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sense teaches us to reason thus. Upon the supposition that there was an arbitrary decree of God, ascertaining the number, and determining individually the persons, who shall be saved; this direction of our Saviour was both vain and useless; because no striving of man could, in this case, produce any alteration in his condition. To direct a man to strive, when, in consequence of his fate being determined by an over-ruling power, striving could answer no purpose; would be something like locking a man up in prison, and calling upon him to come forth, while you kept the key of the prison-door in your pocket.
But if we read the whole of our Saviour's answer on this occasion, we shall be convinced that the inability of the parties to enter in at the strait grate, did not arise from any decree of God against them, but from defect in themselves. They had refused to enter in till the gate was shut; or sought to enter in, without having gained the victory over their spiritual enemies.* No grace of God was wanting in this case, but holiness in man. The parties excluded might have entered in,
* The original word here made use of by the Evangelist shows that it requires great constancy, diligence, and courage; a sharp conflict with the world, the flesh, and the devil, to succeed in entering through the strait gate into life eternal. The word signifies to strive to agony, with the utmost resolution, and with every faculty of body and mind. From whence we conclude, that something is left for man to do in this case. gate of eternal life is opened to him by Christ, but the Christian must so strive as to become qualified for admission into it; otherwise, though he should "seek to enter, he shall not be
had they been qualified for admission; but they were, as we read v. 27, "workers of iniquity."
To enter at large into the confutation of a doctrine which carries its own condemnation upon the face of it, would be a waste of time. Upon this idea we decline a particular consideration of those texts, which have been at different times so grossly misapplied to this subject; choosing rather to build what may be said upon it, on the general design of the Gospel revelation; from the consideration, that where that is once understood, the meaning of particular passages in it will be less liable to doubtful interpretation. And though this method does not give an answer to every cavil and objection which enthusiasm and error have brought forward; yet it furnishes the considerate Christian with that standard of judgment, by which every doctrine belonging to the religious system may be so measured, as to enable him to build his conclusion upon it on the most rational foundation.
The grace of God to man in the Gospel revelation, teaches him to "deny ungodliness and worldly lusts, and to live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world."* Whatever man, therefore, has received the Gospel in the truth and spirit of it, must manifest its effects in his life and conversation; from whence the following axiom is deducible, that no sound member of the Church can be a bad member of society. A doctrine, then, which tends to weaken the obligation to repentance and newness of life; which supports the sinner with a false hope, or lulls him into a fatal security; which proves
*Titus ii. 12.
destructive of one great end of Christ's death unto
That the doctrine of absolute decrees produces this effect is certain, from the conclusion too generally drawn from it; the professors of it for the most part depending for salvation through Christ, upon the strength of a positive and irrevocable decree in their favour, antecedent to their birth, and not dependent on their actions; the too general consequence of which has been, that instead of adorning the doctrine of God their Saviour in all things, which Christians are called upon to do, many have been led to disgrace it.
The remark of Erasmus, the strenuous and unanswerable opposer of this doctrine, was this: “Of old (said he) the gospel made men better; but the new-pretended gospel made them much worse." And in another epistle upon the same subject he wrote still more strongly. "This new gospel (says he) founded upon the doctrine of absolute decrees, has produced a new generation of obstinate, impudent, hypocritical people, who are revilers, liars, deceivers; and who do not agree among themselves, and are very uneasy to others; who are seditious, furious, given to cavilling; and with whom I am so much dissatisfied, that if I knew any town where none of them were, I would go thither, and choose
it to live in."
This decisive judgment of Erasmus upon the effects produced by the doctrine here alluded to, brings to my mind the answer made by an eminent
preacher of it to some brethren who were enquiring into the success of his ministry. "I have made (replied he) many proselytes, and have a very full congregation; but (continued the preacher) all the effect I have found is, that I have preached a congregation of Christians into a congregation of devils."
I would not be understood as adopting all the harsh expressions that have been at different times made use of upon this subject; because, at any rate, the application of them does not belong to the wellmeaning among these mistaken people; but my object is to point out the general ill effect of the doctrine itself. And so long as it tends to cherish an idea, that salvation through Christ is a thing independent of the personal condition of the party; the foregoing language made use of by Erasmus, and the preacher, is not, so far as those persons are concerned in whose mind such an idea prevails, too strong for it. So long as it shall be maintained to be sound doctrine, that the true saints of God, as they are called, may commit horrible and crying sins, die without repentance, and yet be sure of salvation; we ministers are called upon by our office to say, that such a doctrine is not of God; because it teareth up the very foundation of religion, induceth all manner of profaneness in the world, and is expressly contrary to the whole current of scripture.*
One of the old independents of the last century said expressly, "Let any true saint of God be taken away in the very act of any known sin, before it is possible for him to repent, I make no doubt or * Vindiciæ, c. 7, p. 332.
scruple of it, but he shall as surely be saved, as if he had lived to have repented of it; and he instances in David, in case he had been taken away before he had repented of his adultery and murder. That some modern teachers of this doctrine are not behind hand with the old independent just mentioned, there is but too much reason to fear.
The remark made, therefore, upon this subject by an eminent bishop* of our Church, is not so strictly confined to the wild schismatics of former days, as, for the credit of the present age, we could wish
was. "The fanatical sects (said he) that sprang up in abundance, amid the confusions of the last century, had so corrupted the word of God by their impure glosses on the Gospel doctrine of grace, that the age became immoral on principle, and under the name of saints, engendered a hateful brood of profligate Antinomians, i. e. a sort of Christians, if they may be so called, who turned the grace of God into licentiousness; and to magnify his goodness, very conscientiously transgressed his laws. In a word, they taught that the elect were above ordinances, and might be saved without, nay in defiance of, the moral law."
Upon examining the doctrine closely, the deformity of which is so striking, that it is a matter of astonishment how it has ever gained credit in the world, we shall find it to be less built upon the word of scripture, than upon the vain conceit of man; which renders him a mere passive being in the work of salvation; and means of grace, in a
great measure, useless institutions.