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A LETTER Concerning the Sovereignty and the Promises of GOD.

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A LETTER FROM ARISTOCLES TO AUTHADES, Concerning the SOVEREIGNTY And the PROMISES of GOD.

As the Heavens are higher than the Earth, so are my Ways higher than your Ways, and my Thoughts than your Thoughts, saith the LORD.

Isai. 55.9.

O House of Israel, are not my Ways equal?—Are not your Ways unequal?—For I have no pleasure in him that dieth, saith the LORD GOD: Wherefore turn your selves and live ye.

Ezek. 18.29, 32.

Magna est veritas et praevalebit.

BOSTON: Printed and sold by T. Fleet, at the Heart and Crown in Cornhill, 1745.

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WHAT prevailed on me to consent to the publishing of the following Letter, was a sincere and firm Per­suasion, that it is really the Cause of GOD and his CHRIST that I here plead, and that the eternal Interest of the Souls of Men is very nearly concerned in it. For it is manifest to me, that some Notions have of late been propagated and inculcated in this Country, that are equally destructive to the right Belief both of GOD and the Gospel. I have indeed that Charity for those that have done it, that I do not believe they are at all sensible of these fatal Consequences of what they teach, tho' I very much wonder they are not aware of them.

I am not insensible that the odious Name of Arminianism will be the Cry against these Papers, from those little Minds that are affected with Sounds more than Sense, and that are engaged at any Rate to support a Party, without seri­ously and impartially attending to the Truth and Right of the Case. But I do hereby declare, that I abhor all such Party Names and Disti [...]ns, and that I will call no Man Master upon Earth, for one is my Master in Heaven. The only Question worth attending to, is, not what Calvin or what Arminius taught, but what CHRIST and his Apostles taught? for He alone was the Author and Fi­nisher of our Faith. And, (all Metaphysics and Words without any Meaning, being set aside, which have nothing to do in the present Subject,) I humbly submit it to every one's Candor and unbyassed Consideration, whether what follows [Page ii] be not truly the Doctrine of Christ: The Substance of which may be briefly expressed in the following Manner, and in the very Language of the Holy Ghost viz.

‘That GOD really means as he says, when he says and swears by himself, That he hath no pleasure in the Death of him that dieth:—That he is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to Repentance and be saved:—And that he hath given his Son a Ransom for all, who accordingly hath tasted Death for every Man, and was a Propotiation for the Sins of the whole World:— So that whosoever will may now come and take of the Waters of Life freely.— And because of our Inability to help our selves, GOD hath by his blessed Son, assured us that he will, for his sake, give his Holy Spirit to every one that seriously asks him, and earnestly strives to work out his Salvation with Fear and Trembling, in whom he works by his blessed Spirit both to will and to do:—And that he will through his free Grace in Jesus Christ, most assuredly pardon every true Penitent, accept of every sin­cere Believer, and eternally reward all those that in the way of well doing, or in a stedfast Course of sincere and universal Obedience to the Gospel, are faithful unto the Death.’— This is the true Doctrine of Jesus Christ; and this is all that I was concerned to defend in the fol­lowing Letter.

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A LETTER, &c.

Aristocles to Authades.

SIR,

UPON a more mature Consideration of what you, not long since, suggested to me concer­ning the Divine Sovereignty, together with what you added upon that Occasion, relating to the Promises of the Gospel; I beg leave to write a few Lines to you upon this Subject; nothing captious or disputacious, I assure you, but with that serious, calm and impartial State of Mind that becomes a Christian, who is above all Things desirous to know the Truth, in order that he may be governed by it in the pursuit of everlasting Happiness.

You may remember, it was your chief Inquiry, as a Test of my being a true Christian;—Can you in Sincerity subscribe to the Truth of OUR Doctrine? By which you meant the Doctrine of the Divine Sovereignty, as you had explain'd it: i. e. (if I understood you right,) as implying God's eternal, arbitrary and absolute Determi­nation of the everlasting Fate of his Creatures, from his own meer Motion, and without any Consideration of their good or ill Behaviour. To which, I must still answer; No, good Sir, by no means! For the sake of [Page 2] the Love of God I cannot!—The Love of Christ it self constraineth me that I cannot!—For it manifestly appears to me infinitely impossible to be true, as being utterly contrary to the Divine Attributes; contrary to many plain Texts of Holy Scripture, and contrary to the general Drift and Design of the whole Word of God.

It is contrary to the Nature and Attributes of God, because it appears plainly inconsistent with the very Notion of his being a Moral Governour of the World: For it represents Him as laying his Creatures under a Necessity of being what they are, whether good or bad, and so leaves no Room for either Virtue or Vice, Praise or Blame, Reward or Punishment, properly speak­ing. —Nay, it implies a formed Design of laying, by far the greatest Number of his Creatures, under a Ne­cessity of being eternally miserable, antecedent to any Consideration of their Demerit: And this, as it is ex­plained by some, from a most selfish View of promoting his own Glory, at the Expence of their endless and una­voidable Misery; and in effect, of necessitating their be­ing sinful that they might be miserable; for he that wills the End, must will the Means; and this implies the most shocking Reflexions imaginable on the Wis­dom, Holiness, Justice and Goodness of God, all at once; and no less severe Reflections upon his Truth; for it imports a manifest Double Dealing with them; a secret Will inconsistent with what he has clearly re­vealed; since he has declared, and that with an Oath, that he earnestly desires their Happiness, when at the same Time he secretly designs their inevitable Ruin.

This Doctrine also appears to be evidently contrary to a great many plain Texts of Holy Scripture, which assure us in the clearest and strongest Terms, That GOD is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to Repentance. That He would have all Men to be [Page 3] saved, and that for this End he sent his Son into the World, who tasted Death for every Man, and became a Propitia­tion for the Sins of the whole World, and gave himself a Ransom for all; nay, even for those that by denying the Lord that bought them, bring upon themselves swift Destruc­tion. Ezek. 18.29, 32. 2 Pet. 3.9. and 2.1. 1 Tim. 2.4, 6. Heb. 2.9. 1 Job. 2.2. &c. &c.

