Page images

It is possible therefore for them to become, in the moral sense of the expression, salt that hath lost its savour m; incorrigibly and incurably wicked; and, beyond all recovery, utterly depraved for ever.

The objections against this doctrine are founded chiefly upon mistakes concerning it; and men are prejudiced against it, because it is not fairly represented to them. Sometimes it is pretended that men are damned for temptations which they could not avoid, or for infirmities which they could not help; in short, for any thing, rather than their own wilful wickedness, and their own impenitent hearts. Every thing is raked together, to lessen, and in a manner, to annihilate the guilt of human wickedness. Yet sin is of ill desert; and if there be any thing that can make sin itself become more exceeding sinful, it is all included in Christian sin, as the gospel contains the whole counsel of God, in the dispensation of Jesus Christ, to prevent it. Sometimes our doctrine is represented as if it supposed God to delight in cruelty and barbarity, as damning his creatures by acts of power and dominion, without any regard to mercy, or even justice. Whereas it supposes no such thing; but, on the contrary, that he did every thing that became his character to save them; that they destroyed themselves, and reap the fruit of their own doings, unavoidably, and in the natural consequences of things. He has no delight in their sufferings, which he would have prevented; but that, though they are contrary to his original design, he can make them serve to no good purpose, can bring no good out of this evil, is more than ought to be said, because it is a great deal more

m See Num. XXXVIII.

than can be proved. It is pretended that this constitution of things, in which so many of his creatures become finally miserable, is inconsistent with the justice, and wisdom, and goodness of God: foreseeing that so many of them would miscarry, he had better have laid aside his scheme, and desisted from creating them. But it should be considered, whether this would not restrain God from creating any free beings at all; for it is not liberty enjoyed only in such a degree, or such a situation as men are placed in, that may be abused, but beings of another order, and placed in different circumstances, may equally pervert it; and fall by that means from their first estate, into the condemnation of the Devil. It is evident, that let what numbers you please miscarry, if this was so far from being necessary, or what they were unavoidably and fatally subjected to, that they had a fair and free choice of everlasting happiness, (the same which even they had who actually partake of it,) there can be no injustice done them, nothing inconsistent with the justice of God. And his wisdom and goodness, we may be confident, can contrive no scheme, but what, upon the whole, it will be much better to execute than to lay aside. The good will be much greater than the evil, and happiness finally, and upon the whole, vastly prepollent. Must this scheme then be defeated, because some of the individuals, it is foreseen, will make themselves miserable, and, with regard to them merely, it were good if the scheme had been dropped? But this cannot come to pass without their own most unreasonable perverseness; and shall that defeat so glorious a design? Surely I may venture to say, without any danger or imputation of rash


ness, that it is consistent with every perfection in God to create free beings, (angels or men,) though he foresees some of them will make themselves so miserable, that with reference merely to their single case, it had been better if they had not been created. But to blacken our doctrine more, and render it more odious, the numbers of those who miscarry, in comparison of such as are saved, are magnified sometimes beyond all the bounds of reason and truth. have had occasion to take notice of this more than once already". But I would here ask, upon what scripture, reason, or experience, this representation is founded? The question, Are there few that be saved? was once put to our Lord himself, Luke xiii. 23. But he declined giving any direct answer to a matter of such curiosity, in which the querist had no concern. He thought it of more consequence to give them this useful admonition, Strive to enter in at the strait gate: for many, I say unto you, will seek to enter in, and shall not be able. That is, I suppose, because they sought only, and did not strive; or did not strive lawfully, seeking to enter by undue means, or when it was too late for the miscarriage, I presume, must be charged upon themselves, or else it would be but a poor encouragement to others to strive to enter in. And indeed it appears clearly from the subsequent verses that this was the case: these seekers have nothing to plead in their behalf, but some external advantages, or relation; but were workers of iniquity, when they should have been working out their salvation; and apply for admission after the master of the house hath shut to the door. However, though these are

n See Numbers VI. and XX.

excluded, (and very justly,) our Lord declares that others shall come from all quarters of the world, from the east, and from the west, and from the north, and from the south, and shall sit down in the kingdom of God, ver. 29. Our Lord had given the same admonition in his sermon on the mount, Matt. vii. 13, 14. enforced, as some may think, with a plainer and more full declaration, that few, in comparison, will be finally saved: Enter ye in at the strait gate: for wide is the gate, and broad is the way, that leadeth to destruction, and many there be which go in thereat: because strait is the gate, and narrow is the way, which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it. Here, indeed, seems to be an express declaration, that few only find the narrow way that leadeth unto life, while many go in the broad one that leadeth to destruction and if these words refer to the final determination at the day of judgment, with regard to all mankind, the dispute, as to this point, is fairly at an end. But they appear plainly to be only a declaration of what was the state of the world, and the practice of mankind, in our Saviour's own time. It was not usual with him, nor agreeable to his manner of instruction, to meddle with points of so curious and high a nature as the former; and decide, as it were, the fate of the Christian world, before it was born. And if he would give no direct answer to the querist in St. Luke, is it likely, that here, in his public doctrine, he would tell all that heard him, that far the greatest part of those who should hereafter believe in him would finally be damned? But he might properly enough take notice of a matter of fact, the wickedness and infidelity of the Jews at

[blocks in formation]

that time. He was himself the door and the way that led to life, and few of the Jews went in thereat, or found it. One great reason of this is intimated in the very next verse; Beware of false prophets, which come to you, &c.; of these our Lord says, ver. 20. By their fruits ye shall know them. That is, as I understand it, not so much by their bad lives, (for possibly they might make a very specious appearance in their sheep's clothing,) as by the immoral tendency, the natural pernicious consequences and effects, of their principles and doctrines. Thus, for instance, if they taught that men might be saved without virtue and holiness, upon the account of their being of this or that sect or party, of this or the other profession of religion, the posterity of such a patriarch, or the followers of such a prophet; the natural consequence of this, being destructive of the practice of virtue and true religion, would make it evident, that, whatever they appeared to be, they were in reality false prophets. Thus therefore our Lord goes on, ver. 21. Not every one that saith unto me, Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of heaven: no external profession, no relation to Christ, the Son of God himself, will avail any thing, without doing the will of his Father which is in heaven. Then follows, ver. 22, a key to the whole; Many will say to me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name? and in thy name have cast out devils? and in thy name done many wonderful works? The plea is more frivolous in St. Luke, but proceeds upon the same bottom ;— We have eaten and drunk in thy presence, and thou hast taught in our streets, chap. xiii. 26. From which it is plain, that, in both places, our Lord had

« PreviousContinue »