Ye are the salt of the earth: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? it is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and to be trodden under foot of men.
~ Matthew 5:13
In meekness instructing those that oppose themselves; if God peradventure will give them repentance to the acknowledging of the truth;
~ 2 Timothy 2:25
But call to remembrance the former days, in which, after ye were illuminated, ye endured a great fight of afflictions;
~ Hebrews 10:32
Neglect not the gift that is in thee, which was given thee by prophecy, with the laying on of the hands of the presbytery.
~ 1 Timothy 4:14
God also bearing them witness, both with signs and wonders, and with divers miracles, and gifts of the Holy Ghost, according to his own will?
~ Hebrews 2:4
But he that received the seed into stony places, the same is he that heareth the word, and anon with joy receiveth it; Yet hath he not root in himself, but dureth for a while: for when tribulation or persecution ariseth because of the word, by and by he is offended.
~ Matthew 13:20-21
And the destruction of the transgressors and of the sinners shall be together, and they that forsake the LORD shall be consumed.
~ Isaiah 1:28
Of how much sorer punishment, suppose ye, shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing, and hath done despite unto the Spirit of grace?
~ Hebrews 10:29
The Nature of Apostasy From the Profession of the Gospel and the Punishment of Apostates Declared, In An Exposition of Hebrews 6:4-6;
An Inquiry Into The Causes And Reasons Of The Decay Of The
Power Of Religion In The World, Or The Present General
Defection From The Truth, Holiness, And Worship Of The Gospel;
Also, Of The Proneness Of Churches And Persons Of All Sorts
With Remedies and Means of Prevention.
Search the Scriptures.
— John 5:39.
By John Owen.
The following contains an excerpt from John Owen’s work.
It is not uncommon for Christians, in a desponding mood, to ascribe unusual degeneracy in morals and religion to their own age. The sudden change, however, from the strict decorum of the Commonwealth to the license which marked the reign of Charles II has often been the subject of speculation and inquiry. Mr Macaulay thus confirms our author’s estimate of the rapid decline of morality at this time:— “A change still more important took place in the morals and manners of the community. Those passions and tastes which, under the rule of the Puritans, had been sternly repressed, and, if gratified at all, had been gratified by stealth, broke forth with ungovernable violence as soon as the cheek was withdrawn.” — Hist. of Eng., vol. i. p. 179. The historian, dealing with the surface of affairs rather than with the springs of conduct, may account the vulgar theory of a reaction against enforced strictness sufficient to explain this sudden lowering of the moral tone of a community; and in regard to a portion of society the theory may be admitted to be correct. The causes of the change, however, must have lain deeper; the blighting influence extended even into Puritan circles, where the contamination of courtly vices could hardly reach, and where early training would countervail any cessation of restraint, and beyond Britain, into other countries, where a similar decline can be traced, for which it is impossible to account simply on the principle of a reaction. Puritan decorum might as well be said to have been a mere reaction against such irreligious frivolity as bore the stamp of royal sanction in the “Book of Sports.” Besides, the austerity ascribed to the Puritans is absurdly exaggerated; many a glimpse we possess into their domestic life shows that in reality it was the chosen scene of every genial influence, and household affections never appeared to more advantage than in the families of the Henrys. Owen, with his usual wisdom, avoids the extreme generalization that would resolve the complex apostasy of his age into any one predominant cause, and reviews in succession various influences which conspired to produce the result deplored. His treatise will be found to be a successful treatment of a deeply interesting question; and it closes in a strain of solemn appeal, appropriate to a work written, according to its author, “amid prayers and tears.”
It is in substance an expansion of his commentary on Heb. vi. 4–6; and his Exposition on this passage is accordingly brief and meagre, having been forestalled by the publication of this treatise. Doddridge seems to regard it as most replete with the characteristic excellencies of Owen. “Owen’s style,” he remarks, “resembles St Paul’s. There is great zeal and much knowledge of human life discovered in all his works, especially in his book on Apostasy. The ‘Means of Understanding the Mind of God’ is one of his best.”
The basis of the discourse is Heb. vi. 4–6; and inquiry is made, — 1. Into the connection of the words; 2. The persons spoken of; 3. The supposition implied respecting them; and, 4. The truth affirmed on that supposition, chap. i. A charge of partial, as distinguished from final and complete apostasy, is adduced against all the churches and nations of Christendom; the claim of the Church of Rome to be indefectible is refuted, ii. I. Apostasy from the doctrines of the gospel is illustrated by facts in the history of the ancient church, and by the predictions of the a apostles, who foretold, — 1. That the teachers of the gospel would soon corrupt its simplicity, by an admixture of vain philosophy; 2. That heresies would arise, consisting of unintelligible vagaries, as Gnosticism, and affecting the person of Christ, as Arianism, or the grace of Christ, as Pelagianism; 3. That men would be impatient of sound doctrine; and, 4. That the mystery of iniquity would continue to be developed till it reached its consummation in the Papacy. Apostasy is traced in the decline of the zealous orthodoxy of the Reformation, the rise of Arminianism and Socinianism, and kindred errors, iii. The causes of this declension from orthodoxy in Britain are enumerated:— 1. Rooted enmity to spiritual things; 2. Spiritual ignorance on the part of men who possess some knowledge, and make a profession of the truth; 3. Pride of heart; 4. Careless security; 5. Love of the world. 6. The influence of Satan; and lastly, Judicial blindness, iv.–vi. Particular reasons are assigned for such defection from the truth:— ignorance of the necessity for the mediation of Christ, want of spiritual views of the excellency of Christ in his person and offices, inexperience of the efficacy of the Spirit, ignorance of the righteousness of God, reluctance to admit the sovereignty of God, and an incapacity to discern the self-evidencing power of the Word, vii. II. Apostasy from the holiness of the gospel is next considered theoretically, in reference, — 1. To the morals of Romanism, defective because inconsistent with spiritual freedom: founded on human rules and systems, capable of being observed without faith in Christ, and pervaded by the vitiating principle of merit and supererogation; 2. To those who confine the whole of obedience to morality; and 3. To those who pretend to perfection in this life. The causes of this kind of apostasy are mentioned, viii. Practical apostasy into open profanity and vice is traced to defects in the public teachers of religion; the false appropriation of names and titles, as when men living in sin claim to be “The Church;” evil example in high places; the influence of persecution; want of due watchfulness against national vices; ignorance of the spiritual beauty of religion; the operations of Satan; and the scandal created by the strictest professors of religion through their divisions and inactivity in good works and offices, ix., x. III. Apostasy from purity of worship is exhibited, in the neglect of what God has appointed, and by additions which he has not appointed, in the ordinances of the gospel, xi. The danger arising from the prevailing apostasy is declared, and directions are given in order to escape being involved in it, xii., xiii. — Ed.
To the Reader.
Some brief account of the occasion and design of the ensuing discourse I judge due unto the reader, that, upon a prospect of them, he may either proceed in its perusal or desist, as he shall see cause.
That the state of religion is at this day deplorable in most parts of the Christian world is acknowledged by all who concern themselves in any thing that is so called; yea, the enormities of some are come to that excess that others publicly complain of them, who, without the countenance of their more bold provocations, would themselves be judged no small part or cause of the evils to be complained of. However, this, on all hands, will, as I suppose, be agreed unto, that among the generality of professed Christians, the glory and power of Christianity are faded and almost utterly lost, though the reasons and causes thereof are not agreed upon; for however some few may please themselves in supposing nothing to be wanting unto a good state of things in religion, but only security in what they are and enjoy, yet the whole world is so evidently filled with the dreadful effects of the lusts of men, and sad tokens of divine displeasure, that all things from above and here below proclaim the degeneracy of our religion, in its profession, from its pristine beauty and glory. Religion is the same that ever it was, only it suffers by them that make profession of it. Whatever disadvantage it falls under in the world, they must at length answer for in whose misbelief and practice it is corrupted. And no man can express a greater enmity unto or malice against the gospel, than he that should assert or maintain that the faith, profession, lives, ways, and walkings of the generality of Christians are a just representation of its truth and holiness. The description which the apostle gives of men in their principles, dispositions, and actings, before there hath been any effectual influence on their minds and lives from the light, power, and grace of the gospel, is much more applicable unto them than any thing that is spoken of the disciples of Christ in the whole book of God: “Foolish are they, and disobedient, deceived, serving divers lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful, and hating one another.” The way, paths, and footsteps of gospel faith, love, meekness, temperance, self-denial, benignity, humility, zeal, and contempt of the world, in the honors, profits, and pleasures of it, with readiness for the cross, are all [so] overgrown, and almost worn out amongst men, that they can hardly be discerned where they have been. But in their stead the “works of the flesh” have made a broad and open road, that the multitude travel in, which, though it may be right for a season in their own eyes, yet is the way to hell, and goeth down to the chambers of death; for these “works of the flesh are manifest” in the world, not only in their nature, what they are, but in their open perpetration and dismal effects: such are “adultery, fornication, uncleanness, lasciviousness, idolatry, witchcraft, hatred, variance, emulations, wrath, strife, seditions, heresies, envyings, murders, drunkenness, revelings, and such like,” as they are reckoned up by the apostle. How these things have spread themselves over the face of the Christian world, among all sorts of persons, is manifest beyond all contradiction or pretense to the contrary. And that so it should come to pass in the latter times is both expressly and frequently foretold in the Scripture, as in the ensuing discourse will be more fully declared.
Many, indeed, there are who are not given up in the course of their lives unto the open practice of such abominations; and therefore, in that grand defection from the truth and holiness of the gospel which is so prevalent in the world, the grace of God is greatly to be admired, even in the small remainders of piety, sobriety, and modesty, and common usefulness that are yet left among us. But those openly flagitious courses are not the only way whereby men may fall off from, and even renounce, the power, grace, and wisdom of our Lord Jesus Christ. For even of those who will not “run out to the same excess of riot” with other men, the most are so ignorant of the mysteries of the gospel, so negligent or formal in divine worship, so infected with pride, vanity, and love of the world, so regardless of the glory of Christ and honor of the gospel, that it is no easy thing to find Christian religion in the midst of professed Christians, or the power of godliness among them who openly avow the form thereof.
By this means is Christianity brought into so great neglect in the world, that its great and subtle adversary seems encouraged to attempt the ruining of its very foundations, that the name of it should no more be had in remembrance; for wherever religion is taken off from a solid consistency by its power in the lives and minds of men, when it hath no other tenure but an outward, unenlivened profession, and the secular interest of its professors, it will not long abide the shock of that opposition which it is continually exposed unto. And whilst things are in this state, those who seem to have any concernment therein are so engaged in mutual charging one another with being occasions thereof, mostly on such principles of difference in judgment as have no considerable influence thereinto, as that a joint endeavor after proper remedies is utterly neglected.
And there is yet another consideration rendering the present state of Christian religion in the world yet more deplorable. The only principle of evangelical obedience is sacred truth, and our faith therein. That alone is “the doctrine which is according to godliness;” and all acceptable obedience unto God is “the obedience of faith.” Whatever men do or pretend unto in a way of duty unto him, whereof the truth of the gospel is not the spring and measure, which is not guided and animated thereby, it is not what God at present requireth, nor what he will eternally reward. Wherefore, although men may, and multitudes do, under a profession of that truth, live in open rebellion against its power, yet the wounds of religion are not incurable nor its stains indelible, whilst the proper remedy is owned and wants only due application. But if this truth itself be corrupted or deserted, if its most glorious mysteries be abused or despised, if its most important doctrines be impeached of error and falsehood, and if the vain imaginations and carnal reasonings of the serpentine wits of men be substituted in their room or exalted above them, what hope is there of a recovery? the breach will grow like the sea, until there be none to heal it. If the fountains of the waters of the sanctuary be poisoned in their first rising, they will not heal the nations unto whom they come. Where the doctrine of truth is corrupted, the hearts of men will not be changed by it nor their lives reformed.
How all this hath come to pass in the apostasy of the Roman church, and what multitudes of professed Christians are carried down the stream of that defection, is acknowledged among us who are called Protestants. How, therein, by various degrees, the corruption of the doctrine of the gospel gave occasion unto the depravation of men’s manners on the one hand, and the wickedness of men’s lives on the other hand, led the way unto, and served to make necessary, a farther perverting of the doctrine itself, until at length it is hard to determine whether the multiplied errors of that church have made the reintroduction of true holiness and evangelical obedience, or the corrupt, worldly conversation of the generality of the members of its communion has rendered the restoration of truth, more difficult and unpracticable in their present station, is in part declared in the ensuing discourses, and deserves yet a more particular and distinct inquiry into. In general, certain it is that as error, with superstition, on the one hand, in the minds of the teachers or guides of the church, and sin, with conformity unto the ways, manners, and course of the present evil world in the body of the people, were mutually assistant unto their joint introduction into the profession and lives of Christians; so having possessed themselves of the visible church-state of many nations, they are so interwoven in their interests as to be mutually assistant to the exclusion of that truth and holiness which they have dispossessed. And whereas, moreover, they have found out the pretense of infallibility, stretched wide enough, in their own apprehensions, to cover, patronize, and justify the most enormous errors and highest inconformity of life unto the gospel, all hopes of their recovery are utterly defeated, but what are placed on the sovereign grace and almighty power of God.
That there is also another endeavor of the same kind, and for the same general end, — namely, to corrupt the doctrine of the gospel, — though in another way, and unto another extreme, vigorously carried on in the world by the Socinians, and those who either absolutely or for the most part comply with them in their pernicious ways, is no less known, nor ought to be much less bewailed; for this endeavor also is attended with many advantages to give it success. The corruption of the doctrine of the gospel in the Roman church, as it sprang out of the ignorance, darkness, superstition, and carnal affections of the minds of men, so it is by the same means preserved. But although those things, in those ages and places where they abounded, gave sufficient and effectual advantage to its gradual introduction, and although the principles of it be now so inlaid with the secular interests of the generality of mankind in most of the nations in Europe as to secure its station and possessions; yet, in that emancipation of reason from under the bond of superstition and tradition, in that liberty of rational inquiry into the true nature and causes of all things, in that refusal to captivate their understandings in religion to the bare authority of men no wiser than themselves, which all pretend unto at present who dare venture on an ordinary converse in the world, it may seem marvellous how it should get ground and enlarge its territories, unless it be among them who are evidently bought off from themselves and from under the conduct of their own minds by some outward advantages, which they look upon as a valuable consideration. The true reasons hereof are inquired into in the ensuing discourse. But this new attempt, despising the baffled aids of superstition and carnal affections, which were in former ages predominant and effectual, takes shelter under a pretense of reason, and the suitableness of what is proposed in it unto the natural light and understandings of men. Whatever there is or is not in this matter of the relation that is between religion and reason, yet this being grown, through the increase of learning and converse, with a decay of the true fear of God, the very idol of this age, whoever will prepare a sacrifice unto it, though it be of the most holy mysteries of the gospel, he shall not fail of good entertainment and applause; and whoever shall refuse to cast incense on its altar shall be sure to be exploded, as one that professeth himself to be a fool, and even a common enemy unto mankind. Tell men that there are some things in religion that are above reason as it is finite and limited, and some things contrary unto it as it is depraved and corrupted, and they will reply (what is true in itself, but woefully abused) that yet their reason is the best, yea, only means which they have to judge of what is true or false. The liberty of men’s own rational faculties having got the great vogue in the world (as indeed it is that which is most excellent therein of what is merely in and of it), it is fond to expect that it should not meet with a pernicious abuse, as every thing that hath any worth in it hath always done, when advanced unto such a reputation as might render it liable thereunto; for no man will ever adventure to prevail himself of that which others have no respect unto or do despise.
Herein, then, lies the advantage of this sort of men, — the Socinians I mean, and their adherents, — in attempting to corrupt the doctrine of the gospel, and hereon depends all their success therein: First, they get the advantage of the ground in general, by pretending to reduce all men unto right reason, as the just measure and standard of truth. Put in any exceptions unto this proposal, endeavor to affix its bounds and proper measure, offer the consideration of divine revelation in its proper use and place, and you give away the cause among the many, who design at least to come in as common sharers in the reputation that reason hath got above all things in the world. By the confident use of this artifice, and the most absurd application of this principle unto things infinite and the most holy mysteries of divine revelation, have this sort of men, otherwise, for the most part, as weak and insufficient in their reasonings as their predecessors in the like attempts, got the reputation of the most rational handlers of sacred things! And when, being harnessed with this advantage, they proceed to the proposal of their opinions in particular, they have such an interest beforehand in the minds of men by nature, and have things so disposed and prepared for their reception, that it is no wonder if ofttimes they obtain success. For they are all of them designed unto one of these two heads: — first, “That there is no reason why we should believe any thing that reason cannot comprehend; so that we may safely conclude that whatever is above our reason is contrary unto it; and for what is so, it is destructive to the very natural constitution of our souls not to reject:” and, secondly, “That the mind of man is, in its present condition, every way sufficient unto the whole of its duties, both intellectual and moral, with respect unto God, and to answer whatever is required of us.” Upon the matter, they pretend only to undertake the patronage of human nature, and the common reason and honesty of mankind, against those imputations of weakness, depravation, and corruption, in things spiritual, wherewith by some it is charged and defamed. And although it be contrary unto the universal experience of the whole world, yet might this design be allowed what commendation men please, so that the defense of nature were not undertaken expressly against the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the redemption that is in his blood, and the whole mystery of the gospel. But whereas it is a part of the depravation of our nature not to discover its own depravations, and all those opinions are suited to give it countenance against what it is not sensible of, and whereof it is not willing to own the charge, it is no wonder if with very many they receive a ready entertainment. And whereas they seem to interest men in that reputation which reason in the things of God hath obtained in the world, and thereby to countenance them in the contempt of others as weak and irrational, — things pleasing to the depraved minds of men, — it is more than probable that they will make a pernicious progress in one degree or another. So doth the subtle enemy of our salvation make his advantage of the disposition, inclination, and state of every age and season. Without his interposition, devotion of old might have been carried on without superstition, and in this age the use of reason might be vindicated without a rejection of the necessity of supernatural illumination and the great truths of the gospel. But the better any thing is, the more noisome it will be when once he hath mixed his poison with it.
It were to be wished that the defection from the truth of the gospel complained of were confined unto the instances already mentioned, though in them the event be deplorable among multitudes of professed Christians. But the same, in some measure and degree, is come to pass among Protestants also. Men grow weary of the truths which have been professed ever since the Reformation, yea, of those in particular which gave occasion thereunto, and without which it had never been attempted; for besides that many fall off unto those extremes of error before insisted on, some on the one hand, and some on the other, the reformed religion is by not a few so taken off from its old foundations, so unhinged from those pillars of important truths which it did depend upon, and so sullied by a confused medley of noisome opinions, as that its loss in reputation of stability and usefulness seems almost irreparable. Hence are divisions, debates, and animosities multiplied about the principal articles of our religion, whereby those tongues are divided and hands engaged in mutual intestine conflicts, which all united were few enough to preserve the remainders of the protestant profession from the artifices and power of him who doth not despair once more to impose his yoke on the neck of the whole Christian world; for nothing can more prepare the way of his success than the shaking of the doctrine of the reformed churches from that consistency wherein for so long a time it stood firm and stable against all opposition.
But there is in this matter nothing absolutely new under the sun. No instance can be given of any church or nation in the world, which ever received the profession of the gospel, that did not, sooner or later, either totally or in some considerable degrees, fall off from the doctrine which it reveals and the obedience which it requireth. Men do but deceive themselves who suppose that the purity of religion will be preserved in confessions and canons, whilst some make it their business to corrupt its truth, and few or none make it their business to preserve its power. And, therefore, at this day, on one account or other, the defection is almost catholic; for it is in vain for any to pretend that the present general visible profession of Christianity doth in any tolerable measure answer the original pattern of it in the Scripture, or the first transcript thereof in the primitive believers. And that which, in this degenerate state of things, doth principally exercise the minds of considerate men is, whether there ought to be an immediate endeavor to reduce as many as will or can comply therewith unto the original standard in profession, obedience, and worship, or whether the present posture of things be not so far to be complied withal as to preserve therein the small remainders of religion among the community of Christians, who are not capable of such a reduction. The difference that is in the judgments of men herein is the ground of all those lesser controversies and opinions, which will be composed and have an end put unto them when God shall graciously afford unto us all a fresh revival of evangelical faith, love, and holiness, and, I fear, not before.
Upon some considerations of this state of things in the world, and under fears, perhaps not altogether groundless, that a farther progress will yet be made in this woeful declension from the power and purity of evangelical truth, I set myself unto a general inquiry what might be the secret causes and reasons whence it is that all sorts of persons, in all ages, have been so prone to apostatize from the sincere profession of the gospel in faith and obedience, as experience in the success of things manifests them to have been. And, moreover, an occasion was administered unto thoughts of that nature from my engagement in the exposition of the sixth chapter of the Epistle to the Hebrews, wherein the apostle so eminently describes the nature of total apostasy, with the end of apostates in the righteous judgment of God; for considering the greatness of that sin, and the terror of the Lord with respect thereunto, and not knowing whereunto the daily advance of impiety, profaneness, and abominable lusts, with ignorance, error, and superstition, might at length arrive, thoughtfulness of what might be required at the last day of myself, though cast in a men and obscure condition in the world, did not a little exercise my mind. The glory of God, the honor of Christ and the gospel, and the eternal welfare of the souls of men, being eminently concerned, I knew not how he could have the least satisfaction in the truth and reality of his own Christianity who was not greatly affected with, and did not really mourn for, their suffering in this woful apostasy. What I have attained unto in that kind I have no reason to declare, but hope I may say, without the offense of any, that as I verily believe neither my prayers nor tears have been proportionable unto the causes of them in this matter, so I can and will say that they have been real and sincere.