And lastly, it seems manifestly repugnant to the gene­ral Drift of the whole Word of God, (which is plainly to excite our utmost Activity in the pursuit of all Holi­ness in Heart and Life,) there being nothing that can so effectually tend not only to tempt us to entertain hard and unworthy Thoughts of God, but also to cut the Si­news of all our Endeavours to repent and return to Him and our Duty, as even the most distant Surmize, that possibly all our Labour may be in vain; since, for ought we know, we may be absolutely excluded from all possi­bility of succeeding by a sovereign and inexorable De­cree of Reprobation.

Whereas on the contrary, nothing can so effectually tend to put us upon the most vigourous Exertion of our selves in endeavouring to be Holy as God is Holy, Righte­ous as He is Righteous, and Merciful as He our Heavenly Father is Merciful, as those most amiable Apprehensions of him, which represent him as being, in and through his blessed Son Jesus Christ, an universal and irrespec­tive Lover of the Souls which he hath made, and sincerely and solicitously desirous of their Happiness, in proportion to their several Capacities, for Christ's Sake, without respect of Persons, to grant them all the Aid and Assistance necessary thereunto, so far as can consist with his treating them as being what they are, and what he himself hath made them, i. e. tho' frail, yet free, self exerting and self-determining Agents; and to make all the tender and merciful Allowances for their Frailty that can consist [Page 4] with the sincerity of their Obedience, and his Righteous­ness and Authority in the Government of the World.— And this, I think, is manifestly the Idea or Conception of God, which, (agreably to the Light of Nature,) the Holy Scriptures universally give us concerning Him.

On which Account if their be any Difficulties from either Reason or Scripture, (as to me there appear none, but what by attentive Consideration may be easily sur­mounted.) yet methinks we should be strongly inclined, for God's sake as well as our own, to get over them; and whatever obscure Texts there may be that may seem to carry a different Sound, to interpret them, (as in fact the Church of God always did in the first and purest Ages; * and as we do now,) in a Manner consistent with the Divine Attributes, and those many plain Texts that are intirely consonant to them, and the general Drift of the whole Word of God; being well assured that what­ever be the Meaning of those few obscure Texts, they cannot possibly mean any thing contrary either to the Light of Nature, or any other Texts of Scripture, or that can tend to discourage or dishearten our utmost En­deavours to seek and pursue the everlasting Happiness of our Souls.—

In this Manner I am obliged to think upon this great and important Subject.—But you told me if I could not think with you about the Divine Sovereignty, ‘I need go no further in my Inquiry, there already appears upon me a black Mark, and my Spot is not the Spot of God's Children.’—Nay, you did, in effect, tell me, It is impossible for me under this mistake, ‘to be a Sub­ject of God's special Grace here, or Glory hereafter.’ Now this is indeed dreadful! and it may be justly said, [Page 5] This is a hard saying, who can receive it?—I beseech you, Sir, can this be right, to pass such bitter Censures upon every one that cannot think precisely with you in some speculative Points, tho' they agree with you both in Heart and Life, in the great practical Matters wherein the Life of all Religion consists?—Is this, can this be consistent with the Spirit of the Gospel thus to judge one another, and to propagate a Spirit of judging at such a prodigious Rate?— Can any thing be more contrary to Christ's Rule, Mat. 7.1. Judge not that ye be not judged, and to St. Paul's whole 14th to the Romans, particularly v. 4. Who art thou that judgest another Man's Servant? to his own Master he standeth or falleth. And what can this be less than a direct Invasion of his Pro­vince, who claims to himself alone the Prerogative of knowing and searching the Hearts and trying the Reins of the Children of Men?—I do sincerely profess, that after the utmost Intenseness of Thought and the most solici­tous Care not to be misled in my Apprehensions, I am still under the same necessity of thinking as I do upon these Points, as I am in being persuaded that I see the Sun when I look full upon it on the Meridian in a clear Day: And that I can no more yield my Assent to some Points of your Doctrine than to this Proposition, that 2 and 2 are equal to 5.—And yet I would by no means censure you as you censure me; I will not suffer my selt to imagine but that your Mistakes, (great as I apprehend them,) may consist with your being a serious Christian.

You ask me, whether I have a clear Sense of the Di­vine Sovereignty in the Business of our spiritual and eternal Salvation?—To which I answer, I trust I have:—But then I must confess my Notion is widely different from yours.—And in order to think clearly on this Subject, and to give a just Solution to what Difficulties may seem to arise from the Text you mentioned, or any other [Page 6] Texts relating to this Matter, it seems to me very ne­cessary to distinguish between the Consideration of GOD as a Benefactor and as a Judge; and between the Be­stowment of various Talents and Favours upon Men in this Life, which is a State of Probation, and the Retri­butions to be awarded in the Life to come, according to what Use they shall have made of them here.—In the one God acts as a Sovereign Lord of his Favours, and in the other as a Righteous Judge of the Behaviour of his Creatures under them.—

I agree, then, that God is intirely sovereign and arbi­trary as a Benefactor in the Distribution of his Talents and Favours, both spiritual and temporal, as proper Means of Trial and Probation in this World: i. e. the various Abilities, Capacities, Privileges and Advantages He bestoweth upon Mankind: And he is intirely at Liberty to do what he will with his own; and consequent­ly to bestow, not only the good Things of this Life, but eternal Life and Salvation upon his Creatures in what Manner and Measure, and upon what Terms He thinks fit; nor is he obliged to give any Account to any one of his Proceedings. But we may always and in all Cases rest assured of this, that the Judge of all the Earth will do nothing but what is right; and that tho' Clouds and Darkness are round about Him, with regard to many of his Dispensations here, yet Justice and Judgment are al­ways the Habitation of his Throne. Ps. 97.2.—Not that Things are therefore right meerly because he does them, but He therefore does them because they are right.

