shall send from heaven, and save me,” Psalm 57:3. Yea, David’s wavering at times, and the weakness of his faith, shall not hinder it, and the reason of all was this, the Lord took him to be ruler over his people, and therefore he was with him wheresoever he went, 1 Chronicles 17:7, 8.
- Josiah. “A child shall be born in the house of David, Josiah by name, who shall offer the bones of Jereboam’s priests on his altar,” 1 Kings 1,3:2. If, therefore, Athaliah determine to destroy all the seed-royal, Joash shall be stolen from among the rest, and preserved, 2 Kings 11:2, and by him David’s line shall be continued: and Hezekiah, though sick to death, he shall not die, but be healed, as it were, by a miracle, and fifteen years added for his life, rather than Manasseh, who must be Josiah’s grandfather, shall be unborn, chapter 20:6.
- Paul. Paul was a chosen vessel, appointed to preach Christ to the Gentiles, and at last, to bear witness of him at Rome: and this must be done, although bonds, imprisonments, and death itself, do attend him in every place. If, therefore, they lie in wait for him at Damascus, and watch the gates night and day, to kill him, he shall be let down by the wall in a basket, and so escape them, Acts 9:2-25. If all Jerusalem be in an uproar to kill him; the chief captain shall come with an army, and rescue him, Acts 21:31,32. though no friend to Paul, nor to his cause. If more than forty men bare bound themselves with an oath, that they will neither eat nor drink until they have killed him, his kinsman shall hear of it and by his means the chief captain shall be a friend again, and grant him a sufficient convoy, chapter 23:14-23, and this attempt shall be an occasion of sending him to Rome, where his last testimony is to be given. If Jews and Gentiles make an assault together, to use him despitefully, and to stone him, he shall be aware of it, and by fleeing save himself, chapter 14:5,6, 7. by which means also the gospel shall be further spread. But suppose he be lost in their hands, and they so far prevail as to stone him, and drag him out of the city, verse 19. then, sure, his work is at an end: no, all this shall not hinder; death itself shall nor separate Paul from his work. It is not his being once atoned, nor his thrice suffering shipwreck, nor his being in deaths often, nor any thing else, that shall make void the purpose of God for his bearing witness of Christ at Rome, as is abundantly evident by the stories of him, and the event at last.
Other instances might be produced to the same effect; but by these we may take an estimate of the thing under proof, and rationally infer, that if the Lord be so exact and punctual, in performing his word, touching these lesser things, carrying on his work through such a press of natural oppositions, much more will he be, in securing and bringing about the eternal welfare of his chosen: that as he dealt by his people of old; “he bore them on eagles wings,” Exodus 19:4. above the reach of danger, and “kept them as the apple of his eye,” with all possible care and tenderness, “until he had brought them to himself,” Deuteronomy 32:10. so will he carry it towards his elect; for he values the world but little, save with respect to them.
- Now for a more direct proof of the proposition; though two or three witnesses might suffice to establish it; yet, since the scriptures do abound with testimonies for it, the collection whereof may be very useful to us, for the help of our faith, in a time of temptation, as, also to fortify our souls against the assaults of such as teach final apostasy, I shall somewhat enlarge in reciting them, with some of those genuine deductions that flow from them. In the Old Testament are many petitions and resolves made by holy men, which import the truth of this doctrine, as, that, “the Lord will perfect that which concerns them: that he will not forsake the work of his own hands,” Psalm 138:8. “That he will guide them by his counsel, and after receive them to glory,” Psalm 73:24, and that in the mean time,” none of their steps shall slide,” Psalm 37:31, and this, because it is God that “girdeth them with strength, and will make their way perfect,” Psalm 18:32. with abundantly more; as also in Paul’s Epistles. In every of which is implied a promise of the thing prayed for, or concluded on; without such a promise, they could not have done it in faith, nor justly have given them down as matter of instruction to others. But we know they spake as they were moved by the Holy Ghost, 2 Peter 1:21. who knowing the deep things of God, what his decrees were, and what was contained in the “promise of eternal life before the world began,” Tit. 1:2. drew out their hearts to believe, and formed their prayers accordingly.
But, besides these, we have many express promises and affirmations of it. In the tenth of John, our Savior says, “his sheep shall never perish,” verse 28. which is, in effect, their faith shall never fail; for, safe they cannot be from perishing, without the securement of their faith. Again, speaking of the Spirit of holiness which believers receive from him, John 4:14. he saith expressly, “whosoever drinketh thereof, shall never thirst: but it shall be in him a well of water, springing up to everlasting life,” then it shall not be dried up, Proverbs 10:30. “The righteous shall never be removed,” that is, they shall never fall back into their former state; and the reason is, because “the way of the Lord is strength to the upright,” verse 29. Whether by “the way of the Lord” be meant his way or manner of dealing with upright persons, which is to increase their strength, according to Job, 17:9. or, of the genuine property of God’s ways, which is to afford that peace and satisfaction to those who walk in them, that they are daily more habituated and connaturallzed to them, and estranged from all ways else; they are both to the purpose in hand, Proverbs 24:19. “A just man falleth seven times, and riseth up again;” he falls not so as to lie where he fell; he falleth not into mischief, as the wicked do; yea he rather gets ground by his fall, as verse 5, “A man of wisdom increaseth strength,” from a sense of his own weakness, he is led to strength everlasting, as was Paul, 2 Corinthians 12:10.
Proverbs 12:21. “There shall no evil happen to the just,” then, not the greatest and worst of evils, which is, to “depart from the living God: “verse 3. “The root of the righteous shall not be removed;” his fruit may sometimes be blighted, or blown off, his branches tossed with a tempest; but still his root is where it was; his life is hid, and free from all commotion, and shall therefore renew both his fruit and branches; “he that trusteth in the Lord, shall not cease from yielding fruit,” Jeremiah 17:7, 8.
Jeremiah 32:40. “I will put my fear in their hearts, that they shall not depart from me.” This, say some, is the promise of affording them means, but not of effecting the end; therefore see chapter 3:19. “Thou shalt call me, My Father, and shalt not depart from me: “and this, because he worketh effectually in them that believe, 1 Thessalonians 2:13. . as at first in causing them to believe, so now, in maintaining and perfecting their faith.
Psalm 84:11. “The Lord withholdeth no good thing from them that walk uprightly: “and if so, then continuing to walk uprightly shall not be withheld from them; which deduction is also warranted by this; “that the righteous shall hold on his way, and he that has clean hands, shall be stronger and stronger,” Job 17:9. as also from Proverbs 4; 18. “The path of the just is as the shining light, which shineth more and more to the perfect day.” And David further backs it, where, from his present faith, he concludes his future progress, “I have trusted I shall not slide,” Psalm 26:1, and this, because the Lord holdeth his soul in life, and suffereth not his feet to be moved, Psalm 66:9.
Mark 16:16. “He that believeth shall be saved: “and John 11:26. “Whosoever liveth and believeth in me (says Christ) shall never die,” that is, he that once has faith shall never lose it (as some would give the sense) had been a comfortless and empty notion, and injudicious way of speaking. This is yet further confirmed by John 5:24. “He that believeth is passed from death to life, and shall not come into condemnation: “the reason of which is this, that their faith is founded on a rock; which winds and waves may beat and break themselves against; but never the rock itself nor that which is built on it, Matthew 7:25. “He that trusteth in the Lord, is as mount Zion, which cannot be removed,” Psalm 125:1. no, not so much as one of the stakes of that tabernacle shall be removed, and that for ever, Isaiah 33:20. 1 Peter 2:6. “They shall not be ashamed nor confounded, world without end,” Isaiah 45:17.
It would very much allay that superlative cause of rejoicing, that our names are written in heaven, if possibly they might be blotted out again; since we find in ourselves so great a proneness to revolt, which every one acquainted with his own heart must acknowledge: but we are sure Christ, would not propound to us a fallible ground of rejoicing: for that kind of dependence he is evermore calling us Romans. Believers are indeed sometimes foiled, but never overcome: though they fall, and that seven times in a day, (as was said,) as often do they rise again: and it is no disparagement to their leader: nay, it is the glory of a general, to give his enemy advantages, and take them again at his pleasure, to his enemy’s greater confusion and overthrow. Satan got nothing by his winnowing Peter: Peter lost some of his chaff, which well might be spared, and the tempter lost many an after advantage; for the world of believers have been the warier ever since. To this I shall only add that of the holy apostle, in Romans 8: he was persuaded, that is, he was thoroughly swayed in his faith, to believe it for himself, and deliver it down to the ages to come, as a truth infallible, that “neither height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord,” verse 38, 39. He reckons up all that can be named; and, lest any thing might have slipped him, he brings in height and depth; as being those two extremes that take in all, and more than men can think; and then resolves, that even these shall not be able to do it. And, surely, if the super celestial height of God’s holiness, nor the infra-infernal depth of sinful sin, shall not separate from that day of glory, which the sons of God were predestinated to, and for which they were both made and redeemed, called into, and groan for, then are believers roundly secured against final apostasy.
III. A third sort of evidence for confirmation, are certain arguments or reasons why the saints must needs persevere in faith and holiness.
By needs must, I understand no other kind of necessity, than well consists with perfect freedom; such as was on Paul to preach the gospel, which was a work he rejoiced in; and such as was on Jesus Christ to bring home his sheep, and to lay down his life for them; he “must needs suffer,” Acts 17:3. “Yea, he was straitened till it was accomplished,” Luke 12:50. Thus it was written in his heart, was no hindrance to the freedom of his will.
Argument 1. The first argument, in proof of perseverance, is founded on the saints’ extract or original, “they are born of God,” John 1:13, and this has the force of a double argument.
- As God is their father and eternal root. Our Savior holds forth this relation as the ground of our faith in prayer, Matthew 6:9, and he begins with it himself, when he prays for his own glory, and that his disciples might be partakers of it, John 17:1. to the same end, he frequently useth that style of Father in the gospel of John; as taking delight in mentioning that relation, “the Father himself loveth you,” chapter 16:27, and “I ascend to my Father, and your Father,” chapter 20:17. It is to strengthen our faith in God, (through himself) on the account of his fatherhood to us. “The father loveth the Son,” chapter 3:25, and he loves his believers, as he loveth Christ himself, chapter 17:23. on which ground the apostle concludes, that “he cannot but give us all things else,” Romans 8:32. Believers are the product of his love, both in respect of election and regeneration; and being so, he cannot but have a paternal affection for them; to administer to them whatever tends to their sustentation and growth, and to keep off whatever would intercept or weaken his gracious influences towards them: “having once loved them, he loves them for ever,” John 13:1. They may therefore be confident, that “what he has begun in the spirit, he will not let end in the flesh: “that “having begun a good work, he will also perform it,” Philippians 1:6. for, as they have their spiritual being from him, as the Father of it; so it is as natural to him to diffuse his virtues into them without intermission, as for a vine to send up its sap into its own branches, or the sun to cherish the plants of its own production. All the natural affections that are in creatures towards their own, are but drops of his immense fullness: a mother may possibly forget the child of her womb; but the Lord cannot forget his offspring; “that none may hurt them, (nor they themselves,) he will keep them night and day, and water them every moment,” Isaiah 27:3. they are born by him from the belly, and carried from the womb; and even to their old age he will carry them, and deliver them, Isaiah 46:3,4.
- The new creature, as it comes from God, so it exists in him, and lives on him, and it is natural to it to seek its nourishment where it had its original: nothing can satisfy it, but that great deep from whence it sprung: as a newborn child, that has not the use of reason, will hunt for the breast by natural instinct, and not be quiet without it. As soon as ever Paul was converted, “Behold he prays,” Acts 9:11. Having once received the Spirit of Christ, they cannot but incline after him, as Elisha did to Elijah, on the casting of his mantle on him, 1 Kings 19:19, 20. it is natural to them, as for sparks to fly upwards. They are said to be “baptized with fire;” not only because of its purifying nature, but in respect of its aspiring quality; it will be mounting, and not rest till it comes to its own element. Obstructions many it meets withal; but still it presseth onwards, and by degrees bears down all before it, and carries that with it in which it dwells, to the place of its birth; as the dove could not rest till she came to the ark whence she set out. This is set forth in a lively manner by our Savior, in John 7:38. “He that believeth in me, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living waters;” rivers that bear down all opposition; and rivers of living waters, not land floods, which are of but short continuance; or standing pools, subject to drying up; but rivers, and those such as have an immortal head. We see how all things tend to their center: “The wicked sleep not unless they do evil,” Proverbs 4:16. They can bear the want of things most necessary to their being, rather than cease from sin: they are of the serpent’s brood, and “the lusts of their father they will do,” John 8:44. Judas was a devil, and that carried him headlong to his own place, Acts 1:25. And if being born of the devil, habituates men with so strong and restless a bent to devilish lusts, the divine nature must needs work as efficaciously towards God, and godlike actions: his love constrains them, 2 Corinthians 5:14. And if it were not so, the engrafted word had never borne a human stock to heaven: the first fruits of the Spirit possess them with an earnest expectation and longing for the harvest, Romans 8:23. It is true, the remainders of the old man will be opposing the new, and many contests there are between them: but grace (like him that is advocate for the king) will ever have the last word, and will also go out victor. Ye may see it in Jeremiah, the word of the Lord was made a reproach to him; he therefore resolves to stifle it, and will no more speak in his name. But how succeeds this carnal resolution? “The word of the Lord was in his heart, as fire shut up in his bones, he was weary of forbearing, he could not hold,” chapter 20:8, 9. And Jonas, when he thought himself cut off, and in the belly of hell; “yet (saith he,) will I look again towards thy holy temple,” Jonah 2:2.4. Psalm 84:6,7. (as the needle, that is rightly touched, never rests, but in pointing towards the pole;) and when obstructed in their course, they cry the more earnestly, “O, when shall I come and appear before God?” Psalm 42:2.
Argument 2. Another argument is taken from the graces themselves, which are the subjects of perseverance; namely, faith and holiness: which, let us consider first, as they are a gift, then in the genuine use and property of them.
