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Of the True, Real, and Safe Grounds of Encouragement to Believe in Jesus Christ; or, Upon What Warrants a Sinner May Adventure to Rest and Rely Upon Christ for Salvation.

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Of the True, Real, and Safe Grounds of Encouragement to Believe in Jesus Christ; or, Upon What Warrants a Sinner May Adventure to Rest and Rely Upon Christ for Salvation.

James Dodson

by

George Gillespie,
Scottish Commissioner
To the Assembly of Divines
At Westminster.

 

CHAPTER XXII.

 

There are some divines abroad who, condemning Arminianism (and much more Pelagianism), yet have not adhered to the orthodox doctrine asserted by the most approved protestant writers, and received by the best reformed churches, against the Arminians, in the article concerning the death of Christ. These have found out a middle and a singular way of their own, that Christ died for all men conditionally, viz., if they shall believe in him, that he hath redeemed all upon condition of faith. One of their arguments is, because otherwise we cannot encourage sinners to believe, nor satisfy a troubled conscience, nor keep it from despairing. Upon the like ground, that all may be comforted (every man being assured that Christ died for all men, and so for himself), Mr. Moore hath written a tract of the universality of God’s grace, and of Christ’s dying for all men, as himself expresseth in the title of his book. It is also one of Mr. Saltmarsh’s encouragements which he gives to sinners, that Christ died for sinners as sinners, as he speaks, whereupon it followeth (according to the rule, a quatenus ad omne) that he died for all sinners.

Surely this is not the way (as is pretended) to case and encourage the troubled and terrified conscience; neither can they, by their principles, minister solid comfort to a sinner tempted to despair of mercy. All the scrupulosity and unsatisfaction of conscience which they object against our doctrine (that Christ died not for all, but for the elect only, whom the Father gave him) followeth as much, yea more (as I shall show afterwards) upon their own way. First of all, when they give comfort and encouragement to sinners upon this ground, that Christ hath died for all upon condition of faith, it is to be remembered that, conditio nihil ponit in re, the generality of men can draw no result from the death of Christ (as it is set forth by their doctrine) but that Christ hath, by his death, made sure this proposition, that whosoever believes on him shall be saved, or that all men shall be saved, if all men believe, Now a conditional proposition is true in the connection of one thing to another (if this be that shall be), although neither the one nor the other shall ever have an actual existence. If Satan and wicked men get their will, Christ shall have no church on earth; if the elect fall away from faith and obedience, they shall perish; if the damned in hell had place and grace to repent and to believe in Christ, they should be saved, or the like. So what solid comfort can the soul have from that conditional proposition (which is all the encouragement they do or dare give from the death of Christ to all men), - all men shall be saved by Christ if they believe on him. Is it not as true and as certain (may a sinner think within himself) that no man on earth shall be saved, if no man on earth believe; and, for my part, if I believe not I shall be damned? If all this hang upon the condition of my believing (saith the troubled conscience), why, then, hath not Christ merited to me, and will he not give me, the grace of believing? That new doctrine answereth, that Christ hath merited faith, and gives the grace of believing not to all, but to the elect only; that God hath, in his eternal decree, intended to pass by, in the dispensation of his grace, the greatest part of mankind, and to keep back from them that grace without which, he knows, they cannot believe on Jesus Christ; that though Christ meant that all men should have some sort of call to believe on him, and should be saved upon condition of their believing, yet he had no thought or intention, by his death, to procure unto all men that grace without which they cannot believe. This doctrine of theirs, while it undertaketh to comfort all men, and to encourage all to believe, it tells them withal upon the matter, that all cannot be saved because all cannot believe, that God will not give faith, and so not salvation either, unto millions of sinners. What comfort is it, then, to know that all shall be saved if all believe, when men are told withal, that all shall not, cannot believe, and so shall not be saved? This latter they hold as well as we, therefore their universal comfort taken from Christ’s dying for all men upon condition of faith, amounts to as much as nothing.

