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Having, as we conceive, fully redeemed our pledge, in the establishment of the proposition under consideration, by the most plain, direct, unequivocal evidence, we might here claim a discharge from any further effort, relative to this subject, were we not apprised of some plausible, though feeble, objections and arguments against the doctrine maintained; and which some might expect, and desire, should be noticed, and obviated. To some of these, the most prominent and commonly used, we shall attend with studied brevity, yet with fairness and candor.
1. It is objected to our proposition, that the representation given by our Lord in Matt. 18:23–35, of the king who forgave his servant, and afterwards cast him into prison, shows that God may remit one's sins, and afterwards reverse the pardon; that his pardons are conditional, and not absolute. But let it be not forgotten, this is a parabolic representation; the plain, simple, governing purpose of which, is, only to show, that we cannot expect forgiveness of God, unless we can heartily forgive others. This is the real scope and design of this parable, by way of allegorical representation. It has no reference whatever to the evangelical method of divine forgiveness and justification. It takes no notice of the mediation and substitution of Christ, through whom is preached unto us the forgiveness of sins. The servant, in the parable, puts in no such plea as the gospel warrants and inculcates, namely, ‘for Christ's sake'for his name's sake. No but it is, 'Have patience with me, and I will pay thee all. Was this ever the language of any truly penitent, pardoned sinner? No, never. Moreover, the servant, in question, bears no one mark of a real, humble, penitent. A very unfit representative of such as are truly penitent before God, and such only does he pardon. In short, the whole passage, perverted from its plain intent and meaning, divested of its real shape and true character, affords as much support for the Unitarian scheme of forgiveness, without atonement, as it does to the theory of conditional, revocable pardon. It is, therefore, wholly irrelevant to the point in question; and the argument at best being merely constructive, based as it is on allegory and figure, is of no weight at all against direct and positive evidence.
2. It is contended, that the foolish virgins, mentioned in Matt. 2:5, "once had grace, but lost it.' But where is the proof? There is none~no, not the slightest. This is another parabolic representation of the kingdom of heaven,' the visible church on earth, comprehending within its enclosure, both wheat and tares,
good fish and bad, wise virgins and foolish, real saints and false professors. This needs no proof. It is plain matter of fact, which nobody disputes. Of these 'ten virgins--a fictive appellation employed to indicate all outward, visible professors of Christianity-five are specially designated by the term, foolish;' i. e. imprudent, thoughtless, inconsiderate. This is their distinctive character. They never had any better-never were wise. They had “lamps' only, thereby denoting an outward shew or profession merely. They had neither ‘vessels,' nor ‘oil therein. In the delineation of their character, as well as their distinctive name, they are radically distinguished from the wise virgins, the children of wisdom, real Christians, just as plainly as the specious, outward, unfruitful professor, is distinguished from the real believer, with the sanctifying grace of God in his heart, to keep his lamp from going out. The argument from this passage, being of the same character of the preceding, merely constructive, it must go for what it is worth.
3. It is again urged, that Christ's words in John 15:2, 6, stand opposed to the sentiment we maintain Every branch in me that beareth not fruit, he taketh away:' 'If a man abide not in me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned.' This argument is found in the same condition with the two former
, merely constructive-founded on metaphorical representation. Let it be remembered, once for all, that circumstances in parables do not always admit of minute application. We are not to expect more in a parable than it is designed to represent; nor is it to be strained to an interpretation exactly suited to every circumstance. Its principal scope is to be attended to; and sentiments are to be accommodated to its other parts, only so far as the nature of things allows.' In the exterior, visible church, there are two sorts of branches, as well as two kinds of virgins. Some are branches nominally, having a name that they live, and are dead; a mere professional relation to Christ. They were received into the church, upon their professing to be in Christ; and there they remain, fruitless, barren branches, until they are taken away, and cast into the fire of hell to be burned. But the real branches are those who are internally and vitally united to Christ. They are branches, not by external profession merely, but also by real implantation-grafted in contrary to nature into' Christ, the true vine. Of such he says, “Every branch that beareth fruit-mark now its fecundity, permanency, and progress—he purgeth it, that it may bring forth more fruit.' This is our doctrine exactly. See how the good work is carried on. The vital branches are not suffered to die. The life of the believer 'is hid with Christ in God;' and 'because I live,' says Christ, 'ye shall live also.' But was there ever a branch, a member, a believer in Christ, really and truly, that did not bear fruit—that did not from the very moment of spiritual vitality, begin to live and bear fruit? We must believe there never was. “Whoseever liveth, and believeth in me, shall never die.'
