OF THE POWER OF FREE-WILL IN PREPARING US FOR OUR CONVERSION UNTO GOD.
THE judgment of the Arminians concerning the power of free-will about spritual things in a man unregenerate, merely in the state of corrupted nature, before and without the help of grace, may be laid open by these following positions: —
First, That every man in the world, reprobates and others, have in themselves power and ability of believing in Christ, of repenting and yielding due obedience to the new covenant; and that because they lost not this power by the fall of Adam.1 “Adam after his fall,” saith Grevinchovius, “retained a power of believing; and so did all reprobates in him.”2 “He did not lose” (as they speak at the synod) “the power of performing that obedience which is required in the new covenant considered formally, as it is required by the new covenant; he lost not a power of believing, nor a power of forsaking sin by repentance.” And those graces that he lost not are still in our power. Whence they affirm, that3 “faith is called the work of God only because he requireth us to do it.” Now, having appropriated this power unto themselves, to be sure that the grace of God be quite excluded, which before they had made needless, they teach, —
Secondly, That for the reducing of this power into act, that men may become actual believers, there is no infused habit of grace, no spiritual vital principle, necessary for them, or bestowed upon them; but everyone, by the use of his native endowments, doth make himself differ from others.4 “Those things which are spoken concerning the infusion of habits before we can exercise the act of faith, we reject,” saith the epistle to the Walachians.5 “That the internal principle of faith required in the gospel is a habit divinely infused, by the strength and efficacy whereof the will should be determined, I deny,” saith another of them. Well, then, if we must grant that the internal vital principle of a supernatural spiritual grace is a mere natural faculty, not elevated by any divine habit, — if it be not God that begins the good work in us, but our own free-wills, — let us see what more goodly stuff will follow. One man by his own mere endeavors, without the aid of any received gift, makes himself differ from another.6 “What matter is it in that, that a man should make himself differ from others? There is nothing truer; he who yieldeth faith to God commanding him, maketh himself differ from him who will not have faith when he commandeth.” They are the words of their Apology, which, without question, is an irrefragable truth, if faith be not a gift received from above; for on that ground only the apostle proposeth these questions, “Who maketh thee to differ from another? and what hast thou that thou didst not receive? now if thou didst receive, why dost thou glory, as if thou hadst not received?” The sole cause why he denies anyone by his own power to make himself differ from another is, because that wherein the difference consisteth is “received,” being freely bestowed upon him. Deny this, and I confess the other will fall of itself. But until their authority be equal with the apostles’, they would do well to forbear the naked obtrusion of assertions so contradictory to theirs; and so they would not trouble the church. Let them take all the glory unto themselves, as doth Grevinchovius7 “I make myself,” saith he, “differ from another when I do not resist God and his divine predetermination; which I could have resisted. And why may I not boast of this as of mine own? That I could is of God’s mercy” (endowing his nature with such an ability as you heard before); “but that I would, when I might have done otherwise, is of my power.” Now, when, after all this, they are forced to confess some evangelical grace, though consisting only in a moral persuasion by the outward preaching of the word, they teach, —
