Some Propositions clearing the Doctrine of Gods Mercy, from both Doctrinal and Practical Objections.
2 COR. 1. 3.
VVE shall now put both these descriptions of God joyntly together, ha∣ving already considered them severally. For seeing in the mercy of God is all our hope, Christ hath this Rainbow about his Throne. And although it may affect us to hear, that God is Wise, Omnipotent, of glo∣rious Majesty, yet nothing is so sutable and proper for poor sinners, as to hear of Gods mercy. Therefore I shall at this time enlarge further about it, and so conclude. And that which I shall deliver, shall be laid down in so many Propositions, which will be to obviate either Practical or Doctrinal Obje∣ctions. And
First, The mercy and comforts of God, this glorious Nature of his, where∣by*he is ready to pity those that are miserable, is so to be managed in the pub∣lick preaching thereof, that it be a sovereign Antidote against all despair, and yet a curb against all presumption. For so it falleth out, that we can hard∣ly open the treasures of Gods mercy, and discover the glory of his grace and goodness to the humbled sinner, but presently the carnal prophane heart is ready to encourage himself thereby. It is therefore the part of a wise Dispenser of this glad tidings, to consider the subjects with whom he hath to do, and accordingly to publish terrour to whom terrour is due, wrath to whom wrath is due. And then on the other side, peace to whom peace belongs, mercy to whom mercy belongs. Though therefore God style him∣self, The God of the fatherless, and the widow, that he is pitifull to such as are miserable: Though very wicked (it may be) and prophane, yet this is with a general mercy onely; his peculiar and special mercies are onely to those that fear him. If then a man go on wilfully in his ungodly wayes, if he will still retain his transgressions, he must not think to find God mer∣cifull to him, he will find David's prayer fulfilled, Psal. 59. 5. Be not mer∣cifull to any wicked transgressour. This bread is for children, not for dogs; yet how difficultly can we keep such off from applying this mercy to them∣selves? Those are commonly most confident of it, to whom it doth not be∣long; therefore beastly men are barred off from coming near this Mount; This pearl is kept from Swine. When we meet with broken contrite hearts, here we display the mercy of God with all our might; To such we say, Gods mercies are infinitely more than their sinnes; That although they had the sinnes of all the men in the world, yet they were but as a drop to the Sun-beams Page 153 of his mercy, which will quickly dry them up: To such we say, God doth as easily pardon great sinnes, as little; as the Sun doth enlighten one place with as much ease as another: To such we say, That it's their duty to hope in Gods mercy; that they cannot dishonour God more than by looking upon him, as one who is hardly brought to remit offences: That it is Gods will we should come to this fountain, and drink abundantly of it. We tell them, that they cannot think so much of sinne to condemn them, as they may of the multitude of Gods mercies to save them: To such we say, That when they have thought all they can, yet there is more in Gods mer∣cy, than they can go to the bottom of. God is said to forget sinnes, but he cannot forget his property of mercy. Thus you see that mercy is so to be held out, as the cloud was in the wilderness, it was light to the people of Israel to guide them, but darkness to the Egyptian. The Doctrine of mer∣cy is indeed matter of terrour to every presumptuous sinner, for he hath no∣thing to do with it, but it is full of beauty and reviving to the wounded heart. Hence the whole drift of the Scripture is to represent this grace and mercy of God to an humbled sinner. This is the main scope of it. For who could or dare think of God any otherwise, but a consuming fire, till the Scripture hath revealed him otherwise? And indeed the Parable of a Shepherd fetching home his lost sheep, is comfortable; yet Christ exceedeth that Shepherd, for he sought for his sheep, as goods that he needed, that he wanted; but Christ doth for us, whom he doth not want, he is well e∣nough without us. Again that also is a refreshing Parable of the Father entertaining so mercifully his prodigal Sonne; but yet Christ exceedeth that Father also; for there the Sonne came first and humbled himself, and in∣treated for favour; but God he doth first seek us out by his mercy; We do not choose him, but he chooseth us. Though Vorstius doth distinguish of spe∣cial grace to believers, calling one ordinary, which God vouchsafeth to those who seek him in the use of means; and another extraordinary, which God (he saith) sometimes but rarely vouchsafeth, and that is, while men never think of God, yea in wayes of opposition to God, as the Gentiles and Paul; yet indeed we may say of all that are converted, That God thinketh of them before they think of God. It is he that prevents them; his grace finds them out, and prepareth them for mercy. Again, Christ compareth himself to the Physician; but what Physician healeth as he doth? Other Physicians they make their Patients sick and bleed, to help them to health; but Christ, he himself is wounded, and his bloud is shed for to save us. All this is to shew, That we cannot imbolden and incourage the sincere converts enough; but the more hopefull and confident thoughts he hath of Gods mercy, the more pleasing it is to God.