The true and safe grounds of encouragement to faith in Christ are these: First, Christ’s all-sufficiency,—if he will he can. He is able to save to the uttermost, Heb. 7.25. Art thou a sinner to the uttermost? his plaster is broad enough to cover the broadest sore. As God’s mercy, so Christ’s merit is infinite; and the reason is, because the blood is the blood of God as well as of man, Acts 20.28. This is a good strong foundation of comfort, if a soul, convinced of its own sinful estate, and of the vanity of creature comforts, doth so far settle its thoughts upon Christ, that as he is the only Saviour, so an all-sufficient Saviour. Then is the sinner so far encouraged (which is no small encouragement) as to resolve, There is virtue enough in the blood of Christ to cleanse my crimson sins, even mine. There is no help for me out of Christ, but in him there is help for all that come unto God by him. It is a great part of true faith to believe that Christ is able and all-sufficient. Therefore he himself said to the blind men, Matt. 9.28, 29, Believe ye that I am able to do this? They said unto him, Yea, Lord. Then touched he their eyes, saying, According to your faith be it unto you. He that said, Lord, if thou wilt thou canst make me clean, was not rejected by Christ as an unbeliever, but he got a good answer from him, I will, be thou clean, Matt. 8.2, 3; so every poor sinner that comes unto Christ as sufficient, and believing that Christ, and Christ only, can purge him from all sin, and save his soul, hath a true, though imperfect faith, and is in a fair way for salvation. There is many a true believer whose faith cannot as yet rise so high as to stay and rest upon the good-will and love of Jesus Christ to him in particular; but the soul believes the all-sufficiency of Christ, and that he only is the Saviour, and so cometh and draweth near unto God, by and in Christ, as the summum bonum, which he values above all things; and thus his faith, although it hath not yet attained to a particular recumbency on the love of Christ to him, is a true faith, which Christ will not despise.

Secondly, Christ’s intention to die for all men and for the whole world, that is, for all sorts of sinners in the world, and so for sinners of my kind, may every poor sinner in particular think within himself. Here is an universal encouragement unto all from a true and real ground, and drawn from the will and intention, as well as from the power and all-sufficiency of Christ, which I shall make good from Scripture; for he hath died for all sorts of persons; there is no condition excluded. For this I take 1 Tim. 2.6, Who gave himself a ransom for all; so, ver. 4, who will have all men to be saved. The meaning must needs be of all sorts, not of all persons; for besides that the Apostle’s all can be no more than Christ’s many,—Matt. 20.28, The Son of man came to give his life a ransom for many,—this very text hath abundance of light to give itself, if we look to the context either before or behind: before, there is an exhortation to pray for all men, ver. 1; which, although the Arminians make an argument that all men is meant of all persons, and not only of all sorts, both in that verse and ver. 4, 6, because, say they, we ought to pray for all men universally pro singulis generum, and not only for all sorts; yet it is indeed an argument for the contrary. For to pray for all men, without exception of any person, is not commanded, but we find the contrary commanded. Jeremiah was forbidden to pray or make intercession for the obstinate, incorrigible Jews, Jer. 7.16 & 11.14 & 14.11. God would not have Samuel to mourn for Saul after he was rejected of the Lord, 1 Sam. 16.1; and we ought not to pray for such as sin unto death, i.e., the sin of blasphemy against the Holy Ghost, 1 John 5.16. Paul is so far from praying for Alexander the coppersmith, that he imprecates the vengeance of God upon him, 2 Tim. 4.14. We may not pray for the Pope, who is the great Antichrist and son of perdition; neither may we pray for, but against Babylon, especially after the people of God are out of her. We are bidden pray for our enemies, but not for the malicious, incorrigible enemies of Christ. Wherefore, when the Apostle bids us pray for all men, his meaning is, that we should not exclude no degree nor kind of men, great or small, Jew or Gentile, bond or free, &c.; and so he doth upon the matter explain himself in the very next words, for kings and for all in authority. He saith not for all kings, but he will not have us exclude kings nor queens, as such, from our prayers, nor any other subordinate rulers. When he saith all that are in authority, he means any kind of lawful authority; for we may not pray for those who are in any unlawful or usurped authority in the church,—Archbishops, Bishops, Deans, Archdeacons, &c., which prayer were an approbation of their unlawful callings in the church. I do not say that we may not pray for the persons of any archbishops, bishops, &c., but we may not pray for them as clothed with such an office or authority; as we are there bid pray for kings quatenus [so far as they are] kings, that we may live under them a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty; so that a king or emperor, as he is clothed with such authority, may not be excluded from our prayers; but if we look upon all kings and emperors personally, individually, or numerically, so it cannot hold true that we ought to pray for all that are in authority, otherwise the ancient church had been bound to pray for Julian the apostate.