Indeed I cannot think it consistent with the Divine Attributes, God's Wisdom, Holiness, Justice, Goodness, &c. to give Being to any of his Intelligent Creatures, without putting them into a Condition, that, (every thing being considered in the whole of their Nature and [Page 7] Duration,) would render Being desirable to them; * nor to put them eternally into a Condition that is worse than not to be, but for their own personal Fault or voluntary Misconduct in Opposition to his Will: And if you will weigh Things exactly, I believe you will find your self obliged to think with me in this Matter; unless you will go into those two monstrously absurd Conclusions to which Dr. Twisse is reduced, and which he is obliged to maintain as being the Foundations of the whole absolute System, viz. That it is better to be eternally miserable, than not to be; and consequently, That it may consist with the Justice and Goodness of God, to inflict exquisite and eter­nal Misery upon innocent Creatures: i. e. upon such as were never capable of formal or actual Sin.—See his Vindiciae Gratioe, Lib. 2. p. 16. De Amis. Grat. Digr. 1.—Such are the hopeful Principles on which that fatal Doctrine is founded!—But in truth, methinks I would not wish any Cause more effectually baffled, than to see it reduced to such prodigious Absurdities as these are.

For tho' God is not accountable to his Creatures for any of his Proceedings, yet we must conceive, that his own infinite Wisdom, Holiness, Justice and Goodness must be a Law to Him from which he cannot vary.— And as I cannot think it consistent with either of them to lay any of his Creatures, (antecedent to any Conside­ration of their Behaviour,) under an absolute Necessity of being eventually and irretrievably miserable; so I must do Him that Honour as to think, they do oblige Him, in giving them Being, to put them into a Condition that is in the whole better than not to be, and by no means to put them into a worse Condition than not to be, but in Case of their own wilful Disobedience and final Impeni­tency: For if you think otherwise, you must, in effect, [Page 8] suppose him to will Misery meerly for Misery's sake!— A Thought so shocking and horrid, that it must be forever removed at an infinite Distance from that greatest and best of Beings!—But every thing beyond what is just sufficient to render Being desireable, even to a perfect Creature, however so obedient, I take to be Matter of meer sovereign Goodness, in which God may go into what variety He pleases: Much more must the whole System of the Gospel to fallen Man be Matter of meer sovereign free Grace; and conse­quently, in this Dispensation of his free Grace in Christ to Mankind, He hath Mercy and Compassion on whom, in what Manner and Measure, and upon what Terms he sees fit. And none can reasonably complain, so long as his Condition is better than not to be, and it will be intirely his own Fault if he be not in some Degree happy; and since he shall not be accountable for what he never received, and shall be treated according to his Conduct in the use of the Talent that was committed to his Trust.

GOD is therefore confessedly sovereign and arbitrary in the various Distributions of his Talents and Favours to his Creatures, and the several Conditions in which he places them, as proper Means and Occasions of Proba­tion.—It is from his meer sovereign good Pleasure that he allots to one Creature the Nature and Condition of a Man, to another that of an Angel;—to one Man a healthy, to another a sickly Constitution:—To one Poverty, to another Riches;—to one small Abilities and mean Advantages, to another large Powers and great Opportunities for Learning and Improvement:— To one Man or Number of Men, One Talent, viz. the Light of Nature; to another two Talents, viz. Judaism; to another five, viz. Christianity.—In these and the like various Distributions of Favours, Talents and Circum­stances [Page 9] in this State of Probation, I grant God's Decrees and Allotments are absolute and personal as well as na­tional.—But this is but a temporary and probationary State; whereas in the State of Retribution after this Life, the Condition of Men will be decided for all Eternity, and this, not according to any absolute Disposition he has already made; not according to what they have received here, but according to what Use and Improve­ment they shall have made of what they had received; as is plain from many of our Saviour's Parables and Discourses, and particularly those of the 25th of St. Matthew, as well as many other Texts, and indeed from the whole Bible.—It is therefore manifest, that with regard to the future State of our Being, a sovereign and absolute Decision cannot be supposed to take Place; and that God's Decrees with regard to that State can imply nothing else but his Resolution to treat all Men accord­ing to the Use they shall have made of his several Allotments to them in this World: i. e. To render the Good Happy and the Wicked Miserable; in various Proportions, according to their Behaviour.—

Upon the whole, it seems to me, that the right Way of forming a just Notion of God's Decrees, is, to judge of them by the Facts as they really are before our Eyes. No Man is in fact laid under an absolute Necessity of being sinful and miserable in the whole and Result of Things; therefore He never decreed absolutely that he should be so: — And God has in fact, assured us, that none shall be miserable at last but for their own Fault; it must therefore be his Decree, that those that are miserable at last shall be so only for their own inex­cusable Wickedness. As the Righteousness of the righte­ous shall be upon him, so the Wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him. Ezek. 18.20.—There are in fact a great variety of Talents and Privileges bestowed on [Page 10] Mankind; therefore God, is the sovereign Lord of his Favours, decreed there should be such a variety;— and he has in fact declared that Good Men, i. e. those that make a good use of them will be happy, and the slothful, the wicked and impenitent will be miserable according to the Sentence which he will pass upon them as the righteous Judge of their Conduct and Behaviour: He therefore decreed that this should be the Result of things, viz. That the righteous should be happy and the wicked miserable.—This is all the Notion that I can have of the Decrees of God: And as I am persua­ded this is the true Sense of the Holy Scriptures, taken in the whole, and critically read and considered, and with which every particular Text that may seem to sound otherwise, may easily be reconciled; so I can't but think that whatever objections may seem to lie against it from the Fore-knowledge of God, will be sound to arise only from the narrowness of our own way of con­ceiving things, and to consist meerly in darkning Coun­cel by Words without Knowledge.