Thirdly, That God sendeth the gospel, and revealeth Christ Jesus unto men, according as they well dispose themselves for such a blessing.8 “Sometimes,” say they in their synodical writings, “God calleth this or that nation, people, city, or person, to the communion of evangelical grace, whom he himself pronounceth worthy of it, in comparison of others.” So that whereas, Acts 18:10, God encourageth Paul to preach at Corinth by affirming that he had “much people in that city” (which, doubtless, were his people then only by virtue of their election), in these men’s judgments9 “they were called so because that even then they feared God, and served him with all their hearts, according to that knowledge they had of him, and so were ready to obey the preaching of St Paul.” Strange doctrine, that men should fear God, know him, serve him in sincerity, before they ever heard of the gospel, and by these means deserve that it should be preached unto them! This is that pleasing of God before faith that they plead for, Act. Synod., p. 66; that10 “preparation and disposition to believe, which men attain by the law and virtuous education;” that “something which is in sinners,11 whereby though they are not justified, yet they are made worthy of justification.” For12 “conversion and the performance of good works is,” in their apprehension, “a condition prerequired to justification,” for so speak the children of Arminius; which if it be not an expression not to be paralleled in the writings of any Christian, I am something mistaken. The sum of their doctrine, then, in this particular concerning the power of free-will in the state of sin and unregeneration, is, That every man having a native, inbred power of believing in Christ upon the revelation of the gospel, hath also an ability of doing so much good as shall procure of God that the gospel be preached unto him; to which, without any internal assistance of grace, he can give assent and yield obedience; the preparatory acts of his own will always proceeding so far as to make him excel others who do not perform them, and are therefore excluded from farther grace; — which is more gross Pelagianism than Pelagius himself would ever justify. Wherefore we reject all the former positions, as so many monsters in Christian religion, in whose room we assert these that follow: —
First, That we, being by nature dead in trespasses and sins, have no power to prepare ourselves for the receiving of God’s grace, nor in the least measure to believe and turn ourselves unto him. Not that we deny that there are any conditions pre-required in us for our conversion, dispositions preparing us in some measure for our new birth or regeneration; but we affirm that all these also are the effects of the grace of God, relating to that alone as their proper cause, for of ourselves, “without him, we can do nothing,” John 15:5. “We are not sufficient of ourselves to think any thing as of ourselves,” 2 Corinthians 3:5, much less do that which is good. In respect of that, “every one of our mouths must be stopped;” for “we have all sinned and come short of the glory of God,” Romans 3:19, 23. We are “by nature the children of wrath, dead in trespasses and sins,” Ephesians 2:1-3; Romans 8:6. Our new birth is a resurrection from death, wrought by the greatness of God’s power. And what ability, I pray, hath a dead man to prepare himself for his resurrection? Can he collect his scattered dust, or renew his perished senses? If the leopard can change his spots, and the Ethiopian his skin, then can we do good who by nature are taught to do evil, Jeremiah 13:23. We are all “ungodly,” and “without strength” considered, when Christ died for us, Romans 5:6; “wise to do evil,” but “to do good we have no strength, no knowledge.” Yea, all the faculties of our souls, by reason of that spiritual death under which we are detained by the corruption of nature, are altogether useless, in respect of any power for the doing of that which is truly good. Our understandings are blind or “darkened, being alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that is in us, because of the blindness of our hearts,” Ephesians 4:18; whereby we become even “darkness” itself, Ephesians 5:8. So void is the understanding of true knowledge, that “the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God; they are foolishness unto him,” 1 Corinthians 2:14. [He is] nothing but confounded and amazed at spiritual things; and, if he doth not mock, can do nothing but wonder, and say, “What meaneth this?” Acts 2:12, 13. Secondly, we are not only blind in our understandings, but captives also to sin in our wills, Luke 4:18; whereby “we are servants of sin,” John 8:34; “free” only in our obedience to that tyrant, Romans 6:20. Yea, thirdly, all our affections are wholly corrupted, for “every imagination of the thoughts of the heart of man is only evil continually,” Genesis 6:5. While we are “in the flesh, the motions of sin do work in our members to bring forth fruit unto death,” Romans 7:5.