Again, If we look to that which in that place follows, we find, ver. 8, I will therefore that men pray everywhere (or in every place), lifting up holy hands. What means he by ἐν παντὶ τόπῳ? He means not in every individual place without exception, for this were neither possible (because there are many places in which there are not, neither can be, any to pray) nor fit, because we ought not to pray with lifted-up hands in the streets or in the market-places: there are fit places both for public and private prayer, and there are also unfit places either for private or public prayer. The meaning therefore is, that the worship of God is not restricted to Jerusalem now under the New Testament, John 4.21, 23, but that any place, being otherwise convenient and fit for prayer, is sanctified for prayer, and that prayer made in any such place is no less acceptable to God than the prayer which was made in the temple of Jerusalem. And now why should we not understand πάντας ἀνθρώπους, [1 Tim. 2] ver. 4, and ὑπὲρ πάντων, ver. 6, even as ἐν παντὶ τόπῳ, ver. 8, and the rather if we consider what is interlaced; for the text runs thus: who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time, whereunto I am ordained a Teacher of the Gentiles in faith and verity. I will therefore that men pray everywhere. Whereby it appears that the Apostle’s plain scope is to take away that difference between Jew and Gentile, and to intimate that we must pray for all sorts of persons, because Christ died for all sorts of persons, and will be worshipped in every nation under the heaven. So that Beza did fitly express the sense when he rendered ver. 1, 2, 6, pro quibusvis, ver. 4, quosvis, and ver. 8, in quovis loco, to note an universality of kinds, not of individuals. Grotius, also, on Mark 9.49, noteth the same thing, that πᾶς is used for quivis, not only in the New Testament, but by Aristophanes and Sophocles. Lastly, I know no reason but our translators should have rendered 1 Tim. 2.4, who will have all manner of men to be saved, and, ver. 6, who gave himself a ransom for all manner of men, as well as Matt. 4.23, they render πᾶσαν νόσον, all manner of sickness, Matt. 12.31, πᾶσα ἁμαρτία, all manner of sin, and Acts 10.12, πάντα τὰ τετράποδα, all manner of four-footed beasts.

In the same sense I understand Heb. 2.9, that he, by the grace of God, should taste death for every man, ὑπὲρ παντὸς,—which phrase the Apostle rather useth to the Hebrews to wear out that common opinion of the Jews, that the Messiah was only to be a Saviour to them, as, under the law, the sacrifices were offered only for the sins of the congregation of Israel. Howbeit I may further add, for clearing this text, 1. Seeing the text hath no more but ὑπὲρ παντὸς, that is (as the Tigurine rightly rendereth the letter of the text) pro omni, we may well supply it thus: ὑπὲρ παντὸς υἱοῦ,—pro omni filio, not for every man (which, though it be the expression of the English translators, cannot be necessarily drawn from the original), but for every son, whether Jew or Gentile, i.e., for every one predestinated to the adoption of children, which I confirm from the two next verses (both of them having a manifest connection with ver. 9); for these all for whom Christ tasted death, are called many sons, ver. 10; and they who are sanctified, also brethren, ver. 11. See the like phrase, Mark 9.49, πᾶς γὰρ,—for every one shall be salted with fire, i.e., every one who shall enter into life; for this sense is to be gathered from verses 43-47; and when it is said, 3 John 12, Demetrius hath good report of all men, we must either understand all the brethren, or make some such restriction of that universal expression, ὑπὸ πάντων, for most men in the world knew not Demetrius. So Luke 16.16, from that time the kingdom of God is preached, and every man presseth into it, καὶ πᾶς εἰς αὐτὴν βιάζεται. Now, therefore, there can be no farther use of ὑπὲρ παντὸς in that text to the Hebrews than in these other texts here cited. 2. It may be also supplied thus, ὑπὲρ παντὸς ἔθνους or λαοῦ; and it is in itself true that Christ tasted death for every nation, or for every people, for in him are all the nations and kindreds of the earth blessed, Acts 3.25; Gal. 3.8; that is, the elect of all the nations, which, upon the matter, comes to one and the same thing with the former sense, although the former expression suiteth better to the context; yea, although it had been said that Christ tasted death ὑπὲρ παντὸς ἀνθρώπου,—for every man (which is not said), yet every man could be here no more than all men; Rom. 5.18, as by the offence of one judgment came upon all men to condemnation; even so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life. Wherein the second branch, all men,—εἰς πάντας ἀνθρώπους is no more, and can be no more, but all who are in Christ, or all regenerate and justified persons; for 1. By these all men the Apostle understands (as is manifest by comparing this with the preceding verse) they which receive abundance of grace, and of the gift of righteousness; and he addeth concerning them, that they shall reign in life by one, Jesus Christ. 2. The comparison between Christ and Adam clears it; for they are both set forth as public persons. All who are in Adam are actually involved into the sentence of condemnation, and all who are in Christ are actually translated from the state of condemnation into the state of justification. But I proceed.