- As they are a gift. They are of those good and perfect gifts which come down from above, from the Father of lights, with whom is no variableness, nor shadow of turning,” James 1:17,18. This attribute of God’s unchangeableness is fitly and significantly added, to show, that as good and perfect gifts are from God, and from him only; so that he never changeth in his purpose concerning those to whom he once gives them; they are of those gifts which are without repentance: as also, that these gifts do partake of his own invariableness they cannot die, nor turn to be any other than what they were at first, save only in point of perfection. There can happen no after unworthiness in those he gives them to, which he did not foresee when he gave them, (which seems to be implied in the following words, “Of his own will begat he us,”) and so, no cause why he should withdraw them, which would not as well have hindered his giving them at first. As the word of God is not yea and nay, so neither are his gifts. They are also God’s workmanship; and “we know, saith Solomon, that whatsoever God doeth, it shall be for ever, nothing can be put to it, nor any thing taken from it,” Ecclesiastes 3:14.
- Let faith and holiness be considered in the genuine use and property of them. Nothing so endangers the soul as self fullness; faith, therefore, was ordained to nullify that, and devolve the soul on another, namely, Christ; which the more it does, the safer it is; and having once done it, it never undoes it again. Faith also is an active grace, and diligent, and therefore thriving; he that has it, shall have more of it, Luke 19:26. then sure he shall not lose that he has! it is always traveling and never tired; 1. Because it travels in the strength of Omnipotence, “which never faints, nor is weary,” Isaiah 40:28, and, 2. Because it works by love, Galatians 5:6. which is the most kindly and efficacious principle of service and great acts. Love is an endless screw: it has truly attained the perpetual motion; it enables to endure all things, and faileth not, 1 Corinthians 13:7, 8. All that God doeth for his people is from love, John 3:16, and all that they do for God grows from the same root; they love him, because he loved them first, 1 John 4:19. Love is that which renders a work both pleasant to the agent, and acceptable to the object of it; faith, therefore, working by love, shall never be weary of its work, nor fail of its end; “it is of faith, that it might be by grace,” and consequently sure, Romans 4:16. And as for holiness, (which is a disposition according to God, and capacitates for the blessed vision.) a little of it, in truth, is of infinite value; the very smoke of it shall not be quenched, Matthew 12:20, and it would be strange, if a thing so precious should be liable to putrefaction; but it is not; yea, it changeth other things, but is itself never changed. It is of a spreading nature; compared therefore to leaven put into dough, and hid there, till the whole lump be seasoned. It is of an assimilating property; there is an heavenly tincture in it, which sanctifies all that it touches; “to the pure all things are pure,” Tit. 1:15. It also meetens for converse with God, and it draws and engages the soul to him; there it is in its proper element, and out of which it cannot live; and by this converse it is both increased and sublimated.
A natural body, once in being, can never be reduced to nothing; how then should things of divine substance? They are “born of incorruptible seed, which liveth and abideth for ever,” 1 Peter 1:33, and as the seed is, such will be the fruit; the older it grows, the firmer it is; “he that has clean hands shall be stronger and stronger,” Job 17:9. They are the holy seed; and, therefore, though they cast their leaves, at times, “their substance is in them,” Isaiah 6:13. by which they are still renewed. Holiness is the seed of glory; and holy persons are in glory, as to its kind, and the certainty of their obtainment; although it has no glory at present, in comparison with that which shall be, as the seed of the rose or lily, compared with the flowers they will grew into, and which are virtually in them. According with this is that of our Savior, “He that believeth, has everlasting life,” John 3:36. it argues the certainty of their perseverance, “the law of his God is in his heart; none of his steps shall slide,” Psalm 37:31, and therefore he saith, “Destroy it not, there is a blessing in it,” Isaiah 65:5. 8.
Argument 3. Another proof arises from the nature, extent, and design of providence; or from the intent and purpose of God, in that great variety of things which believers are exercised with in the world. There are three things to be considered to make out this argument.
- That there is a divine providence which governs the world; as in dividing to the nations their inheritance, and bounding their habitations, at first; so by continuing them in possession, or removing them, at his pleasure; and this, sometimes, by very unlikely means, and overruling things accordingly. Seir being given to Esau, and Ar to the children of Lot, and their term not yet expired, the Lord inclines them to let Israel pass through, and to give them meat for their money: whereas the Amorites, who were destined to destruction, “he hardens their spirits, and makes them obstinate,” Deuteronomy 2:29, so that they deny them passage, and come out against them in battle. So, when he would translate the Chaldean monarchy to the Persians, he enfeebles the one, but stirs up the other’s spirits, and “girds them with strength,” Jeremiah 15:11. Isaiah 45:1— 5. How often doth the scripture repeat, “that the Lord reigneth: that he puts down one, and sets up another,” Psalm 93:1. 97:1. 75:7. “that he doeth according to his will in the armies of heaven, and amongst the inhabitants of the earth,” Daniel 4:35. How evident is it in his humbling of Pharaoh, Nebuchadnezzar, and others? This providence reacheth to all manner of persons, times, and things, and circumscribes them: it leaves not the least things to a contingency; even ravens, sparrows, and lilies; yea, and the hairs of your head are all numbered, and under the conduct of the providence of God, Matthew 6:26.
- That the design and course of God’s providence is to accomplish his purpose. As providence governs the world, so purpose is the director of providence. He is a provident man that orders his affairs prudently; that is, so that nothing is wanting, nor any thing spent in waste. Both these are in the providence of God eminently: for, 1. It is all sufficient; supplies all needs; gives all things pertaining to means and end. 2. It does nothing in vain, nothing superfluous or impertinent to his purpose. Things most casual to men are leveled at a set and certain end: “what the Lord speaks with his mouth, he fulfils with his hand,” 1 Kings 8:24, and his act shall not vary a tittle from his decree: for, known to God are all his works from the beginning of the world. Whence was it that Esau tarried so long at hunting that he was over faint? that Jacob was making pottage just, when Esau came in, which set his appetite on edge after it, but that the purpose of God, according to election, might stand? the elder must serve the younger, which so came to pass, by the sale of his birthright? and thus the providence of God makes even the profaneness of men subservient to his end. The Lord had determined to cast Judah and Jerusalem out of his sight for their obstinacy, and to this end (that is, to make way for it,) “It came to pass, that Zedekiah rebelled against the king of Babylon,” 2 Kings 24:20. it was to fulfill the word of the Lord before declared, 2 Chronicles 86:21. though that was far from the rebel’s intent. So he gave Cyrus all the kingdoms of the earth, that he might build his temple at Jerusalem; and it was to fulfill his purpose before also recorded, as is evident, verse 22, 23. In like manner, Herod, Pilate, and the Jews, all conspire the death of Christ, and each party on a several account; not thinking in the least to fulfill the determinate counsel of God: yet that was it which providence intended, as is plain by Acts 2:23. As also the soldiers, in parting his garments, and piercing his side: it was their barbarous rudeness which put them on it; but providence designed to make good a prophecy; “these things therefore the soldiers did,” John 19:24. All that God does in the world, is the transcript or impression of his ancient decrees.
- That the providence of God never fails of its end. If he will work, who shall hinder it? for “our God is in heaven, and doeth whatsoever he will,” Psalm 115:3. And what will he work? “the things that are coming, and shall come,” Isaiah 44:7. “he has both devised, and done it,” Jeremiah 51:12. His purpose is to preserve his people; and, therefore, “no weapon that is formed against them shall prosper: whosoever gathers together against them shall fall for their sakes,” Isaiah 54:15:17. “for as he has purposed, so it shall stand,” chapter 14:24. The scriptures abound with instances of this kind: as, on the contrary, when the Lord will execute judgment, the thing shall be done, be the means ever so weak and improbable; “though the army of the Chaldeans were all wounded men, yet shall they burn Jerusalem with fire,” Jeremiah 37:10. Shamgar shall kill six hundred men with an ox goad, Judg. 3:13, and Samson a thousand with the jawbone of an ass, chapter 15:15. These things considered, and laid together (though mostly referring to temporal things,) do strongly enforce the argument for things of spiritual concernment: inasmuch as things of eternal moment are worthy of more peculiar regard and security.
Now, all a believer’s exercises, which may seem to endanger him, are either from the guilt of sins committed; from the power of indwelling corruption; from Satan’s temptation, or persecution from the world: none of which come on them accidentally, but as things fore appointed of God, and for a good intent. It is “for the elect’s sake that all things else have their being,” 2 Corinthians 4:15. “and are all caused to work together for their good,” Romans 8:28. as, namely, to humble them for sin; to wean them from the world; to endear Jesus Christ to them; to shew them the Usefulness of ordinances; to exercise and try their graces; to purge out their dross; to enable them to succor others; to demonstrate the wisdom, power, and faithfulness of God towards them; to meeten them for glory; and to make them groan and long to be clothed on with their house from heaven; as might plentifully be made out by the scriptures, and the visible effects thereof on those who have been exercised thereby. To instance a few particulars: David, after that great miscarriage in the matter of Uriah, with his broken bones on it, walked the more humbly and warily all his days: he was also the more intent on that great duty of “teaching sinners the way of God,” Psalm 51:13. Peter, he also got ground by denying his master; thereby he came to see his own weakness, the need he had of Christ’s support, and continual prayer for him; and we hear no more of his carnal confidence after that: but what a clamor and outcry does he make against our adversary the devil! 1 Peter 5:8. to warn others by his own example, what danger they are in by a carnal confidence. And, doubtless, whatever the tempter got by Peter’s fall, he lost twice as much by the after watchfullness of others; for that is the designed end, to strengthen, establish, and settle them, verse 16. Luke 22:31. Paul had a messenger of Satan let loose on him, to buffet him; the end of which was, to humble him, and to shew him the sufficiency of the grace of Christ. It is likely, also, that he got as much by that thorn in his flesh, as by his rapture and revelation: to be sure, they did well together, and poised him the better for his work. The like effect on Job, Job 23:10. with chapter 40:4, and chapter 42:6. Mary Magdalene, the remembrance of the seven devils which once possessed her, and of that love which cast them out; how did it heighten her love to Christ, and keep her heart in a melting frame! “she loved much, because much was forgiven her,” Luke 7:47 The people’s forty years’ travel through that great and terrible wilderness, among fiery serpents and scorpions. it was to prove them, and to do them good in the latter end, Deuteronomy 8:15, 16. They were also sent into captivity for their good, Jeremiah 24:5. this was all the fruit intended, to take away their sin, Isaiah 27:9. to make them partakers of his holiness, Hebrews 12:10. These things, indeed, at present, are physic, which nature desires not: yet they are as needful, in their season, as our food; and in very faithfulness we must have them; which also is evident by the scope of the new covenant; as will appear afterwards. Now, these things considered and laid together, I think it may be well inferred, that “all these things worketh God with man,” not to destroy him, but to bring back his soul from the pit,” Job 33:29, 30. they are all made to turn to their salvation; they have always triumphed over them, and been “more than conquerors, through him that loved them,” Romans 8:37, and ever shall. And if this be the fruit of all that doth or can be a believer, while in this world, and there is no more of evil or danger when this is done, then welcome let them be, by the grace of God, as another demonstration of their invincible perseverance. “Whoso is wise, and will observe these things, even they shall understand the loving kindness of the Lord,” Psalm 107:43.
Argument 4. A fourth argument for the saints’ perseverance, is built on their union with Christ, which is of that intimateness, that the scripture sets it forth by terms of the nearest relation, as foundation and building, vine and branches, father and children, husband and spouse, head and members, yea, they are both called, interchangeably, by the same name; he is called Jacob, and they are called Christ, Psalm 24:6. with 1 Corinthians 12:12. And, which is more, if more can be, he communicates to them that title which one would think incommunicable, namely, “The Lord our righteousness,” Jeremiah 23:6. with 33:16. And this union is such as can never be dissolved: there so the like oneness between Christ and them, as between the Father and Christ, as is plain by that passage of his prayer in the 17th of John, 21. “That they all may be one” (how one?) “as thou Father art in me, and I in thee, that they may be one in us.” They are so near to him, that they are said to be “of his flesh, and of his bones,” Ephesians 5:30. as, also, that they are “one spirit,” 1 Corinthians 6:17. He and they are actuated by the same Spirit, as the head and members of the same body are by one soul.
And this is the reason why believers cannot walk after the flesh. “The Spirit of life which is in Christ Jesus (as their root) rules in them,” Romans 8:2. They are preserved in Christ, Jude verse 1. as Noah was in the ark; or as branches in their own stock: for this difference is still to be noted, that believers have not this life in themselves, as Christ has; but they have it in him, which is better for them than if in their own keeping: for, being in him as in a root, it is natural to him to communicate to them; and as natural to them, by virtue of the divine nature communicated to them, to derive from him: and, consequently, “because, and while he lives, they shall live also,” John 14:19. “he that has the Son has life,” 1 John 5:12, and they have it in a way of right; as he that is possessed of the soil has right to all that grows on it. All that is Christ’s is theirs; there is a happy commutation of interests; their debts, with the consequences thereof, are devolved on him; and all that was his imputed and communicated to them. And his care of them is such, that he will be able to say at the latter day, “Of all that thou hast given me, I have lost nothing,” John 17:12. he will not leave a hoof behind. The signet on his right hand (men of shining outsides) may possibly be plucked thence. Jeremiah 22:24. but the least joint of his finger shall not; no man that is compos mentis will suffer the meanest part of himself to gangrene and perish, if it be in his power to help it; how then should our Lord Christ? who, besides the natural affection he has to those of his own body, Ephesians 5:25. has also received a commandment from the Father to keep them safe, John 6:40, and is perfectly qualified in all respects to make it good. On this account, as well as others, they are “complete in him,” Colossians 2:10. Believers are so one with Christ, that whatsoever he did, they are said to do it with him; circumcised with him, verse 11. crucified with him, Romans 6:6. buried with him, verse 4. risen with him, verse 5. ascended with him, Ephesians 4:8, and they sit in heaven with him, chapter 2:6. It is no more possible for believers to miscarry finally, than for Christ himself to be held under the power of the grave; there is one law for them both: it is a faithful saying, “If we be dead with him, we shall also live with him,” 2 Timothy 2:11. If we suffer with him, we shall be glorified together,” Romans 8:17. As Christ once raised, dies no more, chapter 6:9. so none of those raised with him, shall return any more to corruption: for he gave himself for his church; not only to sanctify and cleanse it once, but once for all; and to “present it without spot or wrinkle,” at the last day, Ephesians 5:25,26,27. by that “one offering, he perfected for ever them that are sanctified,” Hebrews 10:14. These are those “sure mercies of David,” recorded in the fifty-fifth chapter of Isaiah, and explained in the thirteenth chapter of the Acts.
