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thinking on their ways, and observing the tendency of their present course of life, and setting before themselves those proper arguments that may induce them to repent and believe; and then they may be said to have prepared themselves for the grace of God, so that it will ensue hereupon. And if there be any thing remaining, which is out of their power, God has engaged to succeed their endeavours, so that he will bring them into a state of regeneration and conversion.
This method of accounting for the work of grace, is liable to many exceptions, particularly as it supposes man to be the first mover in his own conversion, and the divine energy to be dependent upon our conduct; the contrary to which, is not only agreeable to scripture, but the divine perfections; as well as to the doctrine we have been maintaining, concerning effectual calling's, being a divine work in the most proper sense thereof. But that we may impartially consider this matter, and set, what some call a preparatory work, in a just light, let it be observed,
1. That these preparatory works must either be considered as good in all those circumstances that are necessary to denominate them good, and particularly they must proceed from a good principle, that is to say, a principle of regeneration; or else they are only such works as are materially good, such many perform who are never brought into a state of conver sion; or if, on the other hand, they are supposed to proceed from such a principle, then they are not, from the nature of the thing, works preparatory to the first grace, but rather consequent upon it.
2. It is one thing for us to assert, that it is our duty to perform all those works which some call preparatory, for conver sion; such as meditation, attendance on the ordinances, duly weighing those arguments, or motives, that should lead us to repentance, and the exercise of all other graces; and another thing to say, that every one who performs these duties, shall certainly have regenerating grace; or, it is one thing to apply ourselves to the performance of those duties, as far as it is in our own power, and, at the same time, to wait, pray, and hope for success to attend them; and another thing to assert, that it shall always attend them, as though God had laid himself under an obligation to give special grace to those, who, in this respect, improve that which is common, the contrary where unto may be observed in many instances. And when we have done all, we must conclude, that the grace of God, if he is pleased to give success to our endeavours, is free and sovereign.
3. They who say, That if we do all we can, God will do the rest, advance very little to support their argument, since there is no one who can pretend that he has done what he could: and may we not farther suppose, that God, in a judicial way
as punishing us for the many sins we commit, may deny this success: therefore, how can it be said, that it will necessarily
4. When we perform any of those duties, which some call preparatory to conversion, these are to be considered as the Spirit's preparing his own way thereby, rather than corrupt nature's preparing itself for grace. We are far from denying that there is a beautiful order in the divine dispensations; the Spirit of God first convinces of sin, and then shews the convinced sinner where his help is to be had; and enables him to close with Christ by faith. He first shews the soul its own corruption and nothingness, and then leads him to see Christ's fulness; or that all his salvation is reposed in his hands, and enables him to believe in him to the saving the soul; one of these works, indeed, prepares the way for the other: nevertheless, none of them can be said to prepare the way for regeneration, which is the work of the Spirit of God; and without it, no other can be said to be a saving work,
Object. It is objected, that there are several scriptures which seem to speak of common grace, as being preparatory for special. Thus the scribe, mentioned in the gospel, who expressed himself discreetly, in asserting, that to love God with all the heart, and with all the understanding, soul, and strength; "and to love our neighbour as ourselves, is better than all whole burntofferings and sacrifices, is said not to be far from the kingdom of God, Mark xii. 34, And elsewhere, we are exhorted to ask, and a promise is annexed thereunto, that it shall be given us, to seek and we shall find, Matt. vii. 7. And in another place, to turn at God's reproof, and he will pour out his Spirit unto us, and make known his words unto us, Prov. i. 25. And several other scriptures, in which super-added grace is connected with duty enjoined, which duty is supposed to be in our own power, and to be preparatory for it.
Answ. (1.) As to the first of these scriptures, in which our Saviour tells the scribe, that he was not far from the kingdom of God; he intends nothing else hereby, but that the profession he made, which he calls, his answering discreetly, was not very remote from that which was made by them, who were the subjects of his kingdom: it was the doctrine he mentions, that Christ commends; and therefore it must not be inferred from hence, that he had regard to his state, as though his inward temper of mind, or moral conduct of life, was such as more immediately disposed him for a state of grace, so that he was, at the same time, hovering between a state of unregeneracy and conversion.
(2.) As for that instance, in which persons are supposed to prepare themselves for that grace which God gives in answer
to prayer, by performing that duty, as though he had obliged himself to give whatever they ask for, relating to their own salvation; this cannot be the sense of the scripture but now mentioned, or any other, to the like purpose; unless it be understood of the prayer of faith, under the influence of the Holy Spirit; but this supposes regenerating grace; and therefore it is foreign to the argument, in which man is considered as preparing himself for the grace of God, and not as expecting farther degrees of grace, upon his being inclined, by the Spirit of God, to seek them.
(3.) As for the other instance in the objection, relating to God's engaging to give the Spirit, and to make known his words to those that turn at his reproof; this, I conceive, contains in it nothing else but a promise of the Spirit, to carry on the work of grace, in all those in whom it is begun. Though turning, in scripture, be sometimes taken for external reformation, which is in our own power, as it is our indispensable duty; yet, whenever a promise of saving blessings is annexed to it, as in this scripture, it is to be understood as denoting the grace of repentance. And if it be said, that this is God's gift, and therefore cannot be the subject of an exhortation, it may be replied hereunto; that saving grace is often represented, in scripture, as our act, or duty, in order to the performance whereof we ought to say, as the church is presented speaking, Turn thou me, and I shall be turned, Jer. xxxi. 18. that is, I shall return unto thee with my whole heart, and not feignedly, chap. iii. 10.
