Page images





dour and great glory, speaking with an audible voice unto him; although I know not whether it be necessary to suppose that the work of Paul's conversion was perfected, I mean, specifically perfected (for gradually, I presume it was not) by this vision only, or until Ananias, to whom the vision directed him, had made known unto him those things concerning the gospel which he did. But, whether his conversion was specifically perfected by the vision without Ananias's ministry or no, doubtless there was a liberty or possibility left in Paul himself, to the very last moment or minute of time before his conversion was actually wrought, to have not only resisted, but even frustrated all the means that were used for the effecting of it; frustrated, I mean, not simply or universally, as if Christ should have been disappointed and lost all he had done in order to his conversion, in case he had not been converted, but frustrated in respect of that particular end, his conversion. For God hath always more ends than one, though but one primary and antecedent, in vouchsafing means of grace and salvation unto men: and whether he obtains the one or the other, it is of much alike concernment unto him, according to that of the apostle: "For we," apostles, or ministers of the gospel, are unto God," in our ministry, sweet," or the sweet, savour of Christ," i. e. we render Christ, or the mystery of Christ, by a diligent and faithful spreading abroad the knowledge of them in the world, as full of satisfaction and contentment unto God as they are capable of being improved unto," in them that are saved, and in those that perish;" meaning, that the destruction of those who perish through a rejection of his rich grace in Christ offered to them, is matter of good satisfaction unto him, even as the salvation of those is who accept of this grace from him. So that, let men who have Christ and the means of salvation offered unto them take either the right hand or the left, God will be no loser by them: his counsels and ends, of one kind or other, will be advanced howsoever. How that most serious and solemn profession and oath of God, that he delighteth not "in the death of the wicked," or "of him that dieth," Ezek. xviii. 32, and xxxiii. 11, is of good. consistence with the apostles' being the "sweet savour of Christ unto him in them that perish," as also with that profession which himself maketh by Solomon unto wicked men, "I will laugh at your calamity, and mock when your fear cometh," and your destruction cometh as a whirlwind," &c., Prov. i. 26, 27, we shall, I conceive, have opportunity to unfold in the latter part of our present discourse. But this by the way in this place.


Yet give me leave to add one thing further here of necessary consideration for the full clearing of the business in hand. Though it will be consistent with the wisdom of God and the principles thereof to rise sometimes and in some cases in the vouchsafement of the means of grace and of salvation unto men,

to the highest pin or degree, in point of efficacy and power, which the native and essential freedom and liberty of the will will bear, yet it is not consistent with this wisdom of his to do it often, much less ordinarily, or of course. The wisdom of a man leads and teacheth him sometimes upon occasion, and in order to some more than ordinary design, to vary from his customary and constant course of acting, yea, though this customary and constant course of his be simply the best and most agreeable to the rules of wisdom, for him ordinarily to follow. Upon this account the wise man informeth us, that "There is a time to kill, and a time to heal, a time to build up, and a time to pull down--a time to cast away stones, and a time to gather stones together," Eccles. iii. 2, &c. with several other instances of like import. When he saith, there is a time to do this and a time to do that which is contrary unto it, his meaning clearly is, that it is prudential and agreeable to rules of wisdom, for a man, according to time, place, and other circumstances, to vary the manner and kind of his ordinary actions, yea, to act at one time with a kind of contrariety to himself at another. In like manner, it is perfectly consistent with the infinite wisdom of God, upon some special occasion, and in order to some gracious design, to open the hand of his bounty in the vouchsafement of means of salvation unto men, much wider than will stand with the same wisdom to do ordinarily, or at another time. And as it may be truly said of a truly wise man, that he cannot cast away stones, when the time is for him to gather stones together; and so, on the contrary, that he cannot gather stones together, when the time and season is to cast them away; such a man cannot mis-time his actions, because his wisdom, which frames and fashions both the consents and dissents of his will, cannot frame or raise a consent of will in him to do any thing contrary to itself, or to its own nature and principles, i. e. to do any thing uncomelily or imprudently: so may it truly be said of God in the matter of granting means of faith and of salvation unto men, that he cannot, in the ordinary and standing course of his providence or dispensation of such means, rise so high, give means of that transcendent nature, efficacy, and power, wbich he can and doth give now and then, in some special cases, and in order to some great and special end. As, for example, God was able, no principle of his wisdom opposing, to vouchsafe unto Paul that extraordinary means of believing, or for his conversion, which we spake of, a glorious vision from heaven. But it doth not follow from hence, that therefore he is able (we still speak of his moral ability, or of the ability of his will) to afford the like vision, or any other means like unto that for efficacy and converting power, ordinarily or unto all other men. When he demands thus concerning his ancient church and people of the Jews, "What could have been done more to my vineyard, that I have not done in it?" Isa. v. 4; he had not done any such thing in it, or for it, as he did afterwards for Paul: nor had he multiplied those miracles and great