It is not for nothing that our blessed Lord and Savior so often repeats that good word and promise concerning believers, which surely he did as being greatly pleased with the thoughts of it; “I will raise him up at the last day;” and “I will raise him up at the last day,” John 6:39, 40, 44. 54. q. d. “I will be with him to the end of the world, and see him safe in heaven;” and this may be said of it, as by Joseph to Pharaoh, “the thing is doubled, because it is established of God, and he will bring it to pass,” (Jen. 41:32.
Argument 5. Another argument for believers’ invincible perseverance, is, that all the attributes of God do stand engaged for it. Virtue invincible has undertaken it; therefore it must needs succeed.
- Power. In Jeremiah 32:27. God’s sovereign power over all flesh is laid down as the ground of their faith, touching their return from captivity, and his giving them a new heart; and for his so keeping them, that they “should not depart from him any more,” as they had done, Jeremiah 82:36—41. So, when he would strengthen his fainting people, he styles himself, “The everlasting God, the Lord, the Creator of the ends of the earth, who fainteth not, neither is weary,” Isaiah 40:28, and which is yet more, his right hand, and the arm of his strength are engaged by oath, chapter 42:8, In 2 Timothy 1:12. the apostle argues the certainty of his salvation from the power of God; which he could not have done with any good reason or comfort, had not that power been engaged for it. “I am not ashamed—for I know in whom I have believed, and that he is able to keep that I have committed to him against that day.” And he gives the like counsel to others, where he points at the “power of God, to make all grace abound in them,” 2 Corinthians 9:8. The calling also of the Jews, and grafting them into Christ, is laid on the same rock, for “God is able to graft them in again,” Romans 11:23. Colossians 1:11. In Ephesians chapter 6. he tells them what kind of enemies they were to wrestle with, namely, “principalities and powers, and spiritual wickednesses in high places,” Ephesians 6:12. a sort of adversaries too potent for spirits housed in clay: but, to harness them fit for the battle, he shows them a power that is higher than those, and, indeed, much more above them, than they above us; and with this he would have them to invest themselves. “Be strong in the Lord, and in the power of his might,” verse 10. this is an armor complete; aptly termed, “the whole armor of God,” verse 11, and in this strong tower believers are safe. So likewise in Ephesians chapter 1. to confirm them, touching the hope of calling, he brings in the mighty power of God, even “that exceeding greatness of his power, by which he raised Jesus Christ from the dead, and set him at his own right hand, far above all principalities and powers, and putting all things under his feet,” chapter 1:19—22. where he sets forth Christ as a pattern of what God will do for believers; they shall be raised and set above all, as he was. And though they sometimes fall, (“for there is no man which sinneth not,” 1 Chronicles 6:36.) let it make them more wary, but not discourage them, “for they shall not be utterly cast down,” Psalm 37:24, and this, because “the Lord upholdeth them with his hand.” The archers may shoot at them, and sorely grieve them; yet shall their “bow abide in strength, and the arms of their hands be made strong by the hands of the mighty God of Jacob,” Genesis 49:23,24. And well it is for us that the divine power has undertaken this difficult work, and that the scriptures do so clearly avouch it; for nothing less could be a buttress sufficient to stay our faith on, touching our holding out to the end; but because “he is strong in power, not one faileth,” Isaiah 40:26.
- Wisdom. This is an ability to fit and direct means to their proper end. In matters of less concern, we find the Lord so laying his work that it cannot miscarry. If, therefore, it be his good pleasure to ordain men to salvation, his wisdom requires that it be in such a way as is sure to succeed, and that all sorts of impediments be either prevented, or so overruled as not to interrupt, but become subservient to this great end. Having counted his cost, and paid it off, and also begun to build, it behooves his wisdom to see that his work be done, and brought to perfection, Luke 14:29, 30, and accordingly to provide suitable instruments, such as he knows will do, and yet not overdo the thing intended; much like to the husbandman sorting his seed to the nature of the soil, and threshing instruments to the capacity of his grain; he will not use a wheel, where the rod will serve; nor a rod, where the wheel is needful: and this he has from his God, “who instructeth him to discretion,” Isaiah 28:25. 28. So, the Lord “stayeth the rough wind in the day of the eastwind,” chapter 27:8. he does not only design the end of a man’s journey, but every step in it is of his ordering, Paul. 37:23. Job 31:4. “the Lord preserveth his going out, and his coming in,” Psalm 121:8. In Isaiah 26:7. the Lord is said “to weigh the path of the just,” which is not meant only of his observing their works, and dispensing to them accordingly; but as prepondering what they are to do, and what is requisite for their doing of it, and apportioning their faith and assistance answerably. As at the making of the world “he weighed the mountains in scales, and the hills in a balance,” Isaiah 40:12. that its parts might be of equal weight; or, as one that is to run in a race, and must carry weights about him, will be wise to have them equally poised; so the Lord sets one thing against another in our souls’ concerns. Paul, therefore, brings in this wisdom of God, as well as his power, to help their faith touching their establishment, Romans 16:25,27, and the apostle Jude, in the close of his epistle, gives glory to God, “as the only wise God,” on the account of “his keeping them from falling; and presenting them faultless before the presence of his glory,” Jude verse 24,25.
- Honor. The concernment of God’s honor, is also an important argument for proof of his doctrine: the Lord’s manner of dealing with his people of old, and the reason of it, is an instance above contradiction. The promise of giving them Canaan was not more absolute than the promise of salvation to believers; nor was it less clogged with conditions, threatenings, and cautions, which were afterwards added; but, the promise being once made absolute “To thy seed will I give this land,” Genesis 12:7. chapter 15:18 the Lord held himself obliged in honor to make it good. How often did he seem to be pouring out his wrath to destroy them? first in Egypt, then in the wilderness, etc. Ezekiel 20:8—40. And what kept it off, but the interest of his honor? this put him on finding out ways to deliver them; “I wrought (says he) for my name’s sake,” verse 14. The Lord did, as it were, labor to suppress his righteous fury, incensed by their intolerable provocations, his name and honor were concerned, and that held his hands; he had once made an absolute promise, which therefore must be made good; though they made themselves ever so unworthy of it. We likewise find, in the 48th of Isaiah, that they had dealt very treacherously, than which nothing is more provoking; but says the Lord, “For mine own sake will I defer mine anger:” and again, “For mine own sake, even for mine own sake, will I do it; for how should my name be polluted?” Isaiah 48:9. 11. The Lord will overlook a thousand transgressions, rather than expose his name and honor to reproach, as once it was by a temporary suspension; to recover which, and that his name might be sanctified, he will bring them home again; yea, though it be in the eyes of men a thing impossible; and they themselves do think so likewise; for, “our hope is lost and we are cut off,” Ezekiel 37:11, and, again, my “hope is perished from the Lord,” Lam. 3:18. Whether at home, or abroad, they still caused his name to be profaned; and for this his holy name, he had pity on them, Ezekiel 36:20. for if he should have cast them off for ever, it would have been said, that he did not foresee how unworthy a people they would be; or, he was not able to keep them in their own land, nor to bring them back again; or else, that he was changeable in his purposes, and not true to his word, etc. Some reflection or other they would cast on him, which he would not bear. All which, and much more of a like kind, is applicable to believers with respect to their perseverance.
- Justice, or Righteousness. There can hardly be found a firmer support, or more full consolation to believers, than that the justice of God is engaged to save them; “for, the righteous Lord loveth righteousness,” Psalm 11:7, and “cannot deny himself.” He would not justify any, no, not his very elect, but in a way consistent with his justice: for which cause, he sent forth his Son a propitiation for sin. Surely, then, having received the atonement, he will not expose his justice to censure, by leaving them in any wise obnoxious to condemnation. Salvation now is their due, his grace has made it so, by both giving and accepting such a price for it, as engageth righteousness itself to save them; for, “who shall condemn, since it is Christ that died?” Romans 8:34. it is as righteous a thing with God to give rest to his people, as tribulation to those that trouble them, 2 Thessalonians 1:6, 7. Paul therefore builds his expectation of the crown on this attribute, as well as any other; “henceforth is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, shall give me at that day,” 2 Timothy 4:8. The righteousness of God secures to them their holding out, “to finish their course, and to keep the faith,” as well as the reward when their work is done. “God is not unrighteous to forget his people’s labor of love,” Hebrews 6:10. much less Christ’s. This gave the apostle to be persuaded better things of those he writes to, than to be subject to falling away, Hebrews 6:9. The blood of the everlasting covenant, is engaged to make them perfect in every good work, to do his will, chapter 13:20, 21. Yea, they shall bring forth fruit in their old age, Psalm 92:14, and this, to declare that the Lord is upright, and no unrighteousness in him, verse 15.
- The faithfulness, or truth of God, is also concerned in the final perseverance of believers. For, having drawn them from all created bottoms, to a total reliance on himself he cannot but give them that they have trusted him for. The Lord will not be to his people, as that broken staff Egypt was to the Jews, to fail them at their greatest need; which is, when they are lost, driven away, broken, and sick, and perhaps have no mind to return; as Ephraim, who “went on frowardly,” Isaiah 57:17, 18. then is the fit time for the faithfulness of God to discover itself, by seeking them out, bringing them back, binding them up, healing, and comforting them. Ezekiel 34:1.6. To heal their backslidings, as it shows the freeness of God’s love, so his faithfulness. “The Lord will not behold iniquity in Jacob,” Numb. 23:21. that is, he will not take notice of it, so as to recede from his word; for he could not but see their perverseness and murmurings; for which he punished them severely; and sometimes made as if he would disobey them: but still he remembered his covenant, and that restrained it; the Lord had blessed, and therefore men could not reverse it; neither themselves, by their insufferable contumacy, nor Balaam with his enchantments, verse 20. “The Lord loveth judgment” that is, truth and faithfulness, and “therefore he forsaketh not his saints, they are preserved for ever,” Psalm 37:28. The saints are in league with God, “they have made a covenant with him by sacrifice,” Psalm 50:5, and it is a league of his own propounding, by which he has obliged himself to protect them. And though men may break their compacts, the holy One of Israel will not; “he is not a man, that he should lie, nor the son of man, that he should repent,” Numb. 23:19. David having made God his fortress, concludes from thence, that “the name of God was engaged to lead, and to guide him,” Psalm 16:1. with Psalm 31:8, 4. Those Corinthians were as liable to temptations, as other men who fell by them; for they had strong remainders of corruption, as appears by both the epistles, and a subtle adversary to observe and draw it out; besides, they were highly gifted, and so the more ready to think themselves above the rank of ordinary Christians; than which nothing could more expose them to danger: but notwithstanding all these disadvantages, they shall be kept the faithfulness of God, that secures them, and “shall confirm them to the end,” 1 Corinthians 1:8, 9. for “God is faithful, (says he,) by whom ye were called;” it is as if he had said, God would never have called you into the fellowship of his Son, if he had not resolved to keep you there. So, again, he tells them, “God will not suffer them to be tempted above what they are able,” 1 Corinthians 10:13, and he brings it in as an inference from the faithfulness of God. He likewise lays the stress of his confidence for the Thessalonians’ being preserved blameless to the coming of Christ, on the same attribute; “Faithful is he that called you, who also will do it,” 1 Thessalonians 5:23,24. And when he would move the Hebrews to purpose, to hold fast the profession of their faith without wavering, he uses the same engine, “faithful is he that promised,” Hebrews 10:23. Peter, also directs the saints to “commit their souls to God, in well doing, as to a faithful Creator,” 1 Pet, 4:19. Now, the scripture always propounds to us, such attributes and motives as are proper to the matter in hand; and, therefore, in styling God, here, a “faithful Creator,” it is as much as to say “he that has wrought you for this selfsame thing is God,” 2 Corinthians 5:5. who is faithful to his purpose, or first intent of his work, and will therefore perfect it, notwithstanding the fiery trial you are to pass under, 1 Peter 4:12. you may therefore build on it, and commit yourselves to him accordingly; for “his faithfulness shall not fail,” Psalm 89:33, and, consequently, not yours.
- Mercy. This attribute also freely contributes to the saints’ perseverance. Mercy respects men in distress, to support and bring them out, not having of their own to help themselves: this, none are so sensible of as believers; them, therefore, will mercy especially provide for; Hos. 14:3. “In thee the fatherless find mercy.” Psalm 59:10. “The God of mercy shall preserve me.” Mercy is the name of God, and his glory, Exodus 34:7. Mercy is his way, “and all the paths of the Lord are mercy,” Psalm 25:10, and it is his pleasant path, called, therefore, his delight, Micah, 7:18. it pleaseth him above any thing; yea, “he takes pleasure in them that hope in his mercy,” Psalm 147:11. We may say, in a good sense, “his throne (that is, his glory in the world,) is upholden by mercy,” Proverbs 20:28. It is mercy that makes men to fear him, Psalm 130:4. The 186th Psalm throughout, is an encomium of mercy, as that which doeth all for us; and this, because it “endureth forever.” In the 138th Psalm, the prophet grounds his confidence, touching his perseverance, on this attribute expressly, namely, that God would perfect that which concerned him, “because his mercy, (which began the work,) endureth forever.” The great covenant is founded in mercy, and is therefore styled, “the sure mercies of David,” Isaiah 55:3. I shall not add more touching this attribute: for if all the rest be on our side, (as you see they are,) the mercy of God must needs be for us; for it is that, indeed, which has engaged and brought in all the rest.
