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of a total and final defection in true believers lieth as large and full in these quarters as truth lightly can be lodged in words; the Holy Ghost here plainly supposing that which is clearly consistent with, yea, and equivalent thereunto, viz. that they who by the acknowledgment of Jesus Christ, have clean (or truly or really, ovrwc) escaped the pollutions of the world, being again entangled therewith, may be overcome, so as that their spiritual state and condition will be worse at the last than it was at the first, or before they believed. What is this, being interpreted, but that true saints or believers may possibly apostatise from their believing condition so as to perish everlastingly?
But here also our adversaries attempt to hide the truth shining in the recited passage under that old covering or veil which hath been rent in twain already, both in this chapter and elsewhere. These expressions, say they, "who were clean escaped from those who live in error, who have escaped the pollutions of the world through the acknowledgment of Jesus Christ, to have known the way of righteousness," &c. do not suppose the persons spoken of to have had true faith; nor import any thing but what may very possibly be found in hypocrites. But with how little truth, yea, or semblance of truth, these things are asserted, hath been already exposed to open view, when we traversed the Scripture in hand upon another occasion. (Chap. viii. pp. 215, &c.) Nevertheless we here add,
1. If the said expressions import nothing, but what hypocrites, and that in sensu composito, i. e. whilst hypocrites, are capable of, then may those be hypocrites who are separated from men that live in error, and from the pollutions of the world, and that through the knowledge of Jesus Christ; and, on the other hand, those may be saints and sound believers, who wallow in all manner of filthiness, and defile themselves daily with the pollutions of the world. This consequence, according to the principles and known tenets of our adversaries, is legitimate and true, inasmuch as they hold, that "True believers may fall so foul, and so far, that the church, according to Christ's institution, may be constrained to testify, that they cannot bear them in their outward communion, and that they shall have no part in the kingdom of Christ, except they repent,"* &c. "* &c. But whether this be wholesome and sound divinity or no, to teach, that they who are separate from sinners, and live holily and blamelessly in this present world, and this by means of the knowledge of Jesus Christ, may be hypocrites and children of perdition; and they, on the other hand, who are companions with thieves, murderers, adulterers, &c., saints and sound believers, I leave to men, whose judgments are not turned upside down with prejudice, to determine.
2. The persons here spoken of, are said to have ovrws, truly or
* Repondemus, posse quidem verè credentes eousque prolabi, ut ecclesia, juxtà constitutionem Christi cogatur testari, se, ipsos in externâ ipsorum communione non posse tolerare, neque habituros partem ullam in regno Christi, nisi convertantur.-Contr. Remonstr. in Coll. Hug. p. 399.
really escaped from those who live in error. Doubtless an hypocrite cannot be said, truly or really, but in show or appearance at most, to have made such an escape (I mean from men who live in error,) considering, that for matter of reality and truth, remaining in hypocrisy, he lives in one of the greatest and foulest errors that is.
3. An hypocrite whose foot is already in the snare of death, cannot upon any tolerable account, either of reason or common sense, be said to be allured (i. e. by allurements to be deceived) or overcome, by "the pollutions of the world," no more than a fish that is already in the net, or fast upon the hook, can be said to be allured or deceived by a bait held to her.
4. Hypocrites are no where said, neither can they with any congruity to Scripture phrase be said, to "have escaped the pollutions of the world" through the acknowledgment (for so the word iniyvos should be translated) of Jesus Christ, the acknowledgment of the truth, and so of Christ and of God, constantly in the Scriptures importing a sound and saving work of conversion, as we lately observed in this chapter.