These are the endowments of our nature, these are the preparations of our hearts for the grace of God, which we have within ourselves. Nay, —
Secondly, There is not only an impotency but an enmity in corrupted nature to anything spiritually good: The things that are of God are “foolishness unto a natural man,” 1 Corinthians 2:14. And there is nothing that men do more hate and contemn than that which they account as folly. They mock at it as a ridiculous drunkenness, Acts 2:13. And would to God our days yielded us not too evident proofs of that universal opposition that is between light and darkness, Christ and Belial, nature and grace, — that we could not see everyday the prodigious issues of this inbred corruption swelling over all bounds, and breaking forth into a contempt of the gospel and all ways of godliness! So true it is that “the carnal mind is enmity against God: it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be,” Romans 8:7. So that, —
Thirdly, As a natural man, by the strength of his own free-will, neither knoweth nor willeth, so it is utterly impossible he should do anything pleasing unto God. “Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? then can he do good,” Jeremiah 13:23. “An evil tree cannot bring forth good fruit.” “Without faith it is impossible to please God,” Hebrews 11:6; and “that is not of ourselves, it is the gift of God,” Ephesians 2:8. So that though Almighty God, according to the unsearchableness of his wisdom, worketh divers ways and in sundry manners, for the translating of his chosen ones from the power of darkness into his marvelous light, — calling some powerfully in the midst of their march in the way of ungodliness, as he did Paul, — preparing others by outward means and helps of common restraining grace, moralizing nature before it be begotten anew by the immortal seed of the word, — yet this is certain, that all good in this kind is from his free grace; there is nothing in ourselves, as of ourselves, but sin. Yea, and all those previous dispositions wherewith our hearts are prepared, by virtue of common grace, do not at all enable us to concur, by any vital operation, with that powerful, blessed, renewing grace of regeneration whereby we become the sons of God. Neither is there any disposition unto grace so remote as that possibly it can proceed from a mere faculty of nature, for every such disposition must be of the same order with the form that is to be introduced; but nature, in respect of grace, is a thing of an inferior alloy, between which there is no proportion. A good use of gifts may have a promise of an addition of more, provided it be in the same kind. There is no rule, law, or promise that should make grace due upon the good use of natural endowments. But you will say, here I quite overthrow free-will, which before I seemed to grant. To which I answer, that in regard of that object concerning which now we treat, a natural man hath no such thing as free-will at all, if you take it for a power of doing that which is good and well-pleasing unto God in things spiritual, for an ability of preparing our hearts unto faith and calling upon God, as our church article speaks, a home-bred self-sufficiency, preceding the change of our wills by the almighty grace of God, whereby any good should be said to dwell in us; and we utterly deny that there is any such thing in the world. The will, though in itself radically free, yet in respect of the term or object to which in this regard it should tend, is corrupted, enthralled, and under a miserable bondage; tied to such a necessity of sinning in general, that though unregenerate men are not restrained to this or that sin in particular, yet for the main they can do nothing but sin. All their actions wherein there is any morality are attended with iniquity: “An evil tree cannot bring forth good fruit;” even “the sacrifice of the wicked is an abomination to the LORD.” These things being thus cleared from the Scripture, the former Arminian positions will of themselves fall to the ground, having no foundation but their own authority; for any pretense of proof they make none from the word of God. The first two I considered in the last chapter, and now add only concerning the third, — that the sole cause why the gospel is sent unto some and not unto others is, not any dignity, worth, or desert of it in them to whom it is sent, more than in the rest that are suffered to remain in the shadow of death, but only the sole good pleasure of God, that it may be a subservient means for the execution of his decree of election: “I have much people in this city,” Acts 18:20;
“I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes. Even so, Father; for so it seemed good in thy sight,” Matthew 11:25, 26.
So that the Arminian opposition to the truth of the gospel in this particular is clearly manifest: —
|“Of ourselves we can do nothing,” John 15:5. “We are not sufficient of ourselves to think any thing as of ourselves,” 2 Corinthians 3:5. “We are by nature the children of wrath, dead in trespasses and sins,” Ephesians 2:1-3.||“We retain still after the fall a power of believing and of repentance, because Adam lost not this ability,” Rem. Declar. Sen. in Synod.|
|“Faith is not of ourselves: it is the gift of God,” Ephesians 2:8.||“Faith is said to be the work of God, because he commandeth us to perform it,” Rem. Apol. “There is no infusion of any habit or spiritual vital principle necessary to enable a man to believe,” Corv.|
|“Who maketh thee to differ from another? and what hast thou that thou didst not receive? now if thou didst receive, why dost thou glory as if thou hadst not received?” 1 Corinthians 4:7.||“There is nothing truer than that one man maketh himself differ from another. He who believeth when God commandeth, maketh himself differ from him who will not,” Rem. Apol.|
|“Can the Ethiopian change his skin, or the leopard his spots? then may ye also do good, who are taught to do evil,” Jeremiah 13:23.||“I may boast of mine own, when I obey God’s grace, which it was in my power not to obey, as well as to obey,” Grevinch.|
|“Believing on him that justifieth the ungodly,” Romans 4:5. “Being justified freely by his grace,” Romans 3:24.||“True conversion and the performance of good works is a condition required on our part before justification,” Filii Attain.|
|“I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes. Even so, Father; for so it seemed good in thy sight,” Matthew 11:25, 26.||“God sendeth the gospel to such persons or nations, that in comparison of others may be said to be worthy of it,” Rem. Apol.|