That not all mankinde are called with a saving call; How absurd it is to hold, That the Works of God, the Sun, Moon and Stars, &c. may so call Men; And Gods Justice cleared in that point, stirring up all to behold the severity and goodness of the Lord.
ACTS. 2. 39.
VVE have handled the third kinde of persons enumerated in this Text; viz. Those that are afar off. The next thing in order to be consider∣ed, Is the further description of those that are afar off, which is by way of restriction and limitation, As many as God shall call; wherein observe, 1. The limitation of the number, As many as God shall call: You see its not an universal, its not to all that are afar off, but onely to those whom God shall call unto him. 2. There is the benefit or priviledge God vouchsafeth, described; 1. From the nature of it, Call. 2. From the efficient cause, The Lord our God shall call; the Greek word is with the proposition, 〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉, shall call unto him, which doth partly denote, the great distance that all men by nature are from Page 692 him; and partly, the mighty power and strength of God, whose word onely can make such a change. Christ from heaven said, Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me, and his Blackamoor skin, yea, heart, was presently made white and clean: Christ did by a word onely call Matthew the Publican from his place of gain and profit, and he presently leaveth all and followeth him: Thus as he said to Christ, Lord, if thou say but the word, my servant shall live: So its here; Lord, if thou speak but the word, the mountains will melt like wax, iron swim, the rivers of Jordan run backward, the hills skip like lambs; that is, the lives, the thoughts, the purposes of men will be wholly altered and changed; its but Gods call, and that will make the deaf to hear, and the foolish to under∣stand: And partly this doth imply, the meer good will and pleasure of God, it resolveth all into his grace: Here is no goodness, no worth in these men that are afar off, moving God, but, As many as God shall call: The utmost into which all is resolved is God will have mercy, on whom he will have mercy. I shall at this time pitch on the restriction or limitation of the subject, Not all that are afar off, onely such whom God shall call: And from thence observe,
That not all of mankinde, but some onely doth God call, with a saving call.*
The Apostle plainly makes a difference of these that are thus afar off, and this onely to come from God; some are so afar off, that they never hear the voyce of God in the word calling them to repent, and believe in Christ: Others again have salvation brought unto their house; and if thou ask, why God calls such, and not others? Noli Scrutari, do not curiously pry in this mystery, Gods ways are just, even when they are hidden to us: Too much gazing on this Sun, may quickly blinde us.
To open and clear this point, consider,
First, That there is a general and common invitation, even of all in the world by * God; and there is Aspecial gracious one: The former invitation is by the crea∣tures, by the works of God; and as the Psalmist saith, There is nothing hid from the heat of the Sun, Psal. 19. That doth penetrate one way or other to every sub∣lunary thing: So its true of this invitation and call, none is denyed it, none are so afar off, but that God thus calls: Now indeed, this is not properly, and in the Scripture sense a calling, I do not remember that the Scripture any where makes the works of Creation and Providence, as a calling of men, unless in a ve∣ry large sense; as the heavens are said, to declare the glory of God, And the rod of God, or his judgements (though that be spoken of his judgements on the Church) are said to have a voice. Now that God by the works of his Creation and Providence in the world, doth teach and convince men, and so in that gene∣ral way call men, is plain, Rom. 1. where the creatures made by God, are said to declare those invisible properties of Gods wisdom, power and goodness. Thus Divines speak of a twofold School God hath, the School of the Creatures, and the School of Grace by the Gospel: And though the books in the first School, viz. Of the Creatures, be very dark, and in characters hardly legible, yet God did punish and chastise men with very sore and heavy judgements, yea, spiritual judgements, the worst of all, Rom. 1. because they did not learn this lesson, and were not proficients in that School: So then, the whole world, in the excellent harmony of it, doth necessarily teach a God: Even Tully doth by an excellent similitude demonstrate this: If (saith he) you should see a Book consisting of many letters, and all those exactly set together and orderly, so as to make up a compleat sense; no man will say, Those letters and words put themselves toge∣ther, or that they came together by chance: So it is with the world, This great book, the excellent composition and harmony of all things, do fully declare that these things did not make themselves, or that they came accidently together, but a great God disposed them by his wisdom and power. This invitation Paul considers of in his Sermon at Athens, Acts 17. •7. That they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and finde him. Now there have been some Page 693 of old, yea, and many in these days, that would stretch these Texts too far, as if the invitation by the creatures, were immediately saving, or that men might obtain salvation by looking into these: They have not been afraid to say, That * by the Sun and Stars we may come to be effectually called, as well as by the Apostles, and the preaching of the Gospel: But how senselesse and absurd is this? For
First, This invitation and call by the creatures, doth not, nor cannot reveal any thing of Christ, the onely cause of salvation: Without Christ there is no Salvati∣on; Now how is it possible by the Creatures, in a natural way of discourse, that ever we should come to know or believe in a Christ? The Doctrine about him is still called a mystery, and the revelation of it hath been more or lesse clear, as God hath pleased to dispense it: The very Angels did not know it, till revealed to them. Indeed, by the Creatures we may prove a Godhead, but to prove a Christ God and man, cannot be known by any Natural way of Argu∣ment.
