The Freenesse of Gods Grace in Conversion di∣splayed and maintained against Arminians and others.
EZEK. 36. 26, 27.
I Shall now make an end of this Text, whose matter like our Saviours loaves hath multiplied and increased in the breaking and distributing of it. The last thing observable is the manner of the conveyance and bestowing of it, which is by an absolute free promise, I will do thus unto you, here is nothing spoken of what they should do, but what God will do; here is no speech of their prepa∣ratory dispositions, but Gods gracious operation. Now although it be true, that immediately and directly this promise is made to the exiled Jews; therefore with the promise of Justification and Conversion, is joyned that of restitution into their own Land again, with all their former temporal mercies; yet the Apostle Paul makes it plain, that this is an evangelical promise, or the Covenant of Grace for all ages in the Church, Heb. 10. 16. So that this promise is not to be understood of those only in the Captivity, as the Remonstrants would evade, whom God should convert, but of all that in successive ages, shall be brought home unto God. So that as Isaac is said to be a childe of the promise, because he was not born by natural power, but by the meer promise and power of God, so all the godly are in this sense as well as in another, like Isaac, the children of the promise, being not born by the power of flesh and bloud, but by vertue of this promise. It is this Text that giveth spiritual life to all that receive it. It is because of this promise that the word of God hath any succesful effect at any time.
That the Promise of Conversion and Regeneration is an absolute free Pro∣mise.*
Thus you see the Text runneth without any Ifs; God will take away the heart of stone, nothing shall frustrate his intention. The Lord hath said it and it will come to passe. Iter ad gratiam is per gratiam, perque ipsam venitur ad ipsam. Grace makes way for it self. As by the light of the Sun, we come to see the Sun, God doth not on∣ly offer grace to the heart, but sanctifieth the heart to receive it. He doth not only give the oil but the cruise to receive it. He giveth the bread of life, and the stomack also to eat it.
To open this Doctrine, Consider
First, That a promise is a farre more comfortable thing then a meer prediction. God doth many times meerly fore-tell what he will do, but at other times he doth also promise what he will do: a prophecie of what will be, and a promise differ very much. This Text is not a meer prediction, or a meer prophecie, but it is a graci∣ous Page 575 promise: Now a Promise is only of that which is good, either temporal or spiritual, but a Prophecie or Prediction may be of that which is evil, as well as what is good: All the desolations and calamities that came upon Jerusalem, were prophesied of; but we cannot say they were promised, for Promises are to be im∣braced, as Paul excellently expresseth it, Heb. 11. 13. to shew how hearty, joy∣ful, glad and ready the heart should be, to receive them: Oh remember, thou that art exercised with diffidence and discouragement, a promise is to be imbraced, as thou wouldest the dearest, welcomest friend in the world! Again a Promise doth induce some tie and obligation in him that promiseth, but so doth not a meer Prediction; and because God promising cannot properly be said to be bound to us, or tied to us; Therefore he is by his Promise a debtor to his own fidelity; he cannot deny himself or his own word, Reddis debita nulli debens, so that the soul urging God with a promise, may say, O Lord, it was in thy choice whether thou wouldst do such a thing or no, but since thou hast promised it, and the word is gone out of thy mouth; Thy truth, thy constancy, thy fidelity must needs make good thy Promise.
Secondly, The Promises of God as for the matter of them they are two fold, some * are temporal, and some are spiritual; so for the manner they are either Absolute or Conditional; Absolute Promises are such as God hath made, and he will ful∣fill, though we believe not at all. Such Promises doe not depend upon any Grace in us fore-going, neither doe they suppose any good qualification in us; Thus that temporal promise, that God will not drown the world, is absolutely determined, though men do not believe it, yet God will make it good: So Isa. 9 The promise of sending a Christ, a Messias into the world, was an Absolute Promise. The calling of the Gentiles, and the calling of the Jewes again after the destruction of the Gentiles: These are absolutely promised. For as God hath some absolute Threatnings for a destruction of a people; and then though there were Noah, Job and Daniel, they were not able to deliver that Land; so he hath many absolute Promises, which all the wickednesse and unbelief of men shall not make void; and of these Absolute Promises it is that Paul saith, He is faithfull and cannot deny himself, 2 Tim. 2. 13. and that our unfaithfulnesse shall not make void the faith of God, Rom. 3. 3. For it is plain in many Promises, if we doe not be∣lieve God doth not fulfill them; as if we do not believe, we cannot be justified: but he speaks there of such absolute Promises, as God will certainly accomplish, ta∣king away all obstructions that hinder.