For strictly and philosophically speaking, there can be no more Propriety in attributing Prescience or Fore­knowledge to God, than in attributing Repentance to him; because there is neither past nor to come, neither fore nor after in him; for these Expressions imply Suc­cession, which implies Limitation, which cannot be in an infinitely perfect and immutable Being. So that ac­cording to philosophic Verity, they cannot any otherwise be ascribed to God than Repenting, Grieving, Eyes, Ears, Hands and other bodily Parts and Passions.—We are therefore to conceive all these and the like Expressions which are used in the Holy Scriptures, as being, (what they are commonly called,) God's speaking of himself after the manner of Men; and consequently that God's Foreknowing and predestinating are Terms that are used, [Page 11] (like his Repenting,) meerly figuratively and by way of Accommodation to our weak Capacities and our low way of apprehending and conceiving divine Things; and are to be explained after the same Manner, viz. That as God's Repenting, (Gen. 6.6. &c.) means not any Change in Him, but only that the Face of his Conduct towards the Old World was, in the Event, as if he had repented he had made it, or as being fitly resembled, by a Man's repenting of his having made a Thing, when he sees it needful to destroy it: So God's Foreknowing and predes­tinating, (Rom. 8.29. &c.) implies, not any thing fore or after, preceeding or succeeding in him, but only that the Event in his Conduct in this or the other Instance, is as if he had forsoer or fore determined this or the other Event, or that his infinite Knowledge and unerring Pur­pose, as they appear in the Facts, may be fitly resem­bled by the fore-sight of a wise Man who shrewdly con­juctures beforehand what will happen in such and such Cases, and before determines and provides accordingly.

If therefore we would speak with strict Propriety con­cerning God in reference to this Matter, we must not say that he fore-knows or fore-ordains, but that he knows and ordains, or appoints; i. e. That by one single Act, one infinite all comprehending View, (to which all Things, that with respect to our narrow limited Minds, are past, present or to come, are equally and at once present,) he sees and knows, approves or disapproves his Creatures as being what they really are, and appoints, orders and conducts towards them accordingly.—For, as it cannot be but that God's Knowledge must be absolutely perfect, He must therefore fore-see, or rather see every thing cer­tainly as being what it is; necessary Events as being necessary, and contingent as being such, and the Actions of such as he has made free Agents as being free; but the Certainty, before it is, that any Thing will be, does [Page 12] no more infer the Necessity of it, than the certainty of it when it is, implies its being a necessary Event. For if so, every thing would be equally necessary, and nothing could possibly have been otherwise than it is: But to say this, is absurd; because we are intuitively certain that we have, (and therefore God has given us,) self-exerting, and self-determining Powers, and conse­quently that our Actions, and the Events of them do im­mediately depend on our own Wills, which is the Rea­son why we blame out selves when we do amiss, as knowing we might have done otherwise. Wheareas if we suppose our Actions immediately depending on the Will of God, we must suppose them necessary as to us, and consequently that we are not to blame for them, being not properly Agents but acted and necessitated in what we do; which is absurd, as it makes God the Au­thor of our Sins, and is inconsistent with the very Being of Virtue or Vice, of Praise or Blame, and of moral Agency or moral Government.—Since therefore we know that these Things are not, and cannot be so in themselves, we are sure they cannot be known or willed to be such by Almighty God.—

As therefore God has thus plainly discovered his De­crees to be such as the Facts in Conjunction with his Attributes and reveal'd Religion declare them to be, and he can have no secret Reserves inconsistent with them; so I conceive that his great End in giving Being to his Creatures,, and in all his various Dispensations towards them must have been, (not any Self-Views;—not to serve himself of them, or to add any thing to his own Happiness, for he is infinitely Self-sufficient for that, in­dependant on any of his Creatures, but) that they might be happy in proportion to their several Capacities, Ta­lents and Improvements, in consequence of their chearful Submission to his Sovereign Allotments, and sincere and [Page 13] faithful Obedience to all his holy and righteous Laws: Only with this Reserve, that in Case of their final Ob­stinacy and Disobedience, they should be miserable in proportion to the several Degrees of their Wickedness, for the Terror of others, and to support the Honour of his Laws and Authority in the Government of the World.—This, I say, is the only way of thinking I can find any Reason for on this Subject.

Now against all this, you only desired me to read the 9th of Romans seriously and prayerfully.—To which I answer, I have very often read that Chapter seriously and prayerfully, and I will add, carefully too; (for we must not expect our Prayers to be heard, unless we use great Care, Diligence and Exactness, as well as Seriousness in the search of Truth)—And after all, I cannot find one Syllable in it relating to the future, eternal Condition of particular Persons, it being only a Vindication of God's Sovereignty in dealing with whole Nations of Men, and particularly in electing the Jews at first, and rejecting them now, and calling the Gentiles to be his peculiar People, to enjoy peculiar Talents and Favours in this World.— And I can't but think a little Attention, without prejudice in favour of preconceived human Schemes, must satisfy any considerate Person that this is really the Case.—Pray read and consider carefully what Dr. Whitby on the Five Points, and in his Annotations, and Dr. Clarke in the 15th of his 18 Sermons, published in his Life-time, have written upon this Chapter, and what he says upon all other Texts relating to this Sub­ject in his Posthumous Sermons *.

The Jews conceited that they alone were, and were forever to continue the peculiar People of God, and that they alone were to enjoy the Benefits of the Mesiah's [Page 14] Kingdom: They could not therefore brook it to think that their Nation must now be rejected and the Gentiles called; this was a great Stumbling-block to them.— Now this is the Difficulty that St. Paul is here about to obviate: which he does by shewing, 1st. That God is meerly sovereign and arbitrary in the various Distribu­tions of his Favours, and in chusing and rejecting whom he pleases with regard to the Privileges of being his pe­culiar People; and 2dly. That however, he was now very just in rejecting them, and leaving them to the hardness of their Hearts, as he did Pharaoh.

He argues in the first Place, that they could not rea­sonably complain, because God is sovereign and arbitra­ry in chusing whom he will to be his peculiar Peo­ple:—He was so at first in chusing the Seed of Abra­ham, Isaac and Jacob, to enjoy the great Talent of Re­vealed Religion, and the Promise of the Mesiah, and in rejecting that of Ishmael and Esau from that Privilege, tho' they were not destitute of a good Talent in enjoy­ing the lesser Advantage of the Light of Nature; and so he was now in rejecting the Jews for a Time, and calling the Gentiles to the yet greater and inestimable Talent of the Gospel.—I say of these Dispensations of Providence St. Paul is manifestly to be understood.— For it is evident that those Instances he alledges of Jacob and Esau, and of Isaac and Ishmael, cannot be un­derstood of the Persons themselves, (much less of their eternal State,) but of the Nations to descend from them, as will plainly appear if you look into the Texts in Genesis from whence they are quoted.—Thus, as it was said of Ishmael, Gen. 17.20. Twelve Princes shall be begot, and I will make him a great Nation; so of Jacob and Esau, it was said to Rebecca, Gen. 25.23. Two Na­tions are in thy Womb, two manner of People shall be se­parated from thy Bowels, the one People shall be stronger [Page 15] than the other People, and the elder shall serve the younger; which says the Apostle, was said that the Purpose of God according to Election might stand. v. 11, 12. So that this must be an Election of People and not of par­ticular Persons, for it never was fact in the Persons themselves.