I was not ignorant of the weakness and impertinency of all thoughts that a person of my mean condition in the world, disadvantaged by all imaginable circumstances that might prejudice the most sincere endeavors, should attempt any thing with respect unto the relief of nations or national churches, which yet are not without the verge of this fatal evil. To mourn for them in secret, to labor in prayers and supplications for a more plentiful effusion of the Spirit of Christ upon them for their good, are things which, although they may despise, yet God will accept in and from the meanest of them that call on his name in sincerity. Unto whom other opportunities and advantages are granted, from them other things will be required; and it is, no doubt, a great account they have to give who are admitted and esteemed as those whose place and duty it is to stem the current of overflowing impiety and profaneness, and effectually to apply the sovereign remedies of all those evils unto the souls and consciences of men. Sad will it be for them under whose hand this breach shall be, if they endeavor not to prevent it with their utmost diligence, and the open hazard of all their earthly concerns. A learned writer of the church of England affirms, “That there were two no small sins of noisome hypocrisy that he had espied among others; — the one, an opinion that there can be no fit matter of martyrdom in a state authorizing the true profession of that religion which among many we like best, and, left unto ourselves, would make choice of; the other, which in part feeds this, a persuasion that mere errors in doctrine or opinion are more pernicious than affected indulgence to lewd practices, or continuance in sinful courses, or open breaches of God’s commandments.” And after he had declared that “ministers of the gospel may deny Christ, or manifest their being ashamed of the gospel, by not opposing his word at they ought unto the sins of men,” he adds, “That any age, since Christian religion was first propagated, hath wanted store of martyrs, is more to be attributed unto the negligence, ignorance, and hypocrisy, or want of courage in Christ’s ambassadors, or appointed pastors, than unto the sincerity, mildness, or fidelity of the flock, especially of the bell-weathers or chief ringleaders,” Jac. tom. 1 b. 4. c. 4; with much more to the same purpose, which well deserve some men’s consideration before all things of this nature be too late.
But there is a duty of trading with a single talent; and if there be a ready mind, it is accepted according to what a man hath, and not according to what he hath not. And this alone hath made me adventure the proposal of my thoughts about the nature, causes, and occasions of the present defection from the gospel and decay of holiness, with the means of preservation from its infection, and prevention of its prevalency in private persons; for it is to no purpose to shut up all endeavors under fruitless complaints, nor yet to attempt an opposition unto effects whose causes are not well known and considered. Wherefore the investigation and declaration of the causes of this evil are the principal subject of the ensuing discourses. And if I have attained but thus much, that persons of more understanding and abilities to find out the hidden springs of the inundation of sin and errors in the Christian world, and who have more advantages to improve their discoveries unto public good, shall be hereby excited to undertake so necessary a work and duty, I shall esteem myself to have received a full reward.
There is one thing yet whereof I must advise those readers which are pleased to concern themselves in any writings of mine. The publishing of this exposition of some verses of the sixth chapter of the Epistle unto the Hebrews may have an appearance of my deserting that continued exposition of the whole epistle which I had designed. But as I know not what I may attain unto in the very near approach of that season wherein I must lay down this tabernacle, and the daily warning which, through many infirmities, I have thereof, so I am resolved whilst I live to proceed in that work as God shall enable, and other present necessary duties will allow. And the sole reason, added unto the seasonableness, as I supposed, of this discourse, why this part of the Exposition is singly proposed unto public view, was because the thoughts which arose thereon were drawn forth into such a length as would have been too great a digression from the context and design of the apostle.
The Nature and Causes of Apostasy From the Gospel.
The Nature of Apostasy From the Gospel Declared, In An Exposition of Hebrews 6:4-6.
Intending an inquiry into the nature, causes, and occasions of the present defection that is in the world from the truth, holiness, and worship of the gospel, I shall lay the foundation of my whole discourse in an exposition of that passage in the Epistle of Paul the apostle unto the Hebrews, wherein he gives an account both of the nature of apostasy and of the punishment due unto apostates; for as this will lead us naturally unto what is designed, so an endeavor to free the context from the difficulties wherewith it is generally supposed to be attended, and to explain the mind of the Holy Ghost therein, may be neither unacceptable nor unuseful. And this is chap. 6:4-6, whose words are these that follow: —
VAdu,naton ga.r tou.j a[pax fwtisqe,ntaj( geusame,nouj te th/j dwrea/j th/j evpourani,ou( kai. meto,couj genhqe,ntaj Pneu,matoj a`gi,ou( kai. kalo.n geusam,nouj Qeou/ r`h/ma( duna,meij te me,llontoj aivw/noj( kai. parapeso,ntaj( pa,lin avnakaini,zein eivj meta,noian( avnastaurou/ntaj e`autoi/j to.n Uio.n tou/ Qeou/ kai. paradeigmati,zontaj.)
VAdu,naton ga,r. “Impossibile enim,” that is, “est;” — “It is impossible.” Syr., !yxik.v.m, al’ aL’a,, — “But they cannot.” This respects the power of the persons themselves, and not the event of things; it may be not improperly as to the sense. Beza and Erasmus, “Fieri non potest,” — “It cannot be;” the same with “impossible.” But the use of the word avdu,naton in in the New Testament, which signifies sometimes only what is very difficult, not what is absolutely denied, makes it useful to retain the same word, as in our translation, “For it is impossible.”
Tou.j a[pax fwtisqe,ntaj. Wtxen. at’ydiWmm\l. !b\z> !Wnh’; — “Those who one time,” or “once descended unto baptism;” of which intepretation we must speak afterward. All others, “Qui semel fuerint illuminati;” — “Who were once enlightened.” Only the Ethiopic follows the Syriac. Some read “illustrati” to the same purpose.
Geusame,nouj te th/j dwrea/j th/j evpourani,ou. Vulg. Lat., “Gustaverant etiam donum coeleste;” “etiam,” for “et.” Others express the article by the pronoun, by reason of its reduplication: “Et gustaverint donum illud coeleste;” — “And have tasted of that heavenly gift.” Syr., “The gift that is from heaven.” And this the emphasis in the original seems to require: “And have tasted of that heavenly gift.”
Kai. meto,couj genhqe,ntaj Pneu,matoj a`gi,ou. “Et participes facti sunt Spiritus Sancti,” Vulg. Lat.; — “And are made partakers of the Holy Ghost.” All others, “facti fuerint,” “have been” made partakers of the Holy Ghost. Syr., av’d.WqD. ax’Wr, — The Spirit of holiness.”
Kai. kalo.n geusam,nouj Qeou/ r`h/ma. Vulg. Lat., “Et gustaverunt nihilominus bonum Dei verbum.” Rhem., “Have moreover tasted the good word of God.” But “moreover” doth not express “nihilominus.” [It must be rendered,] “And have notwithstanding,” etc., which hath no place here. Kalo.n r’h/ma, — “verbum pulchrum.”
Duna,meij te me,llontoj aivw/noj. “Virtutesque seculi futuri.” Syr., al’y/x\, — “virtutem,” the “power.” Vulg., “seculi venturi.” We cannot in our language distinguish between “futurum” and “venturum,” and so render it “the world to come.”
Kai. parapeso,ntaj. Vulg., “Et prolapsi sunt.” Rhem., “And are fallen.” Others, “Si prolabantur,” which the sense requires; “If they fall,” that is, “away,” as our translation, properly. Syr., woWjx.y< bWtD., ‘That sin again,” — somewhat dangerously, for it is one kind of sinning only that is included and expressed.
Pa,lin avnakaini,zein eivj meta,noian. Vulg., “Rursus renovari ad poenitentiam,” — “To be renewed again to repentance,” rendering the active verb passively. So Beza also, “Ut denuo renoventur ad resipiscentiam;” — “That they should again be renewed to repentance.” The word is active as rendered by ours, “To renew them again to repentance.”
VAnastaurou/ntaj e`autoi/j to.n Uio.n tou/ Qeou/. “Rursom crucifigentes sibimetipsis Filium Dei.” Kai. paradeigmati,zontaj. Vulg., “Et ostentui habentes.” Rhem., “And making him a mockery.” Erasmus, “Ludibrio habentes” Beza, “Ignominiae exponentes.” One of late, “Ad exemplum Judaeorum excruciaut;” — “Torment him as did the Jews.”
“For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Ghost, and have tasted the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, if they shall fall away,” (for any) “to renew them again to repentance; seeing they crucify again to themselves the Son of God, and put him to open shame” (or treat him ignominiously.)
That this passage in our apostle’s discourse hath been looked upon as accompanied with great difficulties is known to all, and many have the differences been about its interpretation; for both doctrinally and practically, sundry have here stumbled and miscarried. It is almost generally agreed upon that from these words, and the colorable but indeed perverse interpretation and application made of them by some in the primitive times, occasioned by the then present circumstances of things, to be mentioned afterwards, the Latin church was so backward in receiving the epistle itself, that it had not absolutely prevailed therein in the days of Jerome, as we have elsewhere declared. Wherefore it is necessary that we should a little inquire into the occasion of the great contests which have been in the church, almost in all ages, about the sense of this place.
It is known that the primitive church, according to its duty, was carefully watchful about the holiness and upright walking of all that were admitted into the society and fellowship of it. Hence, upon every known and visible failing, they required an open repentance from the offenders before they would admit them unto a participation of the sacred mysteries. But upon flagitious and scandalous crimes, such as murder, adultery, or idolatry, in many churches they would never admit those who had been guilty of them into their communion any more. Their greatest and most signal trial was with respect unto them who, through fear of death, complied with the Gentiles in their idolatrous worship in the time of persecution; for they had fixed no certain general rule whereby they should unanimously proceed, but every church exercised severity or lenity according as they saw cause, upon the circumstances of particular instances. Hence Cyprian, in his banishment, would not positively determine concerning those of the church in Carthage who had so sinned and fallen, but deferred his thoughts until his return, when he resolved to advise with the whole church, and settle all things according to the counsel that should be agreed on amongst them. Yea, many of his epistles are on this subject peculiarly: and in them all, if compared together, it is evident that there was no rule agreed upon herein; nor was he himself well resolved in his own mind, though strictly on all occasions opposing Novatianus; wherein it had been well if his arguments had answered his zeal. Before this, the church of Rome was esteemed in particular more remiss in their discipline, and more free than other churches in their re-admission unto communion of notorious offenders. Hence Tertullian, in his book de Poenitentia, reflects on Zephyrinus, the bishop of Rome, that he had “admitted adulterers unto repentance, and thereby unto the communion of the church.” But that church proceeding in her lenity, and every day enlarging her charity, Novatus and Novatianus, taking offense thereat, advanced an opinion in the contrary extreme: for they denied all hope of church pardon or of a return unto ecclesiastical communion unto them who had fallen into open sin after baptism; and, in especial, peremptorily excluded all persons whatsoever who had outwardly complied with idolatrous worship in time of persecution, without respect unto any distinguishing circumstances; yea, they seem to have excluded them from all expectation of forgiveness from God himself. But their followers, terrified with the uncharitableness and horror of this persuasion, tempered it so far as that, leaving all persons absolutely to the mercy of God upon their repentance, they only denied such as we mentioned before a re-admission unto church communion, as Acesius speaks expressly in Socrates, lib. 1 cap. 7. Now, this opinion they endeavored to confirm, as from the nature and use of baptism, which was not to be reiterated, — whereon they judged that no pardon was to be granted unto them who fell into those sins which they lived in before, and were cleansed from at their baptism, — so principally from this place of our apostle, wherein they thought their whole opinion was taught and confirmed. And so usually doth it fall out, very unhappily, with men who think they clearly see some peculiar opinion or persuasion in some singular text of Scripture, and will not bring their interpretation of it unto the analogy of faith, whereby they might see how contrary it is to the whole design and current of the word in other places. But the church of Rome, on the other side, though judging rightly, from other directions given in the Scripture, that the Novatians transgressed the rule of charity and gospel discipline in their severities, yet, as it should seem, and is very probable, knew not how to answer the objection from this place of our apostle. Therefore did they rather choose for a season to suspend their assent unto the authority of the whole epistle than to prejudice the church by its admission. And well was it that some learned men afterward, by their sober interpretations of the words, plainly evinced that no countenance was given in them unto the errors of the Novatians; for without this it is much to be feared that some would have preferred their interest in their present controversy before the authority of it: which would, in the issue, have proved ruinous to the truth itself; for the epistle, being designed of God unto the common edification of the church, would have at length prevailed, whatever sense men, through their prejudices and ignorance, should put upon any passages of it. But this controversy is long since buried, the generality of the churches in the world being sufficiently remote from that which was truly the mistake of the Novatians; yea, the most of them do bear peaceably in their communion, without the least exercise of gospel discipline towards them, such persons as concerning whom the dispute was of old, whether they should ever in this world be admitted into the communion of the church, although upon their open and professed repentance. We shall not therefore at present need to labor in this controversy.
But the sense of these words hath been the subject of great contests on other occasions also; for some do suppose and contend that they are real and true believers who are deciphered by the apostle, and that their character is given us in and by sundry inseparable adjuncts and properties of such persona Hence they conclude that such believers may totally and finally fall from grace, and perish eternally; yea, it is evident that this hypothesis of the final apostasy of true believers is that which influenceth their minds and judgments to suppose that such are here intended. Wherefore others who will not admit that, according to the tenor of the covenant of grace in Christ Jesus, true believers can perish everlastingly, do say that either they are not here intended, or if they are, that the words are only comminatory, wherein, although the consequence in them in a way of arguing be true, namely, that on the supposition laid down the inference is certain, yet the supposition is not asserted in order unto a certain consequent, whence it should follow that true believers might so really fall away and absolutely perish. And these things have been the matter of many contests among learned men.
Again; there have been sundry mistakes in the practical application of the intention of these words unto the consciences of men, mostly made by themselves who are concerned; for whereas, by reason of sin, they have been surprised with terrors and troubles of conscience, they have withal, in their darkness and distress, supposed themselves to be fallen into the condition here described by our apostle, and consequently to be irrecoverably lost. And these apprehensions usually befall men on two occasions; for some having been overtaken with some great actual sin against the second table, after they have made a profession of the gospel, and having their consciences harassed with a sense of their guilt (as it will fall out where men are not greatly hardened through the deceitfulness of sin), they judge that they are fallen under the sentence denounced in this Scripture against such sinners, as they suppose themselves to be, whereby their state is irrecoverable. Others do make the same judgment of themselves, because they have fallen from that constant compliance with their convictions which formerly led them unto a strict performance of duties, and this in some course of long continuance.
Now, whereas it is certain that the apostle in this discourse gives no countenance unto that severity of the Novatians whereby they excluded offenders everlastingly from the peace and communion of the church; nor to the final apostasy of true believers, which he testifieth against in this very chapter, in compliance with innumerable other testimonies of Scripture to the same purpose; nor doth he teach any thing whereby the conscience of any sinner who desires to return to God and to find acceptance with him should be discouraged or disheartened; we must attend unto the exposition of the words in the first place, so as not to break in upon the boundaries of other truths, nor transgress against the analogy of faith. And we shall find that this whole discourse, compared with other scriptures, and freed from the prejudices that men have brought unto it, is both remote from administering any just occasion to the mistakes before mentioned, and is a needful, wholesome commination, duly to be considered by all professors of the gospel.
In the words we consider, — 1. The connection of them unto those foregoing, intimating the occasion of the introduction of this whole discourse. 2. The subject described in them, or the persons spoken of, under sundry qualifications, which may be inquired into jointly and severally. 3. What is supposed concerning them. 4. What is affirmed of them on that supposition.
1. The connection of the words is included in the causal conjunction, ga,r, “for.” It respects the introduction of a reason for what had been before discoursed, as also of the limitation which the apostle added expressly unto his purpose of making a progress in their farther instruction, “If God permit.” And he doth not herein express his judgment that they to whom he wrote were such as he describes, for he afterward declares that he “hoped better things” concerning them; only, it was necessary to give them this caution, that they might take due care not to be such. And whereas he had manifested that they were slow as to the making of a progress in knowledge and a suitable practice, he lets them here know the danger that there was in continuing in that slothful condition; for not to proceed in the ways of the gospel and obedience thereunto is an untoward entrance into a total relinquishment of the one and the other. That therefore they might be acquainted with the danger hereof, and be stirred up to avoid that danger, he gives them an account of the miserable condition of those who, after a profession of the gospel, beginning at a non-proficiency under it, do end in apostasy from it. And we may see that the severest comminations are not only useful in the preaching of the gospel, but exceeding necessary, towards persons that are observed to be slothful in their profession.
2. The description of the persons that are the subject spoken of is given in five instances of the evangelical privileges whereof they were made partakers; notwithstanding all which, and against their obliging efficacy to the contrary, it is supposed that they may wholly desert the gospel itself. And some things we may observe concerning this description of them in general; as, — (1.) The apostle, designing to express the fearful state and judgment of these persons, describes them by such things as may fully evidence it to be, as unavoidable, so righteous and equal. Those things must be some eminent privileges and advantages, whereof they were made partakers by the gospel. These, being despised in their apostasy, do proclaim their destruction from God to be rightly deserved. (2.) That all these privileges do consist in certain especial operations of the Holy Ghost, which were peculiar unto the dispensation of the gospel, such as they neither were nor could be made partakers of in their Judaism; for the Spirit in this sense was not received by “the works of the law, but by the hearing of faith,” Galatians 3:2. And this was a testimony unto them that they were delivered from the bondage of the law, namely, by a participation of that Spirit which was the great privilege of the gospel. (3.) Here is no express mention of any covenant grace or mercy in them or towards them, nor of any duty of faith or obedience which they had performed. Nothing of justification, sanctification, or adoption, is expressly assigned unto them. Afterwards, when he comes to declare his hope and persuasion concerning these Hebrews, that they were not such as those whom he had before described, nor such as would so fall away unto perdition, he doth it upon three grounds, whereon they were differenced from them; as, — [1.] That they had such things as did accompany salvation, — that is, such as salvation is inseparable from. None of these things, therefore, had he ascribed unto those whom he describeth in this place; for if he had so done, they would not have been unto him an argument and evidence of a contrary end, that these should not fall away and perish as well as those. Wherefore he ascribes nothing to these here in the text that doth peculiarly “accompany salvation,” verse 9. [2.] He describes them by their duties of obedience and fruits of faith. This was their “work and labor of love” towards the name of God, verse 10. And hereby also doth he difference them from these in the text, concerning whom he supposeth that they may perish eternally, which these fruits of saving faith and sincere love cannot do. [3.] He adds, that in the preservation of those there mentioned the faithfulness of God was concerned: “God is not unrighteous to forget.” For they were such he intended as were interested in the covenant of grace, with respect whereunto alone there is any engagement on the faithfulness or righteousness of God to preserve men from apostasy and ruin; and there is so with an equal respect unto all who are so taken into that covenant. But of these in the text he supposeth no such thing, and thereupon doth not intimate that either the righteousness or faithfulness of God was any way engaged for their preservation, but rather the contrary. This whole description, therefore, refers unto some especial gospel privileges, which professors in those days were promiscuously made partakers of; and what they were in particular we must in the next place inquire.
The FIRST thing in the description is, that they were a[pax fwtisqe,ntej, “once enlightened.” Saith the Syriac translation, as we observed, “once baptized.” It is very certain that, early in the church, baptism was called fwtismo,j, “illumination;” and fwti,zein, to “enlighten,” was used for to “baptize.” And the set times wherein they solemnly administered that ordinance were called h`me,rai tw/n fw,twn, “the days of light.” Hereunto the Syriac interpreter seems to have had respect; and the word a[pax, “once,” may give countenance hereunto. Baptism was once only to be celebrated, according to the constant faith of the church in all ages. And they called baptism “illumination,” because it being one ordinance of the initiation of persons into a participation of all the mysteries of the church, they were thereby translated out of the kingdom of darkness into that of light and grace. And it seems to give farther countenance hereunto in that baptism really was the beginning and foundation of a participation of all the other spiritual privileges that are mentioned afterwards; for it was usual in those times, that, upon the baptizing of persons, the Holy Ghost came upon them, and endowed them with extraordinary gifts, peculiar to the days of the gospel, as we have showed in our consideration of the order between baptism and imposition of hands. And this opinion hath so much of probability in it, that, having nothing therewithal unsuited unto the analogy of faith or design of the place, I should embrace it, if the word itself, as here used, did not require another interpretation; for it was good while aider the writing of this epistle and all other parts of the New Testament, at least an age or two, if not more, before this word was used mystically to express baptism. In the whole Scripture it hath another sense, denoting an inward operation of the Spirit, and not the outward administration of an ordinance. And it is too much boldness to take a word in a peculiar sense in one single place, diverse from its proper signification and constant use, if there be no circumstances in the text forcing us thereunto, as here are not. And for the word a[pax “once,” it is not to be restrained unto this particular, but refers equally unto all the instances that follow, signifying no more but that those mentioned were really and truly partakers of them.
Fwti,zomai is is to give light or knowledge by teaching, the same with hr”wOh, which is therefore so translated ofttimes by the Greeks; as by Aquila, Exodus 4:12, Psalm 119:33, Proverbs 4:4, Isaiah 27:11, as Drusius observes. And it is so by the LXX., Judges 13:8, 2 Kings 12:2, 17:27. Our apostle useth it for to “make manifest,” — that is, to “bring to light,” 1 Corinthians 4:5; 2 Timothy 1:10. And the meaning of it, John 1:9, where we render it “lighteth,” is to teach. And fwtismo,j is knowledge upon instruction; 2 Corinthians 4:4, Eivj to. mh. auvga,sai auvtoi/j to.n fwtismo.n tou/ euvaggeli,ou — “That the light of the gospel should not shine into them,” — that is, the knowledge of it. So verse 6, Pro.j fwtismo.n th/j gnw,sewj — “The light of the knowledge.” Wherefore, to be “enlightened” in this place is to be instructed in the doctrine of the gospel, so as to have a spiritual apprehension thereof; and this is so termed on a double account: —
1. Of the objects, or the things known or apprehended; for “life and immortality are brought to light through the gospel,” 2 Timothy 1:10. Hence it is called “light,” — ” The inheritance of the saints in light.” And the state which men are thereby brought into is so called in opposition to the darkness that is in the world without it, 1 Peter 2:9. The world without the gospel is the kingdom of Satan: ~O ko,smoj o[loj evn tw/| ponhrw/| kei/tai, 1 John 5:19. The whole of the world, and all that belongs unto it, in distinction from and opposition unto the new creation, is under the power of the wicked one, the prince of the power of darkness, and so is full of darkness. It is to,poj auvcmhro,j, 2 Peter 1:19, — “a dark place,” wherein ignorance, folly, errors, and superstition do dwell and reign. By the power and efficacy of this darkness are men kept at a distance from God, and know not whither they go. This is called “walking in darkness,” 1 John 1:6, whereunto “walking in the light,” — that is, the knowledge of God in Christ by the gospel, — is opposed, verse 7. On this account is our instruction in the knowledge of the gospel called “illumination,” because itself is light.
