Why is it that you have been kept to the present moment? You have seen many a tall cedar bowed to the earth; many who did appear to “run well,” but who, in the hour of temptation, when worldly power, and wealth, and distinction increased, made shipwreck of their fancied faith, and fell into diverse lusts and snares which drowned their souls. Why have you been kept? your vessel weathering the storm, your feet yet upon the rock? Because “you stands by faith,” – the “faith of God’s elect” has kept you; and though you are deeply conscious of many and great departures, – sins, it may be, which if known to an ungodly, ignorant world, would bring upon you the laugh of scorn, – yet you have never been left quite to unhinge your soul from Jesus; you have discovered your sins, and mourned over and confessed them, and sought their forgiveness through a fresh application of the atoning blood, – and still, “you stands by faith.” Ah! if faith had not kept you, where would you now have been? where would that temptation have driven you? into what consequences would that sin have involved you? But O, that brokenness, that contrition, that mourning, that going afresh to the open fountain, does prove that there was that in you which would not let you quite depart! The cedar may have been bowed to the earth, but it has risen again; the vessel may have been tossed in the tempest, and even may have been worsted by the storm, yet it has found its port: the “faith of God’s elect” has kept you. “Be not high-minded, but fear.” Your own vigilance, and power, and wisdom, had been but poor safeguards, but for the indwelling of that faith that can never die. – Octavius Winslow
The Lord knows what we are, as so deeply, so awfully sunk in the Adam fall.
Adam was wise as well as upright; but with the fall both were gone as in a moment; for the same awful crash which broke to pieces his innocency wrecked and ruined his wisdom, and thus he became a fool as well as a sinner. This folly we inherit from him; for “foolishness is bound up in the heart of a child.” (Prov. 22:15) God, then, as perfectly acquainted with the folly of our mind, with our wretched ignorance and inability to find out the way of salvation, or to walk in it when found, has mercifully and graciously given to us One in the courts of bliss who shall be to us and for us far beyond all that we have lost, and has therefore made him our “wisdom.” “It hath pleased the Father that in him should all fulness dwell;” (Col. 1:19) and therefore a fullness of heavenly wisdom he communicates out of his fullness to his believing people. I do not like exactly to say that his wisdom is theirs by imputation, and yet there is a sense in which it may be called such.
Does it not bear the responsibility of every movement, so that all the wisdom or skill which any member possesses may be considered as being in the head?
Does not the eye guide the hands and feet?
Does not the ear hear for the whole body?
Does not the brain think and the tongue speak for every member?
Thus we see naturally that all our wisdom lies in our head, and the wisdom of our head is put to the account of all the members. So, spiritually, all our heavenly wisdom is in our covenant Head. The people of God see and feel their ignorance and folly; their inability to guide their own feet into the way of truth and peace. Their daily experience convinces them how easily they are entangled in the snares of sin and Satan; how dark their mind, how hard their heart, how carnal their frame, when the Lord does not communicate light, life, and power to their souls. To remedy then and overcome these miserable evils under which they groan and sigh, being burdened, Jesus Christ is of God made unto them wisdom; so that when the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ looks upon his dear Son in the courts of bliss, he views him as their representative head, and sees all the wisdom that they need stored up in his eternal fullness. Thus, as he does not impute to them their sins because of Christ’s righteousness, so he does not impute unto them their follies because of Christ’s wisdom. “Ye are wise in Christ,” says the apostle to the Corinthians (1 Cor. 4:10)–wise by your union with him. Now out of this wisdom which dwells in Christ without measure, he communicates to his people. They have none of their own. What they have is freely given to them liberally and bountifully, without stint and without upbraiding.
But it may be as well to glance at some of the effects of this wisdom as divinely communicated to the saints of God. To look unto Jesus by the eye of faith; to see him as the Son of God, “able to save to the uttermost all that come unto God by him;” and to view the treasures of love and grace which are stored up in his blood and righteousness, is also a part of this wisdom. To depart from all evil and seek all that is good; to obey the precepts as well as believe the promises; to walk tenderly, cautiously, and circumspectly in the fear of God; to read and pray and meditate; to commune with their own heart, and be ever seeking divine teaching, is a part also of this wisdom. In fact, this wisdom is indispensable for every right movement in heart, lip, and life; for every good word and work; for our conduct in the church and in the world; and for everybody becoming our holy profession. This the people of God deeply feel. Well do they know that not a single truth can they see aright except by seeing light in his light. Not a snare can they shun, or danger avoid, but by his warning voice or guiding hand; not a doctrine can they understand, not a promise believe, not a precept obey, except he who of God is made unto them wisdom, is pleased to communicate it to their heart. But, by looking to him, and receiving out of his fullness supplies of divine instruction, which he communicates to them through the word of his grace, as made life and spirit to their hearts, they are made wise unto salvation; and thus from their living and spiritual union with him, wisdom flows into their bosom out of his fullness, as in the figure of the vine, sap flows out of the stem into the branch. Thus, as he is their wisdom representatively in the courts of bliss, being their Counselor and Advocate who pleads their cause, so he is their wisdom efficiently, by the communication of this wisdom they have comes out of his fullness. And he is their wisdom also, as being the end and object of all the wisdom they possess or require, for the highest, greatest, and best of all wisdom is to know him and the power of his resurrection; to know experimentally the beauty and glory of his divine Person; the efficacy of his atoning blood and of his justifying righteousness; and, above all things, to know our happy and eternal interest in all that he is, in all that he has to the Church of God. [source]
Jesus answered them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin.
