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On the Plea advanced by SEPARATISTS from the CHURCH, that the GOSPEL is not preached in it.
A FURTHER plea commonly advanced by Separatists is, that the Gospel is not preached in our Church. Had it been said, that the Gospel of J. Calvin was not preached there, we should readily have pleaded guilty to the charge; but that the Gospel of Jesus Christ is preached there, we certainly maintain, upon the authority of those Scriptures from which it has been received.
The leading doctrine of Christ's Gospel, in the judgment of some Christians, is, that it holds out salvation to certain chosen individuals, exclusive of the general bulk of mankind. The doctrine of our Church upon the subject is, that Christ died to purchase salvation for all men; all men, consequently, are interested in that great event, though all men will not be in a condition to be benefited by it. The notion of partial salvation is founded upon certain supposed absolute decrees; of which some preachers talk much, but confessedly know nothing. The doctrine of general salvation, by
which we mean salvation attainable by all men upon certain conditions, is founded upon the general scope and tenor of the holy writings, supported by particular passages direct to this purpose.
St. John, speaking of Jesus Christ the righteous, stiles him "the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world."* It was the observation of St. Peter, upon his eyes being opened to the general design of the Gospel dispensation, "That God is no respecter of persons; but in every nation, he that feareth Him, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with Him." But the doctrine of J. Calvin makes God the greatest respecter of persons; and that in a matter of the most essential importance.
In another part of the sacred writings we are told by God himself, that He has no pleasure in the death of him that dieth, but that he should return from his evil way, and live.‡
But according to J. Calvin, God has determined, by an absolute decree, an event, which at the same time, in conformity with the foregoing declaration, He does not wish should take place. The absurdity of such a supposition, which makes the God of truth contradict himself, need not be pointed out.
Once again; our Saviour, to the question put to him, Lord, are there few that be saved?" returned the following answer: "Strive to enter in at the strait gate; for many will seek to enter in, and shall not be able." On this head common
+ Acts x. 34, 35.
* 1 John ii. 2.
Ezek. xviii. 32.
Luke xiii. 24.
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
The first imagination that possesses the mind of an ignorant man upon the subject of the Divine decrees is, that in every thing relating to his salvation God must work in him both to will and to do, and therefore he must wait God's time. This idea, though true in its proper sense, is carried by him to that extreme, that if he be called upon to attend his Church, and put himself under the word; he will tell you, that means of grace can be of no use to him, till God shall be pleased to open his heart. Should he be reminded, that the Gospel condition upon which he must expect to receive, is, that he should ask; and that having the use of his legs, he is as able to walk to Church as to any other place: his answer is, that he does not feel the will to do it; and that God will make his people "willing in the day of his power." In this confidence he lives a heathenish life, without God in the world, waiting for that compulsive act of Divine power, by which he is to be brought into a state of salvation.
Feeling at some future period of his life, perhaps, some more than common impression made upon him by religious subjects, a second imagination takes possession of his mind. Considering this impression as the immediate operation of that Divine power which he has been waiting to experience, he now persuades himself that he is in the number of God's elect people, and that consequently his salvation is secure. Upon his being reminded, that he that "thinketh he standeth, must take heed lest he fall," his answer is, he cannot fall; for God will keep his elect from falling; He who has begun the
* Ps. cx. 3.