« AnteriorContinuar »
feel their guilt, and opens their eyes to see their danger. Awakened and convinced sinners look upon the happiness of this life as less than nothing and vanity, in comparison with future and eternal felicity. They view saints as the only happy persons, and would give all the world, if they had it in their power, to gain an interest in Christ, and be in the situation of those who are rejoicing in the hopes of heaven. But these feelings have no tendency to destroy the enmity of their hearts against God, and prepare them for holy and heavenly enjoyments. Could the gates of heaven be set open, and could they be allowed to step in among the spirits of just men made perfect, they would choose to take up their everlasting residence among sinful, rather than among perfectly holy beings. Thus it appears to be out of the power of the Deity to convert sinners by moral suasion. All that he can do in this way is, to give them a realizing sense of their guilt, of their danger, and of the worth of their souls; but the most lively sense of these things has no tendency to change their hearts. If God can, therefore, fulfil his promise to Christ, and make his people willing to be saved, he must be able to slay the enmity of their hearts, and reconcile them to the terms of life by an act of his power.
1. If God does, by an act of his power, make men willing to be saved, then there is an essential distinction between common and special grace. Many imagine that there is only a gradual or circumstantial difference between one act of divine grace and another. They suppose regeneration or conversion is a gradual change, and is effected entirely by clear and repeated exhibitions of divine truth to the view of sinners. Such moral suasion would indeed reconcile them to Christ, if all their opposition to him originated in the weakness or blindness of their understanding. The bare exhibition of divine truth is abundantly sufficient to remove natural ignorance and intellectual errors. But since sinners are unwilling to be saved, when they see their danger and feel their guilt, and when the way of salvation by Christ is clearly pointed out, no moral suasion, or objective light, can have the least tendency to make them willing. Though the gradual exhibition of objective light may gradually expel the darkness of their understanding, yet nothing can remove their perverse opposition to light itself, but the instantaneous and powerful operation of the divine Spirit upon their hearts. This divine operation, therefore, is special grace, and differs from common grace in two respects.
In the first place, it makes men willing to be saved. Common grace never produces this effect. By common grace, God invites and commands men to accept of salvation, and makes them feel their obligation to submit to the terms of life. But by special grace, God actually inclines their hearts to embrace Jesus Christ, freely offered to them in the gospel. God usually exercises common grace toward sinners, long before he makes them the subjects of special grace. He often employs every mode of moral suasion, for a great while, before he puts forth an act of his power to make them willing to be saved. This appears in the case of Manasseh, of Saul of Tarsus, and of many others, who have been converted late in life. The highest degree of common grace leaves men unwilling to be saved; but the lowest degree of special grace makes them willing. In this respect, common and special grace essentially differ. And so they do in another respect.
For, in the second place, common grace is granted to all who enjoy the light of the gospel, while special grace is granted to none but the elect. God makes none willing to be saved but those whom he has given to Christ. He invites and commands others to embrace the gospel, and sometimes awakens them to a lively sense of their danger and guilt; but yet he never puts forth an act of his power to subdue their hearts and reconcile them to Christ. Hence that act of his power, by which he makes men willing to be saved, is properly an act of special grace, and essentially different from any act of kindness, favor, or assistance, which he bestows upon any who are finally lost.
2. If God's making men willing to be saved by an act of his power be an act of special grace, then special grace is always irresistible. It is the general representation of scripture that common grace may be resisted. God often complains of sinners for resisting the calls and invitations of his common grace. “ I have called, and ye refused; I have stretched out my hand, and no man regarded; but ye have set at nought all my counsel, and would none of my reproof.” Zechariah says, “ They refused to hearken, and pulled away the shoulder, and stopped their ears, that they should not hear. Yea, they made their hearts as an adamant stone, lest they should hear the law, and the words which the Lord of hosts hath sent in his Spirit by the former prophets." Christ reproves sinners, for resisting the power and influence of common grace. “ O Jerusalem, Jerusalem! thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not." And Stephen, in his VOL. V.
dying address to sinners in Jerusalem, plainly tells them, “ Ye stiff necked, and uncircumcised in heart and ears, ye do always resist the Holy Ghost ; as your fathers did, so do ye.” Sinners are able to resist all the objective light afforded them, and all the external means used with them, to bring them to repentance. The reason is, all these means of light and conviction leave them in the full possession of their evil hearts of unbelief. And so long as the enmity of their hearts remains, they are able to resist all the force of moral suasion, or common grace. But when God displays bis special grace upon them, he takes away the enmity of their hearts, and removes the primary cause of resistance. In the day of his power, he makes them willing to come to Christ for life; and when they are willing to come, there is nothing to prevent their coming. No sinner ever was, or ever will be unwilling to be saved, in the day of God's power. Those whom God calls by bis special grace, are morally obliged to come in and partake of the gospel feast. Hence divines have usually termed this act of special grace effectual calling.