2. There are Conoitional Promises, but that must be understood in a right sens•, not as if there were any Conditions to be performed by our strength and power, as if these Conditions were causes and merits of the grace promised. No, they are onely Qualifications of the subject, without which he could not be partaker of the grace promised. Thus Justification is promised to Faith, pardon of sinne to Repentance, overcoming of temptations to him that persevereth, growth and increase of grace to him that improveth the grace he hath, and finally glorifica∣tion is promised to him only that is sanctified, Here you see are some Promises made onely to such as have grace already, Grace is the Condition for Grace, on∣ly there is no Condition or Qualification required, which is not the Absolute Gift of God at first; for although Justification be promised to him that believeth; If you ask, How a man comes to believe, here that we may not sunne in infini∣tum, we must say it is absolutely promised and wrought by God himself. I doe not here curiously dispute about a Qualification and a Condition, nor of the Na∣ture of Conditions; that is to be expected in the controversal part. Now this Promise in the Text, is of the former sort, an Absolute Promise, making way for its own self; As Kings use to carry their own Furniture for their en∣tertainment; So it is here, Grace doth qualifie and worke the very ini∣tiall preparations so, that all is from God in a Promise. Nothing is our Page 576 plea, but a Promise; all our spiritual riches and treasures are bound up in a Promise.
In the next place, let us consider what is comprehended in this, when * we say, Conversion is absolutely promised to the Converted, and that implieth:
First, The free grace of God bestowing this inestimable benefit, Where he pleaseth, and When he pleaseth. Who can give any reason, why God takes a∣way Jacobs stony heart, and doth not Esaus? Who can give a reason, why God softens Peters heart, and not Iudas, but onely the meer grace and good pleasure of God? See Paul Rom. 11. even ravished with the depth of Gods unsearchable wisdome in this matter; and Christ himself greatly affected herein, Matth. 11. I thank thee, O Father, that thou hast revealed these things to babes, and hidden them from the wise. And To you it is given to understand, Matth. 13. but not to others. So that God making this absolute Promise to some, and not to all, doth thereby make his free grace perspicuous, that every mouth may be stopped that would boast of it self.
Secondly, It supposeth, that we cannot so much as prepare, and fit our selves to*receive Grace. God findes an heart of stone in every man, and a stone is im∣penetrable. It was a Doctrine received a long while, Facienti quoá in se est, Deus dat Gratiam, though differently explained. Let a man doe what he can by naturall strength and power, and then God will vouchsafe Grace and su∣pernaturall Mercies to him; yea this is too much divulged at this very day; let a man use his Naturals well, and God will give Supernaturals; but first there is no such Promise in all the Scripture; you cannot in all the Scripture finde any Promise of Grace made to Nature, or the improvement of Nature; God no where saith, Doe as much as you can, what you are able by your own power, and then I will come and help you. There is no such Promise in Scripture, but either it is absolute, as you have heard, or else Conditional to some Grace wrought by God already in us.
Thirdly, This Promise is of a most excellent and precious Nature, it farre*exceeds all temporall Promises: Should God promise thee all the glory of the World, all that thy heart could in this life desire, yet it is nothing to this Pro∣mise of a new Heart. Hence Peter cals them Precious Promises, 1 Pet. 1. whereby we are made partakers of the Divine Nature. God to this people in Captivity, promiseth a new and a tender heart, as that which would qualifie or put a lustre upon all other Mercies; Their return from Captivity, Their enjoying of their former Houses and Mercies again would be nothing, if God gave not this Mercy also; Oh then that the hearts of men were made more spiri∣tual and wise, to look after and prize this Promise; Let thy Condition be never so miserable, thy state never so distressed, yet if under this Promise, thou art in an Ark, when others are tosted up and down in the uncertain waves of this world. Even the Virgin Mary that was called Blessed among Women, was more blessed that Christ was spiritually formed in her heart, then that the body of Christ was corporally fashioned in her Wombe: Oh then! How wretched is thy estate even in the midst of all earthly prosperity? when thou canst say, These new houses, these new honours are mine, but thou canst not say, This new heart is mine.