2. On the account of the subject, or the mind itself, whereby the gospel is apprehended; for the knowledge which is received thereby expels that darkness, ignorance, and confusion which the mind before was filled and possessed withal. The knowledge, I say, of the doctrines of the gospel concerning the person of Christ, of God’s being in him reconciling the world to himself, of his offices, work, and mediation, and the like heads of divine revelation, doth set up a spiritual light in the minds of men, enabling them to discern what before was utterly hid from them, whilst alienated from the life of God through their ignorance. Of this light and knowledge there are several degrees, according to the means of instruction which men do enjoy, the capacity they have to receive it, and the diligence they use to that purpose; but a competent measure of the knowledge of the fundamental and most material principles or doctrines of the gospel is required unto all that may thence be said to be illuminated, — that is, freed from the darkness and ignorance they once lived in, 2 Peter 1:19-21.
This is the first property whereby the persons intended are described: they are such as were illuminated by the instruction they had received in the doctrines of the gospel, and the impression made thereby on their minds by the Holy Ghost; for this is a common work of his, and is here so reckoned. And the apostle would have us know that, —
I. It is a great mercy, a great privilege, to be enlightened with the doctrine of the gospel by the effectual working of the Holy Ghost. But, —
II. It is such a privilege as may be lost, and end in the aggravation of the sin, and condemnation of those who were made partakers of it. And, —
III. Where there is a total neglect of the due improvement of this privilege and mercy, the condition of such persons is hazardous, as inclining towards apostasy.
Thus much lies open and manifest in the text. But that we may more particularly discover the nature of this first part of the character of apostates, for their sakes who may look after their own concernment therein, we may yet a little more distinctly express the nature of that illumination and knowledge which is here ascribed unto them; and how it is lost in apostasy will afterward appear. And, —
1. There is a knowledge of spiritual things that is purely natural and disciplinary, attainable and attained without any especial aid or assistance of the Holy Ghost As this is evident in common experience, so especially among such as, casting themselves on the study of spiritual things, are yet utter strangers unto all spiritual gifts. Some knowledge of the Scripture and the things contained in it is attainable at the same rate of pains and study with that of any other art or science.
2. The illumination intended, being a gift of the Holy Ghost, differs from and is exalted above this knowledge that is purely natural; for it makes nearer approaches unto the light of spiritual things in their own nature than the other doth. Notwithstanding the utmost improvement of scientifical notions that are purely natural, the things of the gospel, in their own nature, are not only unsuited unto the wills and affections of persons endued with them, but are really foolishness unto their minds. And as unto that goodness and excellency which give desirableness unto spiritual things, this knowledge discovers so little of them that most men hate the things which they profess to believe. But this spiritual illumination gives the mind some satisfaction, with delight and joy in the things that are known. By that beam whereby it shines into darkness, although it be not fully comprehended, yet it represents the way of the gospel as a “way of righteousness,” 2 Peter 2:21, which reflects a peculiar regard of it on the mind.
Moreover, the knowledge that is merely natural hath little or no power upon the soul, either to keep it from sin or to constrain it to obedience. There is not a more secure and profligate generation of sinners in the world than those who are under the sole conduct of it. But the illumination here intended is attended with efficacy, so as that it doth effectually press in the conscience and whole soul unto an abstinence from sin and the performance of all known duties. Hence persons under the power of it and its convictions do ofttimes walk blamelessly and uprightly in the world, so as not with the other to contribute unto the contempt of Christianity. Besides, there is such an alliance between spiritual gifts, that where any one of them doth reside, it hath assuredly others accompanying of it, or one way or other belonging unto its train; as is manifest in this place. Even a single talent is made up of many pounds. But the light and knowledge which is of a mere natural acquirement is solitary, destitute of the society and countenance of any spiritual gift whatever. And these things are exemplified unto common observation every day.
3. There is a saving, sanctifying light and knowledge which this spiritual illumination riseth not up unto; for though it transiently affect the mind with some glances of the beauty, glory, and excellency of spiritual things, yet it doth not give that direct, steady, intuitive insight into them which is obtained by grace. See 2 Corinthians 3:18, 4:6. Neither doth it renew, change, or transform the soul into a conformity unto the things known, by planting of them in the will and affections, as a gracious, saving light doth, 2 Corinthians 3:18; Romans 6:17, 12:2.
These things I judged necessary to be added, to clear the nature of the first character of apostates.
The SECOND thing asserted in the description of them is, that they have “tasted of the heavenly gift,” — geusame,nouj te th/j dwrea/j th/j evpoupani,ou. The doubling of the article gives emphasis to the expression. And we must inquire, — 1. What is meant by the “heavenly gift;” and, 2. What by “tasting” of it.
1. The gift of God, dwrea,, is either do,sij, “donatio,” or dw,rhma, “donum.” Sometimes it is taken for the grant or giving itself, and sometimes for the thing given. In the first sense it is used, 2 Corinthians 9:15, “Thanks be unto God evpi. th?| avnekdihgh<tw?| auvtou/ dwrea/|,” — for his gift that cannot be declared;” that is, fully or sufficiently. Now this gift was his grant of a free, charitable, and bountiful spirit to the Corinthians in ministering unto the poor saints. The grant hereof is called “God’s gift.” So is the gift of Christ used also: Ephesians 4:7, “According to the measure of the gift of Christ;” that is, “According as he is pleased to give and grant of the fruits of the Spirit unto men.” See Romans 5:15-17; Ephesians 3:7. Sometimes it is taken for the thing given, properly dw/ron or dw,rhma, as James 1:17. So it is used John 4:10, “If thou knewest the gift of God,” th.n dwrea.n tou/ Qeou/, “The gift of God,” — that is, the thing given by him, or to be given by him. It is, as many judge, the person of Christ himself which in that place is intended; but the context makes it plain that it is the Holy Ghost, for he is that “living water” which the Lord Jesus in that place promiseth to bestow. And, so far as I can observe, dwrea,, the “gift,” with respect unto God, as denoting the thing given, is nowhere used but only to signify the Holy Ghost; and if it be so, the sense of this place is determined, Acts 2:38, “Ye shall receive th.n dwrea.n tou/ a`gi,ou Pneu,matoj, — the gift of the Holy Ghost;” not that which he gives, but that which he is. Chap. 8:20, “Thou hast thought dwrea.n tou/ Qeou/, — that the gift of God may be purchased with money;” that is, the power of the Holy Ghost in miraculous operations. So expressly chap. 10:45, 11:17. Elsewhere dwrea,, so far as I can observe, when respecting God, doth not signify the thing given, but the grant itself. The Holy Spirit is signally the gift of God under the new testament.
And he is said to be evpoura,nioj, “heavenly,” or from heaven. This may have respect unto his work and effect, — they are heavenly, as opposed to carnal and earthly; but principally it regards his mission by Christ, after his ascension into heaven: Acts 2:33, being exalted, and having received the promise of the Father, he sent the Spirit. The promise of him was, that he should be sent from heaven, or l[;M;mi, “from above,” as God is said to be above, which is the same with “heavenly,” Deuteronomy 4:39; 2 Chronicles 6:23; Job 31:28; Isaiah 32:15, ~worM’mi, and chap. 24:18. When he came upon the Lord Christ to anoint him for his work, “the heavens were opened,” and he came from above, Matthew 3:16. So Acts 2:2, at his first coming on the apostles, there came “a sound from heaven.” Hence he is said to be avpostalei.j avp v ouvranou/, — that is, to be h` dwrea. tou/ Qeou/, “sent from heaven,” 1 Peter 1:12. Wherefore, although he may be said to be “heavenly” upon other accounts also, which therefore are not absolutely to be excluded, yet his being sent from heaven by Christ, after his ascension thither and exaltation there, is principally here regarded. He therefore is this h` dwrea. h` evpoura,nioj, the “heavenly gift” here intended, though not absolutely, but with respect unto an especial work.
That which riseth up against this interpretation is, that the Holy Ghost is expressly mentioned in the next clause: “And were made partakers of the Holy Ghost.” It is not therefore probable that he should be here also intended.
Ans. (1.) It is ordinary to have the same thing twice expressed, in various words, to quicken the sense of them; and it is necessary it should be so, when there are divers respects unto the same thing, as there are in this place.
(2.) The following clause may be exegetical of this, declaring more fully and plainly what is here intended; which is usual also in the Scripture: so that nothing is cogent from this consideration to disprove an interpretation so suited to the sense of the place, and which the constant use of the word makes necessary to be embraced. But, —
(3.) The Holy Ghost is here mentioned as the great gift of the gospel times, as coming down from heaven, not absolutely, not as unto his person, but with respect unto an especial work, — namely, the change of the whole state of religious worship in the church of God, — whereas we shall see in the next words, he is spoken of only with respect unto external actual operations. But he was the great, the promised heavenly gift, to be bestowed under the new testament, by whom God would institute and ordain a new way and new rites of worship, upon the revelation of himself and his will in Christ. Unto him was committed the reformation of all things in the church, whose time was now come, chap. 9:10. The Lord Christ, when he ascended into heaven, left all things standing and continuing in religious worship as they had done from the days of Moses, though he had virtually put an end unto it [the Mosaic dispensation]; and he commanded his disciples that they should attempt no alteration therein until the Holy Ghost were sent from heaven to enable them thereunto, Acts 1:4, 5. But when he came as the great gift of God, promised under the new testament, he removes all the carnal worship and ordinances of Moses, and that by the full revelation of the accomplishment of all that was signified by them, and appoints the new, holy, spiritual worship of the gospel, that was to succeed in their room.
The Spirit of God, therefore, as bestowed for the introduction of the new gospel state in truth and worship, is the “heavenly gift” here intended. Thus our apostle warneth these Hebrews that they “turn not away from him who speaketh from heaven,” chap. 12:25, — that is, from Jesus Christ speaking in the dispensation of the gospel by the “Holy Ghost sent down from heaven.” And there is an antithesis included herein between the law and the gospel, the former being given on earth, the latter being immediately from heaven. God, in giving of the law, made use of the ministry of angels, and that on the earth; but he gave the gospel church-state by that Spirit which, although he worketh in men on earth, and is said in every act or work to be sent from heaven, yet is he still in heaven, and always speaketh from thence, as our Savior said of himself with respect unto his divine nature, John 3:13.
2. We may inquire what it is to “taste” of this heavenly gift, The expression of “tasting” is metaphorical, and signifies no more but to make a trial or experiment; for so we do by tasting naturally and properly of that which is tendered unto us to eat. We taste such things by the sense given us to discern our food, and then either receive or refuse them, as we find occasion. It doth not therefore include eating, much less digestion and turning into nourishment of what is so tasted; for its nature being only thereby discerned, it may be refused, yea, though we like its relish and savor, upon some other consideration. Some have observed, that “to taste is as much as to eat; as 2 Samuel 3:35, ‘I will not taste bread, or ought else.'” But the meaning is, “I will not so much as taste it,” whence it was impossible he should eat it. And when Jonathan says that he only tasted a little of the honey, 1 Samuel 14:29, it was an excuse and extenuation of what he had done. But it is unquestionably used for some kind of experience of the nature of things: Proverbs 31:18, Hr”x.s; bwOj-yKi hm'j’, — “She tasteth that her merchandise is good,” or hath experience of it, from its increase. Psalm 34:8, “O taste and see that the LORD is good;” which Peter respects, 1 Peter 2:3, “If so be that ye have tasted that the Lord is gracious,” or found it so by experience. It is therefore properly to make an experiment or trial of any thing, whether it be received or refused, and is sometimes opposed to eating and digestion, as Matthew 27:34. That, therefore, which is ascribed unto these persons is, that they had had an experience of the power of the Holy Ghost, that gift of God, in the dispensation of the gospel, the revelation of the truth, and institution of the spiritual worship of it, Of this state, and of the excellency of it, they had made some trial and had some experience; a privilege that all men were not made partakers of. And by this taste they were convinced that it was far more excellent than what they had been before accustomed unto, although now they had a mind to leave the finest wheat for their old acorns. Wherefore, although tasting contains a diminution in it, if compared with that spiritual eating and drinking, with that digestion of gospel truths, turning them into nourishment, which are in true believers, yet, absolutely considered, it denotes that apprehension and experience of the excellency of the gospel as administered by the Spirit, which is a great privilege and spiritual advantage, the contempt whereof will prove an unspeakable aggravation of the sin, and the remediless ruin of apostates. The meaning, then, of this character given concerning these apostates is, that they had some experience of the power and efficacy of the Holy Spirit from heaven, in gospel administrations and worship. For what some say of faith, it hath here no place; and what others affirm of Christ, and his being the gift of God, comes in the issue unto what we have proposed. And we may observe, farther to clear the design of the apostle in this commination, —
I. That all the gifts of God under the gospel are peculiarly heavenly, John 3:12; Ephesians 1:3; — and that in opposition, 1. To earthly things, Colossians 3:1, 2; 2. To carnal ordinances, Hebrews 9:23. Let them beware by whom they are despised.
II. The Holy Ghost, for the remission of the mysteries of the gospel, and the institution of the ordinances of spiritual worship, is the great gift of God under the new testament.
III. There is a goodness and excellency in this heavenly gift which may be tasted or experienced in some measure by such as never receive them in their life, power, and efficacy. They may taste, — 1. Of the word in its truth, not its power; 2. Of the worship of the church in its outward order, not in its inward beauty; 3. Of the gifts of the church, not its graces.
IV. A rejection of the gospel, its truth and worship, after some experience had of their worth and excellency, is a high aggravation of sin, and a certain presage of destruction.
The THIRD property whereby these persons are described is added in these words, Kai. meto,couj genhqe,ntaj Pneu,matoj a`gi,ou, — “And were made partakers of the Holy Ghost,” This is placed in the middle or center of the privileges enumerated, two preceding it and two following after, as that which is the root and animating principle of them all. They all are effects of the Holy Ghost, in his gifts or his graces, and so do depend on the participation of him. Now, men do so partake of the Holy Ghost as they do receive him; and he may be received either as unto personal inhabitation or as unto spiritual operations. In the first way, “the world cannot receive him,” John 14:17, — where the world is opposed unto true believers; and therefore those here intended were not in that sense partakers of him. His operations respect his gifts. So to partake of him is to have a part, share, or portion in what he distributes by way of spiritual gifts; in answer unto that expression, “All these worketh that one and the selfsame Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will,” 1 Corinthians 12:11. So Peter told Simon the magician that he had no part in spiritual gifts; he was not partaker of the Holy Ghost, Acts 8:21. Wherefore, to be partaker of the Holy Ghost is to have a share in and benefit of his spiritual operations.
But whereas the other things mentioned are also gifts or operations of the Holy Ghost, on what ground or for what reason is this mentioned here in particular, that they were “made partakers of him,” which, if his operations only be intended, seems to be expressed in the other instances?
Ans. 1. It is, as we observed before, no unusual thing in the Scripture to express the same thing under various notions, the more effectually to impress a consideration and sense of it on our mind, especially where an expression hath a singular emphasis in it, as this hath here used; for it is an exceeding aggravation of the sins of those apostates, that in these things they were “partakers of the Holy Ghost.”
2. As was before intimated also, this participation of the Holy Ghost is placed, it may be, in the midst of the several parts of this description, as that whereon they do all depend, and that they are all but instances of it. They were “partakers of the Holy Ghost” in that they were “once enlightened;” and so of the rest.
3. It expresseth their own personal interest in these things. They had an interest in the things mentioned not only objectively, as they were proposed and presented to them in the church, but subjectively, as they themselves in their own persons were made partakers of them. It is one thing for a man to have a share in and benefit by the gifts of the church, another to be personally himself endowed with them.
4. To mind them in an especial manner of the privilege, they enjoyed under the gospel, above what they had in their Judaism: for whereas they had not then so much as heard that there was a Holy Ghost, — that is, a blessed dispensation of him in spiritual gifts, Acts 19:2, — now they themselves in their own persons were made partakers of him; than which there could be no greater aggravation of their apostasy. And we may observe, in our way, that the Holy Ghost is present with many as unto powerful operations with whom he is not present as to gracious inhabitation; or, many are made partakers of him in his spiritual gifts who are never made partakers of him in his saving graces, Matthew 7:22, 23.
FOURTHLY, It is added in the description, that they had tasted kalo.n Qeou/ r`hma, “the good word of God.” And we must inquire, — 1. What is meant by the “word of God;” 2. How it is said to be “good;” and, 3. In what sense they “taste” of it.
1. `Rhima is properly “verbum dictum,” a word spoken; and although it be sometimes used in another sense by our apostle, and by him alone, — Hebrews 1:3, 11:3, where it denotes the effectual active power of God, — yet both the signification of the word and its principal use elsewhere denote words spoken, and, when applied unto God, his word as preached and declared. See Romans 10:17; John 6:68. The word of God, — that is, the word of the gospel as preached, — is that which they thus tasted of. But it may be said, that they enjoyed the word of God in their state of Judaism. They did so as to the written word, for “unto them were committed the oracles of God,” Romans 3:2; but it is the word of God as preached in the dispensation of the gospel that is eminently thus called, and concerning which such excellent things are spoken, Romans 1:16; Acts 20:32; James 1:21.
2. This word is said to be kalo,n, “good,” desirable, amiable, as the word here used signifieth. Wherein it is so we shall see immediately. But whereas the word of God preached under the dispensation of the gospel may be considered two ways, — (1.) In general, as to the whole system of truths contained therein; and, (2.) In especial, for the declaration made of the accomplishment of the promise in sending Jesus Christ for the redemption of the church, — it is here especially intended in this latter sense. This is emphatically called r`h/ma Kuri,ou, 1 Peter 1:25. So the promise of God in particular is called his “good word:” Jeremiah 29:10, “After seventy years be accomplished I will visit you, and perform my good word toward you;” as he calls it the “good thing that he had promised,” chap. 33:14. The gospel is the “good tidings” of peace and salvation by Jesus Christ, Isaiah 52:7.
3. Hereof they are said to “taste,” as they were before of the heavenly gift. The apostle, as it were, studiously keeps himself to this expression, on purpose to manifest that he intendeth not those who by faith do really receive, feed, and live on Jesus Christ as tendered in the word of the gospel, John 6:35, 49-51, 54-56. It is as if he had said, “I speak not of those who have received and digested the spiritual food of their souls, and turned it into spiritual nourishment, but of such as have so far tasted of it as that they ought to have desired it as sincere milk, to have grown thereby; but they had received such an experiment of its divine truth and power as that it had various effects upon them.” And for the farther explication of these words, and therein of the description of the state of these supposed apostates, we may consider the ensuing observations, which declare the sense of the words, or what is contained in them.
I. There is a goodness and excellency in the word of God able to attract and affect the minds of men who yet never arrive at sincere obedience unto it.
II. There is an especial goodness in the word of the promise concerning Jesus Christ and the declaration of its accomplishment.
For the first of these propositions, we may inquire what is that goodness, and wherein it doth consist; as also, how apostatizing backsliders may taste thereof: which things tend to the explanation of the words, and what is designed by the apostle in them.
1. (1.) This goodness and excellency of the word of God consists in its spiritual, heavenly truth. All truth is beautiful and desirable; the perfection of the minds of men consists in the reception of it and conformity unto it; and although “true” be one consideration of any thing, and “good” another, yet they are inseparable properties of the same subject. Whatever is true is also good. So are these things put together by the apostle, Philippians 4:8. And as truth is good in itself, so is it in its effects on the minds of men; it gives them peace, satisfaction, and contentment. Darkness, errors, falsehood, are evils in themselves, and fill the minds of men with vanity, uncertainty, superstition, dread, and bondage. It is truth that makes the soul free in any kind, John 8:32. Now, the word of God is the only pure, unmixed, and solid truth: “Thy word is truth,” John 17:17. In most other things, as to the best evidence attainable, men wander in the wilderness of endless conjectures. The truth of the word of God alone is stable, firm, infallible; which gives rest to the soul. As God is a “God of truth,” Deuteronomy 32:4, the “only true God,” John 17:3, so he is, and he alone is, essentially truth, and the eternal spring of it unto all other things. Hereof is this word the only revelation. How excellent, how desirable, therefore, must it needs be! and what a goodness, to be preferred above all other things, must it be accompanied withal! As it is infallible truth, giving light to the eyes and rest to the soul, it is the “good word of God.”
(2.) It is so in the matter of it, or the doctrines contained in it; as, — [1.] The nature and properties of God are declared therein. God being the only good, the only fountain and cause of all goodness, and in whose enjoyment all rest and blessedness do consist, the revelation made of him, his nature and attributes, reflects a singular goodness on it, John 17:3. If it be incomparably better to know God than to enjoy the whole world and all that is in it, that word must be good whereby he is revealed unto us, Jeremiah 9:23,24. [2.] It is exceeding good in the revelation of the glorious mystery of the Trinity, therein alone contained. This is that mystery the knowledge whereof is the only means to have a right apprehension of all other sacred truths; and without it no one of them can be understood in a due manner, nor improved unto a due end. This is that alone which will give true rest and peace to the soul. And there is not the meanest true believer in the world, who is exercised in faith and obedience, but he hath the power of this truth in and upon his mind, though he be not able to speak much of the notions of it. All grace and truth are built hereon and do center herein, and thence derive their first power and efficacy. Not one saving apprehension can we have of any gracious dispensation of God towards us, but it is resolved into the existence of God in a trinity of persons, and the economy of their operations with respect unto us. It is a “good word” whereby that mystery is revealed. [3.] It is so in the revelation of the whole mystery of the incarnation of the Son of God, with all the effects of infinite wisdom and grace thereunto belonging. What a satisfactory goodness this is accompanied withal, it is the most part of my business in this world to inquire and declare. [4.] It is so in the declaration of all the benefits of the mediation of Christ, in mercy, grace, pardon, justification, adoption, etc.