We have many ideas about what a person has to do to get to heaven. Some believe we must follow the “Golden Rule,” and do good deeds which will eventually outweigh the bad we have done, tipping the scales in our favour….after all, we are all basically good people…right?
If we assume we are good people we are also assuming a standard for what we consider good. Since we assume there is an absolute standard for what is good there must be an absolute standard giver. The Bible repeatedly states that God has given mankind a holy, universal Law, that is written on our hearts and our conscience bears witness to this Law. This Law is revealed and summarized in the Ten Commandments. When we look at God’s Law, we must understand that we have all sinned in some way or another; remember, you don’t have to break all Ten to be guilty of breaking the Law. The Bible warns, “For whoever keeps the whole law but fails in one point has become accountable for all of it.”
“… it is appointed unto men once to die, but after this the judgment” Hebrews 9:27
Let’s look at a few of the Commandments and see how we fare:
“You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain.” Have you ever taken God’s name in vain? If you have, you are a blasphemer and can not enter the Kingdom of God.
“Honour your father and mother.” Have you always honoured your parents in a respectful manner? In a way that God would consider honouring?
“You shall not steal.” Have you ever taken something that didn’t belong to you (irrespective of its value)? What do you call someone who takes something that doesn’t belong to them? A thief – You cannot enter God’s Kingdom.
“You shall not bear false witness.” Have you ever told a lie? Just one? What do you call someone who told a lie? A liar. The Bible warns that all liars will have their part in the Lake of Fire.
You and I are guilty of sinning against God by breaking His Law, and because we have a conscience, we have sinned “with knowledge.” Isn’t it true that when you steal, lie, etc. you know that it’s wrong? Does the fact that you have sinned against God bother you? The punishment for breaking God’s Law is Hell. Eternal Death.
“Almost every natural man that hears of hell, flatters himself that he shall escape it; he depends upon himself for his own security; he flatters himself in what he has done, in what he is now doing, or what he intends to do. Every one lays out matters in his own mind how he shall avoid damnation, and flatters himself that he contrives well for himself, and that his schemes will not fail.”
WHAT MUST YOU DO TO BE SAVED FROM THE PENALTY OF BREAKING GOD’S LAW?
There is good news, there is a GOSPEL. God the Father has given us a mediator in Jesus Christ who is the incarnation of God. Jesus took upon Himself man’s nature, becoming subject to the Law of God, and perfectly obeying the Law in thought and deed for His entire lifetime on earth. While on earth Christ took the sins of His people upon Himself, and suffering the punishment due to all their sins paid the penalty by dying on the Cross, “…for the wages of sin is death.”
By dying in place of His people Jesus Christ became the mediator between God and man and revived in His people the righteousness, holiness and true knowledge lost as a consequence of sin.
As we find ourselves before a holy God we are convicted for breaking His righteous Law. The Holy Spirit moves in the soul to bring us to acknowledge our guilt and brokenness before God and His righteousness. We come to hate sin and find Jesus Christ precious. The Holy Spirit convinces the broken sinner of the shamefulness of sin and then brings the offender to a place where they can, “repent therefore and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, so that times of refreshing may come from the presence of the Lord.”
If you feel the weight of sin on your heart and have come to see the blackness of your soul in the light of God’s Law…if you have been brought to a place where you dread the judgement of the trice holy God, BELIEVE THE GOSPEL! If you believe that Jesus Christ paid the penalty for your sins the Bible assures us that, “whoever calls on the name of the LORD shall be saved.”
 quote taken from a sermon by Jonathan Edwards titled, “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.”