Argument 6. The saints’ perseverance may also be argued from the ends of their being, with the author of those ends: this the scripture puts weight on. Their ends are to glorify God, and to be glorified with him; but neither of these can be attained without persevering; not the first; for nothing so dishonors God as apostasy: not the latter, because such only as endure to the end shall be saved. They must, therefore, persevere, or those ends will be frustrated; which will not stand with the author’s interest or authority. That these were the ends of their being is evident, Isaiah 43:21. “These people have I formed for myself;” and verse 7. “I created him for my glory.” The apostle also is very express for it, in 2 Corinthians chapter 5. where, speaking of that divine building in the heavens, prepared for believers, he tells us, “they were wrought for that selfsame thing.” The manner of expression is worthy of remark: it is not barely said this end or this thing, we are made for; but in effect, this very thing, and nothing else, to be sure nothing less, was the scope and end of our creation, both old and new, even of all God’s workmanship on us. And as evident it is, that God himself is the author of those ends, and that therefore they cannot miscarry. On this ground the Lord would have his people to found an undauntable confidence; as may well be gathered from his so frequent indicating of it. In Isaiah 43:1. thus fortifies them against the sorest of evils; “fear not, for I have redeemed thee; I have called thee;” and verse 7. “I have created him; I have formed him; yea, I have made him, I, even I the Lord,” verse 11, and chapter 41:10. “Fear thou not, for I am with thee: I will strengthen thee, I will help thee, yea, I will uphold thee: “the emphasis lies in the person active, I, that is, I the Lord, a note of infinite significancy and security to believers! the apostle also in 2 Corinthians 5. that believers might know themselves invincibly secured, points us to God, as the great author of those important ends, and almighty undertaker for their accomplishment; “he that wrought us for the selfsame thing is God.” It is as if he had said; it is impossible we should lose the thing we were wrought for, because it is God that wrought it for us. It is not the designment of an idol; that is, of some ignorant, rash, fallible, or mutable agent, such a one as may possibly be surprised by unlooked for accidents, circumvented by a sublime understanding, overborne by a power above him, or recede from his purpose through levity and fickleness of his nature, etc. But it is God, who is “wise in heart, and mighty in strength,” Job 9:4. It is he from whom all things that are have their being, and are perfectly under his rule and obeisance. He had eternity before him, to lay his design surely; and accordingly, “he declared the end from the beginning.” It is therefore as impossible for him either to do, or neglect to do, or suffer to be done, any thing whereby his purpose might suffer disappointment; as it is impossible that God should lie. He would never have set up those ends as the sum and substance of his design, if he had not determined to see them made good. And therefore, as says the apostle, “We are always confident, that when absent from the body, we shall be present with the Lord,” 2 Corinthians 5:6. 8. This is also further confirmed by that compendious promise, Jeremiah 31:b3. “I will be their God, and they shall be my people: “every word here has a peculiar emphasis; 1. That he will be a God to them; 2. Their God; and, 3. for ever: this I will, imports both a fixed resolution, and time without limit. It is as if he had said, though other lords have had the rule over you, and you have still a proneness to revolt to them, it shall not be; I will not be excluded any more; I will heal your backslidings, and be your God still; I will carry it towards you, as becomes a God to do; and I will make you such a people, as becometh God to own: “I will not be ashamed to be called your God,” Hebrews 11:16. It would indeed be both a disparagement and dissatisfaction to God, if his people should fail of that he made them for; which certainly cannot be, because God is theirs; and if God be theirs, all things are theirs, both this world and that to come, 1 Corinthians 3:22, 23.
Argument 7. Lastly. For the final perseverance of believers, a principal argument is derived from the sovereign decree of election. I call it sovereign, partly because it is the highest manifestation of God’s absolute dominion over his creatures, in choosing whom he would, and passing by the rest: partly, also, because all sorts of things whatsoever are subjected to it, and made subservient to its final accomplishment. And this I take for a principal reason why election is so frequently placed in eternity, or before the foundation of the world, namely, to show, that the very fabric of the world and all occurrences therein, were so contrived and framed in God’s decree, as having election for their primary scope and end: that this first cause is the supreme moderator of all intermediate causes, and is itself subject to none. It was not any loveliness in elect persons which moved God to love them at first; so neither shall their unlovely backslidings deprive them of it, though it may be eclipsed by their own default, to the breaking of their bones. The Lord chose them for that blessed image of his own, which he would afterwards imprint on them; and this he still prosecutes through all dispensations.
That elect nation was the Jews; they apostatized from God, and did worse than any other; yet would not the Lord utterly cast them off. In Samuel’s time their wickedness was very great; yet, saith he (to stay them from total apostasy,) “The Lord will not forsake you: “but what is the ground of that his confidence, and grand warranty” The very same that now we are on: “The Lord will not forsake you, because it has pleased the Lord to make you his people: “not because they remembered their duty, and returned to God; but because “he remembered them for his covenant” in pursuance whereof he long maintained their title, notwithstanding their often repeated forfeitures; and, when in captivity, brought them home again.
And, indeed, there is nothing so melts the hearts of those in covenant with God, as that “the Lord should be pacified towards them after all their abominations,” Ezekiel 16:63. The manner of God’s dealings with his people is especially instructive to help the faith of the spiritual election on all occasions, as holding forth the special regard the Lord has for them, because of his covenant: that though he may and will punish their iniquities, yet his loving kindness he will not take from them. And he puts it still on his having once chosen them, as ye have it in Jeremiah 41:9. “I have chosen thee, and not cast thee away.” This latter clause, “and not cast thee away,” seems added to shew, that his choosing them was an act unrepeatable, q. d. I knew beforehand what thou wouldest do, and how thou wouldest prove; and if I had meant ever to cast thee off; yea, if I had not resolved against it, I would not have chosen thee at all: but, since I have, be sure I will stand by thee; “I will strengthen thee; I will help thee; yea, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness.” It is true, the body of that nation, for their unbelief, are now broken off; there is a suspension of the outward part of the covenant: not that God intends an utter rejection of them: for such as have part in the special election are always saved, Romans 11:7, and the time will come when all Israel shall be saved; for as touching the election, they are beloved still, though yet unborn. For their sakes it was, that “those days of tribulation were shortened,” Matthew 24:22. which answers to that in Isaiah 65:8. “Destroy it not, there is a blessing in it.” The Lord will not so much regard what they have done 01 deserved, as what his covenant is concerning Abraham’s seed; which minding of his covenant, is from the unchangeableness of his purpose; and, therefore, though broken off at present, “they shall be grafted in again,” verse 24. though driven into all lands; scattered into corners; mingled with the heathen; and become so like them, as not to be known asunder; yet being his chosen, and within his covenant, he will bring them out of their holes, and gather them one by one, Isaiah 27:12. he will do it so accurately, exactly, punctually, that none shall be wanting, “though sifted among all nations, “not one grain shall fall to the earth,” Amos 9:9. The reservation mentioned in Romans 11. was God’s omnipotent safeguarding his elect, when the rest of the nation fell to idolatry: they had gone all, as well as some, had not election held them hack; it is therefore said to be according to the election of grace: election was the pattern, and reservation the copy of it. And that this was not a single case, or restrained to that present time, is evident from Matthew 24. where our Savior foretells, that the subtlety of deceivers, and temptations of the times, shall be such, and the torrent rise to that strength, that it will be next to impossible not to be carried away by it; but for the elect, they are safeguarded: how? By the coming in of the first and sovereign cause, by the virtue of which, the whole force and influence of those second causes shall either be prevented, or removed, mitigated, inverted, shortened, or overruled, Matthew 24:22, and the faith of his sealed ones so confirmed, that they shall not be hurt by them, Ezekiel 9:6. Revelation 7:3. yea, and which is more, those very things which are destructive to others shall work life in them. This turned Balaam’s curse into a blessing to Israel, Deuteronomy 23:5, and Paul’s afflictions to his salvation, Phil, 2:19. they are to them a cause of “lifting up the head,” Luke 21:28. And if it were not so, the apostle could not exhort us to “count it all joy when we fall into divers temptations,” James 1:2. but that in the midst thereof “he keepeth the feet of his saints,” 1 Samuel 2:9. for, says God, “they are my people; children that will not lie,” Isaiah 63:8. q. d. They are of those I have chosen, and set apart for myself, and therefore they shall not frustrate my purpose in choosing them; which seems implied in the word so, “so he was their Savior;” I will save them, because I have made them my people.
And, further, it is worthy your notice, that this sovereign decree is always regnant; a kingdom that beareth rule over all, and shall never be broken, Daniel 2:44. Psalm 89:
- “My covenant will I not break, nor alter the thing that is gone out of my lips: my covenant shall stand fast with him,” verse 28. It. is meant of the covenant made with David and his house; or rather with Christ and his spiritual seed, of whom David was a type. And thus we might have strong consolation, the Lord is pleased to bind it with an oath; “once,” (that is, once for all, and once for ever; it was so full, perfect, and absolute, that it needed no alteration, amendment, or repetition,) “once have I sworn by my holiness, that I will not lie to David,” verse 35. And how impossible it was that this covenant should be broken, appears by Jeremiah, who, speaking in the name of the Lord, delivers it thus; “If you can break my covenant of the day, and my covenant of the night, that, there should not be day and night in their season; then may also my covenant be broken with David, my servant,” Jeremiah 33:20, 21. Here note, by the way, that day and night take their turns; but still it is in their season. And David himself says of it, that “it is a covenant everlasting, ordered in all things, and sure,” 2 Samuel 23:5. that is, whatever might possibly fall in to interrupt it, there was that order observed in the composition of the covenant, and such a power laid up within it, as should certainly overrun and barred down those impediments, triumph over all, and hold on its way; as all the tempests and tumults that happen in this lower world can in no wise obstruct the course and harmony of the superior orbs. He therefore declares in high, yet humble expressions, that he desires no other or better security for his salvation. And it is not unlikely that David and Solomon were both of them left to those great and grievous backslidings, to give proof of the sureness of this covenant, which indeed was sufficiently done by them, and tried to the uttermost: for they both broke the covenant on their part, and yet the covenant was not nulled: no thanks to them, but to that sovereign grace, that had laid in provision before to prevent it, by making it absolute and unrepealable. Yet will not the Lord connive at their miscarriages; but “if his children forsake my law, and break my statutes, I will visit their transgressions with the rod, and their iniquity with stripes: nevertheless, my loving kindness will I not utterly take from him, nor suffer my faithfulness to fail,” Psalm 89:31, 32, 33. There was, indeed, at times, a seeming to make void this covenant ver, 39, and great complaints are made on it, as well there might; but it revives, and looks fresh again; joy comes in the morning; as is evident by the close of that Psalm, “Blessed be the Lord for evermore, Amen, and Amen!” Its return was the more welcome for its temporary absence; and therefore he meets with a double gratulation, Amen, and Amen! It was but in a little wrath that he hid his face from them, and that but for a moment of time! “but with everlasting kindness will I have mercy on thee, saith the Lord, thy Redeemer. The mountains shall depart, and the hills be removed; but my kindness shall not depart from thee, neither shall the covenant of my peace be removed, saith the Lord, that has mercy on thee,” Isaiah 54:8.10. In Jeremiah another impossibility is instanced, to shew the eternal validity of this covenant; “Thus saith the Lord, if heaven above can be measured, and the foundations of the earth searched out beneath, I will also cast off all the seed of Israel, for all that they have done, saith the Lord,” Jeremiah 31:37. the Lord, you see, has made himself both the alpha and omega of this great sentence; to shew that both ends of the covenant are in his own hands.
By these scriptures, with many others, it is apparent, there shall be no failure on God’s part, and consequently none at all, because he has taken on himself the performance of the whole; not so as to exempt us from our duty, but to reduce us to it, and carry us through it: believers, therefore, shall be invincibly secured to the end of their faith, the salvation of their souls.
Yet doth not this doctrine go free of contradiction; and, truly, considering how plain and pertinent the scripture is for it, it may well be conjectured, that if the first impugners of perseverance had not found themselves in a toil, and necessitated to oppose it, for the maintenance of other principles they had before espoused, and which would not stand with this, they would never have set themselves against it. But errors (like truths in that) do hang together, or as links in a chain; the first mover draws the rest after it: but I trust, through help from above, all the objections that are laid against this doctrine shall, by one hand or other, prove to its farther confirmation. The chief that have occurred to me are these that follow; and if I had met with any more considerable, I trust I should not have shunned their trial.
Objection: The doctrine of absolute perseverance deprives men of the sharpest bit which God has given them to curb the unregenerate part of the soul; we mean the fear and dread of eternal fire.
Answer: The law is good, if lawfully used; so is fear, in its time and place; but out of that. it is as a bone out of joint. The law works by fear, as a schoolmaster to Christ: it is ordinarily the first occasion of our motion towards believing. The heir, whilst a child, may be under the tutorage of fear: but when faith is grown up, then cast out the bondwoman and her son; fear shall not be heir with faith; for, though it be a good servant, it is an ill master. For fear to predominate over faith, is for “servants to ride, while princes walk on the earth, which is an error the earth cannot bear,” Ecclesiastes 10:5. 7. with Proverbs 30:21,22. Believers, especially such as know themselves so to be, “receive not the spirit of bondage again to fear,” Romans 8:15. they are actuated now by another principle, as a horse that is thoroughly broke and well tempered, is better managed by a gentle hand than a biting curb. Faith works by love: it is not henceforth the fear of wrath, but the sense of Christ’s love, in delivering from wrath, that both curbs the unregenerate part, and carries to higher acts of obedience than fear is capable of, although, at times, all sorts of motives may be needful to keep us going; and the Lord, for exercise of our graces, and other holy ends, may let the dearest of his children long conflict with their fears, under which he yet supports them, and brings them forth like gold at last.
See Ethan’s complaint, and the close he makes, in the 89th Psalm: see also that excellent treatise, “A Child of Light walking in Darkness,” etc. by Dr. Goodwin.