(3.) It is a good word with respect unto its blessed effects, Psalm 19:7- 9; Acts 20:32; James 1:21. On this account the psalmist assures us that it is “more to be desired than gold, yea, than much fine gold;” that it is “sweeter than honey and the honey-comb,” Psalm 19:10; — that is, there is an incomparable excellency, worth, and goodness in it. And he who discerns not this goodness in the word of God is a stranger unto all real benefits by it.
2. How apostatizing persons do taste of this good word of God may be briefly declared. And their so doing hath respect unto the threefold property of it mentioned, whence it is denominated “good:” (1.) Its truth; (2.) Its subject-matter; (3.) Its effects.
And, — (1.) They taste of it as it is true, in the convictions they have thereof, in their knowledge in it, and acknowledgment of it. This gives (as it is the nature of truth to do) some serenity and satisfaction unto their minds, although they are not renewed thereby. They that heard John preach the truth rejoiced in his light, as finding much present satisfaction therein, John 5:35. So was it with them, Luke 4:22, John 7:46, and others innumerable, on the like occasion of hearing our Savior preach. When men, through the knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, do escape the pollutions that are in the world through lust, and them that live in error, they taste a goodness, a sweetness, in the rest and satisfaction of their minds, so as that they suppose they are really possessed of the things themselves.
(2.) With respect unto the matter of the word, they have a taste of its goodness in the hopes which they have of their future enjoyment. Mercy, pardon, life, immortality, and glory, are all proposed in the “good word of God.” These, upon those grounds which will fail them at last, they have such hopes to be made partakers of as that they find a great relish and satisfaction therein, especially when they have relief thereby against their fears and convictions; for, even in those ways wherein they deceive themselves, they have a taste of what sweetness and goodness there is in these things unto them by whom they are enjoyed. And as those who really believe and receive Jesus Christ in the word do thereon “rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory,” 1 Peter 1:8, so those who only taste of the word do feel in themselves a great complacency in their affections, Matthew 13:20; for, —
(3.) By this taste they may receive many effects of the word on their minds and consciences, and therein have an experience of the word as unto its power and efficacy. It belongs unto the exposition of the place to speak a little hereunto, and withal to declare what the difference is between them, and wherein this tasting comes short of that receiving and feeding on the word by faith which is peculiar unto true believers.
[1.] This taste is accompanied, or it may be so, with delight, pleasure, and satisfaction in hearing of the word preached, especially when it is dispensed by any skillful “master of assemblies,” who finds out “acceptable words,” or “words of delight,” which yet are “upright, and words of truth,” Ecclesiastes 12:10, 11. So was it with those naughty Jews, Ezekiel 33:31, 32; and with Herod, who heard John the Baptist gladly, finding delight and pleasure in his preaching. So was it with multitudes that pressed after Christ to hear the word; and so it is to be feared that it is with many in the days wherein we live.
[2.] It gives not only delight in hearing, but some joy in the things heard. Such are the hearers of the word whom our Savior compared to the stony ground; they receive it with joy, Matthew 13:20, as it was with the hearers of John the Baptist, John 5:35. The word, as tasted only, hath this effect on their minds, that they shall rejoice in the things they hear, not with abiding solid joy, not with joy unspeakable and full of glory, but with that which is temporary and evanid. And this ariseth from that satisfaction which they find in hearing of the good things declared; such are mercy, pardon, grace, immortality, and glory. They cannot but rejoice sometimes at the hearing of them, though they will not be at the pains of getting an interest in them.
[3.] The word only thus tasted of will work on men a change and reformation of their lives, with a readiness unto the performance of many duties, 2 Peter 2:18, 20; Mark 6:20. And, —
[4.] What inward effects it may have on the minds and affections of men, in illumination, conviction, and humiliation, I have declared at large elsewhere. But, all this while, this is but tasting. The word of the gospel, and Christ preached therein, is the food of our souls; and true faith cloth not only taste it, but feed upon it, whereby it is turned into grace and spiritual nourishment in the heart. And hereunto is required: — 1st. The laying it up, or treasuring of it in the heart, Luke 1:66, 2:19. No nourishment will ever be obtained by food unless it be received into the stomach, where the means and causes of digestion and communication are placed; and if the word be not placed in the heart by fixed meditation and delight, it may please for a season, but it will not nourish the soul. 2dly. Food must be mixed and incorporated with the digestive humor, power, and faculty of the stomach, whereinsoever it consists, or it will not nourish. Give a man never so much food, if there be any noxious humor in the stomach hindering it from mixing itself with the means of digestion, it will no way profit him; and until the word in the heart be mixed and incorporated with faith, it will not advantage us, Hebrews 4:2; — and there is nothing hereof where there is a taste of the word only. 3dly. When men feed on the word, it is turned into a principle of life, spiritual strength, and growth within; which a taste of it only will not give. As food, when it is digested, turns into flesh and blood and spirits, so doth the word, and Christ therein, unto the souls of men spiritually. Hence Christ becometh “our life,” and “liveth in us,” as the efficient cause of our spiritual life, Galatians 2:20; Colossians 3:3; and we grow and increase by the word, 1 Peter 2:2. A mere taste, though it may yield present refreshment, yet it communicates no abiding strength. Hence multitudes relish the word when it is preached, but never attain life, or strength, or growth by it. 4thly. The word received as it ought will transform the soul into the likeness of God, who sends us this food to change our whole spiritual constitution, and to render our nature like unto his, in “righteousness and true holiness,” Ephesians 4:21-24; 2 Corinthians 3:18. This a taste only will effect nothing towards; nor, to conclude, will it give us such a love of the truth as to abide by it in trials or temptations, 2 Thessalonians 2:10, nor bring forth the fruits of it in universal obedience. And I might farther discourse from hence of the deplorable condition of them who satisfy their minds in mere notions. of the truth, and empty speculations about it, without once attaining so much as a taste of the goodness of the word, — of which sort there are many in the world; as also show the necessity, which all the hearers of the word lie under, of a severe scrutiny into their own souls, whether they do not rest in a taste only of the word, but come short of feeding upon it and of Christ therein, but that I must not divert from the text. What hath been here spoken was needful to declare the true state and condition of the persons spoken of. The second proposition mentioned hath been treated of elsewhere.
LASTLY, It is added, Duna,meij te me,llontoj aivw/noj, — “And the powers of the world to come.” Duna,meij are twOrWbG.h; or twOal’p.ni, the mighty, great, miraculous operations and works of the Holy Ghost. What they were, and how they were wrought among these Hebrews, hath been declared in our Exposition on chap. 2:4, whither I refer the reader; and they are known from the Acts of the Apostles, where sundry instances of them are recorded. I have also proved on that chapter, that by “The world to come,” our apostle in this epistle intends the days of the Messiah, that being the usual name of it in the church at that time, as the new world which God had promised to create. Wherefore these “powers of the world to come” were the gifts whereby those signs, wonders, and mighty works, were then wrought by the Holy Ghost, according as it was foretold by the prophets that they should be so. See Joel 2:28-32 compared with Acts 2:16-21. These the persons spoken of are supposed to have tasted, for the particle te refers to geusame,nouj foregoing. Either they had been wrought in and by themselves, or by others in their sight, whereby they had had an experience of the glorious and powerful working of the Holy Ghost in the confirmation of the gospel. Yea, I do judge that themselves in their own persons were partakers of these powers, in the gift of tongues and other miraculous operations; which was the highest aggravation possible of their apostasy, and that which peculiarly rendered their recovery, impossible: for there is not in the Scripture an impossibility put upon the recovery of any but such as peculiarly sin against the Holy Ghost; — and although that guilt may be otherwise contracted, yet in none so signally as by this of rejecting that truth which was confirmed by his mighty operations in them that rejected it; which could not be done without an ascription of his divine power unto the devil. Yet would I not fix on extraordinary gifts exclusively unto those that are ordinary. They also are of the “powers of the world to come;” so is every thing that belongs to the erection or preservation of the new world, or the kingdom of Christ. To the first setting up of a kingdom great and mighty power is required; but being set up, the ordinary dispensation of power will preserve it. So it is in this matter. The extraordinary miraculous gifts of the Spirit were used in the erection of Christ’s kingdom, but it is continued by ordinary gifts; which therefore also belong unto the “powers of the world to come.”
From the consideration of this description in all the parts of it, we may understand what sort of persons it is that is here intended by the apostle. And it appears, yea, is evident, —
1. That the persons here intended are not true and sincere believers in the strict and proper sense of that name, at least they are not described here as such; so that from hence nothing can be concluded concerning them that are so, as to the possibility of their total and final apostasy: for, — (1.) There is in their full and large description no mention of faith or believing, either expressly or in terms equivalent. And in no other place of the Scripture are such intended, but [except where] they are mentioned by what belongs essentially to their state. And, (2.) There is not any thing ascribed to these persons that is peculiar to them as such, or discriminative of them, as taken either from their especial relation unto God in Christ, or any such property of their own as is not communicable unto others. For instance, they are not said to be called according to God’s purpose; to be born again, not of the will of man, nor of the will of the flesh, but of God; not to be justified, or sanctified, or united unto Christ, or to be the sons of God by adoption; nor have they any other chracteristical note of true believers ascribed to them. (3.) They are in the following verses compared to the ground on which the rain often falls, and beareth nothing but thorns and briers. But this is not so with true believers; for faith itself is an herb peculiar to the enclosed garden of Christ, and meet for him by whom we are dressed. (4.) The apostle, discoursing afterwards of true believers, doth in many particulars distinguish them from such as might be apostates, which is supposed of the persons here intended, as was in part before declared; for, — [1.] He ascribes unto them in general “better things,” and such as “accompany salvation,” as we observed, verse 9. [2.] He ascribes unto them a “work and labor of love,” as it is true faith alone which worketh by love, verse 10, whereof he speaks not one word concerning these. [3.] He asserts their preservation, on the account, — 1st. Of the righteousness and faithfulness of God, verse 10; 2dly. Of the immutability of his counsel concerning them, verses 17, 18. In all these and sundry other instances doth he put a difference between these apostates and true believers. And whereas the apostle intends to declare the aggravation of their sin in falling away by the principal privileges whereof they were made partakers, here is not one word, in name or thing, of those which he expressly assigns to be the chief privileges of true believers, Romans 8:27-30.
2. Our next inquiry is more particularly whom he doth intend; and, — (1.) They were such as not long before were converted from Judaism unto Christianity, upon the evidence of the truth of its doctrine, and the miraculous operations wherewith its dispensation was accompanied. (2.) He intends not the common sort of them, but such as had obtained especial privileges among them; for they had received extraordinary gifts of the Holy Ghost, as speaking with tongues or working of miracles. And, (3.) They had found in themselves and others convincing evidences that the kingdom of God and the Messiah, which they called “The world to come,” was come unto them, and had satisfaction in the glories of it. (4.) Such persons as these, as they have a work of light on their minds, so, according unto the efficacy of their convictions, they may have such a change wrought upon their affections and in their conversation, as that they may be of great esteem among professors; and such these here intended might be. Now, it must needs be some horrible frame of spirit, some malicious enmity against the truth and holiness of Christ and the gospel, some violent love of sin and the world, that could turn off such persons as these from the faith, and blot out all that light and conviction of truth which they had received. But the least grace is a better security for heaven than the greatest or privileges whatever.
These are the persons concerning whom our apostle discourseth; and of them it is supposed by him that they may “fall away,” kai. parapeso,ntaj. The especial nature of the sin here intended is afterward declared in two instances or aggravating circumstances. This word expresseth the respect it had to the state and condition of the sinners themselves; they “fall away,” — do that whereby they do so. I think we have well expressed the word, “If they shall fall away.” Our old translations rendered it only, “If they shall fall,” which expressed not the sense of the word, and was liable unto a sense not at all intended; for he doth not say, “If they shall fall into sin,” this or that, or any sin whatever that can be named, suppose the greatest sin imaginable, — namely, the denial of Christ in the time of danger and persecution. This was that sin (as we intimated before) about which so many contests were raised of old, and so many canons were multiplied about the ordering of them who had contracted the guilt thereof. But one example, well considered, had been a better guide for them than all their own arbitrary rules and imaginations. But Peter fell into this sin, and yet was renewed again to repentance, and that speedily. Wherefore we may lay down this, in the first place, as to the sense of the words: There is no particular sin that any man may fall into occasionally, through the power of temptation, that can cast the sinner under this commination, so that it should be impossible to renew him to repentance. It must, therefore, secondly, be a course of sin or sinning that is intended. But there are various degrees herein also, yea, there are divers kinds of such courses in sin. A man may so fall into a way of sin as still to retain in his mind such a principle of light and conviction as may be suitable to his recovery. To exclude such from all hopes of repentance is expressly contrary to Ezekiel 18:21, Isaiah 55:7, yea, and to the whole sense of the Scripture. Wherefore, men, after some conviction and reformation of life, may fall into corrupt and wicked courses, and make a long abode or continuance in them. Examples hereof we have every day amongst us, although, it may be, none to parallel that of Manasseh. Consider the nature of his education under his father Hezekiah, the greatness of his sins, the length of his continuance in them, with his following recovery, and he is a great instance in this case. Whilst there is in such persons any seed of light, or conviction of truth which is capable of an excitation or revival, so as to put forth its power and efficacy in their souls, they cannot be looked on to be in the condition intended, though their case be dangerous.
3. Our apostle makes a distinction between ptai,w and pi,ptw, Romans 11:11, between “stumbling” and “falling,” and would not allow that the unbelieving Jews of those days were come so far as pi,ptein, — that is, to fall absolutely: Le,gw ou=n( Mh. e;ptaisan i[na pe,swsi* mh. ge,noito — “I say then, Have they stumbled that they should fall? God forbid!” that is, absolutely and irrecoverably. So, therefore, doth that word signify in this place. And parapi,ptw increaseth the signification, either as to perverseness in the manner of the fall, or as to violence in the fall itself.
From what hath been discoursed, it will appear what falling away it is that the apostle here intendeth. And, —
(1.) It is not a falling into this or that actual sin, be it of what nature it will; which may be, and yet not be a “falling away.”
(2.) It is not a falling upon temptation or surprisal, for concerning such fallings we have rules of another kind given us in sundry places, and those exemplified in especial instances; but it is that which is premeditated, of deliberation and choice.
(3.) It is not a falling by relinquishment or renunciation of some, though very material, principles of Christian religion, by error or seduction, as the Corinthians fell in denying the resurrection of the dead, and the Galatians by denying justification by faith in Christ alone. Wherefore, —
(4.) It must consist in a total renunciation of all the constituent principles and doctrines of Christianity, whence it is denominated. Such was the sin of them who relinquished the gospel to return unto Judaism, as it was then stated, in opposition unto it and hatred of it. This it was, and not any kind of actual sins, that the apostle manifestly discourseth concerning.
(5.) For the completing of this falling away, according to the intention of the apostle, it is required that this renunciation be avowed and professed, as when a man forsaketh the profession of the gospel and falls into Judaism, or Mohammedanism, or Gentilism, in persuasion and practice; for the apostle discourseth concerning faith and obedience as professed, and so, therefore, also of their contraries. And this avowment of a relinquishment of the gospel hath many provoking aggravations attending it. And yet whereas some men may in their hearts and minds utterly renounce the gospel, but, upon some outward, secular considerations, either dare not or will not profess that inward renunciation, their falling away is complete and total in the sight of God; and all they do to cover their apostasy, in an external compliance with Christian religion, is in the sight of God but a mocking of him, and the highest aggravation of their sin.
This is the “falling away” intended by the apostle, — a voluntary, resolved relinquishment of, and apostasy from, the gospel, the faith, rule, and obedience thereof; which cannot be without casting the highest reproach and contumely imaginable upon the person of Christ himself, as it is afterward expressed.
Concerning these persons, and their thus “falling away,” two things are to be considered in the text: — 1. What is affirmed of them; 2. The reason of that affirmation.
1. The first is, That it is impossible to renew them again unto repentance. The thing intended is negative; to “renew them again unto repentance,” this is denied of them. But the modification of that negation turns the proposition into an affirmation, “It is impossible so to do.”
vAdu,naton ga.r. The importance [import] of this word is dubious; some think an absolute, and others only a moral impossibility is intended thereby. This latter most fix upon, so that it is a matter rare, difficult, and seldom to be expected, that is intended, and not that which is absolutely impossible. Considerable reasons and instances are produced for either interpretation. But we must look farther into the meaning of it.
(1.) All future events depend on God, who alone doth necessarily exist. Other things may be or may not be, as they respect him or his will; and so things that are future may be said to be impossible, to be so either with respect unto the nature of God, or his decrees, or his moral rule, order, and law. Things are impossible with respect unto the nature of God, either absolutely, as being inconsistent with his being and essential properties; so it is impossible that God should lie; — or on some supposition; so it is impossible that God should forgive sin without satisfaction, on the supposition of his law and the sanction of it. In this sense, the repentance of these apostates, it may be, is not impossible. I say it may be. It may be there is nothing in it contrary to any essential properties of the nature of God, either directly or reductively, but I will not be positive herein; for the things ascribed unto these apostates are such, — namely, their “crucifying the Son of God afresh, and putting him to an open shame,” — as that I know not but that it may be contrary to the holiness, and righteousness, and glory of God, as the supreme ruler of the world, to have any more mercy on them than on the devils themselves or those that are in hell But I will not assert this to be the meaning of the place.
(2.) Again; things possible in themselves and with respect unto the nature of God are rendered impossible by God’s decree and purpose; he hath absolutely determined that they shall never be. So it was impossible that Saul and his posterity should be preserved in the kingdom of Israel It was not contrary to the nature of God, but God had decreed that it should not be, 1 Samuel 15:28, 29. But the decrees of God respecting persons in particular, and not qualifications in the first place, they cannot be here intended; because they are free acts of his will, not revealed, neither in particular nor by virtue of any general rule, as they are sovereign acts, making differences between persons in the same condition, Romans 9:11, 12. What is possible or impossible with respect unto the nature of God we may know in some good measure, from the certain knowledge we may have of his being and essential properties; but what is so, one way or other, with respect unto his decrees or purposes, which are sovereign, free acts of his will, knoweth no man, no, not the angels in heaven, Isaiah 40:13, 14; Romans 11:34.
(3.) Things are possible or impossible with respect unto the rule and order of all things that God hath appointed. When in things of duty God hath neither expressly commanded them, nor appointed means for the performance of them, then are we to look upon them as impossible; and then, with respect unto us, they are so absolutely, and so to be esteemed. And this is the impossibility here principally intended. It is a thing that God hath neither commanded us to endeavor, nor appointed means to attain it, nor promised to assist us in it. It is therefore that which we have no reason to look after, attempt, or expect, as being not possible by any law, rule, or constitution of God.
The apostle instructs us no farther in the nature of future events but as our own duty is concerned in them. It is not for us either to look, or hope, or pray for, or endeavor the renewal of such persons unto repentance. God gives law unto us in these things, not unto himself. It may be possible with God, for ought we know, if there be not a contradiction in it unto any holy properties of his nature; only he will not have us to expect any such things from him, nor hath he appointed any means for us to endeavor it. What he shall do we ought thankfully to accept; but our own duty towards such persons is absolutely at an end, — and indeed they put themselves wholly out of our reach.
That which is said to be thus impossible with respect unto these persons is, pa,lin avnakaini,zein eivj meta,noian, “to renew them again unto repentance.” Meta,noia in the New Testament, with respect unto God, signifies a “gracious change of mind” on gospel principles and promises, leading the whole soul into conversion unto God. hb’WvT., this is the beginning and entrance of our turning to God, without which neither the will nor the affections will be engaged unto him, nor is it possible for sinners to find acceptance with him.
It is impossible avnakaini,zein, “to renew.” The construction of the words is defective, and must be supplied. Se, may be added, to renew “themselves,” — it is not possible they should do so: or tina,j, that “some” should, that any should renew them; and this I judge to be intended, for the impossibility mentioned respects the duty and endeavors of others. In vain shall any attempt their recovery, by the use of any means whatever. And we must inquire what it is to be “renewed,” and what it is to be “renewed again.”
Now our avnakainismo,j is the renovation of the image of God in our nature, whereby we are dedicated again unto him; for as we had lost the image of God by sin, and were separated from him as things profane, this avnakainismo,j respects both the restoration of our nature and the dedication of our persons to God. And it is twofold: —
(1.) Real and internal, in regeneration and effectual sanctification: “The washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Ghost,” Titus 3:5; 1 Thessalonians 5:23. But this is not that which is here intended; for this these apostates never had, and so cannot be said to be renewed again unto it, for no man can be renewed again unto that which he never had.
(2.) It is outward in the profession and pledge of it. Wherefore renovation in this sense consists in the solemn confession of faith and repentance by Jesus Christ, with the seal of baptism received thereon; for thus it was with all those who were converted unto the gospel. Upon their profession of repentance toward God and faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, they received the baptismal pledge of an inward renovation, though really they were not partakers thereof. But this estate was their avnakainismo,j, their renovation. From this state they fell totally, renouncing Him who is the author of it, his grace which is the cause of it, and the ordinance which is the pledge thereof.
