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nerate, it must, according to the constant rule (formerly delivered*) for the interpretation of such like passages, be understood with this proviso or explication, viz., if they continue regenerate, or be found in the estate of regeneration at their death. Which condition is expressed and insisted upon in several places; and particularly, Rev. ii. 11, where our Saviour himself, in his epistle to the Church of Smyrna, promiseth exemption from harm by the second death, only upon condition of victory, i. e. of such a victory, which imports a standing fast and faithful unto Christ in the profession of the gospel, against all temptations, allurements, persecutions, and whatsoever should attempt their loyalty and faithfulness in this kind, unto the end, "He that overcometh shall not be hurt of the second death." The sense now given of these words, is fully confirmed by those in the verse immediately preceding, "Be thou faithful unto death, and I will give thee a crown of life :" as also by other passages from the same blessed hand, to other churches. "And he that overcometh," saith he to the church of Thyatira, "and keepeth my words unto the end, to him will I give power over the nations," Rev. ii. 26. So to the church of Sardis, "Behold I come quickly; hold that fast, which thou hast, that no man take thy crown," Rev. iii. 11. To which many others of like character might be added from other places: but this hath been done already in part, and remains to be done more fully in place more convenient. In the meantime we clearly see that however the received doctrine of perseverance saith unto the Scriptures, Scriptures, Scriptures," yet these make no other answer, but, "Depart from us, we know you not," you are a doctrine that gather not with us, but scatter what we gather.
The former digression yet further prosecuted: and a possibility of Defection in the saints, or true believers, and this unto death, clearly demonstrated from the Scriptures.
IT is the saying, as I remember, of Quintilian: "Many men might have been wise, had they not prevented themselves with an opinion of being wise before they came to it." Nor is there much question to be made, but that many have miscarried and do miscarry daily, in the great and important affair of their everlasting peace, out of a presumption or conceit, that they are under no danger, in no possibility of any such miscarrying; whose most deplorable and irremediable disaster and loss in this kind might otherwise have been prevented, and their persons crowned with eternal glory,
* See p. 317, 349; and Chap. X., p. 292.
+ Multi ad sapientiam pervenire potuissent, nisi se jam pervenisse putassent.
which now are like to suffer the vengeance of eternal fire. Of so dismal a consequence it is to misunderstand, pervert, or wrest the Scriptures, especially in order to the gratifying of the flesh, or to the occasioning, or encouragement of men to turn the grace of God in the gospel into wantonness. The truth is, that the Scriptures seem in many points and matters of question, to speak very doubtfully, and to deliver such things in several places, and sometimes in the same, which men of contrary judgments may very plausibly interpret in a compliance with them in their respective opinions though the unquestionable truth be, that even in such cases as these, they love the one opinion, and hate the other. It is no part of our present engagement to prescribe any perfect or complete method, or rule, how to discover which way the heart of the Scripture leaneth, when the tongue or mouth of it seems to be cloven, or divided between two inconsistent opinions. I shall only (by the way) make my reader so far of my counsel in the business, as to give him to know, that when the letter of the Scripture hath for a time left me in a great strait and exigency of thoughts, between contrary opinions, (a condition that hath more than once befallen me,) that brief periphrasis or description of the gospel, which the apostle delivers, calling it the truth which is according unto godliness, hath upon serious consideration, often delivered me; yea, and brought me to such a clear understanding of the letter itself, wherein before I was entangled, that I evidently, and with the greatest satisfaction I could desire, discerned the mind of God therein; and that with full consonancy to the ordinary phrase and manner of speaking in the Scripture, upon a like occasion. For having this touchstone by an unerring hand given unto me, that the gospel is a truth according unto godliness, i. e. a system or body of truth, calculated and framed by God, in all the veins and parts of it, for the exaltation of godliness in the world, I was directed hereby, in the case of doctrines and opinions, incompatible between themselves, to own and cleave unto that, as the truth, and comporting with the gospel, the face whereof was in the clearest and directest manner set for the promotion and advancement of godliness amongst men; and to refuse that which stood in opposition hereunto. Nor did I find it any matter of much difficulty, or doubtfulness of dispute within myself, especially in such cases, and between such opinions, wherein I most desired satisfaction, to decide and determine, which of the two opinions competitors for my consent, was the greater friend unto godliness. That competent knowledge which God had given me, of the general course of the Scriptures, together with the experimental knowledge I had of mine own heart, the workings, reasonings, and debates thereof, seconded with that long observation which I had made of the spirits, principles, and ways of men in the world, together with their ebbings and flowings, their risings and fallings,
* ̓Αλήθεια ή κατὰ εὐσέβειαν. Tit. i. 1.