There are two sorts of fear; of God, and of the creature. Creature fear believers are still called from, and with good reason, as ye will find after. Godly fear is quite another thing; it is a grace of the largest import: no saving grace, but this fear is put for it, or joined with it; which juncture shows its import in that place. It is sometimes put for faith, Genesis 22:12. with Hebrews 11:17. sometimes for love, Psalm 130:4. with Luke 7:47. for reverence also, Psalm 89:7. Lev. 19:3. Hebrews 12:28. for vigilance and circumspection, 2 Corinthians 7:11. for subjection, or observance, Mal. 1:6. Holiness also is coupled with fear, 2 Corinthians 7:1. So is meekness, 1 Peter 3:15. So also is knowledge, wisdom, and good understanding, Proverbs 1:7. Psalm Ill: 12. Sometimes the whole of religious worship is intended by it, Judges 6:10. Isaiah 8:13. Job 1:1, and 8. This fear ariseth from the sight of God’s holiness, greatness, just severity against sin, with the freeness of his grace, sureness of his covenant, fullness that is in Christ, and our interest in him, wherewith that slavish fear of hell will not consist. On this account, the Lord our God is said to be a “fearful name,” Deuteronomy 28:59. that is, it is the only object worthy of our faith, love, reverence, and religious worship: and, according to this sense of the word, “Blessed is the man that feareth always.” But, touching the fear of hell, as supposed the best to curb sin, and promoter of perseverance, it ought to be rejected. How far it may influence an unregenerate person, as a curb to his lusts, is not the question here; but if Saul and Judas ran headlong to hell, with this bit in their mouths, then the sharpest bit is not the most effectual curb. Arguments against it are obvious; 1. That by which God purifies the heart, and whereby believers are strengthened to a concurrence with him in that work, is surely the properest curb to sin: that also which weakens and tends to destroy the root, must, needs be more effectual than that which only hinders some puttings of it forth: but all this is done by faith; this lays the axe to the root: “By faith God purifies the heart,” Acts 15:9, and “every one that has this hope, purifieth himself, as he is pure,” 1 John 8:3. There is no such virtue ascribed to the fear of hell; but, plainly, the spirit of fear is opposed to the spirit of love, of faith, and of a sound mind, 2 Timothy 1:7. 2. That which has the place of an end in Christ’s delivering from enemies, can be no let to perseverance; but, that we might serve God “without fear,” has the place of an end in that deliverance, Luke 1:74, 75. 3. That which the scripture holds forth as an help to perseverance, cannot be an hindrance to it; but the scripture holds forth faith and confidence in God as a principal help to perseverance, Rom, 6:12. 14. Hebrews 3:14. chapter 10:55. 4. That which irritates the unregenerate part, cannot be said to curb it: but this does the fear of wrath; “When the commandment came, sin revived,” Romans 7:9. that is, it took occasion, by the law’s restraint, to rise the more powerful against it; and so, the “law worketh wrath,” chapter 4:15. as a torrent stopped in its course, grows more impetuous. Cain was an instance of this, Genesis 4:5, and even Paul, in his unregeneracy, Romans 7:10, 11. when thoroughly convinced of sin, if grace step not in as its guardian, the soul is undone. That scripture, Matthew 10:28. gives the objection no countenance; the fear there intended, is that which has faith and love in it: “Fear not them which kill the body, but fear him that is able to destroy both soul and body in hell.” The two objects of fear he puts in the balance; to shew how little reason we have to shun our duty for fear of men, whose power can but reach to a bodily death; and how much more to fear him, that has the keys of death and of hell; that is, who has power to cast into hell, might justly have done it, and yet has saved us from it: and this fear is love; as is evident by Matthew 10:37. where speaking of the same thing, namely, cleaving to Christ, parting with all for him, it is expressly called love: “He that loveth father or mother more than me, is not worthy of me: “and, for aught that appears to the contrary, it might be the fear of hell that made the slothful servant to hide his talent; “I knew thee, that thou art an hard man; and I was afraid, and went and hid thy talent in the earth,” Matthew 25:24, 25. It is also to be observed, that before the great tribunal, the fearful and unbelieving stand linked together, Revelation 21:8. But whatever influence the fear of hell may have on persons unregenerate, as a curb to their lusts, the doctrine of perseverance deprives not of it, for this concerns only believers.
The objection is further excepted against, 1. Because it puts an indignity on the wisdom of God, as if he had taken from believers some expedient help to perseverance, by giving them absolute promises; whereas, we should rather suspect our own understandings, and renounce those opinions, which necessitate such unnatural deductions to support them: for, do but separate the promises from their absoluteness, and their strength is gone; they would prove, as the law, “weak, through the weakness of the flesh,” Romans 8:3.(removed italics) The Lord knows that believers have the most difficult work, and deepest sense of their own insufficiency, and that nothing more weakens their hands, than doubting and fears, and for that very cause has made his promises absolute. Thus he armed Joshua to the battle; “There shall not a man be able to stand before thee all the days of thy life: I will not leave thee, nor forsake thee;” and thence draws him an argument, to be “strong, and of a good courage,” Josh. 1:5, 6. Thus also Samuel, in the place before mentioned, when the people were greatly perplexed because of God’s displeasure towards them: to confirm them in their duty, he comforts them against their fears; “Fear not, ye have done all this wickedness, yet turn not aside from following the Lord,” 1 Samuel 12:20. And what is the strong reason by which he fixes them? “For the Lord will not forsake his people,” verse 22. Paul, likewise, exhorting believers to that great duty of keeping down sin, that it might not reign, because the sharpness and heat of the conflict might otherwise make them recoil, he gives them, as an high cordial, assurance of victory; tells them expressly, that “sin shall not have dominion over them,” Romans 6:14. Of the same mind were Peter and John; the one directs “to give all diligence to make our calling and election sure;” and this, as a principal means to “keep us from falling,” 2 Peter 1:10, and the other makes it the very scope of his whole epistle, that believers might know they have eternal life, and that they might “go on in believing,” 1 John 5:13. “Which kind of arguments had been very improper, and unduly applied, if giving them assurance, touching the event, bad not been a strengthening of them in their duty, and much more, if it would have proved an indulgence to the flesh.
- Let fear be considered in its ordinary and natural effects; and it will easily appear, that nothing is less pleasing to God, or more unapt for the service of perseverance. As a man’s principle is, such will be his obedience; slavish observance is the best that slavish fear can produce, which is no way acceptable to an ingenuous spirit: God loves a cheerful giver, not Samaritan worship, “for fear of lions,” 2 Kings 17:25. Such service will also be weak and wavering; for nothing so unsettles the mind as fear; it enervates the soul, and takes away its strength: “Nabal’s heart died within him for fear,” 1 Samuel 25:37, and the soldiers that kept the sepulcher were as “dead men for fear,” Matthew 28:4. the obedience, therefore, which comes from thence can be but a dead obedience; the effect cannot rise higher than the cause. Pharaoh let Israel go because of the plagues, which being a little removed, he repents his obedience, and chides himself for it, Exodus 14:5, and those hypocrites, though fearfullness had surprised them, remained hypocrites still, Isaiah 33:14. This fear will also consist with the greatest impieties: those very Samaritans, who thus feared the Lord, did also worship their graven images, 2 Kings 17:41.
- Fear puts on using unlawful means: Isaac to deny his wife, Genesis 26:7. David to lie, and feign himself mad, 1 Samuel 21:13. Peter, and other holy men, to dissemble, Galatians 2:12, 13. It sends men to Egypt for help, as it did the Jews, Isaiah 30:2. Hosea 7:11. yea, to hell, as it did Saul, 1 Samuel 28:7. Therefore, both Satan and wicked men are still endeavoring to put God’s people in fear, as they would Nehemiah, whereby his work had ceased, Nehemiah 6:13,14. 19. And Satan stood at Joshua’s right hand to resist him, that is, to accuse him; and so to put him in fear, because of his filthy garments, thereby to discourage him in the work of his office, Zee. 3:1.
- Let fear be compared with its contrary, which is faith, this removes the mountain, while fear fixes it, yea, makes it seem to be where no such thing is. Fear made the unbelieving spies to bring up an evil report of the good land, and to fancy impossibilities of obtaining it, Numb. 13:31. faith made Caleb and Joshua magnanimous; “Let us go up at once (say they) and possess it, for we are well able to overcome it,” verse 30. “yea, they shall be bread for us,” chapter 14:9. These two who feared no miscarriage under an absolute promise, were carried in; all that doubted were shut out. Peter, while confident, walked on the waves; when he began to doubt, he began to sink, Matthew 14:29, 30. It was faith made those worthies valiant to fight, enabled one to chase a thousand, Josh. 23:10. When fear caused a thousand to flee at the rebuke of one, yea, at the shaking of a leaf, Lev. 27:36. A handful of obedience, springing from faith and confidence in God, is more acceptable to him, than sheaves and loads arising from fear of wrath. If Paul, for fear of hell, had given his body to be burned, it had been nothing, 1 Corinthians 13:3. but faith and love render small things of value with God, even the widow’s mite, and a cup of cold water. And it is worthy of remark, that when the fruits of the Spirit are reckoned up, this fear is not so much as named among them, Galatians 5:22, 23. And certain it is, that the more sensible and lively our love is to God, the less will be our fear of hell; for perfect love casts out fear.
- If fear were such an effectual curb to sin, or help to perseverance, there would not be such promises of delivering God’s people from their fears, nor would they so affectionately bless God for their being delivered, nor so resolutely set themselves against it; neither would there be so many commands and injunctions laid on them, not to be afraid.
(1.) For commands against fear. “Fear not thou, O my servant Jacob,—for I will save thee: fear thou not,— I will correct thee in measure,” Jeremiah 46:27, 28. that is, meetly and proportionally, according to the scope of my covenant, which is to save thee. The Lord would not have us think ourselves in danger of being cashiered when we are chastened; which seems the import of that in Isaiah, “I have chosen thee, and not cast thee away; fear thou not,” Isaiah 41:9, 10. So, to the Hebrews, “Cast not away your confidence,” Hebrews 10:35, and Christ to his disciples, Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid,” John 14:27. nothing brings such perturbation of mind as fear. And, “Fear not little flock;” why? “It is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom,” Luke 12:32. Innumerable are the injunctions laid on God’s people against fear, Isaiah 35:4. chapter 43:5. chapter 44:2. Jeremiah30:10. Joel 2:21. Ephesians 3:16. Hag. 2:5, chapter 8:13. 15. Matthew 10:29. Acts 27- 24. Revelation 1:17. etc. Therefore freedom from this fear is no impediment to perseverance.
(2). Promises of delivering from fears. “Jacob shall be in quiet, and none shall make him afraid,” Jeremiah 30:10. “He shall not be afraid of evil tidings,” Psalm 112:7. “He shall be quiet from fear of evil,” Proverbs 1:33. The promise is not made to fear and fainting, but to faith and confidence; “Be of good courage and he shall strengthen thy heart,” Psalm 27:14. If it had been the mind of Christ, that believers should still be under this fear, he would not have told them, they are passed from death unto life, and shall not come into condemnation, John 5:24. that they shall sit on thrones, Matthew 19:28. that their inheritance is reserved in heaven for them, and they kept for it; and that by the mighty power of God, 1 Peter 1:4, 5. The result of all which is, that “having these promises, we should cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of flesh and spirit; perfecting holiness in the fear of God,” 2 Corinthians 7:1.
(3.) Examples of Christian resolution not to fear. “Yea, though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, 1 will fear no evil,” Psalm 23:4. -Isaiah 50:7. “Therefore (that is, because the Lord God had promised to help him; therefore) have I set my face as a flint, and I know that I shall not be confounded,” Psalm 56:4. “I will not fear what flesh can do to me.” And Psalm 49:5. Wherefore should I fear in the days “of evil, when the iniquity of my heels shall compass me about?” These, if any thing should have put him in fear; but his faith resolves against it, according to Isaiah 12:2. “I will trust, and not be afraid,” that is, he would not willingly admit the least mixture of fear with his faith; and good reason for it, since “the joy of the Lord was his strength,” Nehemiah 8:10.
(4.) Instances of thankfulness for deliverance from fears. “O magnify the Lord with me, and let us exalt his name together.” But what is the occasion of this joyful triumph? “I sought the Lord, and he heard me, and delivered me from all my fear?,” Psalm 43:3, 4, and therefore will I offer in his tabernacle sacrifices of joy;” and the reason of it was, that “God would hide him in his own pavilion,” Psalm 27:5, 6. that is, he would secure him from danger, and set him above all fears; which he could not, with any good reason, have rejoiced in; nor have prayed that God would “restore him to the joy of his salvation,” if the dread of eternal fire had been so good a friend to perseverance. Scriptures might be multiplied; but, besides these, it is evident in experience, that nothing so elevates the spirit and courage of a man in great undertakings, as assurance of success: but while he is wavering, and doubtful how he shall speed, especially while he meditates terrors, and of them the dreadfulest, his hands are enfeebled, nor has he his wits about him (as we use to speak) to discern and improve them, as otherwise he might. That which tends really to make a man “steadfast, immoveable, and always to abound in the work of the Lord,” is not the fear of miscarrying, and losing all at last; but “faith and a certain knowledge that his labor shall not be in vain in the Lord,” 1 Corinthians 15:58.
Objection: If a man once believing cannot lose his faith, why is it said, “Let him that standeth take heed lest he fall?” and, “Look to yourselves, that ye lose not the things we have wrought?” If there be no possibility of losing, what need of such cautions and such great circumspection?
Answer: The maker of this objection has elsewhere granted, that the obtaining of Canaan was sure to Abraham’s seed, so as their unworthiness could not deprive them of it: and yet we find their induction and actual possession yoked, afterwards, with as many conditions, cautions, and limitations, as the promise of salvation to believers any where is; and yet, nevertheless certain. But, for more particular answer,
- That a righteous man may fall, is evident; and as evident it is, that he cannot fall finally; for though he fall seven times in a day, as often does he rise again, Proverbs 24:16, and this, because the “Lord upholdeth him with his hand,” Psalm 37:24, and again, the “Lord upholdeth all that fall,” Psalm 145:14. that is, either he stays them when they are falling, or so orders and limits the matter, that they fall not into mischief, as others do; and to be sure he will set them on their feet again. The absolute promise cannot be nullified or made uncertain by cautionary words elsewhere delivered. It cannot, therefore be meant of a total and final falling away, which the scripture current expressly runs against.