Hence it appears what it is pa,lin avnakaini,zein, “to renew them again.” It is to bring them again into this state of profession by a second renovation, and a second baptism as a pledge thereof. This is determined impossible, and so unwarrantable for any to attempt; and, for the most part, such persons do openly fall into such blasphemies against, and engage (if they have power) into such persecution of the truth, as that they give themselves sufficient direction how others should behave themselves towards them. So the ancient church was satisfied in the case of Julian. This is the sum of what is affirmed concerning these apostates — namely, that “it is impossible to renew them again unto repentance;” that is, so to act towards them as to bring them to that repentance whereby they may be instated in their former condition.
Hence sundry things may be observed for the clearing of the apostle’s design in this discourse; as, —
(1.) Here is nothing said concerning the acceptance or refusal of any upon repentance, or the profession thereof after any sin, to be made by the church; whose judgment is to be determined by other rules and circumstances. And this perfectly excludes the pretense of the Novatians from any countenance in these words; for whereas they would have drawn their warranty from hence for the utter exclusion from church communion of all those who had denied the faith in times of persecution, although they expressed a repentance whose sincerity they could not evince, those only are intended who neither do nor can come to repentance itself, nor make a profession of it; with whom the church had no more to do. It is not said that men who ever thus fell away shall not, upon their repentance, be admitted again into their former state in the church, but that such is the severity of God against them that he will not again give them repentance unto life.
(2.) Here is nothing that may be brought in bar against such as, having fallen by any great sin, or any course in sinning, and that after light, convictions, and gifts received and exercised, desire to repent of their sins and endeavor after sincerity therein; yea, such a desire and endeavor exempt any one from the judgment here threatened.
There is therefore in it that which tends greatly to the encouragement of such sinners; for whereas it is here declared, concerning those who are thus rejected of God, that “it is impossible to renew them,” or to do any thing towards them that shall have a tendency unto repentance, those who are not satisfied that they do yet savingly repent, but only are sincerely exercised how they may attain thereunto, have no concernment in this commination, but evidently have the door of mercy still open unto them, for it is shut only against those who shall never endeavor to turn by repentance. And although persons so rejected of God may fall under convictions of their sin, attended with despair (which is unto them a foresight of their future condition), yet as unto the least attempt after repentance, on the terms of the gospel, they do never rise up unto it. Wherefore, the impossibility intended, of what sort soever it be, respects the severity of God, not in refusing or rejecting the greatest sinners which seek after and would be renewed unto repentance (which is contrary unto innumerable of his promises); but in the giving up such sinners as these are, here mentioned, unto such obdurateness and obstinacy in sinning, that blindness of mind and hardness of heart, as that they neither will nor shall ever sincerely seek after repentance, nor may any means, according to the mind of God, be used to bring them thereunto. And the righteousness of the exercise of this severity is taken from the nature of this sin, or what is contained in it, which the apostle declares in the ensuing instances. And we may in our passage observe, that, —
In the preaching of the gospel, it is necessary to propose unto men, and to insist on, the severity of God in dealing with provoking sinners against it. And indeed the severity of God is principally, though not solely, exercised with respect unto sins against the gospel. This our apostle calls us to the consideration of in the case of the unbelieving Jews: Romans 11:22, ;Ide ou=n crhsto,thta kai. avpotomi,an tou/ Qeou/\ evpi. me.n tou.j peso,ntaj avpotomi,an\ — “Behold the goodness and severity of God: on them which fell” (those in the text), “severity.” Vapotomi,a is a sharp direction or cutting off. I do not, therefore, understand by it an essential property of the nature of God. It is not the same with his holiness, righteousness, or vindictive justice. These are essential properties of the divine nature, whence it is that he neither will nor can absolutely suffer men to sin and let them go for ever unpunished, without any satisfaction or atonement made for their sins; whereof we have treated elsewhere. But by God’s “severity” is intended the free act of his will, acting according unto these properties of his nature in an eminent manner, when and how he pleaseth; and therefore into them it is resolved. So our apostle, when he would intimate this severity unto us, to ingenerate in us a holy fear and reverence of God in his worship, adds as his motive, “For our God is a consuming fire,” Hebrews 12:29; that is, of an infinitely pure, holy, righteous nature, according to which he will deal with us, and so may unexpectedly break forth upon us in severity if we labor not for “grace to serve him acceptably with reverence and godly fear.” Wherefore, this severity of God is his exemplary dealing with provoking sinners, according to the exigence of his holiness and wisdom, without an interposition of longer patience or forbearance. There are some sins, or degrees in sinning, that neither the holiness, nor majesty, nor wisdom of God can so bear withal as to suffer them to pass unpunished or unremarked on in this world. In such cases is God said to exercise his severity; and he doth so, —
(1.) In extraordinary, outward judgments upon open, profligate sinners, especially the enemies of his church and glory. Hence on such an occasion doth God give that description of himself, Nahum 1:2, “God is jealous, and the LORD revengeth; the LORD revengeth, and is furious; the LORD will take vengeance on his adversaries, and he reserveth wrath for his enemies.” When God acteth towards his adversaries according to the description here given of himself, he deals with them in severity. And two things are required to make these judgments of God against his adversaries in this world to be instances thereof: — [1.] That they be unusual, such as do not commonly and frequently fall out in the ordinary dispensation of divine providence, Numbers 16:29, 30. God doth not, in the government of the world, suffer any thing to fall out or come to pass that in the issue shall be contrary to his justice or inconsistent with his righteousness; but yet he beareth with things so, for the most part, as that he will manifest himself to be exceedingly full of patience and long-suffering, as also to exercise the faith of them that believe in the expectation of a future judgment. Wherefore there must be somewhat extraordinary in those judgments wherein God will exercise and manifest severity. So it is expressed, Isaiah 28:21, “The LORD shall rise up as in mount Perazim, he shall be wroth as in the valley of Gibeon, that he may do his work, his strange work; and bring to pass his act, his strange act.” The work he will do is his work, but it is his “strange work;” — that is, not strange from or opposite unto his nature, for so he will do nothing; but that which is unusual, which he doth but seldom, and is therefore marvelous. Thus, in sudden destructions of persecutors or persons of a flagitious wickedness, in great desolations of provoking families, cities, and nations, in fire from heaven, in inundations, plagues, earthquakes, and such sudden, extraordinary, consuming judgments, God giveth instances of his severity in the world, Romans 1:18. [2.] In this case it is required that such judgments be open, visible, and manifest, both unto those who are punished and to others who wisely consider them. So God speaketh of himself, Deuteronomy 7:10, “God that re-payeth them that hate him to their face, to destroy them: he will not be slack to him that hateth him, he will repay him to his face;” — that is, he will do it openly and manifestly, so that themselves and all others shall take notice of his severity therein. This, I say, is one way whereby God acts his severity in this world. And hereby he poureth everlasting contempt upon the security of his proudest and haughtiest adversaries; for when they think they have sufficiently provided for their own safety, and stopped all avenues of evil, according to the rules of their policy and wisdom, with the best observations they are able to make of the ordinary effects of his providence, and so give up themselves to take satisfaction in their lusts and pleasures, he breaks in upon them with an instance and example of his severity to their utter destruction. So, “when they say, Peace and safety; then sudden destruction cometh upon them, as travail upon a woman With child; and they shall not escape,” 1 Thessalonians 5:3. This will be the state one day of the whole Babylonish interest in the world, Revelation 18:7-10. But this is not directly intended in this place, although even this effect of God’s severity overtook these apostates afterward.
(2.) In spiritual judgments. By these God in his severity leaveth unprofitable, provoking, and apostate professors under the impossibility here intended of being renewed unto repentance. And this is the sorest of all God’s judgments. There is in it a sentence of eternal damnation denounced on men aforehand in this world. So our apostle tells us, “Some men’s sins are open beforehand, going before to judgment,” 1 Timothy 5:24. God so passeth judgment concerning them in this world as that there shall be no alteration in their state and condition to eternity. And this severity of God towards sinners under the gospel, shutting them up under final imponitency, consists in these four things: —
[1.] God puts an end unto all his expectation concerning them; he looks for no more from them, and so exerciseth no more care about them. Whilst God is pleased to afford the use of means for conversion and repentance unto any, he is said to look for and expect answerable fruits: “I did,” saith he, “so and so to my vineyard; and I looked that it should bring forth grapes,” Isaiah 5:2, 4. Wherefore, when God takes away all means of grace and repentance from any, then he puts an end unto his own expectation of any fruits; for if a man can have no fruit from his vineyard whilst he dresseth it, or from his field whilst he tilleth it, he will never look for any after he hath given them up and laid them waste. And, on the other side, when he utterly ceaseth to look for any fruit from them, he will till them no more; for why should he put himself to charge or trouble to no purpose? Woe unto the souls of men when God in this sense looks for no more at their hands! — that is, when he puts an end unto that patience or long-suffering towards them from whence all supplies of the means of conversion and repentance do arise and spring. This God doth by some, and that in such ways as we shall afterward declare.
[2.] God will actually punish them with, or inflict on them, hardness of heart and blindness of mind, that they never shall repent or believe: John 12:39, 40, “Therefore they could not believe, because that Esaias said again, He hath blinded their eyes, and hardened their heart; that they should not see with their eyes, nor understand with their heart, and be converted, and I should heal them.” God will now judicially blind them and harden them, and, by one means or other, every thing that befalls them shall promote their induration. So it was with these Jews; the doctrine of Christ filled them with envy, his holiness with malice, and his miracles with rage and madness. Their table was a snare to them, and that which should have been for their good turned to their hurt. So is it with all them whom God in his severity hardeneth. Whether the outward means be continued unto them or no, all is one; every thing shall drive them farther from God, and increase their obstinacy against him. From hence they become scoffers and persecutors, avowedly scorning and hating the truth; and herein, it may be, they shall please themselves until they are swallowed up in despair or the grave.
[3.] God usually in his severity gives them up unto sensual lusts. So he dealt with the idolaters of old: he “gave them up unto vile affections,” Romans 1:26, such as those there described by the apostle; and in the pursuit of them “gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient,” verse 28; whence they were “filled with all unrighteousness,” verse 29. So doth God frequently deal with apostates from the gospel, or from the principal truths of it, unto idolatry and superstition. And when they are engaged in the pursuit of these lusts, especially when they are judicially given up unto them, they are held assuredly, as under cords and chains, unto final impenitency.
[4.] God gave such persons up unto Satan, to be blinded, and led by him into pernicious delusions: “Because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved, God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie: that they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness,” 2 Thessalonians 2:10-12. This was the state and condition of the persons here prophesied of. The truth of the gospel was preached unto them, and for some time professed by them. They received the truth; but they received not the love of it, so as to comply with it and improve it unto its proper end. This kept them barren and unfruitful under their profession; for where the truth is not loved, as well as believed or assented unto, it will bring forth no fruit. But this was not all; they had pleasure in their sins, lusts, and unrighteousnesses, resolving not to part with them on any terms. Whereas, therefore, these are all of them absolutely and without limitation judged and condemned by the truth of the gospel, they began to dislike and secretly to hate the truth itself. But whereas, together with their lusts and unrighteousnesses, wherein they had pleasure, they found a necessity of a religion, one or other, or the pretense of some religion or other, to give them countenance against the truth which they rejected, they were in a readiness to any thing that should offer itself unto them. In this condition, in the way of punishment, and as a revenge of their horrible ingratitude and contempt of his gospel, God gives them up to the power of Satan, who blinds, deludes, and deceives them with such efficacy as that they shall not only readily embrace, but obstinately believe and adhere to, the lies, errors, and falsehoods that he shall suggest unto them. And this is the way and course whereby so many carnal gospellers are turned off unto Romish idolatry every day.
Other instances of the severity of God on this occasion might be given, but these are fully sufficient to declare the manner of his dealing with such as those described in the text: whence it follows that their renovation unto repentance is impossible; for what hopes or expectations should we have concerning such as God hath utterly forsaken, whom he hath judicially smitten with blindness and hardness of heart, whom he hath given up not only to the power and efficacy of their own lusts and vile affections, but also immediately unto Satan, to be deluded and led captive at his pleasure? In vain shall the repentance of such persons be either expected or endeavored.
And this severity of God ought to be preached and insisted on in the declaration of the gospel. Let the reader consult what hath been already offered concerning the use of gospel threatenings and comminations on the third and fourth chapters. There is a proneness in corrupted nature to “despise the riches of the goodness, forbearance, and long-suffering of God, not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth them to repentance;” and thereon, “after their hardness and impenitent heart, they treasure up to themselves wrath against the day of wrath,” as our apostle speaks, Romans 2:4, 5. Considering nothing in God but mercy and long-suffering, and nothing in the gospel but grace and pardon, they are ready to despise and turn them into lasciviousness, or from them both to countenance themselves in their sins. By this means, on such mistaken apprehensions, suited to their lusts and corrupt inclinations, heightened by the craft of Satan, do multitudes under the preaching of the gospel harden themselves daily to destruction. And others there are who, although they will not on such wicked pretenses give up themselves to their lusts and carnal affections, yet, for want of constant vigilancy and watchfulness, are apt to have sloth and negligence, with many ill frames of spirit, to increase and grow upon them. Both sorts are to be stirred up by being put in mind of this severity of God. They are to be taught that there are secret powers, accompanying the dispensation of the gospel, continually “in a readiness to revenge all disobedience,” 2 Corinthians 10:6; — that “God is not mocked, for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap: for he that soweth to his flesh, shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting,” Galatians 6:7, 8. But I have elsewhere already showed the necessity there was of arming the gospel with threatenings, as well as confirming of it with promises, so as that it may not be here again at large insisted on.
From what hath been discoursed, it is evident how necessary and wholesome a warning or threatening is here expressed by the apostle. It is the open mistakes of men that have drawn undue entanglements out of it; in itself it is both plain and necessary. Shall we be afraid to say that God will not renew such sinners as those before described unto repentance? or to declare unto sinners that without repentance they cannot be saved? or shall we preach to men, that whatever light they have had, whatever gifts they have received, whatever privileges they have been made partakers of, whatever profession they have made, or for how long a season soever, if they fall totally and despitefully from the gospel into that which is most opposite both to its truth and holiness, yet there is no doubt but they may again repent and be saved? God forbid so great a wickedness should fall from our mouths! Nay, we are to warn all persons in danger of such apostasies that “if any one so draw back, God’s soul shall have no pleasure in him;” that “it is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God;” that he will harden such sinners, and “give them up to strong delusions, that they may be damned;” that he is not under the engagement of any promise to give them repentance, but hath rather given many severe threatenings to the contrary. He hath told us that such persons are as “trees twice dead, plucked up by the roots,” of which there is no hope; that “denying the Lord that bought them, they bring on themselves, swift destruction, — whose damnation slumbereth not;” with the like declarations of severity against them innumerable.
But what shall be said unto them who, having through great temptations, and it may be fears and surprises, for a season renounced the gospel, or such as, by reason of great sins against light and backsliding in profession, do apprehend themselves to be fallen into this condition, and yet are greatly desirous of a recovery, and do cry to God for repentance and acceptance? I answer as before, they are not at all concerned in this text. Here is nothing excluding them from acceptance with God and eternal salvation, be they who or what they will that seek it by repentance; only there are some who are excluded by God, and do obstinately shut up themselves from all endeavors after repentance itself, with whom we have not any thing to do.
It is true, those alone are here firstly and directly intended who in those days had received extraordinary or miraculous gifts of the Holy Ghost. But this, by just analogy, may be extended unto others, now those gifts are ceased in the church; for those gifts and privileges which are yet continued unto men do lay (in present circumstances) the same obligation upon them unto perseverance in profession, and give the same aggravation unto their apostasy, as did those extraordinary gifts formerly conferred upon profession. “Let us not, then, be high-minded, but fear.” It is not good approaching too near a precipice. Let unprofitable hearers and backsliders in heart and ways be awaked, lest they may be nearer falling under God’s severity than they are aware of. But we must return unto our apostle, giving an account of the nature of this sin, which is attended with so sore a judgment. And this he doth in a double instance.
2. VAnastaurou/ntaj e`autoi/j to.n Uio.n tou/ Qeou/. Beza affirms that e`autoi/j “to themselves,” is absent from some copies, and then the words may admit of a sense diverse from that which is commonly received; for avnastaurou/ntaj, “crucifying again;” may refer unto tina,j included and supposed in avnakini,zein, that some or any should renew them. It is impossible that any should renew them to repentance; for this cannot be done without crucifying the Son of God again, since these apostates have utterly rejected all interest in and benefit by his death, as once undergone for sinners. This none can do. We ought not, we cannot, crucify Christ again, that they may be renewed and saved. Who can entertain a thought tending towards a desire that so it might be? And this sense, in the same or an alike case, the apostle plainly expresseth, chap. 10:26, 27, “If we sin wilfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sins.” Christ cannot be offered again, and so crucified again, without which the sins of such persons cannot be expiated; for the unbloody sacrificing of Christ every day in the mass was not as yet invented, and it is a relief fit only for them to trust unto who have no interest in that sacrifice which he offered once for all. But there is in that other place an allusion to the sacrifices under the law. Because they could legally expiate no sins but what were past before their offering, they were to be frequently repeated, upon reiterated sinning. So from time to time they sinned (as no man liveth and sinneth not), and had sacrifices renewed for their sins, applied unto the particular sins they had committed. This could now be so no more. Christ being once offered for sin, whoever loseth his interest in that one offering, and forfeiteth the benefit of it, there is no more sacrifice for him: “Christ henceforth dieth no more.” It cannot be hence imagined that the grace of the gospel is restrained, as being all confined unto that one sacrifice, from what was represented in the multiplied sacrifices of the law; for, —
(1.) The one sacrifice of Christ extended farther, as to sins and persons, than all those of the law with all their repetetions put together: “By him all that believe are justified from all things, from which they could not be justified by the law of Moses,” Acts 13:39. There were some sins under the law for which no sacrifice was provided, seeing he who was guilty of them was to die without mercy, as in the cases of murder and adultery, with respect whereunto David saith, “Thou desirest not sacrifice; else would I give it: thou delightest not in burnt-offering,” Psalm 51:16, — namely, in such cases as his then was. But, —
(2.) In case of apostasy from the one and the other, the event was the same. There was under the law no sacrifice appointed for him who had totally apostatized from its fundamental principles, or sinned hq”z”x] dy”b., “presumptuously,” with a hand high and stubborn. This was that “despising of Moses’ law,” for which those that were guilty thereof were to “die without mercy,” Hebrews 10:28. And so it is under the gospel. Willful apostates forfeiting all their interest in the sacrifice of Christ, there is no relief appointed for them, but God will cut them off and destroy them; as shall, God willing, be declared on that place. And this may be the sense of the words, supposing e`autoi/j not to belong originally unto this place. God hath confined all hopes of mercy, grace, and salvation, unto the one single offering and sacrifice of Jesus Christ. This our apostle insisteth on and presseth, chapter 9:25-28, 10:12, 14. Infinite wisdom and sovereign pleasure have centered all grace, mercy, and blessedness in him alone, John 1:14, 16, 17; Acts 4:12; Colossians 1:19. And this “one offering” of his is so sufficient and effectually powerful unto all that by faith seek an interest therein, that this restraint is no restraint, nor hath any sinner the least cause to complain of it. If they reject and despise it, it is their own fault, and at their own peril; nor is it the reiterated sacrifice of the mass, or whatever else they may betake themselves unto, that will afford them any relief.
But the word is constant enough in ancient copies to maintain its own station, and the context requires its continuance; and this makes the work of “crucifying again” to be the act of the apostates themselves, and to be asserted as that which belongs unto their sin, and not denied as belonging to a relief from their sin: “They crucify him again to themselves.” They do it not really, they cannot do so; but they do it to themselves morally. This is in their sin of falling away, part of it comprised in it, which renders it unpardonable; they again crucify the Son of God, not absolutely, but in and to themselves.
And we must inquire how they did it, or in what sense it is by the apostle charged on them. Now, this (to omit all other things that may be thought to concur herein) was —
(1.) Principally by an accession in suffrage unto them who had crucified him once before. Hereby they went over the same work with them, and did that for their own parts which the others had done before for theirs. They approved of and justified the fact of the Jews in crucifying him as a malefactor; for there is no medium between these things. The Lord Christ must be esteemed to be the Son of God, and consequently his gospel to be indispensably obeyed, or be supposed to be justly crucified as a seducer, a blasphemer, and a malefactor; for professing himself to be the Son of God, and witnessing that confession unto his death, he must be so received or rejected as an evil-doer. And this was done by these apostates; for, going over to the Jews, they approved of what they had done in crucifying of him as such an one.
(2.) They did it by declaring, that having made trial of him, his gospel and ways, they found nothing of substance, truth, or goodness in them, for which they should continue their profession. Thus that famous or infamous apostate, Julian the emperor, gave this as the motto of his apostasy, VAne,gnwn( e;gnwn( kate,gnwn, — “I have read, known, and condemned” your Gospel. And this hath been the way of apostates in all ages. In the primitive times they were the Gentiles’ intelligencers, and, like the spies of old, brought up a false report upon the land; for they were not satisfied, for the most part, to declare their disapprobation of what was really taught, believed, and practiced among the Christians, but, the more to countenance their apostasy, not only invidiously represented and odiously traduced what was really professed, but withal invented lies and calumnies about conspiracies, seditions, and inconsistencies with public peace among them, so [as], if it were possible, to ruin the whole interest and all that belonged unto it. This is to “crucify Christ afresh, and to put him to an open shame.” And such is the manner of them unto this day. If any have made an accession to the more intimate duties of religion, as prayer and preaching, by virtue of spiritual gifts, with other acts of mutual spiritual communion, which the generality of men concern not themselves in, when, in compliance with their occasions and temptations, they fall from them and renounce them, they aim at nothing more than, by malicious, scurrilous representations of them, and false additions unto them of things perverse or ridiculous, to expose them to open shame and ignominy. Their language is, VAnegnwmen, e;gnwmen, kate,gnwmen, — “We have known and tried these things, and declare their folly;” so hoping to be believed, because of their pretended experience, which alone is sufficient to render them suspected with all persons of wisdom and sobriety. Now, no man living can attempt a higher dishonor against Jesus Christ, in his person or in any of his ways, than openly to profess that upon trial of them they find nothing in them for which they should be desired. But “it had been better for such persons not to have known the way of righteousness, than, after they have known it, to turn from the holy commandment delivered unto them.”