Fourthly, This Absolute Promise is sure and certain: For there is Truth in God, * and so he cannot lie; and there is Power in God, and so there cannot be any thing to hinder him, Heaven and Earth shall sooner passe away, then one Iowa or Tittle of this Promise fall to ground. How angry was God with Sarah, because through unbelief she laughed when God told her in her Old-age, she should conceive and bring forth a Childe? Do not thou think thy heart, thy lusts are too strong, too naught for God to conquer and subdue? Now the ground why this Promise is so sure, and cannot be frustrated, is, because it is the execution of Gods Election from Page 577 all Eternity; and the Election of God, that is Absolute, and that cannot be frustrated; Reade Rom. 11. where the Apostle in a grave and profitable way handling this sublime Mystery of Predestination; he argueth, That Gods Will and Purpose must take effect, Election hath obtained, and it will obtain; If then the Election of God be Absolute, and that must stand, then the Promise of Conversion, which is nothing but a gracious Manifestation of this Election, must also be Absolute. And this shall suffice for clearing the Nature of this Absolute Promise; but because this Doctrine is subject to carnall Ca∣vils, I shall Answer one or two Objections which a froward Heart not humbly submitting to the Authority of Scripture, is apt to raise. And
First, It may be said, If this Promise of Conversion be Absolute, God * will work it, and there is no Condition on our part, that we can by our Na∣ture performe: Then what need we come to hear the Word preached? What need we waite on the Ordinances? if God will take away the heart of stone, he will do it though we be eating and drinking, and making merry, as well as if we be praying and hearing the Word preached. But take heed of such destru∣ctive conclusions, for they do not follow from this truth. For
First, Though we say it be an Absolute Promise, yet the meaning is not, as if*it were accomplished without such means God hath appointed. Therefore the Pro∣mise may be said to be Absolute, either in opposition to Conditional, as if it required something as a Condition to be done on our part, and in this sense it is Absolute; or else it may be called Absolute, as it doth oppose that which is to be ordered by some means, and in this sense it is not Absolute. Paul had absolutely fore-told, That none in the Ship that were with him should die; yet he also said, That they must use the meanes, keep in the Ship. And thus God told David many times before he went to the Battel, That he should have the Victory, yet he was carefull to order his Army, and to prepare the Souldiery: So that Gods Promises though they are many times Absolute, yet they also include Meanes for that end. Now there are Meanes of two sorts, The one External having no immediate influence upon Grace, onely it is the necessary way that God hath commanded every one to walk in, and such are coming to the Ordinances; and hear∣ing of the Word. A man hath Free-will or Power of Nature to doe this, as any other civil Actions. Indeed to hear with Faith, to hear with godly Attention and brokennesse of Spirit, that he cannot; but simply to come to hear, and in a general manner to attend to what is delivered, that by Nature he can doe; Now even this very hearing, and this bodily presence God hath required, as a Meanes wherein he will dispense his Grace; So that whosoever doth wilfully neglect the use of these, cannot promise to himselfe any Conversion; yea he may certainely conclude God will not convert him; so that here is no place for thy prophane Cavil; What need I come and hear? what need I frequent preaching? Yes, every way; for though God hath absolutely promised this Mercy, yet it is in the use and exercise of these Meanes: Oh then that those who customarily and wilfully absent themselves from the preaching of the Word, would consider, that they turn their back upon God, and in effect say, They will not be con∣verted, We will not have this new Heart, this new Life. If a man shall wilful∣ly refuse to eat or drink, will he not be accounted a self-murderer? and if thou carelesly or obstinately refusest the Word of life, will not God judge thee for a self-damner?
But then in the next place, There are formall and internall Meanes that doe*immediately receive Christ in the soul, such as Faith, or hearing in Faith, and these a man hath no power of himself to performe, Faith being the Page 578 gift of God. So then although internal Meanes of obtaining Christ, cannot by natural strength be performed, yet there are external Meanes, which who∣soever shall refuse, he doth reject the counsel of God, and pronounceth himself unworthy of Salvation. Therefore harbour no more such thoughts, unless thou wilt violently throw thy self into the mouth of hell.