Secondly, The call by the creatures is not saving, because it discovers not the way*of Salvation, no more then the cause; viz. Faith: As Christ is wholly a Superna∣tural object, and by revelation, so is faith the way to come to him, the hand to lay hold on him, onely by revelation: And therefore the Heathens, they looked onely for reason; the Gospel way was a foolishness to them, the Christians were called Credentes, Believers, by way of scorn; yea, learned men observe the very phrases, 〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉 and 〈 in non-Latin alphabet 〉 are such phrases that no humane Greek Authors ever used: So that not onely the thing it self, but the very words to express it, are altogether strange; where then there is no Christ, nor no faith, there must necessarily be no call to salvation.
Thirdly, This call could not be saving, for the furthest and utmost effect it had*upon men, was onely outwardly to reform their lives: It restrained many from gross sins, and kept them in the exercises of temperance and justice, and such Moral vertues; which though named vertues by Aristotle, yet the Fathers did upon Scripture-grounds call them vices and splendida peccata, glistring sins; for so in∣deed all that Piety and Morality which is out of the Church of God, is a Sodom apple, fair to the eye, and inwardly nothing but ashes; for there is no true Sanctification, no true and right principles of holiness, but within the Church of God. As typically every vessel was unclean, that was not in the Temple, and sanctified thereby. The heathens much boast of one Palaemon, a prophane beast∣ly man, that came to hear Socrates at his Lectures, with a purpose to scoff and deride him, but went away wholly changed in his minde, and made sober; but what is this one external change, to those many thousands and thousands of changes which have been made both internally and externally by the word preached? But you may say, To what purpose is this call of God by the Crea∣tures, and the work of his providence, if it be not to salvation? Yes, it is much every way:
First, Hereby even all men are made inexcusable: As the Apostle urgeth, God * had not left them without a witness or testimony, giving rain and plentiful seasons: Thus because men did not glorifie God according to what the creatures might have taught them, they are given up to vile affections: Men therefore are made inexcusable by this way; they cannot say, God hath left them without any conviction or manifestation of himself: No, the creatures they call, all the works of Gods justice and Gods mercy, they call; and then conscience, which is implanted in every man, the dictates and reasonings thereof, they also call: Thus there will be enough to clear God, and to stop every mans mouth.
Secondly, Gods purpose in these calls, is to restrain sin, and to draw men on * further then they do: There is no man that hath no more then this remote and confuse call, that doth what he may do, and can do; He doth not improve, no, not that natural strength that is in him: (I do not say) to spiritual good Page 694 things; for so he hath no natural strength: but to such objects as by nature he might: He willfully runneth himself in the committing of sins, against his con∣science and knowledge; he doth with delight and joy, tumble himself in the mire and filth of sin: Now God calleth by these natural ways, to curb and re∣strain him, to put a bound to these waves: For if there were not these general convictions, no Societies, no Commonwealths could consist.