Secondly, We must not judge of Gods mercy without Scripture-light and guidance, for if we do, we sholl thereby encourage our selves in wicked wayes, and yet say, God is mercifull. And truly this is the poyson that many suck down, they judge of Gods mercy according to their own humane pity and compassion; and thereupon never consider his Justice, his Wisdome, his Holiness, as well as Mercy. So that this is diligently to be considered that we must not apprehend of God as full of mercy and comfort any otherwayes than the Scripture doth manifest him, and that will be salt to season you against the abuse of Gods mercy, so as to turn his grace into wantonnesse. How many are there undo themselves for want of a Scripture consideration of Gods mercy, both Doctrinally and Practically. As
In the first place. What is the reason, that some have imbraced that old and unsavoury Doctrine of Origen, That all both men and Devils after so many years in hell, shall be released from those torments? Why is this? But because Page 154 these misericordists conceive of Gods mercy without Scripture-grounds. They think it doth not stand with the pity and compassion of God, to let so many thousands of his creatures lie roaring in hell, and he never deliver them. But is not this against Scripture, which calls it everlasting fire, and that there shall never be any coming out of that prison, That of their torments there shall be no end?
Again in the second place, There are those that do with open mouth cry*down the Calvinists as blasphemous against Gods mercy, and making God to be more unmercifull and cruel, then any Tyrant that ever lived: Because (say they) such do hold, God did by absolute, and irrespective fatal Decrees, ap∣point the greater part of mankind to sinne, and then for their sinne to damne them. As Tiberius, desiroes to put a vestal Virgin to death, caused her violently to be defloured, and then because she was defloured, he put her to death. But
First, Here is a false and an odious representation of the Calvinists Doctrine; and if their opinion, as they truly state it out of the Scripture, be thought to be against the nature of Gods mercy, it's because they do not consider Gods su∣pream dominion, his Justice and Holiness, as well as his Mercy. But that the Calvinists do not any wayes diminish the gracious and mercifull Nature of God, by their opinions in the Doctrine of Election, efficacious Conversion, &c. will ea∣sily appear to those that are candid and ingenuous. I suppose Election to be an Act of mercy, relating to our misery in Adam's fall, though the learned Doctor Twiss disputeth much against it, Lib. 1. contra Armin. digr. 9. For
1. They hold, That there is no man is damned, but for his sinne; Their destruction is of themselves. Neither do they say, That God by any Decree compelled Adam to sinne at first, but Adam sinned as voluntarily, and as free∣ly, as if God had made no permissive Decree about his fall. It is true indeed we say, That God hath predetermining Decrees efficacious about what is good permissive, about what is evil; but yet we say, These Decrees do not alter the nature of second causes, but according to the nature of them, so is Gods provi∣dence attempered thereunto. Therefore we acknowledge that of Austin's, Male∣vola est illa misericordia, quae facit esse miserum, ut misereatur, That is cruel mercy, which makes miserable, that it may shew mercy; Adam did voluntarily sin, so that God was not to be blamed.
Neither do we call those Decrees of God Absolute and Irrespective, as if hereby all means were excluded from accomplishing the end we are elected to. When God elects a man to salvation, we say, in this Election is comprehended holiness, as the way to happiness. And therefore to impose such an Irrespe∣ctive Decree upon the Calvinists, as if their meaning was, God had decreed to save some men, whether wicked, or not wicked: That it was all one, whether prophane or godly. This is an horrible calumny. It is true, we say, it's Abso∣lute, because God did not look to any thing in us, as a cause, or a merit, ante∣cedently to his Election, yet we say, God elects to faith and holiness, as well as to salvation. Therefore we do not injure the mercifull Nature of God; but they do his holy, just and wise Nature; yea they diminish his grace and mercy in our Election, and attributing too much to man. For whereas the Apostle saith Rom. 9. It is not of him that willeth or runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy; They will make it to be as well of him that runneth, as of God that shew∣eth mercy: And though in words they seem to give the priority to Gods grace and mercy, yet in reality they do not. If then that of Austin be true, Gra∣tia non est gratia ullo modo, nisi sit gratuita omni modo, then all those are enemies to the grace and mercy of God, who take in the least measure from it.
3. We do not enervate the mercy of God, in holding, the Election of some Page 155 onely to eternal life, because God might justly, if he had pleased, damned all, and none could have accused him for want of mercy. For hath not God bound up in chains of darkness all the apostate Angels? Are not every one of them con∣demned to eternal torments? Yet they are more noble and excellent creatures, than man is. Oh then the mercy of God that any is saved, seeing that all might justly be damned!