But secondly, It may be said, If Gods Promise of Conversion be Absolute, This is discouraging and may easily cast men into despair; for though I desire, and groan * after Conversion, yet if I be not in this Absolute Promise, I can never be parta∣ker of it.
But first consider, Though it be Absolute, yet it is also Indefinite, it doth not exclude any particular man; So that no man in the world living under * the meanes of Grace, can truely say, he is not intended in this Promise, as well as others. Seeing therefore God hath no where excluded thee by name, there is no clause that shuts thee out; it is a grievous sinne in thee to shut thy self out. So then, Know those dejecting and discouraging thoughts they arise from Hell; It is the Devil and thy own black heart, not this Do∣ctrine that discourageth. If there were a Malefactour among many others, and the Magistrate should make an indefinite promise that he would spare them and pardon them, and doth not by name exclude any man, would any be so injurious to himself, as to question, whether he be intended in the pardon or no? No lesse injurious art thou to thy self, in disputing against this promise.
Secondly, If thou livest under the means of Grace, and where the word of Life is tendered, then thou hast much more cause to hope that this Promise of Conversion*doth belong to thee. Indeed all those who sit in Heathenish darknesse, to whom the Gospel was never yet made known, they are a hopeless people, while so; there is no Promise without the Church of God: But to those who have the grace of God tendered to them, they may plead this Argument, Lord, thou hast given us the outward means, we have the Ministery, that sounds daily in our ears, Oh give us the inward Grace also!
Thirdly, If thou art one who groanest and desirest after Conversion, and art afraid lest God hath excluded thee, be of good comfort, for those sighs and pant∣ings*after Grace, are a sure sign that thou art included, yea that this work of a new heart, and a tender heart is already begunne in you. Where you hear a Sigh or a Groan in a man, it is a signe there is a naturall life; and so where there are inward Groans and Affections for this new heart, there are the beginnings, and the foundation is already said, God will not break the bruised Reed, nor quench the smoaking Flax. Even hunger and thirst hath a pro∣mise of being satisfied, Matth. 5. Therefore let this turn thy water into wine presently.
Fourthly, Although the Promise of Conversion be in a well explained sense Absolute, yet there is no man damned that would have been converted, onely he*wanted the Promise, God would not put his name in there, and that is the cause of his utter perishing. No, this is a firm truth, O Israel, thy destruction is of thy self; And As I live, saith God, I will not the death of a sinner, but rather that he should live. Turn ye, turn ye, Why will ye die? This is a sure truth, Every mans Damnation is of his own self; he doth wilfully and with delight go on in destructive wayes, he cannot say, Lord, I would have been converted, but the Absoluteness of thy Election, or thy Promise hindered, yea a mans own wilful lusts they destroy him: Insomuch that were it not for this Promise of God none at all would be converted: It is well we are not left to Free-will, for then not one would be converted: And the Adversaries to this Opinion cannot instance in one Heathen ever since the world was made, that did use his Naturals so well, that God vouchsafed Supernaturals; insomuch Page 579 that the Doctrine of Free-will may well cast a man into Despair; for if my Conversion cannot be wrought till I go along with God in it, I am for ever undone.
Lastly, Let it be granted that there are some Difficulties in this Doctrine, that humane reason cannot untie all the knots, yet this is no more then Paul acknowledged, Rom. 9. and reproveth man for such bold Disputing with God: Gods wayes are wise and just, even when they are hidden and se∣cret to us. There is no end when humane wisdom talketh against heavenly Dispensations.
Use. Is this Promise, though Absolute, yet ordered in the use of means to be accomplished? Then be diligent in hearing the Word: Oh pray that this new heart may at last be found in thee! Oh why is it that we should leave this Text before every Auditor finde the power of it upon his soul! Oh that the leaving of this Text might not leave one carnal stony heart! Oh that as we have done the Text, so God had done this work in you! But oh our barrenness, our bar∣renness! Oh the just anger and wrath of God against many persons, to whom God saith, Let them alone in their sins!