And the next Words, Jacob have I loved and Esau have I hated, quoted from Mal. 1.2, 3. are manifestly to be understood, not of the Persons, but of the Nations; for the Words are, I loved Jacob and hated Esau, and laid his Mountains and Heritage waste for the Dragon of the Wilderness; whereas Edom saith, we are impoverished, &c. all which is evidently spoken of the People, and with regard to their Condition in this World.—Where, by the way, neither is God's Hatred of Esau to be un­derstood to imply absolute Hatred, (for he had a good Blessing,) but only a less degree of Love; according to a known Figure of Speech in the Hebrew Language, whereby that is frequently spoken absolutely which is meant comparatively. In the same Sense, Christ says, Luk. 14.26. He that hateth not Father and Mother, &c. cannot be my Disciple: Where surely he cannot be under­stood to mean absolute Hatred, but only a less degree of Love; and so he explains himself, Mat. 10.37. by saying, He that loveth Father or Mother more than me, is not worthy of me.—So that God's hating Esau only means that he loved him, (i. e. the People descending from him,) less than Jacob, i. e. the People descending from him, and bestowed less Talents and Privileges on the one than on the other.

It is therefore, only with respect to the Bestowment of certain special Privileges and Talents in this Life, that St. Paul is to be understood when he says, v. 16. * It is [Page 16] not of him that willeth, [for Abraham wished, O that Ishmael might live,] nor of him that runneth, [for Esau ran to fetch the Venison that he might obtain the Bles­sing,] but of God that sheweth mercy, who therefore in the sovereign Bestowment of his peculiar Favours, hath Mercy on whom he will have Mercy and hath Compassion on whom he will have Compassion. For here Justice hath nothing to do, and there can be no Unrighteousness in him. And with respect to these various arbitrary Distributions and Allotments, it may justly be answered to any one that is tempted to find Fault, as the Jews did, who art thou, O Man, that repliest against God? Shall the Thing formed say to him that formed it, why hast thou made me thus? Hath not the Potter power over the Clay, to make of the same Lump, one Vessel to Honour, and another to Dishonour?— Where yet it must be observed, that Ves­sels made to dishonourable, i. e. to less honourable Ser­vices, have, however, some Degree, some Interest in their Maker's and Owner's Love and Favour.—But all this has nothing to do with the Distributions of the Life to come; there Justice alone takes Place, which consists in the exact and equitable Rewards and Punishments to Men, according to their good or ill Conduct in the Use of the several Talents arbitrarily committed to them in this Life.

But you will perhaps say, Is not the Example of Pharaoh to be understood of the Distributions of the Life to come?—I answer, No.—For St. Paul was as well concerned, as I said, in the second Place, to vindi­cate the Justice of God in rejecting the Jews, as his Sovereignty in freely bestowing his Gospel Favours upon the Gentiles.— To this Purpose, therefore, it is, that he alledges the Example of Pharaoh, that he might justify God's Dealings in rejecting the Jews, and justly hardening their Hearts, i. e. leaving them to the Hard­ness [Page 17] of their Hearts in rejecting Christ, as he had justly hardened Pharaoh's Heart, i. e. left him to the hardness of his Heart, in resisting the Force of the Miracles he had wrought for his Conviction, and to shew that God might justly make the Jews Monuments of his Wrath in cutting them off from being a People, for their obsti­nate rejecting of Christ, as he had made Pharaoh a Mo­nument of his Wrath in the Eyes of the World, for his Obstinacy in hardening his Heart against the Means used for his Conviction.—

I interpret God's hardening Pharaoh's Heart, not of any actual Efficiency of his, (for this seems needless in it self, as well as inconsistent with his Attributes,) but, either of God's doing that, (e. g. his removing the Plagues,) from whence he took Occasion to harden his Heart; or his leaving him to the hardness of his Heart.—In this Sense it is said in 2 Sam. 24.1. God moved David to number Israel, which, in 1 Chron. 21.1. is called Satan's provoking him to number them. That Expression therefore can only mean God's leaving or permitting Satan to tempt him; and this in the same Sense as it is said of Joseph in Prison, Gen. 39.22. That whatsoever they did there, he was the doer of it. Not that he actually did it; but that it was done with his Permission, and under his Eye and Superintendecy.—

And that Expression, v. 17. For this Cause have I raised thee up, &c. does not mean, for this Cause have I given thee Being; but for this Cause have I made thee to stand, as the Hebrew Word imports, i. e. for this Cause have I supported or subsisted thee, and prolonged thy Life through one Plague after another, that I might, for thy Obstinacy and Perverseness, make thee an illustrious Example of my Vengeance to all the Earth.

And lastly, Whom he will he hardneth, v. 18. does not mean of all that he hath given Being to, whem he will [Page 18] he hardens in their Sins, that he may render them eter­nally miserable; but, of those who for their personal Disobedience, Obstinacy and Impenitency, deserve to be finally abandoned, whom he will he leaves to the hardness of their Hearts, and makes use of them as Monuments of his Wrath for the Terror of others as he did Pharaoh, and was now determined to leave the Jews for their Ob­stinacy and Wickedness, in rejecting and crucifying Christ.—Thus I am obliged to interpret the 9th of Romans:—And that this is the only right Interpretation, is further evident from the Texts in Hosea and Isaiah, which the Apostle quotes in Confirmation of the Argu­ment v. 25, 27, 29. and from the Conclusion of the whole v. 30. and 31. From whence it is manifest, that the Question is wholly between the Jews and Gen­tiles as a People in this present State, and consequently, that his whole Discourse has nothing to do with any ab­solute Decrees of God, with regard to the personal and eternal Condition of Men.