John Gill on true internal worship, “…the subject I am upon I consider it as an assemblage of graces, as containing the whole of grace in the heart, the exercise of which is necessary to serve and worship God with reverence and godly fear (Heb. 12:28), and without this there can be no internal worship of God. This is no other than the inward devotion of the mind, a fervency of spirit in serving the Lord; it is a holy disposition of the soul towards God. This is qeosebeia, the true worship of God (1 Tim. 2:10), the ground and foundation of it, without which there can be none. This is “life and godliness”, or vital powerful godliness (2 Pet. 1:3), and “the things pertaining” to it are faith, hope, love, and every other grace, of which it consists, and in the exercise of which it lies, and in this is all internal religion and worship.”
On true and experimental religion, “Now as inward powerful godliness is, as has been seen, a disposition of the soul Godward, from whom all grace comes and to whom it tends, and as it is an assemblage of every grace, in the exercise of which all internal worship and experimental religion lies, I therefore begin with it, and shall in the following chapters consider the branches of it in which it opens; as the knowledge of God, repentance towards God, fear of him, faith and trust in him, the hope of things from him, love to him, joy in him, humility, self-denial, patience, submission, and resignation to the will of God, thankfulness for every mercy, with every other grace necessary to the worship of God, and which belongs to experimental religion and godliness.” (Practical Theology)
William Gurnall on carnal Christians who place their trust in themselves, their prayers, their religion, “When Satan tempts to sin, if he hath not presently a peaceable entrance, yet the resistance commonly made is carnal; the strength carnal they rest on, their own, not God’s; the motive’s carnal, as the fear of man more than of God; [as to which] one saith, ‘How shall I do this and sin against God?’ Many in their hearts say, How shall I do this and anger man, displease my master, provoke my parents, and lose the good opinion of my minister? Herod feared John, and did many things. Had he feared God, he would have laboured to have done everything. The like may be said of all other motives, which have their spring in the creature, not in God; they are armour which will not out-stand shot.”
And further, “A soul purely naked, nothing like the wedding garment on, he is speechless. The drunkard hath nothing to say for himself, when you ask him why he lives so swinishly; you may come up to him, and get within him, and turn the very mouth of his conscience upon him, which will shoot into him. But come to deal with one who prays and hears, one that is a pretender to faith and hope in God; here is a man in glittering armour, he hath his weapon in his hand, with which he will keep the preacher, and the word he chargeth him with, at arm’s length. Who can say I am not a saint? What duty do I neglect? Here is a breastwork he lies under, which makes him not so fair a mark either to the observation or reproof of another; his chief defect being within, where man’s eye comes not. Again, it is harder to work on him, because he hath been tampered with already, and miscarried in the essay. How comes such a one to be acquainted with such duties—to make such a profession? Was it ever thus? No, the word hath been at work upon him, his conscience hath scared him from his trade of wickedness, into a form of profession, but, taking in short of Christ, for want of a thorough change, it is harder to remove him than the other.” (The Christian in Complete Armour)
(edited to add a note I found on Wiki: “The writing style is akin to that of the King James Bible, so in 1988 [Banner of Truth Trust] did a revised and abridged version in contemporary English.” The edition published by Hendrickson is the one I’d recommend.)
I am grieved to hear that you have been again attacked. In one of my former letters I ventured to caution you that if there should be an apparent cessation of arms, you must not sleep, nor put off your armour. I am sure that if the Lord has sent you to preach the word where of late it has not been heard, the enemy will raise a strange outcry, and tell you that you “cast out devils by Beelzebub the prince of the devils.” You must be a continual living reproach to all who live in sin, whether professor or profane; and the thorn goads them so, that they spit their venom in enmity against the Most High himself. If it be he who has set you to the work, it is his power and will they strive against and defy; and often for awhile such may seem to prevail.The Lord has many things to do in such a tumult as this, that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed. Who knows but that –, who in his bitterness vows vengeance, may yet, like the jailor, cry out, “Sirs, what must I do to be saved!” – even after scourging Paul and Silas? Perhaps these troubles will try the spiritual integrity of your friend, and prove whether true religion will be as closely adhered to when held in dishonour by false professors, as when it walks in silver slippers, as Bunyan says. How will your sober friend Mr. M. act, who, like Nicodemus, comes by night? Perhaps these tumults may draw a line which without them might never have been discovered.
There is one thing yet of more consequence to yourself; that is, How goes on the work within? Does every fresh appearance of the rod (for such no doubt it is in the hand of God) bring on a fresh humbling, and lead you in heart to be willing to be servant of all? If so, no evil (as such) can befal you; nor must you think it strange concerning the fiery trial; it is foremost among your best tokens, especially if it lead you to secret converse with the Lord Jesus Christ. He talks with us of judgment as well as of mercy.