4. Again-Heb. 6:44, is triumphantly adduced to prove that saints may finally fall away. “For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift,' &c. 'if they shall fall away, to renew them again to repentance.' But nothing can be gathered from this passage, but what is applicable to the stony-ground hearers--Luke 8:13—to those destitute of true Christian love-1 Cor. 13:1-4; and to such as Christ shall at last disown as workers of iniquity-Matt. 7:22, 23. The expressions taken separately, or all of them together, do not necessarily involve the Christian character. To be partakers of the Holy Ghost, and the powers of the world to come,' i. e. the future age, or Christian dispensation, denote miraculous powers, net necessarily belonging to Christians; but participated by Balaam, Saul, Judas, and others, who prophesied in the name of Christ, and in his name cast out devils, and done many wonderful things, whom, nevertheless, he never knew, as real disciples, and will disown them for ever.
All the other expres. sions are indefinite. They do not indicate or describe character explicitly and definitely. Indeed, when closely and critically examined, it will be found they do not amount to a description of real Christianity. It is true, the expressions describe what was really intended, namely, a total apostacy from the Christian faith, and a reverting to Judaism, or infidelity. It is an open and avowed renunciation of Christ, arising from enmity of heart against him, his cause and people, approving in their own minds of the deeds of his murderers; and all this after they have been once enlightened, have received the knows ledge of the truth, and tasted some of its benefits; and have not only been eye witnesses of the miraculous operations of the Holy Spirit, but have themselves been partakers of some of them; yet having, under such circumstances, re. nounced the gospel--and as there remains no higher evidence, or stronger motives, to persuade them to repentance-so their case, in that respect, must appear desperate. The nature of their sin, too, not being a single act, through the force of temptation, or any other palliating circumstance; but a wilful, voluntary, and deliberate apostacy, seems to preclude all possibility of renewing them again to repentance. Taking in the whole connection, and governing design of the passage, it will
, at most, afford nothing more than a constructive, ambiguous support, to the scheme of those who rely on it with so much confi
dence. But this is not all. Their interpretation and application of the
passage, directly conflicts with the 12th article of their Creed, which says, “After we have received the Holy Ghost, we may depart from grace given, and fall into sin; and, by the grace of God, rise again, and amend our lives. But the passage says, it is impossible, if they shall fall away, to renew them, &c. Here, then, are two contradictory propositions, from the same fraternity, just as opposite as the poles of the earth. And such inconsistencies are ever likely to happen, in all attempts to maintain, by mere constructive, inferential reasoning, a favorite hypothesis, at the expense of positive and direct testimony.
5. Ezek. 3:20, is urged against us: "When a righteous man doth turn from his righteousness, and committeth iniquity, he shall die.' But in reply, we would observe, that in this chapter, and likewise the 18th, where the same subject is renewed, it is designed to shew the equality of the Lord's dealings with men.