The same reply might be given to their sense of several other scriptures brought to maintain the doctrine of preparatory works, performed by us, as necessarily inferring our obtaining the special grace of God. But I shall close this head with a few hints taken from that excellent divine before mentioned. "Man cannot prepare himself for the new birth: he hath, in"deed, a subjective capacity for grace, above any other crea "ture in the inferior world; and this is a kind of natural pre"paration, which other creatures have not; a capacity, in re"gard of the powers of the soul, though not in respect of the present disposition of them. He hath an understanding to "know, and when it is enlightened, to know God's law; a will "to move and run, and when enlarged by grace, to run the "ways of God's commandments; so that he stands in an im"mediate capacity to receive the life of grace, upon the breath "and touch of God, which a stone doth not; for in this it is 66 necessary, that rational faculties should be put as a founda"tion of spiritual motions. Though the soul be thus capable, "as a subject, to receive the grace of God, yet it is not there"fore capable, as an agent, to prepare itself for it, or produce
"it. It is capable to receive the truths of God; but, as the "heart is stony, it is incapable to receive the impressions of "those truths. Though some things, which man may do by "common grace, may be said to be preparations, yet they are "not formally so; as that there is an absolute, causal connexion "between such preparations, and regeneration; they are not "disposing causes of grace: grace is all in a way of reception "by the soul, not of action from the soul: the highest morality in the world is not necessary to the first infusion of the "divine nature: if there were any thing in the subject that "was the cause of it, the tenderest, and softest dispositions "would be wrought upon; and the most intelligent men would "soonest receive the gospel. Though we see them sometimes "renewed, yet many times the roughest tempers are seized upon by grace. Though morality seems to set men at a ec greater nearness to the kingdom of God, yet, with all its own strength it cannot bring it into the heart, unless the Spirit 26 open the lock: yea, sometimes it sets a man farther from the "kingdom of God, as being a great enemy to the righteous"ness of the gospel, both imputed and inherent; and other
operations upon the soul, which seem to be nearer prepara"tions; such as convictions, &c. do not infer grace; for the "heart, as a field, may be ploughed by terrors, and yet not "planted with any good seed; planting and watering are preparations, but not the cause of fruit; the increase depends upon God:"* thus this learned author. And he also farther proves, that there is no obligation on God, by any thing that may look like a preparation in men; and adds, that if any preparations were our own, and were pure, which they are not: yet they cannot oblige God to give supernatural grace: which leads us,
3. To consider that this work is, in a peculiar manner, attributed to the Spirit of God; the only moving cause whereof, is his grace. That the Spirit is the author of this work, is not to be proved by experience, as the expressions of divine power therein are, but by scripture; and the scripture is very express as to this matter. Thus, when God promises to give a new heart; to take away the heart of stone, and to give an heart of flesh, and to cause his people to walk in his statutes, Ezek. xxxvi. 26, 27. he would put his Spirit within them; and elsewhere they are said to have purified their souls in obeying the truth, through the Spirit, 1 Pet. i. 22. And our Saviour asserts the necessity of our being born of the Spirit, John iii. 5. in order to our entering into the kingdom of God: so that from these, and several other scriptures, that might be referred to,
* See Charnock on Regeneration, Vol. II. page 147, 148, &c.
it appears, that effectual calling is the internal powerful work of the Holy Ghost.*
Obj. 1. It is objected, by some, that this doctrine savours of enthusiasm ; since it supposes that there is no difference between the Spirit's internal influences, and inspiration; and to pretend to this, now the miraculous dispensation, which was in the apostle's days, is ceased, is vain and enthusiastic.
Answ. To this it may be replied, That the charge of enthusiasm is very unjustly deduced from this doctrine; for we must distinguish between the extraordinary, and the ordinary influence of the Holy Ghost; the former is allowed by all, to be now ceased; and therefore they who pretend to it, are liable to this charge; but it is a very great dishonour cast upon the Holy Ghost to deny his powerful influence or agency in the work of grace; and it renders the condition of the church, at present, in a very material circumstance, so much inferior to what it was of old, that it is incapable of attaining salvation; unless it could be proved that salvation might be attained without the divine energy.
But, that we may farther reply to this objection, let it be con-. sidered; that the Spirit's influence, as subservient to the work of grace, is evidently distinguished from imputation: the latter of these was a peculiar honour which was conferred upon some persons, who were either to transmit to the church a rule of faith, by the immediate dictates of the Holy Ghost; or else they were favoured with it to answer some extraordinary ends, which could not be attained without it, namely, their being furnished with wisdom, as well as courage and boldness, to maintain the cause, which they were not otherwise furnished to defend, against the opposition that it met with from their persecuting and malicious enemies, that so it might not suffer through their weakness; as when our Saviour bids his disciples not to take thought what they should say, when brought before rulers, &c. but promises, that the Spirit should speak in them, Matt. x. 18-20. And in some other particular instances we read, especially in the church at Corinth, that when ministers had not those advantages to qualify themselves to preach the gospel, which they afterwards were favoured with, some had this extraordinary gift, so that they spake by the Spirit; but this was only conferred occasionally, and for some special reasons: and therefore, those scriptures that speak of
When we speak of effectual calling's being the work of the Spirit, the agency of the Father and Son is not excluded, since the divine power, by which all effects are produced, belongs to the divine essence, which is equally predicated of all the persons in the Godhead; but when any work is peculiarly attributed to the Spirit, this implies his personal glory's being demonstrated thereby, agreeably to what is elsewhere called the oeconomy of the divine persons; which see farther explained in Vol. I. page 299, 293, &c.