Whatever you are or may be in your public capacity, this I know, that if saved at all, you must be a sinner saved by grace and every outward dishonour shown to you, if it operate aright, will have the effect of great self-abasement before God in secret; and here the Lord will show you not only that you are hated for telling the truth, but that you are chastened by the Lord as a son in whom he delights. If you are to be received by this heavenly Father, it can only be through correction. Whatever hand may be lifted against you, no blow can be given until the Lord permit and if it come, it is because it is needed.
“These are hard sayings, who can hear them?” Can you? If you can, then be assured the Lord has opened your ears to discipline; and when you understand experimentally this terrible work, you will be the most proper person in the world to declare what all the Prophets and Apostles have declared in ages past, that it is only to the LOST SHEEP of the house of Israel that Jesus Christ was sent.Your situation raises in me a spiritual anxiety for your welfare and though I cannot fathom the depth, nor measure the extent of your present trial, yet I know full well that I may say to the righteous, “It shall be well with him” [Isaiah. iii. 10], and there now remains no labour so essential as to know that that important word belongs to us. Let me entreat you to be much in earnest. The Lord has blown the trumpet in Zion, the alarm is given. It is a day of gloominess, for the enemies we have to contend with are powerful; many faces gather blackness with rage. The day of the Lord is great and very terrible; and unless you are enabled to turn to him with all your heart, with fasting from strife, with weeping and mourning, and heart-rending confessions, you will not find what is most desirable, that the Lord “is gracious and merciful, slow to anger and of great kindness, and repenteth him of the evil. Who knoweth if he will return and repent, and leave a blessing behind him?” [Joel ii. 1-14.]
Before bed last night I picked up Personal Declension (again) by Octavius Winslow. The work deals with backsliding. He, like J.C. Philpot, offer the church experimental help in understanding the spiritual life of the Christian.
A few selections from chapter one follow:
When a professing man can proceed with his accustomed religious duties, strictly, regularly, formally, and yet experience no enjoyment of God in them, no filial nearness, no brokenness and tenderness, and no consciousness of sweet return, he may suspect that his soul is in a state of secret and incipient backsliding from God. Satisfying and feeding his soul – if feeding it may be called – with a lifeless form; what stronger symptom needs he of his real state? A healthy, growing state of religion in the soul demands more for its nourishment and support than this. A believer panting for God, hungering and thirsting after righteousness, grace thriving, the heart deeply engaged in spiritual duties, lively, prayerful, humble, and tender, ascending in its frame and desires, – a state marked by these features cannot be tied down to a lifeless, spiritless form of religious duties. These were but husks to a healthy state of the life of God in the soul. It wants more. It will hunger and thirst, and this spiritual longing must be met. And nothing can satisfy and satiate it but living upon Christ, the bread and the water of life. “I am the bread of life.” “If any man thirst, let him come unto me and drink.” “My flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed.” The professing man that goes all his days without this nourishment, thus starving his soul, may well exclaim, “My leanness, my leanness!” Oh, how solemn to such are the words of our Lord, “Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of Man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you (Jn 6:53).”
Essentially connected with the discovery and the confession, there must be the entire mortification and abandonment of the cause of the soul’s secret declension. Apart from this, there can be no true revival of the work of Divine grace in the heart. The true spiritual mortification of indwelling sin, and the entire forsaking of the known cause, whatever it is found to be, of the heart’s declension, constitute the true elements of a believer’s restoration to the joys of God’s salvation. And when we speak of the mortification of sin, let not the nature of this sacred work be misunderstood. It has been in the case of many, why may it not in yours? There may exist all the surface-marks of mortification, and still the heart remain a stranger to the work. An awakening sermon, an alarming providence, or a startling truth, may for a moment arrest and agitate the backsliding soul. There may be an opening of the eyelid, a convulsive movement of the spiritual frame, which, to a superficial observer, may wear the appearance of a real return to consciousness, of a true waking up to new life and vigour of the slumbering soul, and yet these may be but the transient and fitful impulses of a sickly and a drowsy spirit. The means of grace, too, may be returned to – the secret declension felt, deplored and acknowledged, but the hidden cause remaining unmortified and unremoved, all appearance of recovery quickly and painfully subsides. It was but a transient, momentary shock, and all was still; the heavy eyelid but feebly opened, and closed again; the “goodness” that promised so fair, was but as the morning cloud and the early dew. And the reason is found in the fact, that there was no true mortification of sin. And so I may repair to a plant withering and drooping in my garden; I may employ every external means for its revival; I may loosen the earth about it, water, and place it in the warm sunbeam; but if the while I had not discovered and removed the hidden cause of its decay – if I had not know that a worm was secretly feeding at the root, and, in ignorance of this, had proceeded with my surface-work of restoration, what marvel, though the morning sunbeam, and the evening dew, and the loosened earth, had produced a momentary freshness and life, that yet my plant had ceased to exist, had withered and died? Thus may it be with a declining believer. The external means of revival may be sedulously employed, means of grace diligently used and even multiplied, but all to no real and permanent effect, while a worm secretly feeds at the root; and until the hidden cause of decay be mortified, removed, and utterly extirpated, the surface revival does but end in a profounder sleep, and a more fearful deception of the soul.