Another scripture which hath been understood for Christ’s dying for all men, being indeed meant of all sorts, is 1 John 2.2, And he is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world, which is to be expounded by that promise made to Abraham, that in his seed all the families or kindreds of the earth should be blessed, Acts 3.25; Gal. 3.8; and by Rev. 5.9, thou wast slain, and has redeemed us to God by thy blood, out of every kindred, and tongue, and people, and nation. So Rev. 7.9, after the sealing of an hundred and forty and four thousand out of all the tribes of Israel, it is added, After this I beheld, and, lo, a great multitude, which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands. For which cause also the news of a Saviour are called good tidings to all people, or to every people, Luke 2.10. So the apostle John, who was of the Jews, tells us there that Christ is a propitiation, not only for the sins of himself and of others of his nation, who were then believers, but likewise for the elect of all nations and all the world over.

To the same purpose it is said, John 3.16, for God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. Where ὁ κόσμος is of no larger extent than πᾶς ὁ πιστεύων, which the Tigurine rendereth omnis qui credit, not quisquis, that every one who believeth in him should not perish; so that every one who believeth is an exegesis or explanation of the word World. Howbeit, if any like better the ordinary reading, that whosoever believeth, it comes in the issue to the same thing; for it is a great mistake to think that the world here is a genus, which is divided in believers and unbelievers, and that the word whosoever is added in reference not to the world before mentioned, but only to one kind or sort of the world, which, by the way, is also inconsistent with their principles who hold that Christ died for all, to purchase life to all, upon condition of believing; for if so, there can be no partition here of the world, but the latter branch as large as the first. But if there be any partition here of the world, I say if there be, for the text may be understood exegetice, not partitive; as I have showed already, it is not partitio in generis species, but totius in partes; that is, the world which God loved is not divided into believers and unbelievers, but, by the world, is meant the elect of all nations, and this whole world is subdivided into its parts by the word whosoever; that is, whether Jew or Gentile, whether Barbarian or Scythian, whether bond or free, &c. For this the Apostle explaineth the very same words, πᾶς ὁ πιστεύων, Rom. 10.11, 12, Whosoever believeth on him shall not be ashamed. For there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek; for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him; so Gal. 3.28; Col. 3.11; Acts 10.34, 35. And though some have, with much scorn, set at nought that expression, The world of the Elect, i.e. the elect of all the world, yet it will puzzle them to give any other sense to John 6.33, where it is said that Christ giveth life unto the world; or to John 16.8, where the Spirit is said to convince the world of sin, of righteousness and judgment; or John 17.21, where Christ prayeth that the world may believe; and the Father heareth him always, as in other petitions, so in this.