- There are considerations of great weight to make believers beware of falling, without supposing their final apostasy, (as the danger of breaking a man’s bones, is ground sufficient for caution, though sure that his neck shall be safe,) the dishonor done to his Father; the shame that is put on Christ; grieving the Comforter; scandalizing the good ways of God; stumbling the weak; strengthening the wicked; unfitting him for his duty; interrupting his peace and communion with God, and so forth: every one of which will weigh deep with a soul that is born of God.
- The Lord does ordinarily bring about his purposes by means, of which cautions are a part, and by which, as a means, he keeps off the evil cautioned against. In 1 John 2:28. the apostle exhorts them to “abide in Christ,” whom certain professors had relinquished, verse 19. And, as purposely intending to obviate this objection, he tells them “that they shall abide in him,” verse 27. whereby he strengthens them to their duty.
For the other place objected,—namely, “Look to yourselves, that you lose not the things we have brought,”—it is one thing to lose for a time the sense and comfort of our state, as David, Heman, and others did, and another thing to lose the state itself; which a believer shall never do, as is shown before. Of much like import is that in 2 Peter I: 5—9. where he exhorts them to “give all diligence to add one grace to another;” and, to help them in their work, he tells them, 1. What advantage they shall have by so doing: they shall not be unfruitful in the knowledge of Jesus Christ; that is, it shall evidence to them that the knowledge they have is a real knowledge, which cannot be known from that which is formal only, but by such an effect. That also by this means it shall be increased; the using of things well, and to their proper end, being the readiest way to their improvement, according to John 7:17, “He that will do my will shall know of my doctrine.” 2. He then sets before them the loss they shall have in case of neglect; they will become blind, unable to see afar off, and forget that they were purged from their old sins; remissness will bring obscurity; that which was clear before, will now become clouded, and be as if it were not: it may seem to them, that they are short of that rest, which yet is sure to them; and so they will be put to begin their work anew; whereas, “if they do these things, they shall never fall:” that is, they shall not fall from their steadfastness, nor lose that clear sight and assurance which they now have, touching their good estate, namely, as being partakers of the divine nature, and purged from their old sins, which those neglects might put out of their sight, and so lose them the sense and comfort of what they had wrought.
Objection: We read in John 6:66. that many of Christ’s disciples forsook him; in Timothy, of some who, as concerning the faith, had made shipwreck; and of Simon Magus, who once believed, and was afterwards found in the bond of iniquity.
Answer: The objection has an answer sufficient made ready to its hand, in 1 John 2:19. “They went out from us, because they were not of us: for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us.” Seeming faith may realty be lost, as theirs was; and real faith may seemingly be lost, as was the apostle’s, Luke 24:21. Seeming faith is lost really, because it was but seeming; real faith cannot be lost, because it is real. Yet we shall find, that that which is but seeming, is frequently called by the name of that it seems to be; as in Matthew 13:12. it is said, “that which he has:” in Luke 8:18. (speaking of the same thing) it is rendered, “that he seemeth to have:” so those who forsook Christ, they were disciples but in shew; they never believed in truth; as appears by John 6:64. “Jesus knew from the beginning who they were that believed not:” and this (namely, because it was but a seeming faith they had,) he gives as the reason of their now forsaking him. And for Simon Magus, the answer is ,as clear concerning him: where let us consider,
- That a man may be said to believe, and yet not be a believer; as a righteous man to sin, and yet not be a sinner, 1 John 5:18. To be a believer, is to be thoroughpaced in faith, to believe all that is to be believed, and to have the heart united to it: thus Simon believed not; and if he had; could not have thought the Holy Ghost vendible for money.
- His faith seems to be only such a belief concerning Philip, as the Samaritans lately had concerning Simon, namely, that he was “the great power of God.” For finding himself overmatched by Philip, who cast out the spirits, which he, perhaps, had possessed them with, he could not now but give the precedency to Philip, as having a greater power than himself; and, therefore, he “continued with Philip, wondering at what he did.”
- Simon’s believing seems to be no more than an outward professional faith, taken up for by respects, to preserve his interest and repute among the people, who now began to fall from him, and to follow Philip, whose disciple he himself will profess to be, rather than to be quite cashiered. Besides, this profession of his might, in his conceit, be a step towards “purchasing the gift of the Holy Ghost,” which, if he could obtain, he had been again in as good a condition, both for reputation and profit, as before.
If any shall say, we read not of this distinction of faith, into true and false—I answer, the scripture frequently speaks of persons and things according to vulgar esteem, or what they professed themselves to be. Ahaz is said to “sacrifice to the gods of Damascus that smote him.” 2 Chronicles 28:23, and yet neither were they gods, nor did they smite him; but it is spoken according to his own superstitious opinion of them. So those four hundred men, who prophesied before Ahab, are called prophets, 1 Kings 22:1. not that they were prophets indeed, but because they so professed themselves, or because so reputed by Ahab find the people. A prophet is one that is inspired by the Holy Ghost; which those men were not, but by a lying spirit, verse 22. Now, Simon Magus was no more a true believer, than those true prophets; nor his faith any more of the right kind, than their predictions true prophecies. We also find, that, the Scripture makes the coming to pass of the thing foretold, to be the evidence of a true prophet: according to which rule, perseverance to salvation must demonstrate the truth of faith; and wheresoever this follows not, there faith was but pretended; “They profess to know God, but in works deny him,” Tit. 1:16. as of the Samaritans, before mentioned, it is said, “They feared the Lord;” and presently after, that “they feared not the Lord,” 2 Kings 17:3, 34. they feared him in show, but not in truth.
- “The foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, the Lord knoweth them that are his,” 2 Timothy 2:19. He brings it in to comfort believers, touching the sureness of their standing; when others, of as glorious outsides, make shipwreck of the faith: it sands sure, because “the Lord knoweth them that are his: “he knows whom he has chosen; for whom he has received the atonement; whom he has called, and caused to “take hold of his covenant;” and these shall surely be kept, notwithstanding the woeful backslidings of others.
Objection: If one that believes not now, may have faith hereafter; then one that is now a believer, may lose his faith, and turn apostate.
Answer: It follows not, that because Christ can bind Satan, and cast him out; therefore Satan can do so by Christ. He can come into the devil’s nursery when he will; take a crabstock, and transplant it, and graft it with a noble tree; but Satan cannot come into God’s vineyard, which is a garden enclosed, and take thence what he pleaseth. One, who is now dead in sin, may be quickened; but, being once alive, can die no more: it is Christ’s own assertion, “He that liveth, and believeth in me, shall never die,” John 11:26. which cannot be meant of any other but a spiritual death, which is all one with his losing his faith.
Objection: A righteous man may turn away from his righteousness; and that so, that he shall die for it, Ezekiel 18:24.
Answer: There is a twofold righteousness; 1. Moral; such as Paul had before his conversion; this a man may continue in to the last, and yet be not saved, 2. There is a gospel righteousness; (1.) Imputed; this is the righteousness of Christ, by which we are justified. (2.) Infused; this is the divine nature communicated by the Spirit of Christ, whereby we are sanctified. These two go inseparably, and can never be lost. But the righteousness spoken of in the place objected, seems to be of the former sort; namely, moral or outward righteousness; for outward conformity to the law, was the condition of their possessing the land of Canaan, with long life and prosperity in it.. This, if retained, gave them a legal right to those promises; if they turned from it, they ran into a forfeiture: and lose it they might, for they had no promise that they should abide in it. But the new covenant undertakes for that, as is evident, by comparing Jeremiah chapter 32:43. But if any will yet suppose the righteous man spoken of in the 18th of Ezekiel, to be meant of a true believer; there is, I trust, in the answers foregoing, sufficient to solve it.
But suppose a believer be taken away in his sin, as perhaps Josiah was, and has not time to repent of it? 1. It cannot be proved that this was the case with Josiah: he had time sufficient between his wounding and his death. So is evident by the story, 2 Chronicles 35:23, 24. But, 2. There was that in him that would have repented, and God reckons of a man according to what he would do. It being in David’s heart to build him a house, it was accepted as if he had done it. The root of the matter is in every regenerate person, which, if it had time, would set forth itself in fruits: and therefore they shall not be dealt with as barren trees, which hare not that substance in them.
Objection: The promise of perseverance is not made to faith, that that shall not fail; but in reference to the favor of God, namely, that if men go on to believe, they shall abide in his love.
Ans. Thus to give the sense of the promise, is to enervate it, and make it speak but according to the covenant of works: it bereaves it wholly of that superiority the Scripture ascribes to it, in Hebrews 8:6-10. It also render, the promise as speaking fallaciously; making show of that it tends not: it would be as if he had said You shall keep the favor of God, if you do not lose it. Besides, faith the soul’s coming to God; unbelief, its departing from him: the promise, therefore, that secures against departing from God, secures your continuance in beliving that undertakes you shall be crowned, doth virtually undertake for your holding out to the end of your race. Objection: Others, again, in interpreting the promises recorded in the 36th of Ezekiel and 32d of Jeremiah, touching men’s not departing from God, restrain them to the Jewish nation, and to the last days.
Ans. To this I shall only say, that although some particular times and persons are more immediately concerned in the promises of the Old Testament, especially such as offer temporal things; yet is there not one Promise, but in the spirituality of it, belongs to every one that belongs to Christ; that is, Jews in spirit. No scripture is of private interpretation; and therefore not to be confined to those particular times or persons, when and to whom they were delivered: they were written for the use of all, 1 Corinthians 10:11, and we find them accordingly applied in the New Testament. The promise made to Joshua, touching the success of his warfare in Canaan, is, by the apostle, applied to believers in general, as an argument against overmuch carefulness in a married estate, and for contentedness with our present condition, Josh. 1:5. with Hebrews 13:5. So, likewise, the prophecy of Isaiah, touching the hypocrites of his time, is by Christ applied to the Pharisees, Isaiah chapter 19. with Matthew 25:7, 8, and the promises made to the Jews in Isaiah 54:13 are applied to the Gentiles in John 6:45.
Objection:. The doctrine of absolute perseverance lays the reins of security on the neck of the flesh, and of the old man, in believers.
Answer: For answer, 1. This objection, is, in effect, the same with the first, only it speaks broader; which shows, that the farther men go in opposing the truth, the worse language they give it. That many, who disbelieve the doctrine of perseverance, have given the flesh its full range and liberty, needs no proof: but, that any believer has made that impious use of it, will never be made out. 2. The objection deserves no quarter, because it highly reproaches the goodness and faithfulness of God, as if for a fish, he had given a scorpion; for so it would be, if his giving them absolute promises would prove an indulgence to the flesh. 3. It also contradicts the known and constant way of holy men’s arguing and inferring from absolute promises, and the highest assurance: see a few instances of this: “When Christ our life shall appear, then shall ye also appear with him in glory:” the result of it is, “mortify, therefore, your members which are on the earth,” Colossians 3:4, 5. Again, “we know that when he shall appear, we shall be like him:” and what is the fruit of this knowledge? “Every man that has this hope in him, purifieth himself, even as he is pure,” 1 John 3:2,3. The like ye have in the Corinthians: “For we know, that if our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens.” Now see the effect of this assurance; “Wherefore we labor, that whether present or absent, we may be accepted of him,” 2 Corinthians 4:5. 9. in the next chapter, he repeats the sum of the new covenant; “I will be a father to you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty,” 2 Corinthians 6:18. Observe now the use he makes of it, and all believers have the same mind: “Having, therefore, these promises, (absolute promises,) let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God,” chapter 7:1. Job knew that his Redeemer lived, and that he should live with him; and yet, as to holiness and integrity, not a man like Job in all the earth. And that holy man Asaph, was fully assured of persevering infallibly; “Thou shalt guide me by thy counsel, and afterwards receive me to glory,” Psalm 73:24. this did not loosen the reins, but made him cleave closer to God, renouncing all but him and his service; “Whom have I in heaven but thee?” And, “it is good for me to draw nigh to God,” verse 25.28. The like frame of spirit we find in David, “Surely, goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life: “his result also is “I will dwell in the house of God for ever,” Psalm 23:6. And, that these were not temporary fits and flashes, but from a settled principle, is further apparent by his manner of reasoning; “In time of trouble, he shall hide me in his pavilion, (no safer place on earth nor in heaven,) and now shall my head be lifted up above mine enemies round about me,” Psalm 27:5. But what follows on this mounted assurance? “Soul, take thine ease, eat, drink, and be merry?” O! no: but, “therefore will I offer sacrifices of joy; I will sing, yea, I will sing praises to the Lord!” Psalm 27:6. he was now on his high places, out of the reach of danger; but did not grow remiss on it, restrain prayer, and give over calling on God; but falls the more fervently on that which shall be the object of all in heaven: he would rather have been remiss without this assurance, as he himself presently acknowledgeth: “I had fainted, unless I had believed to see the goodness of the Lord in the land of the living,” verse 15. So Paul’s assurance of obtaining what he ran for, was a mighty strengthening to him in his race: who so crucified to the world as Paul? so abundant in all kind of service, or more ready to die for Christ, than he? Who yet had the fullest assurance of holding out, and of receiving the crown of righteousness at last; and that nothing should separate him from it. By these ye may gather, that believers are of a nobler extract, than to love God the less, because he loves them so much; and that it is no trivial slander, to insinuate that believers, especially such as have assurance, are most exposed and given to backsliding; which is, sure, an unnatural consequent of their being “sealed to the day of redemption.” Such objections do also argue the authors of them, not well acquainted with the goodly ways of God, nor with that spiritual obliging sweetness that is found in them: which any one, who has tasted thereof in truth, would not turn from, although his future happiness were not concerned in it. Nor do they consider the frame and nature of the new creature, which has spiritual senses, fitted to discern what makes for its own preservation, and what against it. Had you fifteen years added to your life, and a certainty of it; would you therefore forsake your food, and disuse the ordinary means of preserving life? The Jews had an absolute promise, that God would save Jerusalem from the king of Assyria, who then besieged it: did they set open their gates, and draw off their guards on it? Sense and reason would teach them otherwise, which grace does not destroy, but perfect. It is a spark of that heavenly fire, which cannot live out of its element, nor can all the waters under heaven quench it. It is a participation of the divine nature, and so loves and hates, as the Father of it doth; and it will cleave to him in every state: “If he save me alive, I will serve him; if he kill me, I will yet trust in him;” in life, and in death, I will be the Lord’s. This is the natural disposition of the new creature, it savors only the things which are of God: and the higher tasted they are by assurance, the more is he aloft, and above the lure of carnal divertisements, not to be governed or led by them. Therefore, let God be true, and his prophets and apostles be reckoned for faithful witnesses, and every one that speaks Otherwise a liar.