works of wonder, some particulars whereof he did work for them and amongst them, to such a number, or with such frequency, as by his power, simply considered, and without relation unto his wisdom, he was able to have done: and yet he might truly say and profess unto them, as his demand mentioned imports, that he could do no more for them, (to make them fruitful, to bring them to repentance, and so to make them a prosperous and happy people) than he had done: i. e. he had done the uttermost which his wisdom, in such a case as theirs was, permitted him to do. So, when he vouchsafeth a greater sufficiency of means to one city than he doth to another, as he did to Capernaum above Tyre and Sidon, to one nation than to another, to one age or generation of men than to another; the reason of this difference is to be resolved into the same infinite uniform, though "manifold wisdom of God," as the apostle calleth it, or, which is the same, into "the counsel of his will," Ephes. i. 11; not simply into his will, but into the counsel of his will, (i. e. that infinite wisdom or prudence, by which his will is as it were steered and directed in all the motions and actings thereof) according unto which counsel he is said to "work all things," Eph. i. 11. And it may be as truly and as properly said of him, when he vouchsafeth the least and lowest sufficiency of means unto some men, as when he affordeth the greatest and richest of all unto others, that he did or doth what he could, or what he is able to do, as well for the one as for the other. And in such cases of difference as these, that admiration of the apostle, lately mentioned, is most seasonable and proper: "O the depths of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!" Rom. xi. 33. By his judgments, in this place, we are not, I conceive, to understand only his penal inflictions upon men in one kind or other, but his dispensatory administrations, as he is the judge and great ruler of the world, indefinitely considered, as well such as are munificent as those which are penal: and so the word "ways," in the latter part of the verse, added, it is like, for explication, indifferently implies as well the one as the other. But how, or in what respect are his judgments, or ways of administration in the world, said to be unsearchable, or past finding out? The former part of the verse clearly informeth us of this; as viz. that they are unsearchable in respect of that abundance of wisdom and knowledge, by which, and according unto which, they are first ordered and contrived, and then executed by him. First, they are unsearchable (viz. unto men, yea, and to angels too) in respect of that most absolute and perfect knowledge which God hath of every particular circumstance, from the least to the greatest, of all the actions and ways of all the men in the world; and so of all cities and of all nations, in all succeeding generations, from the morning of the world until the present hour thereof: upon which actions, with all and every their respective circumstances, compared and laid together by God, as by reason of his perfect knowledge of them they readily may be, he builds and

forms, by means of his wisdom, of which presently, that entire series, or tenor of his administrations, as well munificent as penal, which from day to day and from age to age take place in the world amongst the sons and daughters of men. Now, because neither men nor angels are capable of knowing or considering all that infinite and endless multitude and variety of actions, with all their circumstances respectively, which are done in the world, upon which, and according to the exigency of which, (not any one of them, from the greatest to the least, omitted or left out,) the providential administrations of God in the world, as well of justice as of mercy and goodness, are founded and framed, hence it is that the apostle concludes, in a posture of admiration, that the judgments of God are unsearchable, and his ways past finding out, in respect of the depths of the riches of that knowledge, which he maketh use of in forming them; meaning, that no creature who knoweth not as much as God himself knoweth, concerning the grounds and reasons why he ordereth the affairs of the world, of persons, of cities, of countries, of ages, as he doth, and not otherwise, can possibly understand or comprehend the absolute exactness and accurateness of them; however he may apprehend somewhat, yea, much of them, I mean chiefly concerning the equity and righteousness of them.