Lastly, Not to enlarge on this, God is mercifull in this Absolute Election, duly explained, because hereby a very great number are sure to be saved. God by this Decree of his, will so work in time, that they shall be called, justified, and at last glorified; for Election will obtain. Now doth not this Doctrine more commend the mercy of God, than the Arminians Conditional Decrees? Not∣withstanding which, no man in the world may be saved. For notwithstanding Gods Decrees and Will, to save all men, notwithstanding Christs dying for all men, yet they acknowledge it possible, not any one man be saved. For God (they say) leaveth a man to the good use of his Free-will, he doth not alter or change by his efficacious and wonderfull grace any mans heart; and if God do no more, who then can be saved? They cannot instance in one Heathen, that ever yet used his naturals well, thereby to partake of supernatu∣rals. So that if all be left to man, and God should not shew mercy, no one man would be saved. Therefore our Doctrine is a mercifull one, and theirs is cruel.
In the third general place, The Socinians, they blame all the Orthodox, as evacuating the mercy of God, because, we say, that the Justice of God being satisfied through the bloud of Christ as a ransome, we thereby obtain remission of sinnes. Now (they say) how absurd and contradictory is this, God is sa∣tisfied by a just paiment to pardon sinne, and yet it's the meer mercy of God to forgive it?
But to this we answer, That though the pardon of sinne be of Justice to Christ, yet it is wholly of mercy to us. It is not any thing we could do, that might pro∣cure pardon; if we could merit or satisfie the Justice of God by the works we do, then indeed it would not be of grace and mercy to us; but this Justice is only between Christ and the Father: So that it's wholly of mercy to us, both in respect that he hath found out a Saviour for us, as also in applying the bene∣fits of Christs death. For though Christ become into the world, yet how ma∣ny eternally perish? It is therefore unspeakable mercy to thee, that thy sins are pardoned, that thou art converted, and so many thousands abide under the power of Satan and sinne. Therefore when Gods mercy is spoken of in par∣doning of sinne, it is perpetually in respect of us, not of Christ. Thus you see, judging of Gods mercy without Scripture-light, into how many Doctrinal errors it may plunge us.
4. For want of Scripture-direction, the Papist and Antinomian oppose the mercy of God, but in extream contrary wayes. Though God be mercifull, yet he hath so ordained, that none shall partake of his mercies in time, but those who by his grace are inabled to believe and repent, as the way to salvation. Now the Papist injureth the mercy of God, for he will have his Faith, Re∣pentance, with other holy works, the merit and cause of his salvation, dis∣daining to have eternal life, as meer alms from God. But the Antinomian to avoid this Scilla falls into Charybdis, he affirmeth, a mercy, and that of Justification, even while we are sinners, before we do either believe or repent. But the Scripture-mercy lieth between both.
In the next place, Let us consider, What Practical Danger we are in, by conceiving of God as a mercifull God, without Scripture-informati∣on. And
First, We are apt to flatter our selves with Gods mercy, though we allow our selves Page 156 in our sins and iniquities, whereas the Scripture speaks not a drop of mercy to such Have you not many dreadfull examples of Gods anger and terrour as well as mer∣cy? What was the casting of all the Angels into eternal blackness for one sinfull thought, and that the first which they were guilty of, giving them no space to re∣pent, no day of grace, affording no means for their recovery? Is not this an in∣stance of Gods severity? But you will say, This was to Angels, he is more mercifull to man. But consider that example of Gods Justice in drowning the whole world, save eight persons; Doth not that proclaim God is just and angry against sinne, as well as mercifull; not to spare the whole world, because it had corrupted its wayes, but to drown such an innumerable company of men, women and children, yea to destroy the whole earth, as it were? Oh, who can stand before the anger of God! Have we not also a formidable demonstration of Gods anger against Sodome and Gomorrah, when fire and brimstone was rained from Heaven, to destroy those Cities, and all that did belong to them? What had the little children done? They could not be guilty of those unclean vices, but God cutteth off all. Ma∣ny other instances of Gods wrath we have in Scripture, especially the day of Judgement, will be a dreadfull manifestation of it to the wicked, and therefore the Scripture will informe us in that, as well as of Gods mercy.
A second Practical Errour (I shall conclude with) that necessarily ac∣companieth the thoughts of Gods mercy without Scripture-direction, is to encou∣rage a mans self in his sinnes, because God is mercifull. Every wicked per∣son turneth this honey into gall. Paul speaketh of some, who made those wretched inferences, Let us sinne that grace may abound. Take heed then of having any such wicked thought arising in thy heart, God is mercifull, therefore I will go to my lusts again: Oh no; the Scripture represents Gods mercies for another end, to repent and be converted from thy evil wayes, Rom. 2, Knowest thou not the goodnesse of God would lead thee to repentance. Oh then do not abuse the mercy of God! for there is a time coming when there will be no more mercy. It's called the day of wrath; thou shalt meet with nothing but terrour, Ezek. 8. 18. The Scripture speaks of vessels of mercy, and vessels of wrath, and there is no greater sign of a vessel of wrath, one fitted and prepared for destruction, then to grow wanton by the mer∣cies of God, to be evil, because he is good; so much mercy abused will one day be turned into so much vengeance.