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Reasoning, therefore, from the analogy of all the other passages of Scripture, I think there can be no difficulty in determining who those are that are said in the verse quoted from the Acts to have been ordained to eternal life. On a review of the whole subject, I should conclude that Luke did not intend to advance in so abrupt a manner any new doctrine, but simply to confirm by a fresh example the saying of Peter respecting Cornelius, Acts x. 34, 35. Cornelius and the Gentiles with him believed, as many at least as feared God and worked righteousness, for such were accepted of God in every nation. So in the other passage, those of the Gentiles whose thoughts were already devoted to serious subjects, worthy the attention of men, believed, and gave themselves up to instruction with docility and gladness of heart, glorifying the word of the Lord. Such Peter declared were accepted of God in every nation, and such Luke, in conformity with Peter's opinion, asserts to be ordained to, that is, qualified for eternal life, even though they were Gentiles.
But an objection of another kind may perhaps be made. If God be said to have predestinated men only on condition that they believe and continue in the faith, predestination will not be altogether of grace, but must depend on the will and belief of mankind ; which is derogatory to the exclusive efficacy of divine grace. I maintain on the contrary that, so far from the doctrine of grace being impugned, it is thus placed in a much clearer light than by the theory of those who make the objection. For the grace of God is seen to be infinite, in the first place, by his showing any pity at all for man whose fall was to happen through his own fault. Se. condly, by his "so loving the world, that he gave his only begotten Son” for its salvation. Thirdly, by his granting us again the power of volition, that is, of acting freely, in consequence of recovering the liberty of the will by the renewing of the Spirit. It was thus that he opened the heart of Lydia,
His fall’n condition is, and to me owe
Paradise Lost, III. 171. See also Glocester Ridley's Sixth Sermon to the Holy Spirit ; where the line of argument pursued by Milton is beautifully and powerfully enforced.
Acts xvi. 14. Admitting, however, that the condition whereon the decree depends, (that is to say, the will enfranchised by God himself, and that faith which is required of mankind), is left in the power of free agents, there is nothing in the doctrine either derogatory to grace, or inconsistent with justice; since the power of willing and believing is either the gift of God, 8 or, so far as it is inherent in man, partakes not of the nature of merit or of good works, but only of a natural faculty. Nor does this reasoning represent God as depending upon the human will, but as fulfilling his own pleasure, whereby he has chosen that man should always use his own will with a regard to the love and worship of the Deity, and consequently with a regard to his own salvation. If this use of the will be not admitted, whatever worsḥip or love we render to God is entirely vain and of no value; the
acceptableness of duties done under a law of necessity is diminished, or rather is annihilated altogether, inasmuch as freedom can no longer be attributed to that will over which some fixed decree is inevitably suspended." The objections, therefore, which some urge so vehemently
Man shall find grace ;
Happy for man, so coming; he her aid
Paradise Lost, III. 227.
And good he made thee, but to persevere
By destiny, and can no other choose ? Ibid, V. 524. • Many there be that complain of Divine Providence for suffering Adam to transgress. Foolish tongues ! when God gave him reason, he gave him freedom to choose, for reason is but choosing; he had been else a mere artificial Adam, such an Adam as he is in the motions. We ourselves esteem not of that obedience, or love, or gift, which is of force; God therefore left him free, set before him a provoking object, ever almost in his eyes ; herein consisted his merit, herein the right of his reward, the praise of his abstinence. Speech for the Liberty of Unlicensed Printing. Pruse Works, II. 74.
against this doctrine,' are of no force whatever ;-namely, that the repentance and faith of the predestinated having been foreseen, predestination becomes posterior in point of time to works,—that it is rendered dependent on the will of man,--that God is defrauded of part of the glory of our salvation,—that man is puffed up with pride,—that the foundations of all Christian consolation in life and in death are shaken,that gratuitous justification is denied. On the contrary, the scheme, and consequently the glory, not only of the divine grace, but also of the divine wisdom and justice, is thus displayed in a clearer manner than on the opposite hypothesis ; and consequently the principal end is effected which God proposed to himself in predestination.
Seeing, then, that God has predestinated from eternity all those who should believe and continue in the faith, it follows that none can be reprobated, except they do not believe or continue in the faith, and even this rather as a consequence than a decree ; there can therefore be no reprobation of individuals from all eternity. For God has predestinated to salvation, on the proviso of a general condition, all who enjoy freedom of will; while none are predestinated to destruction, except through their own fault, and as it were per accidens, in the same manner as the gospel itself is said to be a stimbling-block and a savour of death to some. This shall be proved on the testimony of Scripture no less explicitly than the doctrine asserted in the former part of the chapter. Isai. 1. 1. “where is the bill of your mother's divorcement, whom I have put away?.... behold for your iniquities have ye
sold yourselves.” Hos. iv. 6. “because thou hast rejected knowledge, I will also reject thee .... seeing thou hast forgotten the law of thy God, I will also forget thy children.” Rev. xiii. 8.