Commence at the beginning; go as a sinner to Jesus; seek the quickening, healing, sanctifying influence of the Spirit; and let this be your prayer, presented, and urged until answered, at the footstool of mercy: “O Lord, revive thy work! Quicken me, O Lord! Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation!” In answer to thy petition, “He shall come down like rain upon the mown grass, as showers that water the earth;” and thy song shall be that of the church, “My Beloved spake, and said unto me, Rise up, my love, my fair one, and come away. For lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone. The flowers appear on the earth, the time of the singing of birds is come, and the voice of the turtle is heard in our land. The fig-tree putteth forth her green figs, and the vines with the tender grape give a good smell. Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away.”
“Do not be yoked together with unbelievers. For what do righteousness and wickedness have in common? Or what fellowship can light have with darkness? What harmony is there between Christ and the Devil? What does a believer have in common with an unbeliever? What agreement is there between the temple of God and idols?”
2 Cor 6:14-16
Arthur Pink, This is a call to godly separation. This passage gives utterance to a Divine exhortation for those belonging to Christ–to hold aloof from all intimate associations with the ungodly. It expressly forbids them entering into alliances with the unconverted. It definitely prohibits the children of God walking arm-in-arm with worldlings. It is an admonition applying to every phase and department of our lives–religious, domestic, social, commercial. And never, perhaps, was there a time when it more needed pressing on Christians, than now. The days in which we are living are marked by the spirit of compromise. On every side we behold unholy mixtures, ungodly alliances, and unequal yokes. Many professing Christians appear to be trying how near to the world they may walk–and yet go to Heaven!
To Israel, God said, “So do not act like the people in Egypt, where you used to live, or like the people of Canaan, where I am taking you. You must not imitate their way of life. You must obey all My regulations and be careful to keep My laws, for I, the Lord, am your God!” (Leviticus 18:3-4) And again, “Do not live by the customs of the people whom I will expel before you. It is because they do these terrible things–that I detest them so much!” (Leviticus 20:23) It was for their disregard of these very prohibitions, that Israel brought down upon themselves such severe chastisements.
God’s call to His people in Babylon is, “Come out of her, My people! Do not take part in her sins!” (Revelation 18:4) No one can be a whole-hearted follower of the Lord Jesus who is, in any way, “yoked” to His enemies!
“Do not be yoked together with unbelievers.” This applies first to our religious connections. How many Christians are members of so-called “churches,” where much is going on which they know is at direct variance with the Word of God–either the teaching from the pulpit, the worldly attractions used to draw the ungodly, and the worldly methods employed to finance it, or the constant receiving into its membership of those who give no evidence of having been born again. Believers in Christ who remain in such “churches” are dishonoring their Lord.
Should they answer: “Practically all the churches are the same, and were we to resign, what would we do? We must go somewhere on Sundays!”
Such language would show they are putting their own interests, before the glory of Christ. It is better to stay at home and read God’s Word–than fellowship with that which His Word condemns!
[Photo by JM]
[The footnotes are included in the letters. They are found in bracketed italics. Any links found in the article are my doing.]
SIX LETTERS TO DR. RYLAND
THE CONTROVERSY WITH THE REV. A. BOOTH.
MY DEAR BROTHER, Jan. 22, 1803.
MR. B. in his letter to you of Dec. 6, 1802, though he acquits me of Arminianism, yet “ventures to say that I appear to him to have adopted some of the leading peculiarities of Mr. Richard Baxter.” I wish he had named them; I would in that case have frankly owned whether I approved or disapproved. As it is, I have been constrained to do what I never did before, look over such polemical pieces of that writer as I could procure. I have found this, I confess, an irksome task. I endeavoured to procure his Aphorisms on Justification, but could not. All I could get of a polemical kind were his treatise on Universal Redemption, and Four Disputations on Justification. I have bestowed two days upon them, but cannot say that I have read them through. They are so circuitous, and full of artificial distinctions, and obscure terms, that I could not in many cases come at his meaning, nor could I have read them through without making myself ill.