In the third place, take notice of a twofold saving calling; The one is onely ex∣ternal, * and saving in respect of the ability and sufficiency; the other is saving ef∣fectually, and in respect of the event. Now when the Apostle saith in the Text, As many as God shall call, it comprehends both; those that are called effectually, as well as outwardly: they have not onely the outward administration of the promise, and the priviledges thereof, but all the inward profit thereof; on the other side, those that have onely the outward call, they have onely external priviledges: And as Ismael had many gifts from Abraham, but not the inheri∣tance; so have these many favors and priviledges from God, both for them∣selves, and their posterity, but none of the inheritance it self. Now you may understand the Doctrine of both these calls, Not all of mankinde are called with so much as an outward call, and of those that are called with an outward all, not many, but few are called with an inward call; according to that Text, Many are called, but few are chosen: So then, behold the wise and dreadful ways of God herein; not the greatest, but the least part of mankinde are called with this outward invitation; and of those who enjoy this outward invitation, not the greatest, but the least part partake of the inward power and efficacy thereof.
Thirdly, That God doth not call all men with this saving gracious call, will * evidently de facto appear, if you consider the ways of God, even since there was a Church, till now. In the beginning Gods call was onely among some few, so in Noah, and afterwards to Abraham, and so to his posterity; and although we read of some strangers, and a few Proselytes, yet they were but as glean∣ings, to those thousands and thousands that never heard of God: And in the time of the Jewish Church, God there seemed to inclose his vineyard; among them onely was he know, Salvation was of the Jews, they were the children to whom meat did belong: So that no man can say, God did then hold out the Scepter of his grace to other Nations. Well, if we descend to Christs time, we must confess the partition wall was broken down; all nations then might be made clean: Peters sheet of beasts, clean and unclean, taught him that; but yet even since the preaching of the Gospel, there are many nations of the world where Christ and the Gospel have never been preached; indeed their voice is said to sound over the whole world, Rom. 10. because its not forbidden to be preached to all men, as heretofore; yet many remote corners of the world have not enjoy∣ed the beams of this Sun: That as they say, the vertue of the Sun doth scarce ever come to some parts, but it is always winter, and most part night; so it is with many nations in the world, and the Jews who once were the children, now seem to be the dogs: The Apostle doth at large consider, Gods good∣ness to the Gentiles, and severity to the Jews, the natural branches, Rom. 11. Its here with them, as it was with Gideons fleece and the floor, one while the dew was on the fleece, and the floor was dry; then the dew was on the floor, and the fleece was dry: Thus it is here, One while the Jews was a pleasant gar∣den, and the Gentiles a wilderness; now the Gentiles a garden, and the Jews a wilderness; and if you ask, why is it thus: Its not for reason to dispute, but faite to adore: Ista mulier taceat, Let this woman, this reason, hold her peace in Gods Church.
Fourthly, Its no injustice in God, though he do not give this universal call of grace to all men: For this hath been the stumbling block at which many have * fallen: How can God (say they) be proclaimed so merciful, an ocean of all honey, in whom is no gall? how can he be so compassionate, and full of ten∣der Page 695 bowels, yet not give the greatest part of mankinde so much as a saving call outwardly; especially how are all those Texts made true, God would have all men to be saved; and, I delight not in the death of a sinner, but that rather he should be converted and live; especially this may serve to take off all fault and blame from man, and to lay it wholly upon God, as if they would have readi∣ly come to God, but God would not invite them. To remove this stone:
First, Consider, That if we could not satisfie the reason and disputes of men * in this divine dispensation, yet if the Scripture be clear and peremptory in this point, we must all stop our mouthes, and not gainsay: Doth not the Apostle, Rom. 9. expresly bring these carnal reasonings? Who hath resisted his will? and why then doth he finde fault? But see how he rebukes this unruliness in man; Who art thou, O man, that disputest against God? If then Scripture and expori∣ence saith thus much, we must conclude, Gods ways are just, though hidden to us: Even so Father, for so it pleased then, said Christ, Mat. 11. upon the consi∣deration of Gods revealing things to babes and children, but hiding of them the wise men of the world: The Doctrine of the Trinity, of Christs Incarna∣tion, are they not transcendently above our reason, though not contrary to it? Prorsus credibile quia impossibile, said Tertullian: And thus all the great things of God, cannot be perceived by us: Quicquid de Deo dici potest eo ipso indignum est, quic dici potest, & periculosum est de Deo, etiam vera dicere, said the Ancients.