5, and lastly, The persons to whom the apostle addresseth himself in this epistle, being looked upon by him as true believers, yea, as "partakers of like precious faith" with himself and the rest of the apostles, 2 Pet. i. 3, it cannot reasonably be imagined that in so short an epistle he should hang so long, as the whole second chapter amounteth unto, upon a subject or discourse which little or nothing concerned them to whom he writes, nor much indeed any other man, if the principles and tenets of our adversaries would stand. If true believers be incapable of any such backsliding, which should make "their latter end worse than their beginning," to what purpose should the apostle make a large discourse unto them concerning such men, who had miscarried by such backslidings? Or would there be, upon such a supposition, any more savour in this discourse, than if Solomon should have made a journey to the queen of Sheba's court, to inform her that thieves and murderers were sorely punished in his kingdom? And for hypocrites themselves, neither would the discourse have been of much concernment unto them, in case such a personal and peremptory election, and reprobation, as our opposers contend for, could be with truth obtained. If I be upon such terms elected, I am in no danger of falling under that heavy doom of hypocrites, "whose latter end is worse than their beginning;" or if I be so reprobated, I am in no capacity, in no possibility of redeeming myself by the tender of any admonitions, cautions, exhortations, threatenings, or examples whatsoever, of persons who have made shipwreck of their souls against the same rock before me. To what purpose then, be I elected or be I reprobated, be I a sound believer or be I an hypocrite, should any application be made, either by God or men, unto me, either in order to my obtaining of that which all my sin and wickedness cannot keep from me, or for the avoiding or preventing of that from which all my care, diligence, faithfulness, cannot deliver me? Therefore, questionless,
the apostle Peter all along that quarter of discourse, which we have lately had under consideration, clearly supposeth that even true believers, such as upon good grounds he concluded those to whom he writes to be, are obnoxious to such an apostasy and declining, in, and from their faith, which is accompanied with the signal ruin and destruction of those, who value holiness and close walkings with God at no higher rate than to cast them behind their back without looking after them any more. Which doctrinal conclusion might be further argued, and confirmed abundantly, from very many Scriptures, besides those insisted upon in this chapter, and particularly from those frequent and pathetic admonitions, cautions, exhortations, encouragements, &c., administered by the Holy Ghost unto the saints to engage them in such ways of care, diligence, and faithfulness to themselves and their own souls, whereby they may be strengthened to persevere unto the end. But of these, at least of some of the most pregnant of them, we shall have occasion to consider in the chapter following, where we shall further plead the cause of the said doctrine by force of argument and demonstration.
Grounds of reason from the Scriptures, evincing a possibility of such a defection even in true believers, which is accompanied with destruction in the end.
THE opportunity which error commonly findeth to build herself a throne amongst men, and to reign over the judgments and consciences of those who are debtors of homage and subjection to the truth, lieth not so much in the strength or beauty of those arguments or pleas which she is able to engage in her cause, as either in the weakness or negligence of the friends and professors of the truth; as when they are either not able, or not industrious enough, to show her unto the world, like "Solomon in all his glory," and to spread that light of evidence and conviction round about her which belongeth unto her, and which would commend her like a daughter of God in the eyes of men. Truth, whose native residence and seat is, as the old philosophers were wont to express it, in profundo, in the depths, remote from the common thoughts and apprehensions of men, cannot in many particulars be drawn up into a clear and perfect light, but only by a long cord, well twisted, of much labour, attentive meditation, together with some dexterity for the work, God himself is said to "inhabit a light that is inaccessible," 1 Tim. vi. 16; that is, as I conceive, to be capable of more and more glorious attributions, or of having a greater number of excellent things, and things of a greater excellency, spoken of him, and that with evidence and clearness of truth, than either men or angels are able to discover
or comprehend, much more to utter or declare unto the world. And the truth is that many truths dwell in such a light which is not accessible without much difficulty to the judgments and understandings of men, being only manifestable in their certainty and perfect beauty, by such arguments and considerations which they must dig deep who desire to discover; and they look narrowly and with a single eye who desire to be made fully capable and sensible of them, being set before them. Whereas error, being of nearer affinity to the corrupt and dark minds and understandings of men, dwells in propinquo, and, as it were, at their right hand; and though her servants (the reasons I mean which negotiate her affairs with the judgments of men) be all flesh and not spirit, all show and no substance, yet having the advantage of a natural sympathy and compliance in those with whom they have to do, their cause is readily accepted, and approved as just and good. When the disciples saw the Lord Christ by no better light than what the night afforded, and that at a distance, walking upon the sea towards them, "they were troubled," thinking he had been some unclean spirit that would have destroyed them, "and cried out for fear:" but when he came near them, and " said to them, Be of good comfort, it is I; be not afraid," Matt. xiv. 26, 27, they perfectly knew that it was their dear Lord and Master. So many looking upon that doctrine which opposeth the unconditioned perseverance of the saints, and asserteth a possibility of their final fall, by the dim light of some sensual principles and apprehensions, and in an overly and superficial manner, as it were at a distance, are much troubled at it, as if it were a doctrine of an anti-evangelical spirit, that would bring them into a bondage of fear, and torment them. Which doctrine, notwithstanding, would they look upon it narrowly, and with an unprejudiced attention, and this by the clear light of such considerations which exhibit it like itself unto them, they would then soon confess to be a doctrine which was set, not at all to curse, but to bless them altogether.