It is true, I have found several of my own sentiments maintained by Mr. Baxter. He speaks of salvation by a substitute as being a measure rather “above law” than according to it, and of satisfaction being made “to the Lawgiver rather than to the law.” If he means any thing more by this than what I have said in Lett. IV., I have no concern in it; and this for substance is allowed by Dr. Owen, in his answer to Middle, – p.512. He pleads, also, that the faith by which we are justified includes a submission of heart to Christ, in all his offices, or a reconciliation to God; and, consequently, that a sinner when justified, though ungodly in the eye of the law, yet is not so in the eye of the gospel, or in our common acceptation of the term. In this I agree with him. It appears to me, however, that though it be essential to the genuineness of faith to receive Christ in every character he sustains, so far as it is understood, yet believing for justification has a special respect to Christ’s obedience unto death, with which God is well pleased, and of which our justification is the reward.
Mr. Baxter pleads for “universal redemption;” I only contend for the sufficiency of the atonement, in itself considered, for the redemption and salvation of the whole world; and this affords a ground for a universal invitation to sinners to believe; which was maintained by Calvin, and all the old Calvinists. I consider redemption as inseparably connected with eternal life, and therefore as applicable to none but the elect, who are redeemed from among men.
Mr. Baxter considered the gospel as a new law, taking place of the original law under which man was created; of which faith, repentance, and sincere obedience were the requirements; so, at least, I understand him. But these are not my sentiments: I believe, indeed, That the old law, as a covenant, is not so in force as that men are now required to obey it in order to life; on the contrary, all such attempts are sinful, and would have been so though no salvation had been provided. Yet the precept of it is immutably binding, and the curse for transgressing it remains on every unbeliever. I find but little satisfaction in Mr. Baxter’s disputations on justification. He says a great deal about it, distinguishing it into different stages, pleading for evangelical works as necessary to it, &c. &c. Sometimes he seems to confine the works which Paul excluded from justification to those of the common law, (“the burdensome works of the Mosaical law,” – these are his words,) and to plead for what is moral, or, as he would call it, “evangelical.” Yet he disavows all works as being the causes or grounds on account of which we are justified; and professes to plead for them only as “concomitants;” just as we say repentance is necessary to forgiveness, and faith to justification, though these are not considerations moving God to bestow those blessings. In short, I find it much easier to express my own judgment on justification, than to say wherein I agree or differ with Mr. Baxter. I consider justification to be God’s graciously pardoning our sins, and accepting us to favour, exempting us from the curse of the law, and entitling us to the promises of the gospel; not on account or in consideration of any holiness in us, ceremonial or moral, before, in, or after believing, but purely in reward of the vicarious obedience and death of Christ, which, on our believing in him, is imputed to us, or reckoned as if it were ours. Nor do I consider any holiness in us to be necessary as a concomitant to justification, except what is necessarily included in believing.
Mr. Baxter writes as if the unconverted could do something towards their conversion, and as if grace were given to all, except those who forfeit it by wilful sin. But no such sentiment ever occupied my mind, or proceeded from my pen. Finally, Mr. Baxter considers Calvinists and Arminians as reconcilable, making the difference between them of but small amount. I have no such idea; and if, on account of what I have here and elsewhere avowed, I were disowned by my present connexions, I should rather choose to go through the world alone than be connected with them. Their scheme appears to me to undermine the doctrine of salvation by grace only, and to resolve the difference between one sinner and another into the will of man, which is directly opposite to all my views and experience. Nor could I feel a union of heart with those who are commonly considered in the present day as Baxterians, who hold with the gospel being a new remedial law, and represent sinners as contributing to their own conversion.
The greatest, though not the only, instruction that I have received from human writings, on these subjects, has been from President Edwards’s Discourse on Justification. That which in me has been called “a strange or singular notion” of this doctrine is stated at large, and I think clearly proved, by him under the third head of that discourse, – pp. 86-95.
Here, my dear brother, I lay down my pen. Reduced as I am to the awkward necessity (unless I wish to hold a controversy with a man deservedly respected, and who is just going into his grave) of making a private defense against what is become a public accusation, I can only leave it to Him who judgeth righteously to decide whether I have been treated fairly, openly, or in a manner becoming the regard which one Christian minister owes to another.
If what I have written contain any thing injurious to the truth, may the Lord convince me of it. And if not, may He preserve me from being improperly moved by the frowns of men. I am, as you know, your affectionate brother.
[The footnotes are included in the letters. They are found in bracketed italics. Any links found in the article are my doing.]
SIX LETTERS TO DR. RYLAND
THE CONTROVERSY WITH THE REV. A. BOOTH.
MY DEAR BROTHER, Jan. 12, 1803.