And this is the first aggravation of the sin mentioned, taken from the act ascribed unto the sinners, “they crucify him again;” they do it as much as in them lieth, and declare that they would actually do it if it were in their power. He adds another from the consideration of the person who was thus treated by them. It was the “Son of God” whom they dealt thus withal. This they did, not when he had “emptied himself, and made himself of no reputation,” so that it was not an easy matter to look through all the veils of his outward weakness and condition in this world, to “behold his glory, as the glory of the only-begotten of the Father” (in which state he was crucified by the Jews); but now when he had been “declared to be the Son of God with power, according to the Spirit of holiness, by the resurrection from the dead,” and when his divinity was variously attested unto in the world and among themselves. And this is the great aggravation of sin against the gospel, namely, of unbelief, that it is immediately against the “Son of God.” His person is despised in it, both absolutely and in the discharge of all his offices; and therefore is God himself so, because he hath nothing to do with us but by his Son. Thirdly, The apostle adds, as another aggravation of their sin, kai. paradeigmati,zontaj, “exposing him again to public ignominy,” or “shame.” Paradeigmati,zw is to bring any supposed offenders unto such open punishment as is shameful in the eyes of men, and renders them vile who are so traduced and punished. The word is but once more used in the New Testament, namely, Matthew 1:19, where it is spoken of Joseph in reference unto his espoused wife, the holy Virgin: Mh. qe,lwn auvth.n paradeigmati,sai, — “Not willing to make her a public example;” that is, by bringing of her forth unto a shameful punishment, for the terror of others.
According unto this sense, our apostle, expressing the death of Christ as inflicted by men, reduces the evils that accompanied it unto two heads, — (1.) The pain of it; and, (2.) The shame: Hebrews 12:2, “He endured the cross and despised the shame;” for as the death of the cross was penal, or painful and dolorous, so in the manner of it, in all its circumstances of time, place, person, it was most highly shameful. He was in it paradeigmatisqei,j, “ignominiously traduced,” or “put to an open shame;” yes, the death of the cross amongst all people was peculiarly shameful. Thus in calling over his death in this place, he refers it unto the same heads of suffering and shame, — “crucifying him,” and “putting him to an open shame.” And in this latter he was not spared by these apostates more than in the former, so far as it lay in their power.
And hence we may raise a sufficient answer unto an objection of no small importance that ariseth against our exposition of this place: for it may be said, “That if those, or many of them, or any of them, who actually and really crucified the Son of God in his own person, and put him to open shame, did yet obtain mercy and pardon of that and all other sins, as it is confessed they did, whence is it that those who renounce him, and do so crucify him and put him to shame only metaphorically and to themselves, should be excluded from all hopes of repentance and pardon?”
I answer, That the sin of those who forsake Christ and the gospel, after their conviction of its truth and profession of it, is on many accounts far greater than that of those who crucified him in the days of his flesh. And there are sundry reasons whereon God will exercise more severity towards this latter sort of sinners than towards the former: —
1. The sin is greater, because no way to be extenuated by ignorance. This is everywhere allowed as that which made the sin of crucifying of Christ pardonable upon their repentance, and their repentance possible. So Peter, in his sermon to them, lays down this as the foundation of his exhortation unto repentance: “And now, brethren, I wot that through ignorance ye did it, as did also your rulers,” Acts 3:17. “Had they known it, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory,” 1 Corinthians 2:8; which our apostle pleads also in his own case, 1 Timothy 1:13. This put their sin among the number of those which sacrifices were allowed for of old, and which fell under the care of Him who knows how to have “compassion on the ignorant, and on them that are out of the way.”
But it may be inquired, “How they could be excused by ignorance who had so many means and evidences of conviction as to the truth of his person, that he was the Messiah, and of his doctrine, that it was from heaven? for besides the concurrent testimony of Moses and the prophets given unto him, the holiness of his person and life, the efficacy of his doctrine, and the evidence of his miracles, did abundantly prove and confirm the truth of those things, go that they could be no otherwise ignorant but by willful obstinacy.”
Ans. First, These were indeed such means of conviction as that their sin and unbelief against them had no real excuse, as himself everywhere expresseth, John 15:22, 12:47, 48, 10:36-38. Secondly, Nothing is allowed unto this ignorance, but that it left their repentance possible and their sin pardonable. Thirdly, This it will do until God hath used all the means of conviction which he intendeth, and no longer. This as yet he had not done. He had yet two farther testimonies unto the truth which he would graciously afford: — First, His resurrection from the dead, Romans 1:4, which was always afterward pleaded as the principal evidence of God’s approbation of him; Second, The effusion of the Holy Spirit in his miraculous operations, Acts 2:32, 33, 5:32; 1 Timothy 3:16. But where at any time God hath granted all the means of conviction that he pleaseth, be they ordinary or extraordinary, if they are rejected, there is no hope, Luke 16:29-31. On the other side, this sin of rejecting Christ and the gospel after profession is absolutely willful and with a high hand, against all the light and conviction that God will give of the truth unto any of the children of men in this world.
2. These persons had an experience of the truth, goodness, and excellency of the gospel, which those others had not, nor could have; for they had “tasted of the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come,” and had received great satisfaction in the things they were convinced of, as was before at large declared. Wherefore, in their rejection of him and them, an unconquerable hatred and malice must be granted to be predominant. And let men take heed what they do when they begin to sin against their own experience, for evil lies at the door.
3. In and under the crucifying of the Lord Christ God had yet a design of mercy and grace, to be communicated unto men by the dispensation of his Spirit. Therefore there was a way set open unto those who were guilty of that sin to repentance and pardon. But now, having made use of this also, that being sinned against, there is no place left for any thing but severity. Wherefore, —
4. There was in the sin of these persons blasphemy against the Holy Ghost; for they had received in themselves, or seen in others, those mighty operations of his whereby he gave attestation unto Christ and the gospel. Therefore they could not renounce the Lord Christ without an ascription of these works of the Holy Ghost unto the devil, which the devil acted them unto. So saith our apostle, “No man speaking by the Spirit of God calleth Jesus anathema,” or “accursed,” 1 Corinthians 12:3. To call him anathema is to declare and avow that he was justly crucified as an accursed person, as a public pest. This was done by these persons who went over to the Jews, in approbation of what they had done against him. This no man can do speaking by the Holy Ghost, — that is, whosoever doth so is acted by the spirit of the devil; and if he have known the testimony of the Holy Spirit to the contrary, he doth it in despite of him, which renders the sin irremissible.
Partial Apostasy From the Gospel — Pretenses Of The Church of Rome Against The Charge of This Evil Examined and Rejected.
Apostasy from the gospel is either total or partial. Of the former we have treated in a high and signal instance. When men willfully and maliciously (for they cannot do it willfully but they must do it maliciously) renounce Jesus Christ as a seducer and malefactor, going over in their suffrage unto the Jews, by whom he was crucified, they enter into that part of hell and darkness which properly constitutes this sin. It were well for such persons if their guilt had no other aggravation than theirs who actually “with wicked hands slew him, and hanged him on a tree.” But rising up unto a contempt of all the means of conviction and evidences of truth that God will grant us in this world, they cast themselves without that line of divine mercy and pardon which some of the others were encompassed withal. So is it with many at this day in the world, who with wicked hearts and blinded minds, in the pursuit of carnal lusts, voluntarily and obstinately embrace Mohammedanism, with an open renunciation of Christ and the gospel. Unto such persons there is nothing left but “a fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation which shall devour the adversaries.” Not that I would cast all persons who may be actually hurried into this abomination under the same dreadful doom, seeing the case in general will admit of many circumstantial differences, if not altering the nature of the crime, yet disposing of things unto various events. Not only surprisals by mighty temptations, with dread and terror, so shaking the powers of nature as to intercept the influence of light and convictions of truth, do claim an exemption from a decretory determination under this sentence; but other cases may also be attended with some such alleviating circumstances as, preserving their minds and souls from willful malice, leave room for the exercise of sovereign grace. I myself knew one, yea, was conversant with him, and assisting of him in the concerns of his soul, who in the Indies turned Mohammedan, was actually initiated by circumcision into their superstition, and lived in its outward practice a year or two, who yet was sincerely recovered unto repentance, and died in the faith of the Son of God.
Partial apostasy is every crime against the gospel which partakes of the nature of the other in any measure or degree; and whatever doth so makes an accession towards the guilt of “crucifying the Son of God afresh, and putting him to an open shame:” for it is in his gospel and church alone wherein he can now suffer from the sons of men. When any important principle of evangelical truth is forsaken and renounced, especially when many of them are so; when the rule of obedience which the gospel prescribeth is habitually neglected; when men believe otherwise than it teacheth, and live otherwise than it requireth, — there is a partial apostasy from it, whose guilt and danger answer the degrees and measures which in each kind it proceeds unto.
And this is that which we may charge, yea, which the Lord Christ in his word doth charge, on every nation under heaven where the gospel is publicly professed. Men are apt to please themselves, to approve of their own state and condition, wherein they have framed unto themselves rest and satisfaction. Churches content themselves with their outward order and administrations, especially when accompanied with secular advantages, and contend fiercely that all is well, and the gospel sufficiently complied withal, whilst their outward constitution is preserved and their laws of order kept inviolate. About these is the world filled with endless digladiations, wherein the most aim at no more but success in their especial contests. Only a few remain who fruitlessly complain that, under all these conflicts, the glory, power, and purity of Christian religion are lost in the world. And it is known that the judgment of Christ concerning churches, as unto their good or bad spiritual estate, is ofttimes very distant from their own concerning themselves. It was not only for their sakes, but as a warning unto all others in all ages, that it is entered on an everlasting record, that when the church of Laodicea judged and declared without hesitation that she was “rich, and increased with goods, and had need of nothing,” the Lord Christ, “the Amen, the faithful and true witness,” pronounced her “wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked.” That things at this day are in no better a condition in many, in most churches in the world, is too evident to be denied with any pretense of reverence to the word of God, and it will be afterward made to appear.
Certainly the Lord Christ may say to the churches and nations among whom his name is yet owned in the world, what God said of old concerning that of the Jews, then his only church, “I had planted thee a noble vine, wholly a right seed: how then art thou trained into the degenerate plant of a wild vine unto me?” Jeremiah 2:21. Yea, to most of them as in another place, “How is the faithful city become an harlot! it was full of judgment; righteousness lodged in it; but now murderers. Thy silver is become dross, thy wine mixed with water,” Isaiah 1:21,22. The greatness of the evil complained of, the secret mystery of its accomplishment, the unreasonableness, folly, and ingratitude of the fact, the strangeness of the event, make the complaint to be formed into a scheme of admiration. And, indeed, if a man be able to consider the nature of the gospel, with the benefits communicated thereby unto mankind, he cannot but be astonished to find the generality of them to be so soon weary of it, and so ready on all occasions to relinquish it; for as future glory and a blessed immortality are attainable only thereby, so all that true freedom, tranquility, peace, and blessedness, whereof our nature in this life is capable, are by no other means communicable unto the souls of men. In brief, whatever is of advantage in any gracious communication from God unto us, — without which we are nothing but the very worst and most malignant product of sin and misery, — it is all confined unto the gospel and the contents thereof. Wherefore, the carelessness of men in neglecting of it, their wickedness in its relinquishment as to its principles and obedience, may well be expressed as God doth in the inferior instance of the apostasy of the Jewish church: Jeremiah 2:11,12, “Hath a nation changed their gods, which are yet no gods? but my people have changed their glory for that which doth not profit. Be astonished, O ye heavens, at this, and be horribly afraid, be ye very desolate, saith the LORD.” Yet thus is it, and no otherwise, as we shall afterward manifest, amongst the generality of them that are called Christians in the world.
The church of Rome violently pleads an exemption from this charge by virtue of special privilege; — not an internal privilege of efficacious grace into their minds and wills, to preserve it and all that belongs unto it always in saving faith and obedience, wherein alone a compliance with the gospel consists; but an outward privilege of indefectibility, keeping them in the state the gospel requireth they know not how, but, as it were, whether they will or no!
But there is no party or society of men under heaven (considering the notoriety of matter of fact to the contrary) but can with less violence unto common modesty make use of this pretense. So when the Jews of old were charged by the prophets with apostasy from the law and the obedience which it required, with threats of destruction for their sins, they warded themselves from a conviction of guilt and fear of punishment by an unreasonable, yea, outrageous confidence in church privileges, then not only appropriated but confined unto them, crying out, “The temple of the LORD, The temple of the LORD, The temple of the LORD, are these.” This they thought sufficient to repel the charge of the prophets, to vindicate their innocency, and secure their peace. The reply of the prophet unto them will equally serve in both cases, “Behold, ye trust in lying words, that cannot profit. Will ye steal, murder, and commit adultery, and swear falsely, and burn incense unto Baal, and walk after other gods whom ye know not; and come and stand before me in this house, which is called by my name, and say, We are delivered to do all these abominations?” Jeremiah 7:8-10. A plea of innocency and hope of impunity, under an evident guilt of the highest immoralities and the vilest of superstitions, do equally participate of folly and impudence.
It is fallen out with this church of Rome somewhat in like manner as it did with him from whom she falsely pretends to derive her wonderful privilege of indefectibility; for when our Lord Christ foretold that all men should forsake him, he alone, with the highest confidence and in a singular manner, undertook the contrary for himself. But all the prerogative which he pretended unto issued only in this, that when all the other disciples forsook their Master and fled, according to his prediction, he alone forsook him and denied him. And that impossibility of failing which this church appropriates unto itself as its singular and incommunicable privilege hath possibly been a means of, but assuredly is accompanied with, a peculiar apostasy, above all other churches in the world. Nothing, certainly, can be more vain in itself, nor more pernicious unto the souls of them who are under the power of such an apprehension, than this pretense, when all evidences in matter of fact do openly testify to the contrary. The principal nations of its communion are at this day engaged in fierce, bloody, and causeless wars, and these so managed as to be accompanied with a confluence of all those evils and flagitious wickednesses which have a tendency to make mankind sinful and miserable. Is this that love and peace which, according to the rule of the gospel, ought to be among the disciples of Christ, and without which it is impossible they should have any evidences in themselves, or give any testimony unto the world, that so they are? Doth this answer the promises to be accomplished in the days of the Messiah, Isaiah 2:2-4, or the innumerable precepts given by Jesus Christ himself as to unity, love, and peace? “But wars,” they say, “are lawful, and so no argument that those engaged in them are revolters from the rule of the gospel.” I say, It may be so; but it is far safer to judge all war unlawful than to justify all the wars that rage in Christendom, or to suppose them consistent with the rule or doctrine of the gospel. The truth is, many things must concur to reconcile any of them unto that obedience which we owe to the Prince of Peace; nor is any of them of that nature or necessity, but that, if the gospel had its proper efficacy on the minds of all that are called Christians, and its due authority over their consciences, they would be all prevented. However, in a church pretending to be no way fallen off or apostatized from the evangelical rule, it is justly expected that another representation be made of the religion taught by Jesus Christ than that which appears in the desolations that are wrought in the earth through the lusts and rage of the members of it. The state of things amongst them seems not to constitute that kingdom of righteousness, love, and peace, which Christ came to set up in the world, and which indeed at present, by reason of the general apostasy of the nations, is little elsewhere to be found but in the souls of his sanctified ones; and those particular churches are blessed in a peculiar manner who endeavor, in their profession and obedience, in any measure to rise up unto an expression thereof.
Besides, the lives of the generality of them who adhere unto the communion of that church, [and] of the most who preside therein, are openly contradictory unto the evangelical rule of obedience. It may for the most part be said concerning them with respect unto the whole, as one of them said of a part of the New Testament, “Either this is not gospel, or we are not Christians.” In brief, if the kingdom of Christ, — which was once a kingdom of light, and truth, and holiness; of separation, in principles, affections, and conversation, from the world; of communion with God and loving-kindness among men; of righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Ghost, — may become, and is become, a kingdom of darkness, pride, ignorance, ambition, persecution, blood, superstition, and idolatry, then and not else doth it visibly remain among them, and they have nothing apostatized from the laws and government of it.
But they can easily discharge themselves of the guilt of this imputation: for notwithstanding that the things mentioned be in part acknowledged to be so, (as to what purpose is it to deny the sun to shine at noonday?) yet the peace, love, and unity, the holiness and righteousness, that ought, according to the gospel, to be and reside in the church, are found amongst them on other accounts; — for the whole body of the church and all the members of it agree and are united in one head, even the pope of Rome, which is the only evangelical unity required of the disciples of Christ! and the holiness of the worship, with that of the saints that have been among them, as also of their present retired devotionists, and the charity of many, testified by magnificent works of piety and bounty, do sufficiently answer that sanctification, holiness, and love, that conformity unto Christ in heavenly-mindedness and obedience, which the gospel requireth. But this is no other but an account of the true nature of that apostasy of the latter times which is foretold by the apostle, 2 Timothy 3:1-5, “In the last days perilous times shall come. For men shall be lovers of their own selves, covetous, boasters, proud, blasphemers, disobedient to parents, unthankful, unholy, without natural affection, truce-breakers, false accusers, incontinent, fierce, despisers of those that are good, traitors, heady, high-minded, lovers of pleasures more than lovers of God; having a form of godliness, but denying the power thereof.” Under the power of the most filthy and outrageous lusts, men frame to themselves an outward shape, image, and representation of holiness; they delineate a form of religion by a substitution of other things in the room of the life and substance of it, which are lost. The power of Christianity is openly denied in their being acted by the power of all those lusts which are contrary unto it; for the grace of God in the gospel teacheth them by whom it is received to “deny all ungodliness and worldly lusts, and to live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world.” This men cannot more perfectly renounce than in being “foolish, disobedient, deceived, serving divers lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful, and hating one another;” such persons being sufficiently remote from being “saved by the washing of regeneration, and renewing of the Holy Ghost.” Whilst men live in this state and condition, wherein a complete denial or renunciation of the power of godliness or religion doth consist, if, to supply the absence thereof, they draw and take on themselves a scheme, form, and appearance of it, by the application of the names, offices, and properties of gospel effects unto outward, lifeless duties, or appearances of them, the apostasy foretold is completely accomplished. This is to let David go, and to foist an image covered with goats’ hair in his stead; or at best, like Rehoboam, to make brazen shields in the room of those of gold taken away by Shishak. No otherwise doth the church of Rome deal in this matter. The power of faith, love, peace, holiness, conformity unto Christ, self-denial, and all the principles of a heavenly conversation, being lost and denied among the generality of its members, and all the real glory of Christianity thereby forfeited and despised, they have set up a form or image of it, wherewith they content themselves, and attempt to deceive others. Instead of that mystical, spiritual union with himself and among themselves which Christ prayed for and purchased for his disciples, they have substituted the morphosis or mormo of an agreement in professing subjection to the pope of Rome. For that heavenly love of one another in him, and for his sake, which he renews the souls of believers unto by his grace, we are presented in their profession with outward works of charity and bounty, measured and valued by the advantage which redounds unto the principal actors in this show. Peace (the great legacy of Christ unto his followers) with God in their own minds, with the whole creation not shut up under the curse, that comprehensive grace and mercy wherein is comprised all the blessedness which in this world we can be made partakers of, is preserved in the flourishing prosperity and temporal successes of the court of Rome. The internal, effectual operations of the Spirit of grace have the outward dispensations of ordinances shuffled in their place and stead; regeneration is baptism; growth in grace is episcopal confirmation; the application, by faith, of the blood of Christ, once offered in a holy sacrifice for us, must give way unto the daily sacrifice of the mass offered for the sins of the quick and the dead; disciplines and some outward bodily severities must supply the place of the mortification of sin, the power whereof is never more lost and denied than it is under the highest external pretenses of it. So the whole work of the Spirit as a Spirit of grace and supplication in the church must be, and is unto themselves, satisfactorily represented by reading, saying, chanting with voices and musical instruments, prayers and praises invented and composed by they know not whom, and in a language which the most of those who are obliged to comply with them understand not at all.
And even the worst part of their image is in what they have fixed on as the delineation and representation of the rule and discipline of Christ in the gospel; for, rejecting that humble, holy, meek, diligent endeavor to preserve all the faithful in obedience, love, unity, and fruitful walking, by the application of the commands of Christ unto their souls and consciences through his Spirit, and with his authority, they have erected a worldly domination over God’s heritage, in whose exercise more force, fraud, extortion, oppression, violence, and bloodshed, have been acted and perpetrated, than it may be in the secular government of any tyrannical state in the world.
Other instances of the like nature might be given. This is that mo,rfwsij th/j euvsezei,aj, or avlhqei,aj th/j katV euvse,zeian, that figure and representation of evangelical truth and holiness wherewith these men would countenance themselves in, and cover from others, that apostasy from the gospel which predominant lusts have cast them into and keep them under the power of, according as it was foretold it should come to pass in the latter days.