Of this there can be no doubt. But as the holy Scriptures are every where written in popular style, and not with studied regard to evident consistency, or systematic order and minuteness; and as they speak of persons and characters, as they appear to men, who think themselves righteous, and are so accounted by others, whether they are so in reality or not; so it is here declared, in opposition to the false notions of the Jews of that day, respecting the inequality of God's dealings with men, that, “a righteous man,' who 'trusts to his own righteousness, (chap. 33:13)—that doth turn from his righteous. nesses, (marg.) i. e. his righteous acts, his upright conduct, and thus sinning, and not repenting, should die in his sins; and that a wicked man, upon his repentance, should save his soul alive. It appears evident, upon a careful investigation of this, and the collateral passages, (chap. 18:24–27, and 33:12—20,) that God's arguing and expostulations with Israel, related to their national privileges, and to his temporal dispensations towards them. So that the righteous man, in that relation, is one whose external righteousnesses-righteous acts and doingsmentitled to outward prosperity, according to the peculiar covenant which God made with the nation of Israel, commonly called the national covenant. (See Scott on Ex. 19:5.) One thing is quite certain: the righteous man, in the evangelical meaning of the phrase--(Isa. 45:24; Jer. 23:6; Acts 13:39; Rom. 3:21, 22, and 10:4; 1 Cor. 6:11; 2 Cor.5:21; Phil. 3:9)—is not clearly indicated in this whole connection. And by the rules of correct interpretation, its suffrage, at best, is certainly equivocal; and therefore must fail
, when set up against express testimony, and positive declaration. For if God forsaketh not his saints-will never leave nor forsake them, if they shall not depart from him—if they are preserved forever-if he will water his church every moment, and keep it day and night; if this holy tabernacle shall not be taken down, not one of the stakes thereof ever be removed, nor any of the cords thereof be broken; if not the least grain of his wheat shall fall to the ground; if the good man shall not be utterly cast down; if the sheep of Christ shall never perish; if none shall be able to pluck them out of his and his Father's hand; if the true believer shall never die; if no power in earth or in hell shall be able to separate them from the love of Christ; if true Christian love never faileth; if the justified and the glorified are equinumerant; if inspired confidence was fully assured of the performance of a good work of grace unto the end-had no doubt of the continuance in the church of those who really belong to it; if those who went out by apostacy are disowned at last, as workers of iniquity, not one of whom were ever recognized by Christ, as belonging to his true disciples; if no one living stone shall be displaced from the spiritual temple, which would deface its beauty, destroy its symmetry, shatter the superstructure, and endanger, if not destroy, the whole building; if there be no alternate entries and erasures among the names written in heaven, to garble and deface the fair book of life; if the good part chosen shall not be taken away;
if there be joy among the saints and angels on every occasion of a true conversion, as a glorious triumph of redeeming grace, and infallible accession to the kingdom of Christ; if there be a portion of our race over whom the second death hath no power; we say, if all these things are som —if these are the true sayings of God'--then the most specious and plausible argument, or objection, ought at once to be suspected and discarded, much less pressed with confidence, pertinacity, and vigor.
6. It is objected, that our doctrine tends to licentiousness and carnal security; that its advocates, being persuaded of their safety, may relax in duty, indulge security, and even practise iniquity. Our reply is—they who consistently hold the doctrine, are unconscious of any such deleterious influence. Those who disbelieve it, are not, of course, capable of judging, or knowing, that it has such influence; and those who abuse it, are accountable for the mischief, and not the doctrine. The gospel itself is abused; the divine sovereignty is abused; and particularly the divine forbearance, every day, 'Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil. The objection, if it prove any thing, proves too much, and is therefore good for nothing. Moreover, the strength of this argument was tried long ago, by the devil, on our Savior himself_ If thou be the Son of God, cast thyself down; you cannot be hurt; his angels will certainly preserve you; 'in their hands they shall bear thee
time thou dash thy foot against a stone.' But as this device had no force on Christ, so neither does it at all affect his true followers.