their advancings and retreats, their firstings and lastings, in matters of religion, in conjunction with that light of reason and understanding, which I have in common with other men; these together were sufficient to teach me, and that to a plenary satisfaction in most cases, what doctrines, what opinions are of the richest and most cordial sympathy and compliance with godliness, and what on the other hand are but faint and loose in their correspondency with her, or otherwise secret enemies unto her.
That that doctrine, which asserteth a possibility even of a final defection from faith, in true believers, well understood, riseth up in the cause of godliness with a far higher hand, than the common opinion about their perseverance, hath been sufficiently, though but in part, proved already, Chap. ix.: the further demonstration hereof sleepeth not, but only awaiteth its season. Our present task is to argue the letter of the Scripture for confirmation of the said doctrine, and to evince the truth thereof from the oracles of God. This done, we shall, God willing, advance some grounds of reason also built upon the Scriptures, for the further countenance and credit hereof. And because security upon security will not, we suppose, be unacceptable in a business of such grand concernment and import, we shall afterwards produce some examples, upon the same account: and then conclude our discussions of this subject, with an interview of some sayings, wherein it will appear that the God of truth hath drawn a confession and acknowledgment of that truth of his, which we now maintain, from the judgments and consciences of some of the greatest adversaries thereof, or at least so esteemed.
First, for the sense of the Holy Ghost himself in the question depending, we cannot lightly desire any account more satisfactory, than that given by himself in the Old Testament. "But when the righteous turneth away from his righteousness, and committeth iniquity, and doth according to all the abominations that the wicked man doth, shall he live? All his righteousness that he hath done, shall not be mentioned: in his trespass that he hath trespassed, and in his sin that he hath sinned, in them shall he die. Yet ye say, The way of the Lord is not equal. Hear now, O house of Israel, is not my way equal? are not your ways unequal? when a righteous man turneth away from his righteousness, and committeth iniquity, and dieth in them: for his iniquity that he hath done, shall he die, Ezek. xviii. 24, &c." What more can the understanding, judgment, soul, or conscience of a man reasonably desire, for their establishment in any truth whatsoever, than is delivered by God himself in this passage, to evince the possibility of a righteous man's declining from his righteousness, and that unto death? The latter words of the passage are conclusive hereof, against and above all contradiction. "When a righteous man turneth away, &c. and dieth in them," (i. e. repenteth not of them, forsaketh them not, before his death) "for his iniquity that he hath done, shall he die :" (viz. the second death, or perish ever
lastingly.) For that this death is meant, at least included, in this latter clause, is evident, because otherwise we shall both make an unsavoury tautology in the sentence, and destroy all congruity of sense besides. For without such a supposition, the prophet must be supposed to speak thus: "When a righteous man turneth away from his righteousness and committeth iniquity, and dieth in them," (i. e. leaveth his natural life under the guilt of them, and without repentance for them) " for the iniquity that he hath done shall he" (leave his natural life, or, have his natural life taken from him.) When a man dieth in, or under the guilt of his sin, he shall die for his sin, or because of the guilt of his sin, the same death, which he dieth in his sin. Who tasteth not a palpable absurdity, and incoherence of sense, in such a construction as this? whereas, if by dying, in the latter clause, we shall understand, dying, or perishing for ever, the sentence will run clear, and in full consonancy with the general current of the Scriptures, the sense rising thus: when a righteous man shall forsake the ways of righteousness, wherein he hath formerly walked, and turn aside into ways of wickedness, and not repent of these ways before his death, this man shall die the death of the impenitent and unbelievers, which is the second death. In this sense, the sentence. perfectly accords (for substance of matter) with such passages as these: "Know ye not the unrighteous shall not inherit the kingdom of God? be not deceived: neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, &c. shall