WHETHER Christ laid down his life as a substitute for sinners, was never a question with me. All my hope rests upon it; and the sum of my delight in preaching the gospel consists in it. If I know any thing of myself, I can say of Christ crucified for us, as was said of Jerusalem, “If I forget thee, let my right hand forget; if I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth!”
I have always considered the denial of this truth as being of the essence of Socinianism. Mr. B. professes, “in his juvenile years, never to have hoped for salvation but through a vicarious sacrifice.” But if he allow himself to have believed this doctrine when he was an Arminian, it is rather singular that I, who am not an Arminian, as he himself acknowledges, should be charged with denying it. I could not have imagined that any person whose hope of acceptance with God rests not on any goodness in himself, but entirely on the righteousness of Christ, would have been accounted to disown his substitution. But, perhaps, Mr. B. considers “a real and proper imputation of our sins to Christ,” by which he seems to mean their being literally transferred to him, as essential to this doctrine; and if so, I acknowledge I do not at present believe it.
For Christ to die as a substitute, if I understand the term, is the same thing as his dying for us, or in our stead, or that we should not die.
The only subject on which I ought to have been here interrogated is, “The persons for whom Christ was a substitute; whether the elect only, or mankind in general.” On this question I will be as explicit as I am able.
Were I asked concerning the gospel, when it is introduced into a country, For whom was it sent? I should answer, if I had respect only to the revealed will of God, and so perhaps would Mr. B., It is sent for men, not as elect, or as non-elect, but as sinners. It is written and preached, “that they might believe that Jesus is the Christ, the Son of God; and that believing they might have life through his name.” But if I had respect to the secret will or appointment of God as to its application, I should say, If the Divine conduct in this instance accord with what it has been in other instances, be hath visited that country “to take out of it a people for his name.”
In like manner concerning the death of Christ. If I speak of it irrespective of the purpose of the Father and the Son, as to the objects who should be saved by it, merely referring to what it is in itself sufficient for, and declared in the gospel to be adapted to, I should think that I answered the question in a Scriptural way by saying, It was for sinners as sinners; but if I have respect to the purpose of the Father in giving his Son to die, and to the design of Christ in laying down his life, I should answer, It was for the elect only.
[The distinction between what the atonement of Christ is in itself sufficient for, and what it is as applied, under the sovereign will of God, is made by Dr. Owen, as well as many others. Speaking of “the dignity, worth, or infinite value of the death of Christ,” he ascribes it partly to “the dignity of his person, and partly to the greatness of his sufferings. And this,” he adds, “sets out the innate, real, true worth and value of the blood-shedding of Jesus Christ; this is its own true internal perfection and sufficiency. That it sbould be applied unto any, made a price for them, and become beneficial to them, according to the worth that is in it, is external to it, doth not arise from it, but merely depends upon the intention and will of God.” And it is on this ground that Dr. O. accounts for the propitiation of Christ being set forth in general and indefinite expressions – and for “the general proffers, promises, and exhortations made for the embracing of the fruits of the death of Christ, even to them who do never actually perform it.” – Death of Death, &c., Book IV. Ch. 1.]
In the former of these views, I find the apostles and primitive ministers (leaving the consideration of God’s secret purpose as a matter belonging to himself, not to them) addressing themselves to sinners without distinction, and holding forth the death of Christ as a ground of faith to all men. On this principle the servants sent forth to bid guests to the marriage supper, were directed to invite them, saying, “Come, FOR all things are ready.” On this principle the ambassadors of Christ besought sinners to be reconciled to God, “for” (said they) “he hath made Him to be sin for us who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him.”
In the latter view, I find the apostles ascribing to the purpose and discriminating grace of God all their success; and teaching believers to ascribe every thing that they were, or hoped to be, to the same cause; addressing them as having been before the foundation of the world the objects of his love and choice; the children or sons whom it was the design of Christ in becoming incarnate to bring to glory; the church of God, which he purchased with his own blood, and for which he gave himself, that he might sanctify and cleanse it, and present it to himself.
If it be a proper definition of the substitution of Christ, that he died for or in the place of others, that they should not die, this, as comprehending the designed end to be answered by his death, is strictly applicable to none but the elect; for whatever ground there is for sinners, as sinners, to believe and be saved, it never was the design of Christ to impart faith to any others than those who were given him of the Father. He therefore did not die with the intent that any others should not die.