7. But does not the doctrine supersede the use of means-cut the sinews of moral exertion—and render cautions, exhortations, warnings, &c. unnecessary? Why employ them, if there be no danger of being lost? We reply—If the objection has any any force at all, it places the apostle Paul in as awkward a predicament for inconsistency, as, in the judgment of the objector, it would place us. In the midst of greatest peril, when sudden destruction by shipwreck was every moment expected, he assured the centurion and the soldiers, from positive information by the angel of God,' that same night, that “there shall be no loss of any man's life among you.' But did this infallible assurance of their ultimate safety lull them to sleep-do away the use of means—silence the voice of warning, caution, &c.? Quite the reverse. Paul discovered the shipmen were about to flee out of the ship, when they had let down the boat into the sea:' he immediately raised the warning voice. «Paul said to the centurion, and to the soldiers, except these abide in the ship, ye cannot be saved.' Here was the mean to secure the promised result. This is our doctrine exactly. It implies the use of means, and indicates that means are equally appointed with the end. We might further instance the case of Jacob: he had the absolute promise of God, saying, 'I am with thee, and will keep thee in all places whither thou goest, and will bring thee again into this land, and will not leave thee, until I have done that which I have spoken to thee of.' Did this destroy all motives to activity, and render means useless, or inexpedient? Surely not. Take another case. Why was Joseph .warned in a dream, to take the young child, and his mother, and flee into Egypt?'. It was because Herod would seek the young child, to destroy him;' and yet it was as certain as the established order of heaven, even the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God,' that he was to die on the cross for the redemption of mankind; and even within a very short time before that event, the blood-thirsty Jews, in the height of their rage and malice, could not lay hands on him, because his hour was not yet come.
8. We will notice only one objection more. It is said, this doctrine is inconsistent with free agency; that if men are so kept from falling, by divine power, their acts cannot be free. But may not the same be said respecting saints and
angels in heaven? No one doubts their security, being confirmed in the favor and enjoyment of God forever. And yet can any one suppose their freedom is so infringed thereby, as to prevent their most active and voluntary obedience? If liability to total apostacy be essential to free agency, then the confirmation of a rational being in a state of holiness or happiness, in this world or the next, must forever be out of the question. This is an absurdity, for which the doctrine we maintain is in nowise accountable. It is enough that we know God wants neither ability nor willingness to keep us from falling. The only wise God our Savior,' says Jude, v. 24, "is able to keep you from falling, and to present you faultless before the presence of his glory, with exceeding joy.' And as to his willingness, it is positively affirmed by Christ himself— It is not the will of your Father which is in heaven, that one of these little ones should perish. And— This is the Father's will which hath sent me, that of all which he hath given me, I should lose nothing, but should raise it up at the last day.' This may seem, at first, to conflict with another declaration from the same lips, which says, in his prayer to his Father, “Those that thou gavest me I have kept, and none of them is lost, but the son of perdition. We know, however, that the Scripture cannot be broken;' and Christ, who is 'the Truthi can never contradict himself. The task of reconciling here belongs no more to us, than it does to the opposer of our sentiment. The difficulty, if we mistake not, is not hard to obviate. Let the particle 'but,' in the latter text, be used to express opposition, instead of exception, and then the meaning of the phrase may be plainly expressed thus: Those whom thou gavest me I have kept, and none of them is lost; but the son of perdition, he is lost. Or transpose it thus: The son of perdition is lost; but those whom thou gavest me, none of them is lost. And this harmonizes with the first declaration, "That of all which he hath given me, I should lose nothing.' Upon the whole, if God's ability, willingness, promise, covenant, and oath, do not secure the infallible salvation of all his saints, we may despair of the certain salvation of any one of them. But with unshaken confidence, and holy animation, we can sing,
“Grace will complete what grace begins,
Remarks.-1. The way and the end of the righteous must never be separated; for these two hath God joined together. It is the way of duty and dependence. Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling: for it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure.' Two distinct, but perfectly reconcilable, propositions. Either would make sad mischief without the other. But operating together, they are like the wings of the eagle, that bear him evenly upward and onward; or like the two oars of a vessel, that propel it straight across the moving current. The saints are not saved without persevering. But being in the grace of God, they are kept by the power of God, through faith unto salvation. Hence, “they are not of them who draw back unto perdition; but of them that believe to the saving of the soul.' Keeping, then, in view, the evident design and tendency of the doctrine, it will neither be perverted nor abused; but minister abundant encouragement and animation to all the righteous who hold on their way, and by the grace of God become stronger and stronger.
2. The doctrine affords great encouragement, in regard to the conversion of sinners. It affords a powerful motive to ministers and others to labor in winning souls to Christ, knowing that their labor shall not be in vain in the Lord; that the souls, converted by their instrumentality, shall never perish; that no