inherit the kingdom of God, 1 Cor. ix. 10. And again : "For this ye know, that no whoremonger or unclean person, or covetous man which is an idolater, hath any inheritance in the kingdom of Christ, and of God. Let no man deceive you with vain words: for because of these things cometh the wrath of God upon the children of disobedience," Eph. v. 5, 6. And (to omit many others) with that of the same prophet," therefore thou son of man, say unto the children of thy people, the righteousness of the righteous shall not deliver him in the day of his transgression-when I shall say to the righteous, that he shall surely live, if he trust his own righteousness, and commit iniquity, all his righteousness shall not be remembered, but for his iniquity that he hath committed, he shall die for it," Ezek. xxxiii. 12, 13. If the righteousness, which an apostate or backslider from ways of righteousness, hath wrought, whilst he was yet righteous, shall not deliver him, when he turns aside unto wickedness, what can be imagined should deliver him? doubtless his wickedness, whereunto he hath turned aside from his righteousness, will not befriend him with a deliverance. Nor can it any whit more reasonably be said, that though his former righteousness will not deliver him from a temporal death, yet it may deliver him from eternal death; than in the case of a true repentance it may be said, that though such a repentance will deliver a man from a temporal death, yet will it not deliver him from eternal death. For as the truest repentance that is, though continued in, will not deliver a man
from a temporal or natural death, but will most certainly deliver him from eternal death: in like manner, though apostasy and backsliding from ways of righteousness, persevered in, do not always expose a man to a temporal death, or bring this death upon him, yet they always render man obnoxious to eternal death.
Besides, when God threateneth such backsliders as we speak of, that when they shall commit iniquity, &c., "all the righteousness that they have done formerly, shall not be mentioned," i. e. as Calvin himself interprets, "shall not come into any account, as to matter of reward," evident it is, that if it shall not come into any account at all, as, for example, to obtain from God so much as the reward of a temporal deliverance, much less shall it turn to any such account, as to be rewarded with that "great recompense of reward," salvation.
Again, that death which God here threateneth against that double, or two-fold iniquity of backsliding, is opposed to that life, which is promised to repentance, and perseverance in well-doing. But this life is confessed by all, to be eternal life; therefore the death opposite to it must needs be eternal, or the "second death," When the apostle saith, "the wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life, through Christ Jesus our Lord," Rom. vi. 23, is it not evident, from the antithesis or opposition in the sentence, between the death and life mentioned in it, that by that death, which he affirms to be "the wages of sin," is meant eternal death? How else will the opposition stand?
Yet again; when God in the Scriptures threatens impenitent persons with death for their sins, doubtless he intends, and means, eternal death, or that death which is the wages of sin. Otherwise we have no sufficient ground to believe, or think, that men dying in their sins without repentance, shall suffer "the vengeance of eternal fire," but only a temporal or natural death; which the righteous and truly penitent themselves suffer as well as they. Therefore, to say that God threatens impenitent apostates, in the place in hand, with a temporal death only, when as elsewhere he threatens impenitency under the lightest guilt of all, with eternal death, is, in effect, to represent him as vehement and sore in his dissuasives from ordinary and lesser sins; but indifferent and remiss in dissuading from sins of the greatest provocation.
Once more; if it be only a temporal death, which God here threateneth against the sins of apostasy, dying under the guilt of their apostasy, and of all the sins they have committed therein, without repentance, then may men under the guilt of the greatest and foulest abominations, remain in the greatest love and favour of God, as just and righteous men; yea, and without repentance, not only escape damnation, but also inherit eternal life. And "where then is the God of judgment?" Mal. ii. 17. Or what will become
* Cum autem satis liqueat non venire justitiam ejus, qui defecit, in rationem, ut quicquam mercedis sperare debeat, &c.-Calv. in Ezek. xviii. 24.