It is yet replied, “That whatever apprehensions others may have, or whatever judgment shall be made, of the predominant evils reigning among the generality of them, and their seeming inconsistency with the doctrine of the gospel, yet the promise of the Spirit to lead into all truth is not only granted but confined unto them, so as that they are eternally secured as to faith and belief, whatever other miscarriages they may fall into.” And the nature of this plea is so effectual, that if it could be made good and confirmed on their behalf, notwithstanding I see not as yet how it is possible to solve other difficulties that occur in this case, yet would it with me determine all things in controversy between them and us. Let them but evince that they alone do inherit the promised Spirit of Christ exclusively unto all others, — that he dwells, resides, works, guides in and among them alone, — and in other things we will spare them the trouble of farther pleading their cause. But their pretense hereunto is impotent and contemptible; for what they insist upon amounts to no more but this, that they being “the church,” the promise of giving the Spirit is made and fulfilled unto them alone; which only begs the matter that is in principal difference between us, and the disputes about it are endless. If, indeed, they argued, on the other hand, that they are the only church of Christ because they alone enjoy the promise of the Spirit, as the inference were undoubtedly certain (for it is the presence of Christ by his Spirit that gives being or existence unto the church), so the truth of the assertion were capable of an easy trial and a satisfactory determination; for where the Spirit doth so reside, according to the promise of Christ, and abide with any, as he doth with no others in the same kind, he will infallibly manifest his presence by his operations, and sufficiently evidence them with whom he is to be the church of Christ, seeing, as he is the promised Spirit of truth, the world cannot receive him. His operations are all of them either in a way of grace or gifts; and his gifts are either extraordinary or ordinary. When, therefore, those of the church of Rome can manifest that they enjoy such gracious operations of the Spirit as others enjoy nothing of the same kind, or that they are furnished and supplied with such spiritual gifts, either ordinary or extraordinary, as no others do participate of with them or besides them, — not proving it by saying they alone are “the church,” and therefore it must be so, but by the evidence of the things themselves, as it was in the primitive times, — they shall not only free themselves from the charge of any dangerous apostasy from the gospel, but enjoy moreover all that their hearts can wish.
But this pretense hath been so often and so fully evinced of falsehood, and that by all means of conviction, in the examination of causes and effects (it being undeniably demonstrated that as no such promise was ever peculiarly made unto them, much less on such terms of security as they imagine, and that in the issue, as unto matter of fact, instead of being “led into all truth,” they have departed almost from all), that it needs not again to be insisted on. And, indeed, such a promise as is pretended is altogether inconsistent with the glory and honor of the gospel of God. The word of the gospel, — that is, the truth contained therein, — is the sole external instrument of the reconciliation of sinners unto God, and of their walking before him in obedience unto his glory; other end and use it hath none. To give by irrevocable grant the possession of this truth, and not in order unto that end, and so to continue it whether ever that effect be produced or no, yea, where it is not, corresponds not with other fruits of the wisdom of God in the dispensation of his grace. And whereas the gospel, as to the nature of its doctrine, will and may be interpreted by its fruits and effects in the lives of men, to allow them the security of its truth on a supposition of a course of sin, and a continuance in a state of irreconciliation or enmity against God, is to expose the doctrine of it, and the law of obedience con- rained in it, to just censure and reproach.
Wherefore, notwithstanding these or any other pretenses of an alike nature, we may safely proceed to show how the generality of Christians have partially apostatized from the gospel, and to inquire into the ways, means, causes, and reasons thereof.
Apostasy From the Mystery, Truth, or Doctrine of the Gospel — Proneness of Persons and Churches Thereunto — Proved by All Sorts of Instances.
There are three things in the gospel which are as the essentially constitutive parts of it: — 1. The mystery of its doctrine, which is the object of faith; 2. The holiness of its precepts, which are the matter of our obedience; and, 3. The purity of its institutions of worship, which is the trial of our faith and obedience as to their profession. With respect unto these we are to make our inquiry, both as unto matter of fact, and as unto the reasons, causes, and occasions of it, in the apostasy from them that is in the world. Instances hereof, in every one of the particulars mentioned, we shall find in our own days, and those both deplorable and of ill abode. But I shall not confine myself unto the present age, nor unto what is done or come to pass among ourselves, but consider things with respect unto the whole course and progress of religion since the first preaching and declaration of the gospel.
FIRST, The mystery of the truth or doctrine of the gospel, which is the object of our faith, is the foundationof its precepts and institutions, of the holiness it requireth and of the worship that it appointeth. Where this is forsaken, the others cannot be retained. Men may profess the truth, and yet not yield obedience unto it, Titus 1:16, 2 Timothy 3:5; but without the real belief of it, no man can be obedient as he ought. The obedience which the gospel requireth is the “obedience of faith,” Romans 1:5, or being “obedient to the faith,” Acts 6:7. It is this “grace of God” alone which “teacheth men to deny all ungodliness and worldly lusts, and to live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world,” so as to find acceptance with God therein, Titus 2:11, 12. Wherever, therefore, this is rejected, renounced, forsaken, declined from by any, so far as it is so, so far there is and will be an apostasy from all other concernments of the gospel. This, therefore, we are to inquire into. And we shall find in our inquiry that all sorts of persons, all churches, are, and always have been, exceedingly prone to turn aside from the mystery and truth of the doctrine of the gospel, that they have done so accordingly, and that those which are now in the world continue to be of the same temper and inclination. And as it will appear that no evil practices are indulged unto on this supposition, so it is desirable that those who are secure in this matter, on such principles as wherewith they are satisfied, would not with too much severity reflect on them who cannot but be jealous over themselves and others. The great apostle himself makes this the principal ornament in the preparation of his triumph upon the success of his ministry, that he had “kept the faith:” 2 Timothy 4:6-8, “I am,” saith he, “now ready to be offered, and the time of my departure is at hand. I have fought a good fight, I have finished my course, I have kept the faith: henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous judge, shall give me at that day.” Of all that made way for that triumphant glory which he now had a prospect of, he insists on this only in particular, that he had “kept the faith;” which he did not do without a severe warfare and conflict: so great a matter was that in his esteem, which most suppose so common, so easy, that little diligence or watchfulness is required thereunto. And the frequent solemn charges, with pathetical exhortations, which he gives unto his son Timothy to be careful herein, manifest both the weight he laid upon it, the difficulty that was in it, and the danger of miscarriage wherewith it was attended: 1 Timothy 6:20,21, “O Timothy, keep that which is committed to thy trust, avoiding profane and vain babblings, and oppositions of science falsely so called: which some professing have erred concerning the faith.” 2 Timothy 1:13, 14, “Hold fast the form of sound words, which thou hast heard of me, in faith and love which is in Christ Jesus. That good thing which was committed unto thee keep by the Holy Ghost which dwelleth in us.” And the same apostle expressly mentions the proneness of some to relinquish the truth of the gospel; whom, therefore, he would have rebuked sharply, “that they might be sound in the faith, not giving heed to Jewish fables and commandments of men, turning from the truth,” Titus 1:13, 14. Neither would there be any need that some should “earnestly contend for the faith once delivered unto the saints,” Jude 3, but that others are very ready to corrupt it and turn away from it.
Examples of this state and event of things among all the churches in the world, since the first planting of them in and by the doctrine of the gospel, will give more evidence unto the truth of our assertion, and a clear account of that matter of fact, whose reasons and causes we are to inquire into. And because I would confine myself unto the full declaration of the mystery of Christ, I shall not insist on the church of the Jews under the old testament. But it is known unto all how, from their first transgession in making the golden calf, — whereon, as God complains, they quickly, in a few days, turned out of the way, — they were continually prone unto all sorts of apostasy; and in the issue, the generality of them fell off from the promise and covenant of Abraham by their unbelief, as the apostle declares, Romans 11. And it is to be feared that the appearance and pretense of some Christian churches unto better success have this only advantage, that their ways and practices are not recorded by the Spirit of God, as theirs were. But I shall not insist on that instance.
Of all the churches that are or ever were in the world, those gathered and planted by the apostles themselves had the greatest advantage to know the mystery and truth of the gospel, and the most forcible reasons unto constancy and perseverance therein. Considering the ability of their teachers to reveal unto them “all the counsel of God,” with their faithfulness in “withholding nothing that was profitable unto them,” Acts 20:18-21, 26, 27; their authority, as being sent immediately by Jesus Christ, and their absolute infallibility in all that they delivered; a man would rationally think that there were no room, no pretense, left for any to decline in the least from the doctrine wherein they were instructed by them, nor any advantage for Satan or seducers to practice upon them. There is no doubt but most of us suppose that had we been so taught by the apostles themselves, nothing could ever tempt us to doubt or waver, much less to relinquish any truth wherein we were so instructed. But, alas! this thought is not unlike the apprehension of the rich man in hell, who judged that if one rose from the dead to warn his brethren, they would repent and be converted unto God. But as Abraham told him, “if they would not believe Moses and the prophets, neither would they believe should one rise from the dead,” no more would we, if we be not constant and steadfast in the doctrine of the gospel as revealed in the Scripture, be so, if we had been taught it by all the apostles together. An example of this proneness to relinquish evangelical principles we have in most of the churches called and gathered by them, whose faith and practice are recorded in their writings.
The church of Corinth was planted by the apostle Paul, and watered by Apollos, that great evangelist; and none can question but that they were fully instructed by them in all the principles of the gospel; which is evident also from that abundance of spiritual gifts which, above any other church, they bad received. But yet, within a few years, before the writing of his first epistle unto them, which was not above five or six years at the most, many of them fell into that fundamental error of denying the resurrection of the dead; whereby they wholly annihilated, as the apostle declares, the whole death and ressurection of Christ, rendering what appeared to remain of their faith altogether vain, 1 Corinthians 15:12-18.
The churches of the Galatians are yet a more pregnant instance. Converted they were unto the faith of Christ and planted in their church-state by the ministry of the same apostle; and although he instructed them in the whole counsel of God, yet it may be justly supposed that he labored in nothing more than to establish them in the knowledge and faith of the grace of God in Christ, and the free justification of believers by faith in him or his blood alone: for this he everywhere declareth to have been his principal aim and design, in the whole course of his ministry. The doctrine hereof they received with so much joy and satisfaction that they valued the apostle as an angel of God, received him as Jesus Christ, and esteemed him above the sight of their own eyes, chapter 4:14, 15. But yet after all this, upon a sudden, so as that he was surprised with it and amazed at it, they fell from the doctrine of grace and justification by faith alone, to seek after righteousness as it were by the works of the law: Chapter 3:1, “O foolish Galatians,” saith he, “who hath bewitched you, that ye should not obey the truth, before whose eyes Jesus Christ hath been evidently set forth, crucified among you?” Notwithstanding the evident demonstration of the truth which they had received, and experience of the power of the word, which he mentions, verse 2, yet all on a sudden they apostatsized from it. And as the foundation hereof lay in the uncured folly and vanity of their minds (as we shall see afterward that it doth in all alike cases), yet the strangeness of the manner of it, that it should be so sudden, and, it may be, universal, makes him ask if there were not some strange fascinaion or spiritual witchcraft in it. have we seen persons among ourselves, who in a day or two have renounced all those principles of truth wherein they have been instructed, and embraced a system of notions diametrically opposite unto them, insomuch as some have supposed that there hath been a real diabolical fascination in the matter. Now, this apostasy of the Galatians was such as the apostle peremptorily declares that Christ and all the benefits of his death were renounced therein.
Wherefore, although we may be troubled at it and bewail it, that sundry persons are so ready to fall off from the same truth in the same manner, yet ought we not to think strange of it or be moved by it, seeing that whole churches called and instructed therein, and that particularly, by the apostle himself, did so fall in a short time after their first plantation.
It is more than probable that those who endeavored to make a spoil of the Colossians “by philosophy and vain deceit, after the tradition of men,” chap. 2:8, had no small success among them. And such things they were wherewith they were attempted and beguiled as took them off from “holding the Head,” turning them aside unto the curious speculations of men “vainly puffed up by their own fleshly minds,” verses 18, 19. Things of the like nature may be observed in most of the other churches unto whom the epistles are directed.
And in those unto particular persons, as unto Timothy and Titus, he warns them of this readiness of all sorts of persons to apostatize from the truth, giving express instances in some by name who had done so themselves, and sedulously endeavored the overthrow of the faith of others. The holy apostle John lived to see more of these woful turnings aside from the truth and relinquishments of evangelical mysteries. Hence in his epistles he gives an account expressly of the apostasies that were among professors of the gospel, of the seducers, and their pretenses whereby they were promoted, warning believers of the danger thereof, and of sundry duties incumbent on them necessary to their preservation. And the Epistle of Jude is written to the same purpose. It is known, also, how most of the churches unto whom the Lord Jesus Christ granted the favor of his visitation, wherein he tried and judged their state and condition, their stability in and declensions from the truth, were found guilty by him as to some degrees of backsliding and apostasy, for which they were severely reproved.
Certainly we can never enough admire the profound negligence and security of most churches and professors in the world with respect unto a due adherence unto the mysteries and truths of the gospel. Some think that they have such a privilege as that they can never decline from them or mistake about them, nor have done so in the long tract of sixteen hundred years, although they have been plunged into all manner of wickedness and carnal security. Others are wanton and careless under their profession, making little difference between truth and error; or, however, suppose that it is no great achievement to abide in the truth wherein they have been instructed. And these things have brought most churches and places under the power of that apostasy which shall afterwards be discovered. But if the churches thus planted by the apostles themselves were liable unto such defections, and many of them did actually, at least for a season, fall away from most important doctrines of the gospel (from whence, it may be, they had never been recovered if healing bad not been timely applied by apostolical authority and wisdom), can we, who have not their advantages, nor some of the evidences of the truth which they enjoyed, having all the same causes of apostasy, inward and outward, which they had to be tried withal, expect that we shall be preserved, unless we watchfully and carefully attend unto all the ways and means whereby we may so be? But these things will be spoken unto afterward.
We may, in the next place, inquire what was the state of the churches after the ending and finishing of the sacred records, and the death of the apostles with all other persons divinely inspired. Here some would have us believe that all things were well, at least for a long season, and some that they are so to this very day. All that was believed and practiced among them must be esteemed almost as sacred as the gospel itself, and be made a part of the rule of our faith and worship. It seems those very churches which, during the days of the apostles, and whilst they were under their inspection, were so prone to mistakes, to follow their own imaginations, or comply with the inventions of others, yea, in sundry instances so as to apostatise from the most important doctrines of the gospel, were all on a sudden, on no other advantage but being delivered from apostolical care and oversight, so changed, established, and confirmed, that they declined not in any thing from the truth and rule of the gospel. For my part, I pay as great a respect and reverence unto the primitive churches of the first, second, and third centuries, as I think any man living can justly do; but that they did in nothing decline from the grace, mystery, truth, or rule of the gospel, that they gave no admittance unto “vain deceit, after the tradition of men, after the rudiments of the world,” there are such evidences unto the contrary as none can believe it but those who have a great mind it should be so, and [have] their credulity at their disposal. I shall therefore briefly inquire what was foretold that would ensue among those churches, and what came to pass accordingly.
The apostle Paul tells the elders of the church of Ephesus that “he knew that after his departing grievous wolves would enter in among them, not sparing the flock,” Acts 20:29. Though he compares them to devouring wolves, yet are they not bloody persecutors by external force that he doth intend; for that expression, “Shall enter in among you,” denotes an admission into the society and converse of the church, under pretense of the same profession of religion. They are, therefore, heretics and seducers, who lie in wait to deceive through various sleights and cunning craftiness, being not (whatever they pretended) really of the church, not of the flock of sheep, no, not in profession, but devouring wolves. The same persons are intended who by Peter are called “false teachers,” such as should “privily bring in damnable heresies, denying the Lord that bought them,” 2 Peter 2:1. But the apostle adds, moreover, in the next place, “Also of your own selves shall men arise, speaking perverse things, to draw away disciples after them,” Acts 20:30. I do not think that the apostle in that expression, “Also of your own selves,” intended precisely any of those who were then personally present with him, or at least it is not necessary that we should so judge; but some that were quickly to succeed in their room and office are intended. And all the perverse things which they would teach, being contradictory to the doctrine of the gospel, contained some degrees of apostasy in them. That they prevailed in this attempt, that the church was leavened and infected by them, is evident from hence, that not long after that church is charged by our Savior to be fallen in sundry things from its first purity, Revelation 2:4, 5. So he assures Timothy that the time would come, and that speedily, as appears by the prescription he makes for its prevention, 2 Timothy 4:1, 2, that men “would not endure sound doctrine; but after their own lusts should heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears;” whereby they should “be turned from the truth, and be turned unto fables,” verses 3, 4; — a plain prediction of that defection from evangelical truth and purity which was to befall the churches, and did so. And this, with the danger of it, he doth more vehemently urge, as from a spirit of prophecy, 1 Timothy 4:1, 2, “Now the Spirit speaketh expressly, that in the latter times some shall depart from the faith, giving heed to seducing spirits, and doctrines of devils.” By that phrase of speech, “The Spirit speaketh expressly,” the apostle understands not a plain, distinct revelation made thereof unto himself alone, but that the infallible Spirit of God, whereby himself and the rest of the apostles were guided, did everywhere testify the same. It is an expression not unlike that he useth, Acts 20:23, “The Holy Ghost witnesseth in every city;” that is, in all places those who were divinely inspired agreed on the same prediction.
And I judge the apostles did everywhere, by joint consent, acquaint the churches that after the gospel had been received and professed for a while, there would ensue a notable apostasy from the truth and worship of it. So Jude tells them, verses 17, 18, that “the apostles of our Lord Jesus Christ told them that in the last time there should be mockers, who should walk after their ungodly lusts.” This all the apostles agreed in the prediction of, and warned all the churches concerning it, So John expresseth it, 1 John 4:3, “This is that spirit of antichrist, whereof ye have heard that it should come.” He speaks of the coming of antichrist, and therewithal an apostasy from the faith, as that which they had been fully instructed in. And the apostle Paul mentioneth it as that which not only they were forewarned of, but also acquainted with some particulars concerning; which it was not, it may be, convenient in those days to mention publicly, for fear of offense. “There must,” saith he, “be a falling away,” or an apostasy from the faith, under the leading of “the man of sin.” And saith he, “Remember ye not, that, when I was yet with you, I told you these things? and now ye know what withholdeth,” 2 Thessalonians 2:3, 5, 6. He had both told them of the apostasy, and also acquainted them with one particular about it, which he will not now mention. This being the great testimony of the Spirit of God in those days, that the visible church should so fall away from the faith, one of the chief ways whereby Satan brought it to pass was by the advancing of a contrary revelation and principle, — namely, that this or that church, the church of Rome for instance, was infallible and indefectible, and could never fall away from the faith. By this means he obliterated out of the minds of men the former warnings given by the Spirit unto the churches, so rendering them secure, defeating the ends of the prediction; for hereby he not only led men insensibly into the greatest apostasy, but taught them to adhere invincibly unto what they had done, and with the highest confidence to justify themselves therein. But all those and many other warnings did the Holy Ghost give concerning the defection from the mystery of the gospel which the churches would in succeeding times fall into; which being neglected by secure professors, whilst their faith was weakened and undermined by innumerable artifices, issued in their apostasy. For these things being thus expressly foretold by the Spirit of God himself, we may briefly inquire into the event of the predictions mentioned, and whether indeed they came to pass or no.
An account in general of the state of the church after the days of the apostles we have given us by Hegesippus, who lived in the next age after them, as his words are recorded by Eusebius, lib. 3 cap. 32. Relating the martyrdom of Simon, the son of Cleopas, he adds: “Unto these times the church continued a pure and incorrupted virgin, those who endeavored to corrupt the rule of saving truth, where any such were, lying hid in obscurity. But after that the holy company of the apostles came to their several ends, and that generation was past who heard the divine Wisdom with their own ears, a conspiracy of wicked error, by the seductions of those that taught strange doctrines, began to take place; and when none of the apostles were remaining, they began to set up their science, falsely so called, with open face against the preaching of the truth.” We have already seen that there were many declensions in the clays of the apostles themselves; but as they were jealous over all the churches with godly jealousy, — for having “espoused them to one husband,” they took care “to present them as a chaste virgin unto Christ” (the words which Hegesippus alludes unto), and thereon watched against all ways and means whereby as “the serpent beguiled Eve through his subtlety, their minds should be corrupted from the simplicity that is in Christ,” by the teaching of other doctrines than what they had received from them, as Paul speaks, 2 Corinthians 11:2-4, — so by their wisdom, diligence, and watchfulness, they were for the most part soon reduced from their wanderings and recovered from their mistakes. Hence this holy man pronounceth the church a pure virgin during the days of the apostles and their inspection, at least comparatively as to what ensued thereon, for immediately after he acknowledgeth that they were much corrupted and defiled, — that is, fallen off from “the simplicity that is in Christ,” — intending, probably, those very things wherein after ages made them their example; for things quickly came unto that state in the world, and which yet with the most continueth therein, that men desired no greater warranty for their practice in religion than the shadow or appearance of any thing that was in use or prevailed among those churches, though themselves therein went off evidently from the simplicity that is in Christ.
This account and unquestionable testimony we have in general of the accomplishment of the predictions before mentioned, concerning a declension that was to ensue from the power, purity, and simplicity of the gospel. But whatever is here intended, it must be looked on as the very beginning and entrance of the apostasy that ensued; which can scarce be taken notice of in comparison of that excess which it quickly proceeded unto. In particular, the parts of the sacred predictions mentioned may be reduced unto four heads: — 1. “Men from among themselves speaking perverse things.” 2. “Grievous wolves entering in, not sparing the flock.” 3. Weariness, and “not enduring of sound doctrine,” but turning the mind unto fables, and from the truth. 4. A gradual, secret, mysterious work of a general apostasy in the whole visible church. And it might be easily demonstrated by instances how all these had their particular accomplishment, until the whole apostasy foretold was formed and completed. We may give some short remarks upon them all: —
1. It cannot be denied but that many of the principal teachers in the first ages of the church after the apostles, especially among those whose writings remain unto posterity, did, in a neglect of the gospel and its simplicity, embrace and teach sundry things, perverse, curious, and contrary to the form of wholesome words committed unto them; whilst, for any thing that appears, they were not so duly conversant in evangelical mysteries, with reverence and godly fear, as it was their duty to have been. It is known how instances hereof might be multiplied out of the writings of Justin Martyr, Irenaeus, Clemens, Origen, Tatianus, Athenaguras, Tertullian, Lactantius, and others; but I shall not reflect with any severity on their names and memories who continued to adhere unto the fundamental principles of Christian religion, though, what by curious speculations, what by philosophical prejudices and notions, by wrested allegorical expositions of Scripture, by opinions openly false and contradictory to the word of God, they much corrupted and debased the pure and holy doctrine of Jesus and his apostles.