Whether I can perfectly reconcile these statements with each other, or not, I believe they are both taught in the Scriptures; but I acknowledge that I do not at present perceive their inconsistency. The latter Mr. B. will admit; and as to the former, I am quite at a loss what to make of his concessions, if they do not include it. According to the best of my recollection, he acknowledged to me that he believed the atonement of Christ to be sufficient for the whole world as well as I; and that if one sinner only were saved consistently with justice, it required to be by the same all-perfect sacrifice. So, I am certain, I understood him. Now if it be acknowledged that the obedience and death of Christ was a substitution of such a kind as to be equally required for the salvation of one sinner for many – is not this the same thing as acknowledging that atonement required to be made for sin as sin; and, being made, was applicable to sinners as sinners? In other words, is it not acknowledging that God redeemed his elect by an atonement in its own nature adapted to all, just as he calls his elect by a gospel addressed to all?
If the speciality of redemption be placed in the atonement itself, and not in the sovereign will of God, or in the design of the Father and the Son, with respect to the persons to whom it shall be applied, it must, as far as I am able to perceive, have proceeded on the principle of pecuniary satisfactions. In them the payment is proportioned to the amount of the debt; and being so, it is not of sufficient value for more than those who are actually liberated by it; nor is it true, in these cases, that the same satisfaction is required for one as for many. But if such was the satisfaction of Christ that nothing less was necessary for the salvation of one, nothing more could be necessary for the salvation of the whole world, and the whole world might have been saved by it if it had accorded with sovereign wisdom so to apply it. It will also follow that if the satisfaction of Christ was in itself sufficient for the whole world, there is no further propriety in such questions as these – “Whose sins were imputed to Christ? for whom did he die as a substitute?” – than as they go to inquire who were the persons designed to be saved by him? That which is equally necessary for one as for many, must, in its own nature, be equally sufficient for many as for one; and could not proceed upon the principle of the sins of some being laid upon Christ, rather than others, any otherwise than as it was the design of the Father and the Son, through one all-sufficient medium, ultimately to pardon the sins of the elect rather than those of the non-elect. It seems to me as consonant with truth to say a certain number of Christ’s acts of obedience are literally transferred to us, as that a certain number of our sins are literally transferred to him. In the former case, his own undivided obedience, stamped as it is with Divinity, affords a ground of justification to any number of believers; in the latter, his own atonement, stamped also as it is with Divinity, is sufficient to pardon any number of sins or sinners. Yet as Christ did not lay down his life but by covenant – as the elect were given to him, to be as the travail of his soul, the purchase of his blood– he had respect in all that he did and suffered to this recompence of reward. It was for the covering of their transgressions that he became obedient unto death. To them his substitution was the same, in effect, as if their sins had by number been literally transferred to him. I am not aware that any principle that I hold is inconsistent with Christ’s laying down his life by covenant, or with his being the surety of that covenant, pledging himself for the certain accomplishment of whatever he undertook; as, that all that were given him should come to him, should not be lost, but raised up at the last day, and be presented without spot and blameless. All this I suppose to be included in the design of the Father and the Son, or in the “sovereign application” of the atonement. It has been objected, though not by Mr. B., “how does the sufficiency of Christ’s death afford ample ground for general invitations, if the design was confined to the elect people? If the benefits of his death were never intended for the non-elect, is it not just as inconsistent to invite them to partake of them as if there were a want of sufficiency? This explanation seems to be no other than shifting the difficulty.”
To this I answer:
1. It is a fact that the Scriptures rest the general invitation of the gospel upon the atonement of Christ, 2 Cor. v. 19-21; Matt. xxii. 4; John iii. 16.
2. If there were not a sufficiency in the atonement for the salvation of sinners, and yet they were invited to be reconciled to God, they must be invited to what is naturally impossible. The message of the gospel would in this case be as if the servants who went forth to bid the guests had said, “Come,” though, in fact, nothing was ready if many of them had come.
3. If there be an objective fulness in the atonement of Christ sufficient for any number of sinners, were they to believe in him, there is no other impossibility in the way of any man’s salvation to whom the gospel comes than what arises from the state of his own mind. The intention of God not to remove the impossibility, and so not to save him, is only a resolution to withhold, not only that which he was not obligedto give, but that which is never represented as necessary to the consistency of exhortations and invitations
to a compliance. I do not deny that there is a difficulty; but it belongs to the general subject of reconciling the purposes of God and the agency of man; whereas, in the other case, God is represented as inviting sinners to partake of that which does not exist, and which therefore is naturally impossible. The one, while it ascribes the salvation of the believer, in every stage of it, to mere grace, renders the unbeliever inexcusable, which the other, I conceive, does not.
Such, as well as I am able to explain them, are, my views of these important subjects. I may be mistaken in some particulars, and, if so, I should be happy to receive further light from any one. But, till I do, I shall not think the worse of what I have written for the names by which it may be stigmatized.