“all that dwell upon the earth shall worship him, whose names are not written in the book of life of the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world;" those, namely, who have not believed, whom God has expressly deserted? because they “wandered after the beast,” v. 3. Nor should I call the decree in Zephaniah ii. 1-3. a decree of eternal reprobation, but rather of temporal punishment, and at any rate not an absolute decree, as the passage itself is sufficient to show : "gather yourselves together, fc. before the decree bring forth.... Sc. fc. it may be ye shall be hid in the day of the anger of Jehovah.”
1 See the works of Twiss, Rutherford, and Bishop Davenant, Edwards on Free Will, Calvin's Institutes, and the School Divines in general.
2 Thence faintings, swoonings of despair,
And sense of heaven's desertion -Samson Agonistes, 631.
If God had decreed any to absolute reprobation, which we nowhere read in Scripture, the system of those who affirm that reprobation is an absolute decree, requires that he should have also decreed the means whereby his own decree might be fulfilled. Now these means are neither more nor less than sin.ö Nor will it avail to reply that God did not decree sin, but only permitted it; for there is a fatal objection to this common subterfuge, namely, that it implies more than simple permission. Further, he who permits a thing does not decree it, but leaves it free.
But even if there be any decree of reprobation, Scripture everywhere declares, that as election is established and confirmed by faith, so reprobation is rescinded by repentance. Jer. vi. 30. “ reprobate silver shall men call them, because Jehovah hath rejected them ;” and yet in the third verse of the following chapter God addresses the same people –
amend your ways and your doings, and I will cause you to dwell in this place.” So too in chap. xviii. 6. &c. where God compares his own right with that of the potter, (whence
6 See the same argument urged by Jeremy Taylor in his letter to a person of quality on the subject of Original Sin, Works, IX. 322.
7 See the divines quoted in the preceding page. Respecting the objection urged by Milton, compare the following passage from the Second Sermon of Tillotson on James i. 13, 14. * If these things be true, that God hath absolutely decreed to damn the greatest part of men, and to make good this decree, he permits them to sin, not by a bare permission of leaving them to themselves, but by such a permission as shall be efficacious; that is, he will so permit then to sin as they cannot avoid it ; then those who are under this decree of God are under a necessity of sinning; which necessity, now it does not proceed from themselves, but from the decree of God, does by consequence make God the author of sin.'
8 To prayer, repentance, and obedience due,
Though but endeavour'd with sincere intent,
Paradise Lost. Il. 191. VOL. IV.
St. Paul seems to have taken his metaphor, Rom. 1x.) “ if that nation, against whom I have pronounced, turn from their evil, I will repent of the evil that I thought to do unto them.” So too, where God enters into an explicit vindication of the justice of his ways, Ezek. xviii. 25—27. “when the wicked man turneth away from the wickedness that he hath committed, and doeth that which is lawful and right, he shall save his soul alive.” xxxiii. 14, 15. “ when I say unto the wicked, Thou shalt surely die, if he turn from his sin, and do that which is lawful and right, fc. fc. he shall surely live, he shall not die.” The same is inculcated in other parts of the chapters just quoted : xviii. 31, 32. "why will ye die, O house of Israel ? for I have no pleasure in the death of him that dieth, saith the Lord Jehovah, wherefore turn yourselves, and live ye.”
xxxiii. 11. “say unto them, As I live, saith the Lord Jehovah, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked ; but that the wicked turn from his way and live ; turn ye, turn ye
ways, for why will ye die, O house of Israel ?” Luke xiii. 5. " except ye repent, ye shall ail likewise perish :" therefore, if ye repent, ye shall not perish. If then there be no repentance, of what advantage is election ; or if there be repentance, of what injury is reprobation? Accordingly St. Paul, after speaking of those whom he describes as blinded, who are opposed to the elect, Rom. xi. 7. “ the election hath obtained it, and the rest were blinded,” subjoins immediately, v. 11. “ have they stumbled that they should fall? God forbid ;” and v. 23, &c. “and they also, if they abide not in unbelief, shall be graffed in ; for God is able to graff them in again,” &c. Lastly, he adds, v. 32. “God hath concluded them all in unbelief, that he might have mercy upon all.”
If then God reject none but the disobedient and unbelieving, he undoubtedly gives grace to all, if not in equal measure,' at least sufficient for attaining knowledge of the truth
9 Some I have chosen of peculiar grace,
Elect above the rest; so is
Paradise Lost, II.