3. If God can make men willing to be saved by an act of his power, and if this act of his power be special grace, then special grace is as consistent with free agency as common grace. The only reason why common grace is universally
. supposed to be consistent with free agency is, because it leaves men free to choose and refuse, or to act just as they please. While they are the subjects of common grace only, they feel themselves at perfect liberty to choose or refuse obedience to the will of God. They can choose to read, or they can refuse to read; they can choose to pray, or they can refuse to pray; they can choose to attend public worship, or they can refuse to attend ; they can choose to perform all the externals of religion, or they can refuse to perform any religious duty. But if men are perfectly free under the influence of common grace, because they are capable of choosing and refusing, then for the same reason, they must be equally free under the influence of special grace. For special grace essentially consists in making men willing to do their duty. By special grace God makes men choose to submit to Christ, and refuse to oppose him ; choose to pray, and refuse to neglect it; choose to attend public worship, and refuse to neglect it; choose to walk in the ways of wisdom, and refuse to walk in the paths of the destroyer. If this be a just representation of the influence of special grace, then it certainly is as consistent with free agency as common grace. It is true, indeed, if special grace consisted, as some suppose, in giving men a new principle, faculty, or power of choosing, then it would destroy their free agency, and make them entirely passive in regeneration and sanctification. But if, in every act of special grace, God does nothing more than inake men willing to do their duty, or to choose and refuse in a holy and virtuous manner, then it is hard to conceive how special grace does, in the least degree, infringe upon free agency. It is a dictate of common sense, that whatever makes men choose or refuse, is consistent with their liberty; and whatever obstructs or hinders them from choosing and refusing, destroys their freedom. If, therefore, either common or special grace deprived men of the power of choosing and refusing, it would destroy their free agency. But since neither common nor special grace does take away this power, it is evident that neither common nor special grace is repugnant to the freedom of the will. Indeed, we do not hesitate to say, that all who have been the subjects of special grace know, by their own experience, that they have felt as entirely free and voluntary in acting under the influence of special grace, as ever they did in acting under the influence of common grace.
4. If God can make men willing to be saved, by an act of bis power, then there is a plain consistency running through the whole scheme of Calvinism. The fundamental doctrines of this system of divinity are election, total depravity, instantaneous regeneration, and the final perseverance of the saints. If the leading sentiment in this discourse be true, then all these doctrines are entirely consistent.
It is easy to see the consistency of God's choosing a certain number of mankind to eternal lise, if he be able, by an act of his power, to make that certain number willing to be saved. Upon this, and upon no other ground, the doctrine of election appears to harmonize with the character of God and the freedom of the creature.
It is easy to see the consistency of God's determining the fall of man, and the total corruption of all his posterity, if he be able, by an act of his power, to remove their depravity. Though total depravity does render men unyielding to the exhibition of truth, and all the influence of moral suasion, yet it does not put them beyond the reach of special grace, which is in its own nature irresistible. Hence God foresaw no hazard to his gracious design, from the total enmity of the human heart; which he knew he was able to slay, by an act of his power, whenever he pleased.
It is easy to see the intimate connection between the doctrine of total depravity, and that of instantaneous regeneration. If special grace consists in an act of God's power, by which he makes totally depraved sinners willing to be saved, then regeneration must be an instantaneous and not a gradual change. There is no medium between men's being unwilling and willing to be saved; they must remain, therefore, totally unwilling to be saved, until the moment they are made willing by an instantaneous act of divine power. In regeneration, conversion, or the new creation, God acts as instantaneously as he did when he said, “ Let there be light, and there was light." This must necessarily be the case, if men are totally depraved, and if nothing short of an irresistible act of divine power can remove their total depravity.
It is farthermore easy to see that the final perseverance of saints is a doctrine inseparably connected with the other doctrines of Calvinism. The same almighty Agent, who from eternity determined to renew and sanctify the elect, can as easily carry on, as he could begin, a good work in their hearts. And the same divine purpose which required their regeneration, equally requires their continued sanctification, or final perseverance in holiness. Hence there is a moral impossibility of their finally falling away, or failing of the kingdom of heaven. Thus it is easy to see, in the light of this subject, that the essential and fundamental principles of the Calvinistic system are not only consistent with each other, but that they perfectly harmonize with the character and perfections of the Deity, and with the character and nature of totally depraved creatures.
5. If what has been said in this discourse be true, then the whole scheme of Arminianism is fundamentally wrong. This system of sentiments is entirely built upon the principle of a self determining power in men, to embrace or to reject the terms of salvation. The advocates for this principle justly infer from it, that men are not totally depraved; that God cannot change their hearts by an act of his power; that he cannot cause them to persevere in holiness; and that he could not, consistently with their nature, choose any of them to salvation, from eternity. This scheme, it must be allowed, is very consistent with itself. But if its first principle be unscriptural and absurd, then all the doctrines which have been deduced from it have no foundation in scripture, or reason. And it plainly appears from the whole tenor of this discourse, that its first principle is repugnant to the whole current of scripture. We have shown that God has given a certain number of mankind to Christ; that these, as well as the rest of the fallen race, are totally depraved ; that no means or moral motives will make them willing to be saved ; and that God only can make them willing, by an act of his power. If these things are true, it necessarily follows that sinners have not a self determining power, and never will be saved, unless God, by a sovereign and gracious act of his power, bows their wills
a to the sceptre of Christ. Those, therefore, who deny the special