Again, 2. These "judgments" and "ways" of God are "unsearchable and past finding out," in respect of the "depths of the riches of that wisdom" which is in God, according unto which also they are all calculated and formed by him. For look, as in a judge, who is to administer justice, and to give sentence in the causes of men that are brought before him, there ought to be these two things, 1. A perfect knowledge of the respective cases wherein he is to give sentence, in all circumstances relating to them, before he doth give sentence; 2. A principle of wisdom, to weigh and ponder aright every of these cases in all their circumstances respectively, that so he may be enabled to form such a sentence, wherein every circumstance, great and small, relating to every case, may have its due consideration and weight; so there are, and of necessity must be, in God, to make him an absolute Judge, as he is, of all the world, 1. Such a perfect knowledge, as we speak of, of all cases that are before him in all the world, with all and every particular circumstance relating to every of them. 2. An absoluteness and perfection of wisdom also, 1, to interpret every particular circumstance relating to every particular action and case in the world, according to true principles of justice and equity, so as to be able to say how much better, or how much worse, such or such an action is, by reason of such or such a circumstance, one or more; 2, to raise or frame such a sentence, and to administer and execute it accordingly, which shall be made up, as it were, of the equitable results of all and every of those circumstances, which are to be taken into consideration in every award. Now the wisdom which God maketh use of in both these ways, in and about the government of the world, hath so many unfathomable "depths" in it, is

so "rich" above measure, so unconceivable, incomprehensible, in the discerning abilities and estimative worth of it, that those judiciary acts and ways which proceed from it, and are moulded and formed by the spirit and strength of it, are greater than all created understanding, above all comprehension, either by men or angels.

By the light of what hath been now argued, it fully appeareth, 1. That all such men who "turn the grace of God," in those worthy means of salvation which he vouchsafeth unto them, "into wantonness," and are not in conclusion saved by them, but perish so much the more grievously, are, notwithstanding, as much obliged in point of thankfulness unto him for them as they could have been in case they should be saved by them. 2. That the vouchsafement and bestowing of such means upon them by God, notwithstanding the certainty of his foreknowledge, as foreknowledge is attributable unto him, that they will not prove saving unto them in the end, are yet arguments and pledges of as much grace, love, and mercy unto them, as they would or could be in case he had as certainly foreknown that they would be of a saving consequence unto them. 3. That God, his infinite wisdom considered, and the obligements thereof upon him, goeth as far, doth as much, to render the means of grace exhibited unto those who perish effectual to their salvation as is possible for him to do. 4, and lastly, That that foreknowledge which is in God of the future abuse and miscarrying of the means of salvation, in those to whom they are exhibited or vouchsafed by him, doth not precede that act of his by which they are exhibited unto them, this being eternal, or from eternity, as well as that.


Declaring in what sense the former passages of Scripture asserting the universality of redemption by Christ, are, as to this point, to be understood; and, consequently, in what sense the said doctrine of universal redemption is maintained in the present discourse.

ALTHOUGH an intelligent and observant reader may, from several passages occasionally inserted here and there in the precedure of this discourse, clearly enough perceive and understand in what sense, and with what explications and provisos, the said doctrine of universal redemption by Christ is asserted and maintained herein, and consequently in what sense the author understandeth all those texts of Scripture which hold forth the said doctrine unto the world, many of which have been formerly produced upon the account; yet, that the reader may readily, without either burdening his memory, or spending time in turning over leaves, know where to find his mind and sense concerning both fully explained, I judged

« PreviousContinue »