The sole undertaking of this chapter is to commend the said doctrine unto the judgments and consciences of men for a truth, by a proposal of such worthy things which relate to it, either by way of causality or affinity in truth. In the first place, I plead the cordial sympathy it hath with that righteousness of God which the Scripture calls a poorоλnia, or a non-acceptation of persons, thus:
That doctrine which rendereth God free from that unrighteousness which the Scripture calls a respecting the persons of men, is a doctrine of perfect consistency with the Scriptures and the truth.
The doctrine which teacheth a possibility of the saints declining, and this unto death, is a doctrine of this import. Ergo.
The reason of the former proposition is plain, inasmuch as the Scriptures frequently assert that principle of non-respecting persons, most worthy "the Judge of all the earth," unto God, Deut. x. 17; Gal. ii. 6; 1 Pet. i. 17, &c. The latter proposition needeth no laboriousness of proof neither. Evident it is that the doctrine here
spoken of, representeth God as a non-respecter of persons, inasmuch as it rendereth him a Judge of the same righteous severity against the enormous transgressions of his own children and friends which he exerciseth towards his enemies, and those that are strangers unto him, upon the like provocations. This doctrine subjecteth saints as well as others to this righteous law of God: "Neither fornicators, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor effeminate, nor abusers of themselves with mankind, nor thieves, nor covetous, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor extortioners, shall inherit the kingdom of God," 1 Cor. vi. 9; meaning, as is evident from other Scriptures, without repentance. Whereas the common doctrine of perseverance exempteth all such who have at any time been true believers, or children of God, from the penalty or doom of this law; teaching that though such as these should turn "fornicators, idolaters, adulterers," &c., and continue never so long in these abominations, without repentance, yet they retain their right and title of inheritance in the kingdom of God, and that they remain under the greatest love that God can show or bear towards men, the love of election and of children, even in the midst of these deep and desperate provocations. And thus it maketh God the greatest accepter of persons in the world, rendering him implacably severe towards lesser sinners, and indulgent above measure to the greater. For that such who have, or have had, the knowledge of God, and have believed in Jesus Christ, and made profession of love and service to him, when they turn "fornicators, idolaters, adulterers," &c., are far greater sinners than men committing the same sins "in ignorance and unbelief," is, I think, no man's doubt or question. Certain I am that the Scripture still representeth God as more severe in punishing where greater means of righteousness and well doing have been vouchsafed. "You," said he to his own people, the children of Israel, of old, " only have I known of all the families of the earth; therefore I will punish you for all your iniquities," Amos iii. 2. In the Gospel: "And that servant which knew his Lord's will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. But he that knew not, and did commit things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes. For unto whom much is given, of him shall much be required," &c. Luke xii. 47, 48. It cannot be denied (and confessed it is by our adversaries themselves, as hath been formerly observed) but that true believers have fallen into the practice of the foul transgressions mentioned, yea, and have remained impenitent in them for a long season. Therefore, if during the time of such practice and impenitency, they should not be in the same, or worse condition, to God-ward and salvation-wise, than ignorant persons, and such who were always strangers unto God, are, when they live in the same impieties, God must needs be "an accepter of persons" in the highest, and show a thousand times more favour to grand and signal delinquents than to ordinary and lighter offenders, in comparison. So that to pretend, though true believers may, and