What I have said upon this Text may be applied to the Solution of whatever Difficulties may seem to arise from other Texts; such as that Expression, Eph. 1.4. of God's chusing them in Christ before the Foundation of the World:—The meaning of which must be this:— That whereas the Jews had been wont to conceit them­selves the only peculiar People, to enjoy the Benefit of the Messiah; he would have them to know that they might not arrogate that Privilege to themselves alone, but that God had chosen or designed the Gentiles as well as them to enjoy the Blessings of the Messiah's Kingdom; and that even before the Foundation of the World, that they might be holy or sanctified to God in him, to lead holy and vertuous Lives here, and so be happy forever hereafter.—For it may be truly said of all baptized Christians, (being by that Ordinance taken [Page 19] out of the First Adam and grafted into the Body of Christ, the second Adam, and so taken into the Family and Hous­hold of God,) that they are predestinated to the Adoption of Children, v. 5. and that they are chosen in Christ, to en­joy the inestimable Talent of the Gospel, that by that heavenly Dispensation they might learn to be holy in all Manner of Conversation.—And accordingly all that are baptized, and so born of Water and the Spirit, being saved by the Washing of Regeneration and the renewing of the Holy Ghost, (Joh. 3.5. Tit. 3.5.) are to be consi­dered as belonging to the Kingdom of Heaven, tho' they are at present in a State of Probation. But their final and everlasting Possession of the heavenly Inheritance provided for them, depends upon their final perseverance in Obedience, for if, after all, they draw back, God's Soul shall have no pleasure in them. Heb. 10.38.

It may be added here, that the Word Chosen, when set in Contradistinction to those that are called, (as in Mat. 20.16. Many are called, but few chosen,) signifies those that are approved good Men, who comply with the Call of the Gospel.—So that the Sense of those Words, is, that, tho' there were many that, at that Time, were called to the Knowledge of the Gospel, yet there were comparatively but few that did comply with the Call, so as, in Heart and Life to conform to it, and thereby become such as God approves of and delights in.—And the obstinately unbelieving and disobedient are called Reprobate, as being disapproved and rejected of God, for their Disobedience and obstinate persisting in their Rebellion and Impenitency.—For other Texts see Whithy, Clarke and Clagget, and the Essay above­mentioned.

Thus I have given you a short Sketch of my Man­ner of thinking upon this Subject, whereof this is the Sum, viz. That in the Distribution of Talents and Fa­vours [Page 20] in this State of Probation, the Sovereignty of God as a Benefactor does truly take Place; but in the future Distributions of Rewards and Punishments, absolute So­vereignty is intirely out of the Question.—As a Judge deciding the eternal Condition of Men, God never once represents himself as arbitrary, but every where, as pro­ceeding according to Equity, without respect of Persons; not treating Men according to any absolute Disposition he hath already made, but in exact proportion to their own Conduct in the use of the Talents committed to their Trust.

And I would wish it to be seriously considered, that it was the wicked Servant, (Mat. 25.24. compared with Luk. 19.22.) who represented his Lord, (as many have lately done among us in these Times,) as reaping where he never sowed, and gathering where he had not strowed, i. e. (like Pharaoh, requiring Brick without Straw,) re­quiring of his Creatures Things as impossible for them to do, as it is to create a World, and damning them to all Eternity for not performing them.—Let it also be remembered, that in the Parable of the Labourers, Mat. 20.15. where God is represented as making that Answer, Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with my own? which you built so much upon, he does not mean to vindicate his Conduct as a Judge, as tho' in that Capacity he might arbitrarily reward or not reward as He pleased, (for he did exactly reward according to Sti­pulation,) but as a Benefactor at first, in granting the Favour and making the Stipulation upon what Terms he thought fit, in which he is confessedly arbitrary.—

In short, the 25th of St. Matthew, and all such Texts of Scripture as represent God as a Judge rewarding and punishing, have not, as far as I can see, any Place at all in your System of Divinity.—But in truth, I cannot think of a greater Dishonour that can be done to Almighty [Page 21] God, than to represent him as arbitrary considered as a Governour and a Judge, when he has taken abundant Care throughout the whole Scripture, from the Begin­ning of Genesis to the End of the Revelation, to represent himself, not as an arbitrary, but as a moral Governour of the World; proceeding upon Stipulations with his Reasonable Creatures;—treating them, not as Machines or Stocks and Stones, but as Rational and Moral Agents, such as he hath made them; bestowing Means and Assistances, and using Arguments, Motives and Persua­sions with them, such as Promises, Threatnings, Exam­ples, and the like; and rewarding or punishing them according as they shall be found to have conducted themselves.—Such is the Notion or Conception that I am obliged to entertain of Almighty God, and with which every Thing in the Scriptures, I think, is clearly consistent.

But now in Consequence of that strange, unnatural and unscriptural Notion of the Almighty, which your Doc­trine seems to imply, you appear to me, in effect, to fly in the Face of the whole Scriptures, by denying the Being of any Promises at all, as being inconsistent with the Divine Sovereignty.—I confess, you, and those on your Side, are herein consistent enough with your selves; for supposing a meer sovereign absolute and arbitrary Decision of the eternal Fate of Mankind, antecedent to, or without any Consideration of their personal Behavi­our, it is plain that all Stipulations, Promises, Threaten­ings, &c. are but a meer Farce, and can have no serious Meaning in them.—But then do but consider what you are doing; for if you deny the Being of any Promises consistent with the Sovereignty of God, you do in Effect, destroy the very Being of the New Covenant, and, by Consequence, the whole Design and Purport of all re­veal'd Religion; which is likewise the sad Havock that [Page 22] Mr. Whitefield has made of Christianity, in his Piece against the whole Duty of Man.