The third encouragement to believing is, that Jesus Christ hath died, as for persons of all sorts and conditions, so for the expiation of all sorts and all manner of sins, and hath plainly assured us, that all manner of sin and blasphemy shall be forgiven unto men, Matt. 12.13; he excepteth only one kind, but the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost shall not be forgiven unto men. Where exceptio firmat regulam in non exceptis, this being the sole exception, maketh the general promise the surer, that not some sorts only, but all sorts of sin, yea of blasphemies, not only may, but shall be forgiven unto men. Now to be clear concerning that one sin excepted, 1. It is not properly any sin of the second table, but of the first, and is therefore called blasphemy. 2. It is not every blasphemy, for any other blasphemy is declared in that text to be pardonable. 3. It is a willful blasphemy, contrary to the illumination of the Holy Ghost and knowledge of the truth once received, Heb. 6.4 & 10.26. For which reason Paul’s sin when he blasphemed the name of Christ, and was exceedingly mad against it, was not the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost, because he did it ignorantly. If Peter had at that time sinned Paul’s sin it had been the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost, and so unpardonable, for it wanted nothing but knowledge and illumination to make it that unpardonable sin which the Apostle himself, 1 Tim. 1.13, doth intimate. 4. Neither is it every blasphemy against knowledge, but such as is joined with a hatred of Christ, so far that if they could they would pull him down from heaven and crucify him again. There was mercy for those who crucified Christ ignorantly, but no mercy to those who would do it knowingly. Moreover, although they cannot get Christ himself again crucified, yet they revile, reproach, disgrace and persecute him in his members, ministers, ordinances, and all the ways they can put him to shame and dishonour. Now there are two sorts of those who sin by blasphemy against the Holy Ghost. Some do not profess Christ and the truth of the gospel, yet maliciously, and against their knowledge, reproach or persecute it. So the Pharisees, Mark 3.28-30, in saying that Christ had an unclean spirit, did blaspheme against the Holy Ghost. Others do profess Christ and his gospel and truth, yet fall away to be malicious enemies thereunto, against their knowledge; such an one was Judas: neither is there anything to move us to think that Judas did not blaspheme the Holy Ghost, except that he repented himself afterward. But there is nothing in Scripture against the possibility of a desperate repentance in those who blaspheme the Holy Ghost, but only that they can never so repent as to be renewed again, Heb. 6.6. That all sin, 1 John 1.7, i.e., all manner of sin, is purged away by the blood of Christ, and atonement made for all sorts of sinners, was also signified both by Christ’s healing all manner of diseases among the people, Matt. 4.23, and by Peter’s vision of all manner of four-footed beasts, and creeping things, and fowls of the air, let down as it were in a sheet from heaven, to be killed and eaten, Acts 10.11, 12.

So that as the promise of mercy and free grace comes home not only to thy nation and to persons of thy condition, state and degree, yea, to thy kindred and family, but also to thy case in respect of sin, it comes fully home to sinners of thy kind or case, it tendereth Christ even to such a sinner as thou art.

Fourthly, Christ receiveth all who come unto him, and excludeth none but such as by their unbelief exclude themselves, John 6.37.

Fifthly, It is an encouragement to believing that we are commanded to believe, 1 John 3.23, and this is his commandment, that we should believe in the name of his Son Jesus Christ, and love one another, as he gave us commandment.

Observe the same authority that commands us to love one another enjoins also that we believe on Christ.

But if any shall say, I cannot believe, I have no strength nor grace to believe, I answer (and let this be the sixth encouragement to believing), That God sets forth himself to be the giver of faith, Eph. 2.8; Phil. 1.29; and his Son to be the Author and Finisher of our faith, Heb. 12.2.

If it be objected, I know it is so indeed; but God works faith only in the elect, and I know not whether I be elected or not. I answer, thou art discharged (in this case) to run back to election (which is God’s secret), and art commanded to obey the revealed command, according to that of Deut. 29.29, The secret things belong unto the Lord our God, but these things which are revealed belong unto us and to our children, that we may do all the words of this law. And, therefore, seeing ye are commanded to believe in God, and hear that he is the Author and Finisher of faith, say with Augustine, Da domine quod jubes et jube quod vis; and with the disciples, Lord, increase our faith, Luke 17.5; or with that man in the gospel, Lord, I believe, help thou mine unbelief, Mark 9.24; and request Him who hath promised to give the spirit of grace and supplications, that ye may look on him whom you have pierced, Zech. 12.10; to lighten your eyes, lest ye sleep unto death, Psal. 13.3; for this looking on Christ (promised in Zechariah) is nothing else than believing on him. As the looking on the brazen serpent, which was the type of Christ, is accomplished when we believe in Christ, who was typified thereby; as is to be gathered by comparing John 3.14, 15, with Num. 21.8.