2. The “grievous wolves” foretold of, who were to “spoil the flock,” I look on as heretics in their various kinds. And on this account it would seem to exceed all belief what multitudes and shoals of all sorts of persons fell off from the mystery and truth of the gospel, after they had been declared unto them and professed by them, which is a full confirmation of the assertion before laid down. But they may in general be reduced unto two heads: —
(1.) Of those who, in a regardlessness and contempt of the gospel which they had received and professed, fell away unto foolish, extravagant, heathenish imaginations, unintelligible endless fancies, for the most part (as is supposed) accompanied with wicked practices, whereby, although they would retain the name of Christians, they completely and absolutely fell off from Christ and his gospel. Such were the Gnostics in all their branches and under their several appellations, Marcionites, Manichees, and others almost innumerable, with whose names, rise, opinions, and course of lives, Epiphanius, Austin, and Philastrius, have filled up their catalogues. It may be said, “They were all of them persons of so great abominations that they deserve no consideration among such as own Christian religion.” But the greater the abominations were which they fell into, the more wild, senseless, and wicked were their imaginations, considering the multitudes of professed Christians which fell into them, the more effectual is the testimony they give unto the truth of our assertion; for were there not an inexpressible proneness in the minds of men to relinquish the mystery of the gospel, were it not promoted by unutterable folly and secret enmity against the truth, would it have been possible that so early in the church, taking date immediately from the decease of the apostles, such multitudes of professed Christians should openly renounce those sacred truths for such noxious, foolish imaginations? These are they who are expressly prophesied of, that they should “bring in damnable heresies, denying the Lord that bought them, and bringing upon themselves swift destruction, many following their pernicious ways; by reason of whom the way of truth was to be evil spoken of,” 2 Peter 2:1,2: for all their impious opinions and practices were by the heathen objected unto, and charged on Christian religion, as is evident in Origen’s reply to Celsus, among others; and so by reason of them “the way of truth was evil spoken of.”
(2.) There was another sort of heresies, and so of real apostasy from the mystery of the gospel, whose authors and followers yet pretended an adherence unto and profession thereof. And these may be reduced to two heads: — [1.] Concerning the person; and, [2.] Concerning the grace of Christ. Of the first sort, the principal and most prevalent was that of the Arians in denying his deity; of the latter, that of the Pelagians in opposing his satisfaction, merit, and grace. The first of these was poured out as a flood from the mouth of the old serpent, and bare all before it like a torrent; the latter insinuated itself as poison into the very vitals of the church. The first, as a burning fever, carried present death with it and before it; the latter, as a gangrene or hectical distemper, insensibly consumed the vital spirits of religion. In the flint we have a most woful evidence of the instability of professors, and their readiness to forego the saving mysteries of the gospel; for in little more than half an age after its first rise, the generality of Christians in the world, bishops, priests, and people, fell under the power of it, and in their public confessions renounced and denied the true eternal deity of the Son of God: for, having obtained the patronage of some emperors, as Constantius and Valens, and the suffrage of innumerable prelates, who jointly promoted this heresy by force and fraud, almost the whole world, as to outward profession, was for a season led into this apostasy, wherein some whole nations (as the Goths and Vandals) continued for sundry ages afterward. And for the latter, or Pelagianism, it secretly, subtilely, and gradually, so insinuated itself into the minds of men, that, for the substance of it, it continues to be no small part of that religion which the generality of Christians do at this day profess, and is yet upon a prevalent progress in the world.
This is the second way of the apostasy of professors which was foretold by the Holy Ghost, which so came to pass as that the wounds which Christianity received thereby are not healed unto this day.
3. Another way was, that men should grow weary of sound doctrine, and not being able, for the reasons afterward to be insisted on, to endure it any longer, should hearken after fables, and be turned away from the truth. And this no less eminently came to pass than any of the former. About the third century it was that monkish fables began to be broached in the world. And this sort of men, instead of the doctrines of the grace of God, of justification by the blood of Christ, of faith and repentance, of new obedience and walking before God according to the commands of Christ and rule of the gospel, which men grew weary of and could not well longer endure, filled their minds and satisfied their itching ears with stories of dreams and visions, of angelical perfection in themselves, of self-invented devotions, of uncommanded mortifications, and a thousand other foolish superstitions. By such fables were innumerable souls turned from the truth and simplicity of the gospel, thinking that in these things alone religion consisted, despising the whole doctrine of our Lord Jesus Christ and his apostles in comparison of them. These are particularly prophesied of and declared, 1 Timothy 4:1-3. By the hypocrisy and lies, fabulous stories and doctrines of devils, of this sort of men, the body of the Christian people was so leavened and infected with the belief of vain delusions and the practice of foolish superstitions that little or nothing was left sound or wholesome among them.
4. Lastly, The secret working of the “mystery of iniquity,” in, under, and by all these ways, and other artifices innumerable, which the subtlety of Satan, with the vanity of the minds and lusts of the hearts of men, made use of, wrought out that fatal apostasy which the world groaned under and was ruined by when it came unto its height in the Papacy. The rise and progress of this catholic defection, the ways, means, and degrees of its procedure, its successful advance in several ages, have been so discovered and laid open by many, so far as the nature of so mysterious a work is capable of a discovery in this world, that I shall not need to repeat here any instance of it. In brief, the doctrine of the gospel was so depraved, and the worship of it so far corrupted, that the waters of the sanctuary seemed, like the river Jordan, to run and issue in a dead sea, or, like those of Egypt, to be turned into blood, that would yield no refreshment unto the souls of men. So was that prophetical parable of our Savior fulfilled, Luke 19:12-15, etc.
Before I proceed to particulars among ourselves in this kind, I shall yet farther confirm our assertion in general by the consideration of the second venture, if I may so say, that God gave the gospel in the world, the second trial which he hath made of many churches and nations, and what hath been the event and success thereof.
During the season spoken of the church was driven into the wilderness, as to its visible profession, where it was secretly nourished by the Spirit and word of God, and the few witnesses unto the truth which yet remained prophesied in sackcloth, ofttimes sealing their testimony (whereby the world was disquieted and tormented) with their blood. But when the time came that God would again graciously visit the remnant of his inheritance, he stirred up, gifted, and enabled many faithful servants of Christ, by whom the work of reformation was successfully begun and carried on in many nations and churches. It is true, they arrived not therein at the purity and peace of the apostolical churches; nor was it by some of them absolutely aimed at. And this quickly manifested itself by the great differences that were among them both in doctrine and worship; whereon those mutual contests and divisions ensued which proved the principal means of obstructing the progress of their whole work, and continueth to do so to this very day. But a state of a blessed and useful recovery it was from that apostasy into errors, heresies, superstitions, and idolatries, which the whole professing church of these parts of the world was fallen into. And many ways did it manifest itself so to be. For, —
1. The doctrine taught by them generally was agreeable to the Scripture, which they strenuously vindicated from the corruptions of the foregoing apostasy, and the worship of the churches was freed from open idolatry.
2. The consciences of men, pressed, harassed, and distorted with innumerable vain affrightments, superstitions, foolish imaginations, and false opinions, whereby they were brought into bondage to their pretended guides of all sorts, and forced unto services, under the name of religious duties, merely subservient unto their carnal interests, were set at liberty by the truth, and directed into the ways of gospel obedience.
3. Multitudes had it given unto them on the behalf of Christ, not only to believe in him, but also to suffer for him; so that no less numbers sealed their testimony with their blood, under the power of those who undertook the patronage of the present apostasy, than did under the rage of the heathens at the first introduction of Christian religion into the world.
4. The fruit which it hath brought forth in many nations, by the real conversion of multitudes to God, their edification and holy obedience, their solid spiritual consolation in life and death, with many other things, do give testimony unto this work that it was of God.
It cannot therefore be denied but that many churches were by the reformation brought into a state of revalescency or recovery from that mortal disease they had been under the power of. But all men know what care and diligence is required to attain perfect health and soundness in such a condition, and to prevent a relapse; which if it should fall out, the last error would be worse than the first. It might therefore have been justly expected from them, and it was their duty, to have gone on in the work of reformation until they had come to a perfect recovery of spiritual health. But instead thereof, things are so fallen out (by whose default God knows) that not only the work hath received little or no improvement among themselves, in the increase of light, truth, and holiness, nor been progressive or successful in the world towards others, but also hath visibly and apparently lost its force, and gone backwards on all accounts. Wherefore, we have here also another sad evidence of the proneness of men to forego the truths of the gospel after they have been instructed in them. I shall instance only in the known doctrines of the reformed churches, aiming especially at what is of late years fallen out among ourselves in a sort of men whom the preceding generations were unacquainted withal, which I shall therefore insist on apart and by itself afterward.
It is not unknown how ready many, yea, multitudes, are in all places to desert the whole protestant faith and religion, casting themselves into the baffled, prostituted remainders of the old apostasy. Every slight occasion, every temptation of pleasure, profit, favor, preferment, turns men unto the Papacy; and some run the same course merely to comply with the vanity of their minds in curiosity, novelty, and conformity unto what is in fashion among men. Some flee unto it as a sanctuary from guilt, as that which tendereth more ready ways for the pacification of conscience than that faith and repentance which the gospel doth require. Some having lost the sense of all religion in the pursuit of their lusts, finding themselves uneasy in their atheism, or disadvantaged by the reputation of it, take shelter in the Roman dress. Some are really entangled and overcome by the power and subtlety of numerous seducers who lie in wait to deceive. By one way and means or another, on motives known to themselves and him who useth them as his engines to subvert the faith, many in all places fall off daily to the Papacy, and the old superstition seems to be upon a new advance, ready to receive another edition in the world; yea, it is to be feared that there is in many places such a general inclination unto a defection, or such an indifferency to all religion, that multitudes want nothing but a captain to conduct them back into Egypt: for whereas they have lost all sense of the power, use, and excellency of that religion, or profession of truth, wherein they have been educated and instructed, and that by giving up themselves unto their lusts and pleasures, which will not fail to produce that cursed effect, they either embrace the Roman religion, to supply the place of that no religion which they had left unto themselves, or if they pretend to soar to such a pitch of reason as to disown the vanity and folly of that profession, and its inconsistency with all the principles of free, generous, and rational minds, they betake themselves for a while unto a kind of skeptical atheism, which, having given them a sorry talkative entertainment for a little space, by debasing and corrupting their minds, gives them up again unto what they did before despise. By such means are the numbers of apostates multiplied amongst us every day.
But there are yet other instances of the proneness of men in foregoing the faith that the church was retrieved unto at the first reformation. How great an inroad hath been made on our first profession, at least an alteration made therein (whether for better or for worse the great day will discover), by that system of doctrines which from its author, and for distinction’s sake, is called Arminianism! I am not bound to believe what. Polinburgh affirms in his preface to the second part of Episcopius’ works, namely, “That the most of the prelates and learned men in England are of their way and judgment,” which, as stated by Episcopius, hath many Racovian additions made unto what it was at first; nay, I do believe that what he asserts is false and calumnious unto the persons he intends; — but yet I wish withal that too much countenance were not given by many unto his insinuation.
A late writer, in a treatise which he calls “A sober and compassionate Inquiry,” etc., among other things of the like nature, fancieth that some dislike the church of England on the account of its doctrine; and this they do, as he farther supposeth, because it “doth not so punctually agree with the synod of Dort as they could wish.” To evidence the unreasonableness hereof, he informs us, “That no one father or writer of the church, whether Greek or Latin, before St Austin’s time, agreed in doctrine with the determinations of that synod; and as for St Austin, he was a devout, good man, but whose piety was far more commendable than his reason;” — and therefore he rejects it with indignation (as he well may), that “a novel Dutch synod should prescribe doctrines to the church of England, and outweigh all antiquity;” and so closeth his discourse with some unworthy calumnies cast on the divines of that assembly, which were esteemed of the best that all the reformed churches of Europe (that of France alone excepted) could afford at that time.
But the interest of the present design which he had in hand was more regarded in these assertions than that of the truth. It is but a pretense, that those whom he reflects upon do dislike the doctrine of the church of England; for, look upon it as it is contained in the Articles of Religion, the Books of Homilies, and declared in the authenticated writings of all the learned prelates and others for sixty years after the reformation, wherein the doctrine taught, approved, and confirmed in this church was testified unto all the world, and the generality of those reflected on by him do sacredly adhere unto it. It is a defection from this doctrine that is by some complained of, and not the doctrine itself. And how the doctrine of the person before mentioned, or of Curcellaeus, — of whose works Limborch, in his preface unto them, boasts that they were so earnestly desired in England, — can be brought into a consistency with that of this church so confirmed and declared, will require a singular faculty in the reconciliation of open multiplied contradictions, and those in the most weighty points of religion, to declare. Let but the doctrine established at the first reformation, as explained and declared in the writings of the principal persons who presided, lived, and died in the communion of this church, — which are the measure of it in the judgment of all other churches in the world, — be continued and adhered unto, and there will be neither difference nor complaint on this matter. For the disputes which have been, and which it may be always will be, among learned men, concerning some abstruse and philosophical notions about the order of the divine decrees, predetermination, the nature of human liberty, and the like innumerable, neither ever did nor ever will much disturb the peace of the church; for as they are understood by very few, if by any at all, so the community of Christians are altogether unconcerned with them, either as to their faith or obedience. Differences about them will be ended at the last day; and it may be, as to the great end of the gospel, that is time enough.
But the pretense of this author, “That no one father or writer of the church, Greek or Latin, before St Austin’s time, agreed with the determinations of the synod of Dort,” is of little importance in this cause; for as I suppose he may not speak this absolutely on his own trial and experience, but rather on the suggestions of others, so it is no more than what is strongly pretended concerning the doctrine of the holy Trinity itself with respect unto the determination and declaration made of it at the council of Nice. And it were to be wished that too much countenance had not been given unto this imagination by Petavius and some others, whose collections of ambiguous expressions out of the ancient writers of the church, and observations upon them, are highly boasted of by our present Photinians. And as, it may be, it will not be easy for this author positively to declare what was the judgment of any one ancient writer on all points of Christian belief, especially on such as had not received an especial discussion from oppositions made unto them in their own days or before them: so it is confessed by all that an allowance is to be given unto general expressions of such writers as seem occasionally to declare their present thoughts on any particular doctrines about which there had never been any controversy in the church; for the proper signification of words themselves, whereby men express their minds, is never exactly stated until the things themselves which they would signify have been thoroughly discussed. Hence the same words have had various uses and divers significations in several ages. And by this rule, whatever be supposed that none of the ancients before Austin were of the same mind with those who assembled at Dort, it may with more truth be affirmed that none of them were otherwise minded but Origen only, and those who were influenced by him, he being by many, on evident grounds, accused to have prepared the way and opened the door both unto Arianism and Pelagianism.
The censure passed on Austin, namely, “That his piety was far more commendable than his reason,” is at least as novel as the Dutch synod; for it is not the commendation of his piety, but the disparagement of his reason, that is intended. And I must take the liberty to say, that either this author hath not been much conversant in the writings of this great and holy person, or he is a very incompetent judge of the rational abilities of them in whose writings he is conversant. This confidence in pronouncing a censure so contrary to the concurrent sense of the generality of learned men of all sorts in the church for twelve hundred years savors too much of partiality and prejudice. But it is some relief, that the adversaries of the truth with whom he had to do were never able to discover nor make advantage of the weakness of his reason. It was sufficient for the work whereunto God designed him; which was, not only to check and suppress the many instances wherein sundry crafty persons apostatized from the truths of the gospel, both in his own days and before, but also to give over the light of truth, clearly discovered and strenuously vindicated, unto posterity, for the benefit of the church in all ages. Persons may freely despise the men of their present contests, against whom they have all the advantages which may prompt them thereunto, and they have so much countenance in casting contemptuous reflections on the principal first reformers as not to think therein they invade the bounds of Christian modesty; but what will be the apology for their confidence in such censures of the rational abilities of Austin I cannot conjecture, though the reason of it I can easily guess at. However, it needeth not be much taken notice of, seeing a censure somewhat more severe hath not long since been passed on St Paul himself, by a writer of the same strain and judgment.
There is little ground of fear, as I suppose, that a “novel Dutch synod,” as it is called, though consisting of persons delegated from all the principal reformed churches of Europe (that of France only excepted), “should prescribe doctrines to the church of England,” seeing in that synod the church of England did rather prescribe doctrines to the Dutch than receive any from them; for the divines which had the pre-eminence of suffrage and authority in that assembly were those of the church of England, sent thither by public authority to testify the doctrine of this church, and to lead the Dutch into the same confession with themselves.
But to return; it is to be feared that as Pelagianism, in its first edition, did secretly and gradually insinuate itself into the animal and vital spirits of the body of the church in those days, proving a poison unto it, so under its new varnish and gilding it will be received, until it diffuse itself into the veins and vitals of the present reformed church-state in the world. This I know, that some pretending a zeal for holiness and reformation of life do yet, with a shameful partiality, charge those doctrines as a principal means of the decay of piety, which they cannot but know were generally believed and avowed then when piety most flourished in this nation. But this is part of that entertainment which the church of England meets with at this day from her degenerate offspring. The doctrine of all the ancient bishops must be traduced, as the means of the decay of piety; and, which increaseth the wonder, it had not this effect till it began to be publicly deserted and renounced I for whether they are the one the cause of the other or no, yet there is a demonstrative coincidence between the originals of our visible apostasy from piety and the admission of these novel opinions, contrary to the faith of the first reformed churches, and that they both bear the same date among us.
But there is yet a greater abomination effectually taking place among us, to the utter overthrow of the faith of some, and the corrupting of the minds of others from the truth of the gospel. This is the leprosy of Socinianism, which secretly enters into the walls and timber of the house, whence it will not be scraped out. It commenced in the world some time before the other spring of a partial apostasy before mentioned; but for a good space it lay fermenting in some obscure places of Poland and the countries adjacent. When the books and writings of the authors and promoters of the opinions called by that name came once to be known and read in other places, they were continually all of them abundantly answered and confuted by learned men of all sorts, so as it was justly hoped it would obtain no great success or progress in the world. But, —
“Latius excisae serpit contagio gentis
Victoresque suos natio victa premit.”
The vanity of the minds of men, their weariness of sound doctrine, which they will endure no longer, whatever they embrace, have given it admission, either in part or in whole, among multitudes who once professed the faith of the gospel: for whereas the whole system of the opinions of those men is but a collection of such errors as formerly perplexed the church and overthrew the faith of many, the principal and most material of them may be referred unto two heads, — 1. Photinianism; and, 2. Pelagianism. Unto the first are referred their denial of the Trinity, and consequently of the divine person and incarnation of the Son of God. Under the latter, their opposition unto the satisfaction of Christ, the true nature of his priesthood and sacrifice, justification by faith in his blood and the imputation of his righteousness, the efficacy of his grace, and the corruption of our nature by the fall, may be comprised. The denial of the resurrection of the same bodies, the eternity of the punishment of the damned in hell, with other of their imaginations, were also traduced from some of old. The first part of their heresy as yet takes no great place but only among themselves, the doctrine opposite unto it being secured by law, and the interest of men therein who have advantage by the public profession. But yet it is to be feared that the coldness of many in asserting and defending those fundamental doctrines of the gospel which they oppose, yea, their indifferency about them, and the horrid notions, with strange expositions, that some have embraced and do use concerning the person of Christ, do proceed from some secret influence on the minds of men, which the venom of their opinions and sophistical disputes have had upon them. And from a just improvement of their sentiments have proceeded those bold efforts of atheistical imaginations and oppositions unto the Scripture, both the letter and sense of it, which have of late been divulged in public writing; which, being brought from the neighbor nation, do find no slack entertainment by many among us.
But as to the latter branch of their profession, or their Pelagianism, it hath diffused itself among multitudes of persons who were some time of another persuasion, and have yet engagements on them so to be. All that unreasonable advancement of reason in matters of religion which we have amongst us; the new notions men have of the satisfaction of Christ, pretending to the acknowledgment of it, indeed destructive unto it; the noisome conception of the little use of the person of Christ in religion beyond the revelation and confirmation of the gospel; doctrines of the possibility, yea, facility of yielding acceptable obedience unto all evangelical commands without the aids of effectual grace, of the powers and incorruption of our nature, of justification by and upon our own obedience, of the suitableness of all gospel mysteries to unrenewed reason or an unsanctified mind, of regeneration as consisting only in the reformation of our lives; with a rejection of all internal real efficacy in converting grace, and the substitution of morality in the room of grace; with the denial of any influences of grace from Jesus Christ unto the holiness of truth; and many other opinions wherewith men even pride themselves, to the contempt of the doctrine received and established in the reformed churches of old, — are borrowed out of the storehouses of their imaginations, shall I say, or raked out of their dunghill. And whither the infection may diffuse itself I know not. The resurrection of the same bodies substantially, the subsistence and acting of the soul in its separate state and condition, the eternity of hell torments, the nature of Christ’s sacerdotal office as distinguished from his regal, begin to be either questioned or very faintly defended amongst many. And many other noisome opinions there are, about the Scriptures, the nature of God, his attributes and decrees, the two covenants, our union with Christ, the gifts and operations of the Spirit, which some vent as pure mysteries and discoveries of truth, and value themselves for being the authors or maintainers of them, that came all from the same forge, or are emanations from the same corrupt fountain of Socinianism.
We have, as I suppose, sufficiently demonstrated the truth of what we before observed concerning the proneness and readiness of mankind to relinquish and fall off from the mystery and doctrine of the gospel, after it hath been declared unto them and received by them. Withal we have stated the matter of fact, — namely, that such a defection there hath been, and is in the world at this day; the reasons and causes whereof we are now to inquire into. Only I must premise, that the principal instance designed, and which is among ourselves, I have referred to an especial consideration by itself, wherein we shall inquire into the especial reasons of it, which are superadded unto those more general, which equally respect apostasies of this kind.