This, Sir, I confess, is a heavy Charge, and nothing grieves me more than that a Gentleman of your Cha­racter and Station has given the Occasion.—Indeed you was then only undertaking to prove that there are no Promises in Scripture to the Unregenerate, [meaning by the Unregenerate, those, (whether baptized or not,) who are under the Dominion and Guilt of Sin.]—But pray how did you prove it?—Why, by this Argument, (they were your own Words,) That if God had bound himself by his Promise to any of his Creatures, [i. e. good or bad,] he is no more at perfect Liberty either to grant or withold the promised Blessing as may please him.—Now surely if this Argument proves any thing, it proves that no Promise at all, to good or bad, is consistent with the Divine Sovereignty; and then where is there any Place for any New Covenant, or indeed Old either?—And if the Case be so, away with the Bible sure enough!—It is indeed a seal'd Book, a dead Letter, and an old Almanack, as some People have of late presumed to call it.— In short, if the Case be thus, it can be nothing better than a meer Imposture, and must be utterly a sensless and unmeaning Thing.—Which, by the Way, is agreea­ble enough to Mr. Whitefield's Doctrine, That no Words, (and consequently, not the Scriptures,) can teach what it is to be a true Christian, any more than what it is to see, or what Light and Colours are to a Man born blind.—See London Magazine, for 1739.

But I will appeal to any Man of Common Sense, that reads the Bible carefully, whether it be not full of many exceeding great and precious Promises, as St. Peter calls them? 2.1.4. and whether it be not manifestly the Design and Tendency of the whole Scripture, from the Beginning to the End, to inculcate these two Points? viz. [Page 23] 1st. To put Mankind upon the most vigorous Activity in seeking and pursuing their everlasting Happiness; and 2dly. To ascertain Success to them in so doing.—Is it not one of the first Things you read in Genesis, after the Fall (4.7.) If thou dost well, shalt thou not be accepted? And the last in Revelations, (22.14.) Blessed are they that do his Commandments, that they may have a RIGHT to the Tree of Life, and may enter in through the Gate into the City; and whosoever will let him come and take of the Wa­ter of Life freely.

Pray, Sir, let me ask you,—are there Promises, or are there not?—If you say there are not, as your Argu­ment seems plainly to import, I must think we are laid under a Necessity of being deceived; for surely no Words can express Promises, if those of the Scripture do not; they are certainly expressed just as they would be if God had designed we should understand them so.—If you allow there are Promises, pray where is the Absur­dity in supposing, nay, what else can be made of them, but that God designed to pass over a Right, at least a conditional Right to his Creatures, of what he promises them?— I own the Matter of the Promises is Matter of meer sovereign free Grace: Nay, it is Matter of meer sovereign Grace that God has in his blessed Son given us any Promises at all:—But surely notwithstanding this, when he has been graciously pleased to grant us these precious Promises, it must have been his Design to pass over a Right to us of the Blessings promised; to which we could have had no Right but upon the Score of his meer Grace in Christ.—Which Right therefore he has granted us, (I allow,) not to plead in the Virtue of any thing we can do, but meerly in the Virtue of what Christ hath done for us, in whom alone it is that all the Promises are Yea and Amen. 2 Cor, 1.20.

[Page 24]In his Right therefore we must plead, who has pur­chased this Benefit for us, and not in the Virtue or Merit of any thing we do, which we can only humbly con­sider as meer Qualifications necessary to render us capa­ble of receiving what God in Christ hath freely pro­mised.—So that what we do must be considered, not in the assuming and challenging way that you represented in order to ridicule our Doctrine, and as all that was, in every Instance possible to be done, but as what, accord­ing to the merciful Terms of the New Covenant, God is graciously pleased in Christ to expect from such frail and imperfect Creatures as we are, with all our Tempta­tions and Infirmities about us.—It was therefore very unjust for you to put Things in such a ridiculous Light as you did, to talk of owing, claiming, challenging, &c.— Nobody ever dreamt of using such Language to God, which could not become an Angel, much less a fallen sinful Creature, when the Matter, and indeed the very Being of the Promises is Matter of free Grace.—Consider Things in this Light, and then what Sense is there in your Categoric Syllogism, and all your other Reasonings on this Subject?

But still you insist upon it that there is no Promise to the unregenerate.—Now as to this, I grant there is no­thing promised to the obstinate Sinner, persisting wilful­ly and unrelentingly in his Sin and Rebellion, that hates to be reformed, and casts God's Words behind his Back.— But tho' there is nothing promised to him, continuing in that Condition, yet it does by no means follow but that the Promise is made to him upon Condition of his re­penting and returning to his Duty for the Time to come.—Yea, but you will say, he can't repent and turn to God.—I allow he cannot truly repent of himself with­out God's Help.— But then what I insist upon, is. That God has promised to hear and help him by his [Page 25] blessed Spirit, if he earnestly prays and strives in such a Manner as may be expected from such a frail Creature as he is. Tell me, is there no Medium between an ob­stinate relentless Sinner, and one that is throughly rege­nerate, in your Sense of the Word, i. e, that has gained the Mastery of his Lusts, and is universally in Heart and Life devoted to God in Jesus Christ?—May not one who is not yet thus intirely devoted to God, be brought by the Assistance of Common Grace, (absolutely given in Christ to all,) to be serious and really solicitous for Salvation, so as being deeply sensible of his own Guilt and Weakness, earnestly to cry to God for Help, and to strive in earnest that he may be qualified for God's Help?—To me it is plain this may be the Case of one not yet throughly converted from Sin to God.

Now this is the Man to whom I say the Promises of divine efficacious Aid or special Grace do belong: This is he who hath, to whom shall be given, in our Savi­our's Sense, Mat. 25, 29 —And I am under an invin­cible Necessity of understanding Mat. 7.7, 11, 28. Luk. 11.13. &c. as belonging to such as he.—Can any one be so absurd as to interpret these Promises thus?—You that have already received the special Grace of God, ask and ye shall receive:—You who have alrea­dy found Mercy, seek and ye shall find:—You to whom the Gate of Mercy is already opened, and are already got within it, knock and it shall be opened;—You who have already got Rest, come to me and I will give you Rest, &c.— Is not this making perfect Nonsense of the pre­cious Promises of God?—To me it seems nothing can be more so:— And yet this must be your own Inter­pretation, if you deny their being made even to the unregenerate, i. e. to such as, being deeply sensible of their Guilt and Pollution, and utter Inability to help them­selves, are so seriously concerned to become renewed in the [Page 26] Spirit of their Minds, as to ask, seek, knock and strive that they may obtain the Grace of God.