The next thing in course is, to consider what improvement may be made of this doctrine; which one would surely conclude of very great usefulness, since the scriptures are so greatly concerned about it. In general, it affords matter of eminent support to believers; especially in difficult cases: it also evinceth matter of duty on the believer’s part; and from the examples forequoted, something of direction in reference to both; which I shall here put intermixedly.
Infer. 1. Stand still, and behold the salvation of the Lord! and at the sight of this great thing, say in your hearts, with a holy astonishment, “What has God wrought!” Let your souls be filled and enlarged with everlasting admirings of that grace (that sovereign grace) which has so impregnably secured the salvation of his chosen, that no manner of thing, whether within them or without them, shall be able to defeat it, or hinder them of it; “no, not the gates of hell: “nay, not so much as one of the stakes thereof shall be removed, and that forever. Shaken you may be, and tossed with a tempest, but not overturned, because ye have an eternal root. Electing love is of that sovereignty, that it rules and overrules all, both in heaven and in earth: Christ Jesus, our Savior and Lord, the Holy Ghost, our sanctifier, counselor, and comforter, in all they have done, do, or will do, do still pursue that scope. All ordinances, providences, temptations, afflictions, and whatever can be named, whether good or bad in itself, life, death, things present, and things to come, are all made subservient to the decree of election, and do all work together to bring about its most glorious designment. If the course and conduct of common providences were lively delineated, it would yield an illustrious prospect: how much more the conduct, order, and end, of those special providences, which are proper to, and conversant about election! when all the pieces thereof shall be brought together, and set in order, how beautiful will it be! angels and men shall shout for the glory of it! then it will be evident God has done nothing in vain, or impertinent to your blessedness: that whatever has befallen you here, however contrary to your present sense and opinion of it, was dispensed in very faithfulness to you: that if any of those manifold, and seemingly cross occurrences, you have been exercised with, had been omitted, it would have been a blank in your story, a blot in your escutcheon of honor. When you shall see what contrivances have been against you; what art, subtlety, malice, and power, the were agitated with; how unable you were, of yourselves, to foresee. prevent, avoid, or repel them; and how all the attributes of God and his providences, each one in its time and place, which was always most seasonable, came in to your rescue, retorting on your adversaries, and safeguarding you; yea, how that which was death in itself, was made to work life in you; how amiable and admirable will the story of it be! that when your faith was weak, the Lord did not withdraw from you; that when it was at its height and strength, he then did for you above all you could believe or think, and through an unspeakable press of difficulties and contradictions, he carried on his work in you; even bearing you on eagles’ wings, until he had brought you to himself: how will you magnify his work, and admire it then! Begin it now.
Infer. 2. Let us study more the knowledge and contents of this great truth of believers’ invincible perseverance; the rise, progress, and tendency of it, and what advantages it yields to us; which are indeed many, and very considerable.
- As it is a part of the doctrine of election which teacheth, that nothing in us, but grace and love in God, was the only original cause of our salvation; the knowledge whereof will work in the soul an holy ingenuity and love towards God, whom nothing offends but sin. Simon answered right when he said, “He that had most forgiven him, would love most,” Luke 7:45. whence it follows, that he who believes the free remission of all his sins, from first to last, must Iove God more than he who believes only the pardon of those that are past; and that so, as that they may all be charged on him again: or if not, that yet he may possibly perish for those to come, perhaps in the last moment of his life: for he is not sure, nay, it is very doubtful, if dependant on his own natural will, that faith and repentance shall be his last act. Now this grace of love being the strongest and most operative principle, he that is led by it must act accordingly; that is, vigorously, and without weariness, as Paul did. And Joseph, having received large tokens of God’s love to him, and expecting more, yet argues against, and, with an holy disdain and slight, puts by the temptation: “How can I do this, and sin against God,” who has dealt, and will deal, so bountifully with me! Divine love is of infinite efficacy.
- As it teacheth the soul to depend on God for its keeping, as having his almighty power absolutely engaged for it. Whereas, if the efficacy and event of all that God doeth for me, should depend on something to be done by myself, who am a frail creature, and prone to revolt, I should still be in fear, because still in danger of falling, and losing all at last: and this fear being an enfeebling passion, must needs render my resistance, and all my endeavors, both irregular and weak; whereas a magnanimous and fearless spirit, who sees himself clothed with a divine power, shall have his wits (as we say) more about him, to discern dangers and advantages, and, consequently, how to eschew the one, and improve the other.
- As it gives assurance, “our labor shall not be in vain.” This made these believing Hebrews to “endure that great fight of afflictions, and to take joyfully the spoiling of their goods; because they knew they had in heaven a better and more enduring substance.” All manner of accomplishments put into one, and made your own, would not so invincibly steel your foreheads, and strengthen your hearts, as to be sure of success, and to come off conquerors at last: the apostle, therefore, brings it in as the highest encouragement in our Christian warfare, Romans 6:14. chapter 8:37. And our blessed Lord himself, who, of all others, had the hardest task to perform, it made “his face as a flint, because he knew he should not be confounded,” Isaiah 50:7.
Infer. 3. Make it one, and that a main part of your business, to foil and disprove the objections that are brought against this doctrine; and your nearest way to it is, by “growing in grace,” 2 Peter 3:18. with chapter 1:5—10. 1. Lay aside, and cast away every weight; especially the sin that doth most easily beset you; your besetting sin, whatever it be; cast them to the moles, and to the bats; they are not fit mates for daylight creatures, 1 Thessalonians 5:5. 6. It is a noble prize you run for; therefore clog not yourself with any thing that may hinder or retard your pace. 2. Keep yourselves in the love of God; maintain a spiritual sense of his love to you, and a lively answer of holy affections towards him. Whatever may tend to obscure or lessen your sense of it, have nothing to do with it; keep yourself from idols; let nothing have an interest in your love but God, and all things else, but in subordination, and with respect to him only. 3. Watch against the beginning and very first motions of sin; nip it in the bud; abstain from all appearance of evil; and walk not on the brink of your liberty. It is easier to keep out an invader, than to expel him when entered, to keep down a rebel, and prevent his rising, than to conquer him when he is up. Great and black clouds have small beginnings; the bigness of your hand, at first, may rise and spread so as to cover the whole heavens; therefore, keep off sin at staff’s end. 4. Be diligent and industrious in it. Think not, because it is God who performeth all things for you, that therefore you may sit still, or be remiss in your duty; your arms and armor were not provided to rust in your tent. There may be, indeed, such a juncture in providence, that it may be your duty, and, consequently, your strength, to sit still, as was theirs at the Red Sea, Exodus 14:13. this is, when all further motion is shut up to you; and then the Lord will do his work without you: but usually there is something to be done on our part. Though the Lord would go forth before David, and smite the Philistines, yet David must bestir himself, 2 Samuel 5:24. This thing is constantly to be affirmed, that “they who have believed in God, be careful to maintain good works,” Tit. 3:8, and do it the rather, to “cut off occasion from them which desire occasion; that where they glory, they may be found even as we,” 2 Corinthians 11:22. 5. Cleave to Jesus Christ, and to him only; and trust not to your holding of him, but to his holding of you. This did David, when he says, “Thou holdest me by my right hand,” Psalm 73:23. Follow him, as men follow the court, whose dependence is on it. While following him, you cannot do amiss; nor want any good thing, whether for counsel, strength, or otherwise. 6. Forget what is behind, and press on towards perfection; that, if possible, you may attain to the resurrection of the dead, that is, to be perfectly holy. Though perfectness, in the perfection of it, is not attainable here; yet the higher you aim, the higher shall your attainment be, and the farther off from losing what you have got. Keep the mark still in your eye, and shun whatever might intercept your sight of it. These are some of the ways to make your calling and election: sure: and if ye do these things, ye shall prove this doctrine to be true; and either prevent or retort those carnal and groundless calumnies that are brought against it.
Infer. IV. Since there are such arguments for believers’ perseverance, let us all so demean ourselves, that we may have them all stand on our aide, for proof and evidence that we are of that happy remnant, whom the great God has set apart for himself, and whom he has made and wrought for this selfsame thing: and as it was his purpose, so let it be our spirit and practice, to glorify the riches of his grace. 1. If born of God, let us shew forth the virtues of our Father, and bear ourselves as his children, both towards him, and towards the world. Let us live on him, and live to him; rejoicing always before him; first, for his own blessedness, and then for ours, as derived from his, and by him reserved in heaven for us; and all, as designing to honor him as our Father. 2. If we have faith, let it appear by our works. It must be some singular thing that must distinguish us from other men: it is not profession, nor words, nor actions neither (as to the matter of them, and so far as visible to men,) that will approve us believers; but the principle whence they grow, and the end they drive at: the result of Abraham’s faith was, “to give glory to God,” and so will ours, if Abraham’s seed. 3. Let us carry ourselves, under all dispensations, not only quietly, but thankfully, and so as to answer God’s end: walk humbly; hate the thing that is evil; have the world under your feet; esteem preciously of Christ; honor his ordinances; let every grace have its perfect work; and rejoice in hopes of that glory, which all these things are preparatory to. 4. If one with Christ, and he our Mediator, then let us walk as he walked, who held his own will always subject to his Father; reckoning it “his meat to do his will, and to finish his work:” let us also wait his advice and counsel in every business, and follow it; commit our cause to him, and interest him in all our concernments. 5. Apply yourselves to every attribute of God, according to the present occasion; and dwell on them, and leave them not until you have the grace and help intended by them. They are all made over to the heirs of salvation, to live on: let it not be said, that in the midst of our abundance we are in straits! 6. If made for the glory of God, make good your end: he is glorious in holiness, and by holiness only can you glorify him. Bear, therefore, on the forehead of your designs and conversation, that royal inscription, Holiness to the Lord: by this, you will set to your seal, that “God is true,” and approve yourselves to be “children that will not lie.” It will also be of singular use and service to yourselves, as to that other end of your being: that you have “glorified God on the earth, “will be a substantial argument that he will glorify you” in the world to come, John 17:4. For, though your personal righteousness be not your title to the heavenly inheritance, yet your constant progression in holiness will be your best evidence, next to the immediate witnessings of the spirit, that you have a title, and that your title is good. Since, therefore, we were made for, and expect such things, “what manner of persons ought we to be, in all holy conversation and godliness?” 2 Peter 3:11. 7. If under the covenant of grace, let us reckon ourselves strengthened with all might, and hold to it, as having all our salvation in it; both keeping, support, recovery, and settlement, grace and glory: not minding so much how any thing looks or feels at present, as the end it tends to; for if the end be good, the means (as such) cannot be otherwise. And, truly, we cannot have a better evidence of our interest in this covenant, than a total devolving and casting ourselves on it, Isaiah 56:4. 6.
And well it is for us (who find in ourselves so great a proneness to backslide,) that our eternal condition doth not depend on ourselves, but on that foundation of God mentioned in Timothy, where the apostle, speaking of some who had made shipwreck of the faith (lest true believers should faint in their minds at the sight and apprehension of it,) he tells them, that nevertheless (that is, notwithstanding this woeful backsliding of some, perhaps of eminent profession, yet) “the foundation of God standeth sure;.. q. d. That they who are on this foundation are sure to be kept: and he confirms it with this seal, “The Lord knoweth them that are his: “he knows whom he has chosen, and concerning whom he has covenanted, that “they shall not depart from him;” and therefore he will not let them go; they shall be kept as those seven thousand were, from bowing the knee to Baal; adding this caution withal, “That every one which nameth the name of the Lord should depart from iniquity,” 2 Timothy 2:19. which, as it is a means of God’s appointing, to keep from apostasy, so it shall be to them an evidence that they are of that foundation, and shall be kept. For it being his scope to comfort believers against their misgivings, which arise from a sense of their own weakness, and a like aptness in themselves to revolt, he needs must use an argument suitable to such an end: and, therefore, in saying “the foundation of God standeth sure,” he must intend, believers standing sure on it; for the standing sure of the foundation would be small comfort to us, if yet we might be blown off it, or sink besides it. Does God take care for sparrows? for oxen? for ravens? much more for believing souls, who have committed themselves to his keeping. Let the fowler do all he can, not a sparrow shall fall to the ground: you will say, Without the will of God they cannot: and the will of God is, that they shall not. “A thousand may fall at his side, and ten thousand at his right hand, but it shall not come nigh him,” Psalm 91:7. He that determined such a sparrow shall not fall, determined also to prevent that which would cause him to fall; and, therefore, either the fowler shall not find the bird, or the bird shall discern his approach, or smell the powder, and be gone; or if he shoot, he shall miss his mark; or if he hit, it shall light on the feathers, that will grow again, or on some fleshy part, that may be licked whole; or, perhaps, it shall open an ulcer, that could not otherwise be cured: a believer’s heel may be bruised, but his vital parts are out of reach, and therefore safe.