But Secondly, Even reason inforced out of Scripture, may satisfie us in many * things; for its no injustice in God, if he had not called any men in the world with a gracious call; for seeing man by his fall had broken the Covenant with God, all things became forfeited into his hand; he was not bound to set up man with a new stock, after his first breaking; and this is evidently manifest, if you compare this with Gods dealing and dispensation to the Apostate An∣gels; they fell from their habitation, and what became of them? they all are chained up in darkness, reserved for eternal torments: Now this judgement is executed upon all, God did not spare one of them; to none of them was it said, Believe and repent for the remission of sins: See here, it was no injustice in God to damn all the Apostate Angels, and then it could not be injustice to damn all Apostate men: This certainly may quiet thy heart.
Thirdly, There can be no injustice, where all that is done, is done wholly * out of grace, and meer favor. Injustice is, where a debt is denied, not where a favor is bestowed; now the Scripture attributes this call of God, to whom∣soever it is, wholly to the grace of God: Why then art thou murmuring if God call no more? rather admire the grace of God that he calls any; Is thy eye evil, because God is good to save? The Devil he thinks God is gracious too much, and calls too many; he is tormented with malice, because so many escape out of his Jaws.
Fourthly, Although God doth not call every man with this immediate call of grace, yet no man is damned meerly because he wants this: The Apostle * saith, That those that are without the Law, viz. Written and revealed to them, shall be judged without the Law: And thus those that are without the Gospel, that have not the means of grace, they shall not be judged because they did not believe in Christ, because they did not submit to him, but because they did not walk in the practice of those things they did know: Thus because the Heathens did not glorifie God, according to the knowledge they had of him, therefore they are condemned, Rom. 1. Infidelity, meerly negative, doth not damn: He that believeth not, the anger of God abideth on him; viz. Where the word is preached and rejected, so that God doth not reap where he sow∣eth not.
Fifthly, God is not unjust, no not to those that are afar off, because none * among them have done what they might do, in a natural and moral way: for although no man hath power in a gracious manner, to any spiritual good thing, Page 696 yet they may restrain from the outward actings of many gross sins: The very light of nature would teach a man to abhor many things, which yet the Hea∣thens committed; so that God hath a just controversie with them, and will be cleared when he judgeth the world.
Sixthly, Though God do not call all men, and thereby they are wholly im∣potent, * and unable to any good; yet they do not sin so much, because they want power, as because they have a willing delight in it; and this indeed doth mainly remove all objections; for its not a mans impotency, so much as his wil∣ful consent to sin, that damneth him: his non posse, is in some sense, his non velle. Bernard saith well of mans necessity that is now brought upon him to sin; the necessity doth not take away the voluntariness of it, nor the voluntariness the ne∣cessity: There is no man can say, O Lord, I had a will, I was very ready to come to thee, but thou didst not give me power: No, the will in every man is the grand enemy and adversary unto Christ in all his ways: Damnation is to man, because unwilling, not because unable.
Use of Exhortation, Come and behold the severity and goodness of God, as Paul in the like case; the severity of God, in that he passeth over so many per∣sons and nations in the world; and his goodness, in that he draweth nigh to you; you are in the Land of Goshen, when others are in Egyptian darkness: This hath amazed and astonished all the wisest men in the world, they have not been able to know what to say at this difference God makes; yea, many times God doth not vouchsafe the offer of grace to such a people, who in all probability would be more affected with it, and giveth it to such who refuse and reject it: How unsearchable is his wisdom, and his ways past finding out! Doth not our Saviour tell the men of Capernaum, that had the wonderful means of grace, Mat. 11. 31. If those things had been done in Tyre and Sidon (two Heathenish places) they would have repented in dust, in ashes? Its thought, true repentance and conversi∣on is not here meant; but palpable and sensible demonstrations they would have made of some sorrow and humiliation; and therefore Christ threatens to take away the Kingdom of heaven from the Jews; viz. The Gospel, and give it to a nation bringing forth fruit better then they: Oh consider then, whe∣ther the very Heathens and Pagans would not give more respect, and shew more joy at the word preached then thou doest: Take heed, for there are none further off grace, then those that have been called, and yet reject it: There is more hopes of those to whom the Gospel was never rendered; for those hea∣vy judgements of an eye blinded, an heart hardened, do onely belong to those that have refused this word of life: Then such are onely fatted to destruction, who have been fed in these pleasant pastures of the Ordinances.