For God's sake, dear Sir, let us take Care that we do not, from a violent Attachment to any preconceived hu­man Schemes, pervert the plainest and most obvious Declarations and Promises of the Gospel.—To me it is manifest, that this is what those on your Side really do; and that your whole System, where it is peculiar, is not founded on the Holy Scripture, (taken in the whole, and critically read and considered,) but on the empty Cob-webs of Scholastical Metaphysics, (vain Philosophy, Science falsly so called,) together with some few obscure Texts, not rightly understood, for want of a critical Skill in the ancient Languages, and the Notions and Contro­versies of those Times, and for want of an exact At­tention to the Scope and Argument of the Sacred Wri­ters: In consequence of which you manifestly torture the plainest Texts, to make them speak your Sense, and so corrupt the plainness and simplicity of the Gospel, and in effect make it a meer unintelligible Riddle.—

For my part, I cannot for my Life help interpreting those and the like Promises in this plain, easy and ob­vious Manner:— You that have not yet received the Grace of God for the thorough Renovation of your Souls, ask and ye shall receive:—You that have not yet found Mercy, seek and ye shall find:—You to whom the Gate of Mercy is not yet opened, knock and it shall be opened:—You who are weary and heavy laden, under a deep and pungent Sense of the Power and Guilt of Sin, and can find no Rest, (as none can be had any other way,) Come to me and I will give you rest, i. e. Take my Yoke upon you, [my Doctrines to believe, and my Laws to obey,] and learn of me, [follow my Example] and ye shall find rest for your Souls.—And lastly, you who are deeply sensible of your Weakness and great [Page 27] Need of the Help of God's holy Spirit, ask, for he will give his holy Spirit to them that ask him; i. e. to them that strive as well as seek, and watch as well as pray.— Thus, I say, I am necessitated to understand these preci­ous Promises, and in faithfulness to our great Lord and Master, and to the Souls which he hath made and redeem­ed, I am obliged thus plainly to interpret and inculcate them—

There were several other Passages in your Discourse that appeared to me very exceptionable; but I have done, and will only conclude with my earnest Prayer to God, That he will open our Eyes, that we may under­stand the wondrous Things of his Law; That what we see not he would teach us, and lead us into all necessary Truth and Duty!—And let us earnestly beg that how­ever we may differ in our Speculations in some Points, we may not suffer any thing to tempt us to a Spirit of Alienation and Uncharitableness; but that unitedly fol­lowing the Things that make for Peace and true Holiness here, we may at length meet together in that blessed World where Peace and Holiness shall be consummated in unspeakable and everlasting Happiness!—According­ly I remain, Sir,

your real Friend and very humble Servant Aristocles.
[Page 28]

POSTSCRIPT.

I Shall not be so unkind to you as to publish your Answer, which consisted of but few Words, it being no ways fit for public View; but shall only subjoin the Substance of my Reply by way of Postscript, to rectify Mistakes, that no Uneasiness or Uncharitableness might subsist between us on that Account.

One Mistake is, that you seem to apprehend it my Design to enter into a formal Controversy with you on these Subjects, by your Expression of a Duel with me:— Indeed, Sir, if you thought so, you was really mistaken, for I assured you then, that it was with no disputacious Temper or Design that I wrote what I did; and I now assure you, that my main Design was, that you might, if possible, be made sensible that most of the Occasions of your uncharitable Dispositions towards us, were really owing to your not rightly apprehending what our Doc­trine truly is: And I hoped if I could lead you into a right understanding of our manner of explaining the Divine Sovereignty and the Promises of the Gospel, as consistent therewith, you would drop those dark Thoughts you entertained of us, or at least have some Charity for us, tho' you could not altogether think with us, as we have for you, tho' we cannot intirely think with you: For really there is nothing grieves me so much as that so bitter and uncharitable a Temper should subsist and be propagated among Christians.—

I might remark upon several Passages in your Letter; but there is one I cannot be content to pass by, and that is, your Expression of being sanctified in the Womb, where­in I suppose you allude to the like Expression in Jer. 1.5. which you seem to understand of the real inherent Sanctification of the Spirit; whereas it is manifest, that [Page 29] God is not there speaking of real, but only of relative Sanctification, and that all he means, is, that he had in his holy Purpose set him apart, devoted or consecrated him to that sacred Office of a Prophet, to which he was now calling him.

Another Mistake you labour under, is in apprehending that I aim at undermining some of the Soul-humbling Doctrines of the Gospel.—To which I answer, No, Sir, God forbid!—I firmly believe it to be the great Design of the Gospel to humble the Souls of Men, and to sub­due their perverse Wills, and reduce them to an intire Union with the Will of God, to submit to all his sove­reign Appointments, and to take him in his own Way, and be content to be saved upon his Terms.—This is plain from the whole Run of my Letter, and intirely consistent with it.—I must therefore beg leave to suspect that you did not read it with sufficient Candor and At­tention, which I would yet wish you to do, rather than to persist in so hard an Opinion of me, for which I can­not be sensible I have given you any just Occasion.

But if you cannot think me altogether right in my Notion of the Sovereignty and Promises of God, I beg you will not consider me as an Opposer of the Word of God, (as your Letter seems to imply;) for I am sure I oppose nothing, but rejoice in every thing, that, (agree­able to the Instructions of the Gospel,) can tend to the everlasting Happiness of the Souls of Men.

And if after all our well-meant Inquiries, we cannot attain to think alike here in this dark and infirm State, let us however put the best Construction we can on each other's Conduct, and, as I said, hope at length to meet together in that happy State before us, where all Dark­ness and Prejudice shall be forever done away, and no­thing but God and Truth and Love shall forever reign!—

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