Infer. V. Let this doctrine, of believers’ invincible perseverance in faith and holiness, strengthen our hearts against all sorts of doubts and fears which may arise from the presence of indwelling sin, with its frequent and sturdy insurrections; since “he that has begun, will also perfect his work with power,” Philippians 1:6. Judge righteous judgment of ourselves, indeed, we cannot think worse than we deserve, but of our state we may: therefore, for help in this case, consider,
- That though the new nature shall certainly expunge the old, at last, the work is not perfected here. But take this for your present relief, that the best principle is still predominant, and getting ground, and the old party shall never recover its wasting condition: for the kingdom of God once in the heart, will surely work and spread itself till the whole lump is savored by it, Matthew 13:31. 33v “To him that has shall be given,” chapter 25:29. “He that has life, shall have it more abundantly,” John 10:10. As it was God who girded you with strength, so he will make your way perfect, Psalm 18:82. Though faith and holiness be, at present, but as two little flocks of kids, and sin, like the Syrian’s army, fills the country, be not dismayed; the king of Israel will clear the country of them; his “Spirit shall lift up a standard against them,” Isaiah 59:19. “And though they come in like a flood, by him shall their proud waves be stayed,” Job 38:11. The Lord says to you in this case as he did to Jeremiah, “I have made thee a defenced city, an iron pillar, and brazen walls, against the whole land: they shall fight against thee, but they shall not prevail against thee,” Jeremiah 1:18, 19. or, as once to his people, concerning the giant Og, “Fear him not, for I will deliver him and all his people into thy hand,” Deuteronomy 3:2.
- This sickness is not to death. The conflict is not to weaken or destroy, but for trial and improvement of your faith, and other graces; the very trial whereof is precious, 1 Peter 1:7, and shall be found so at last, both to the glory of him that tries you, and yours, who are tried. Abraham, David, Job, and others, are pregnant examples of this; they came forth like gold, more pure, solid, and flexible. David, indeed, though he held fast his confidence a great while, yet being still pursued and overprest, every day involved in danger anew, and having once admitted carnal reason into his council, he began to flag in his faith; “I shall one day perish—and all men are liars,” 1 Samuel 27:1. Psalm 106:11. but it was in his haste, not considering the sureness of an absolute promise; and, therefore, when he bad better weighed it, he confesses his fault, and recovers from it; and his faith was improved by his trial: for, being come again to himself, he comfortably concludes, that “goodness and mercy shall follow him all the days of his life; and, notwithstanding his present exile, he shall dwell in the house of the Lord for ever,” Psalm 2!fc 6.
- Be it always remembered, that God reckons of a man according to what his mind is; and you ought so also to reckon of yourself. This was Paul’s course, in Romans 7. where he thus reasoneth; “Now if I do that I would not, it is no more I that do it, but sin that dwelleth in me,” Romans 7:20. before conversion it was Saul, but now it is sin. Believers may be led captive, at times, even after they have sworn fealty to their true Lord: but still they are his in their mind, and that is their mark. It is the same with that in John, “Whosoever is born of God doth net commit sin; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God,” 1 John 3:9. that is, he does not, nor he cannot sin, as the devil’s children do; for their wills are in it, which also is their mark, according to John 8:44. “The lusts of your father ye will do;” but a regenerate person, “the evil he doeth, he allows not.” And this is a staying consideration, that if “with our mind we serve the law of God,” it shall not ruin us, that “with oar flesh we serve the law of sin,” Romans 7:25. but how shall I know it? If you be forced, you will cry out; and if you cry, it is a rape, and shall not be charged to your account; ye have the law for it, in Deut. 22:25,26,27. So, he that kills a man against his will is not reckoned a murderer, nor worthy of death; although the act itself be the same that another man, whose will was in it, shall die for, Exodus 21:13. with Deuteronomy 19:4. 6.
- Believers are “trees of righteousness, and of the Lord’s own planting; and therefore they shall not fear when heat cometh,” Jeremiah 17:8. They have their autumns indeed (too often,) and blighting winds (perhaps in the spring time too;) and also luxuriant branches and suckers, proceeding from the old stock, which rob the good ones of their sap, and make their fruit less, both in bulk and beauty; but still their substance is in them, and therefore they revive, and flourish again. And while those suckers are nipped and pruned oft, the true branches are preserved and cherished, John 15:2. “They shall bring forth fruit in their old age,” Psalm 92:14. They that are now (that is, once, they that are once) the children of God, shall never be otherwise, save only in a greater likeness to their Father, 1 John 3:2. 9. chapter 2:27. 2 John verse 2. And though their living on him, and their likeness to him, be very weakly sometimes (as the natural life of infants is,) yet, being born, they must be kept; and the will and care of their Father is, to nurse them up to a perfect man, Ephesians 4:13.
You will say, perhaps, that never had any such cause of complaint as you! and possibly it may be so; to be sure you know not that they had; and those you compare yourself with, may have said as much of themselves; and they had the like cause, for your hearts are fashioned alike, only each one best knows the plague of his own. Agur, a man of great wisdom and holiness, says of himself, that he was “more brutish than any man,” Proverbs 30:2. But suppose it be true, that others’ corruptions have not broken out as yours have done; yet may not this put your faith to a stand, much less make you weary, recoil, or to faint in your minds; for the same grace that prevented them, can pardon you, and will, if you cast yourselves on it. Ye may, indeed, be allowed to complain of your sins, for nothing else have ye to complain of; therefore complain and cry out as loud as you will, “O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from this body of death?” But withal, betake to you the same refuge that he did, and abide by it, “I thank God, through Jesus Christ, our Lord!” Romans 7:24, 25. Here you may triumph over all, both complaints and causes of them.
It must always be granted, that to deal with sin, combined, entrenched, fortified as it is, is a great undertaking, and yet may be undertaken, and gone through with too; there is no retreat to be sounded, nor armor provided for your back; every child of Adam must either kill or be killed in this combat; there is no compounding the difference, nor discharge in this warfare, until the day be perfectly won: but what a recruit is there levied, and always ready, as a Sure reserve, that though the conflict be sharp, the success is sure! And, in order thereto, amongst other rules and articles of war, bear in mind these few following. 1. Entangle not yourself, but shun and avoid whatever may prove a clog, or unfit you for duty. 2. Exercise yourself in handling your spiritual arms, especially that of your faith. 3. Stand on your guard watchfully, that ye be not surprised by sudden excursions, or under pretence of friendship. 4. Arm yourself with the same mind that was in Christ; set your face as a flint, and conclude that ye shall not be confounded. 5. Submit to the place your general has set you in; it must have been somebody’s lot, and why not yours? and the hotter it is, the more honorable; remembering withal, that when temptation was appointed, then also was ordained a way of escape; and this you are told of beforehand, that “you might be able to bear it,” 1 Corinthians 10:13. 6. Look that ye fight with proper weapons, which are only to be had at the covenant of grace, and cross of Christ, and there they are never wanting; and be sure you go not down to the Philistines, either to forge or sharpen. 7. Fight not as one that beats the air, but as having, indeed, a sturdy adversary to deal with, whom yet you are sure to overcome. 8. Look still on your Captain, to observe what he says and does, and do likewise. To take up the cross, and endure hardship, are necessary accoutrements for a soldier of Christ. 9. Wait on the Lord to renew your strength, who then bestirs himself most when your strength is gone; he then lays hold on shield and buckler, and stands up for your help, Psalm 85:2. 10. Lastly, and to influence all, mind the Lord of his covenant; even then, when you yourself, perhaps, think on it with trouble, as doubting your interest in it. Pray to him to remember it for you, and with the same goodwill wherewith he made it. Beseech him to look on his bow in the cloud, which himself has set there, as a sure sign between him and you; that though the skies be red and lowering, the clouds return after rain, and the billows go over your head, you shall not be deluged by them; by this it is that ye are hedged about, and walled up to heaven. Therefore stand not like men in suspense, as unresolved to fall on, or doubtful how to come off; but on, on; the day is your own; the Lord of hosts pursues them, and “let all the sons of God shout for joy.”
Infer. 6. Since believers only are interested in the covenant, and faith is a necessary instrument, which the covenant will not work without, and without which you cannot work with it, look well to your faith; first, that it be of the right kind, such as renounces self and lives on grace; and then, having found it such, be sure you keep it well, and improve it to the utmost. Two uses, especially, are to be made of it: 1. As your shield, he supply the place of all other pieces of your armor, when broken or loose, as well as to safeguard them when they are whole and tight about you. If your helmet be out of the way, and fiery darts come pouring down, hold up your faith between your head and them: faith is the truest quenchcoal to the fire of hell. If your sword be forgot, or laid aside, or wants an edge, and so forth, your shield, if well applied, will retort your enemy’s weapons on his own bead. 2. Faith is your spiritual optic, which shows you things of greatest moment, and not otherwise visible; even chariots and horsemen of fire, are not discernible without it. If temptations from the world do endanger you, turn your faith that way, and through it view and consider how shallow and short-lived the pleasures of it are, and how momentary your sufferings. Then look at the world to come, the glory of it, and your interest in it, and how much your crown will be brightened by the trials you have passed under here, and dwell on the contemplation of it. Bend not your eye so much on the peril and length of your passage, as on the longed for shore that lies beyond it; and reckon the surges of that dreadful gulf which is yet between you and it, but as so many strokes to waft you thither. This was the course that Moses took, Hebrews 11:26, and Christ himself, chapter 12:2. Nothing so blunts the edge of Satan’s temptations, or the world’s, as this faith of God’s elect. Therefore, see that you hold fast your faith; keep it as your life; keep that and it will keep you; and let it not go until you die. Then, indeed, it will leave you, because then it will have done all the service it can, even the whole of what it was ordained for. But shall faith then be dissolved and go to nothing? I would rather express it, as the apostle does the state of the saints that shall be found alive at Christ’s coming, “they shall not die, but they shall be changed,” 1 Corinthians 15:51. Faith shall then be turned into sight, and we shall have the real presence, full possession, and perfect fruition of that blessedness we have believed and hoped of. And then shall we say to our glorious Redeemer, thou art the God that hast fed me all my life long; thy flesh has been meat indeed, and thy blood drink indeed; many a good meal have I had on it in the valley of Baca, even feasts of fat things, and wine on the lees; other bridegrooms and saviours have done worthily, but thou excellest them all; they set forth their best at first, but thou hast kept back the good wine until now!
Infer. V2. Gather hence both the reason and rationality of the saints’ desires to be dissolved, Philippians 1:23. They knew, that when this earthly tabernacle went down, they had a better and more capacious building in heaven, 2 Corinthians 5:1,2. They also found, that spirits, dwelling in flesh, are too much straitened and infirm, either to bear the glory they were made for, or to express an answerable thankfulness for it; and for this they groaned; not to be unclothed, as weary of their present state, but to be clothed on with their house from heaven, forver. They were now the sons of God, 1 John 3:2. but what they should be, and fain would be, did not appear to them, nor could, until the veil was rent, which hung, as yet, between them and the holy of holies. The first fruits of the Spirit, Rom. 8:23. 2 Corinthians 1:22. which were both an earnest and foretaste of future glory, Ephesians 1:14. inspired them with fervent desires of liberty, that glorious liberty which belonged to them, as being the sons of God, Romans 8:21. They had, by faith, laid hold, on eternal life; this they had still in their eye, and earnestly pursued; and so intent were they on it, that they forgot what was behind, Philippians 3:14. though very memorable in its time. The much they had attained, they counted for nothing, to what was coming; nor reckoned for any cost, to gain that inestimable pearl, namely, the prize of the high calling of God in Christ, Philippians 3:13. This they knew was a thing too big for mortal senses, though as highly refined and sublimated as capable of while mortal, and therefore longed for that day, when immortality should be their clothing. The love of God shed abroad in their hearts, Romans 5:5. had given such a divine tincture, and so transformed and widened their souls, as nothing could satisfy, but that immense deep from whence it came. They knew, that when Christ, their life, should appear, they should be like him, and should see him as he is, Colossians 3:4. not under shadows, as of old; nor in a state of humiliation, as when on earth; nor, as since, under memorials and representations; but in his state of glory, the sight of which would transform them into his image indeed, and until then they could not say, it is enough. They knew, that this very quintessence of heavenly beatitude consists in the vision of God, and that heaven itself, with all that innumerable company of angels, and spirits of just men made perfect, though a very glorious and desirable society, would not satisfy heavenborn souls, if the Lord himself were not there in his glory; hence those holy exclamations and outcries, “whom have I in heaven but thee!” Psalm 73:25, and “when shall I come and appear before God,” Psalm 62:2. Good Jacob would go and see his beloved Joseph before he died; and these would die to go and see theirs. Thus does the kingdom of heaven, as it were, suffer violence a second time from the heirs of salvation; they know it is theirs, and that they were wrought for that selfsame thing, and, being theirs, they might lawfully take it, by force on all carnal impediments, Matthew 11:12. 2 Corinthians 5:5.
Infer. V3. To close all: you have seen what Paul and others did; go you and do likewise; “hasten to the day of God,” 2 Peter 3:12, and wait for it, as they that watch for the morning. 1. Affectionately, as a thing greatly desirable, especially after a dark and toilsome night. 2. Patiently, and with quietness; not precipitating, but as knowing it will come, and that in the fittest time. 3. Attentively, as not willing to lose the smallest sound of your master’s feet. 4. With diligence also, and preparedness; that neither oil nor lighting may be to seek when the cry is made. Be always ready, and then groan: groan (I say) for that day of glory, when life and immortality shall be brought to light in perfection: when yourself, with all the elect of God, meeting in that great and general assembly, the “church of the first born which are written in heaven” Hebrews 12:23. may be entirely, universally, and everlastingly taken up in admiring electing love which so gloriously and happily shall have wrought all our works for us and brought us to the ultimate end it designed us for, which was, to be ever with the Lord; to see him as he is and to experience the sum of that great petition in the 17th of John, “that they may be in us,” John 17:21, 26. And in your way thither, carry this assurance still before you; that the same hands which laid the foundation, will also lay the top stone, and that with shoutings; and you shall lift up, to eternity, that loud and joyful acclamation, “Grace, grace to it,” Zechariah 4:7, 9. “Happy art thou, O Israel; who is like to thee, O people saved by the Lord, the shield of thine help, and the sword of thine excellency! all thine enemies shall be found liars to thee; and thou shalt tread on their high places!” Deuteronomy 33:29. 2 Samuel 22:1. &c, and which is more than angels and men can utter besides, “God shall be all in all!” 1 Corinthians 15:28. to proclaim which, was the end of this work. Amen.