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may say, they shall clearly see by our works t6 what party we belong: whether to the Author of Peace, or the spirit of confusion. If we look back into the last century, we may find examples in plenty of great sinners, who thought themselves great saints; and some of them are reported as such to this day; to the great danger of some Christians, and the great grief of others. This was the lamentable and hopeless state of the Pharisees; "They trusted in themselves that "they were righteous, and despised others;" but God knew their hearts. He saw that their contempt of others was as vain as their opinion of themselves; and the doctrine which they had about their own election as Jews might be the foundation of all: for I believe the doctrine of election had never a worse effect and a worse issue than it had upon them. The like persuasion, instead of being a ground of safety and comfort to Christians, has been a delusion of Satan to draw souls into perdition: and if there be any amongst us who never yet observed this, we should pray to God to open their eyes, and give them grace to be alarmed at the prospect; for it is a dreadful one.
This doctrine is further dangerous, as it favors the practise of schismatical division in the Church; it both promotes and covers the evil of separation: whether that was foreseen by those who brought it into fashion I will not say; but it was seen in a short time afler by every body else, and this use of it was very natural: for who shall convince those of sin in schism who have a rule above us all? If we will allow it, they have an inward testimony superior to all authority upon earth, and who shall dare to speak against it? When Jesus Christ was upon earth, no man was so hated and despised as He: and by whom? By proud, conceited, quarrelsome people, who called themselves the elected of God in their Father Abraham. The contempt which then fell upon Jesus Christ, now falls upon his Church; and from the same sort of people*, who call themselves the Elect.
When the superstition of the church of Rome was done away by the overthrow of order, and the presumption of envious or insidious piety prevailed among irregular protestants, then this doctrine came in and abounded; but it may soon be detected, for it is either with the 'means of grace administered in the Christian Church, or it is without them: if it is with them, then let them shew us how the privilege of one Christian is above another Christian. Are not all entitled to the same promises? Will not baptism carry a child to heaven? As surely, though it be born of a slave; and baptized in a church, as if it were of noble birth, and baptized in a parlour. Under the means of grace in Christ Jesus there is neither rich nor poor, bond nor free; but all are equal. If election be without the means of grace, then it explains itself; it must be an imposture; it is to supply their place, and render them superfluous; and when the means of grace are gone, the appearance of Christianity will last but a short time.
If any person, through pride or envy, hath thrown himself out of the Church, or is not able to prove himself in it; I say, if any such person can yet boast of his election to salvation, and persuade others to believe him, to what purpose then did Jesus Christ found a Church in opposition to the gates of hell, and promise to be with it to the end of the world? Here is a persuasion to which it doth not appear that any Church is necessary: therefore all dissenters are fond of a Churchman, who believes it: it is a notion that rests in the conceit of a man's own mind; and ifwe admit its authority, what is the consequence? We then give to the word of a man a place above the word of God. A good meaning is supposed by weak people to sanctify a bad action: but St. Paul meant well when he persecuted the Christian Church: yet he condemned himself severely for it afterwards. It may be said by some who profess this doctrine, that they take it for their comfort, and mean no harm by it; intending thereby to draw us away from the foundations of truth and the certainty of divine promises, till the whole Christian fabric falls into ruins at once; as if, when the kingdom of God were departed from amongst us, some other new light should spring up in the worlds • f
Enough has been said to prove the danger of this doctrine; I think it may be shewn as plainly that it is not a doctrine of the scripture. This we freely allow, that the election of Christians out of the world into the Church of Christ is plain and certain: but the election of Christians out of Christians is not so; if there were such a thing, it is what we cannot know, having no visible sign for it, and therefore we do wrong, and must bring ourselves and the Church into danger if we pretend to know it. The religion of the Gospel, by which we are saved, is the religion of faith, hope, and charity: to this religion we are called at our baptism; with that which cannot be reduced to any of these three we can have no concern; and such is the knowledge of God's secret decrees. We are not called upon to know what cannot be known, neither are we required to act as ifwe knew it: we are to trust in God, but always to be in fear for ourselves; and thence the churcb wisely directs us lo jpray, that even vol. IV. X
in oUr last hour we may not fall from him. To what end is this prayer, if it be determined by our predesti-. nation that we shall never fall? This language of the Church implies, that'we ma]] fall even to the last mo-, ment, and that we are never sale till death shall put. an end to sin and temptation.
The great mistake seems to have consisted in applying to Christians what is said to heathens.. The Vessel of wrath fitted to destruction was an heathen; a man never taken into the covenant of God, mid who had determined that he never would be^ It should always be remembered, that in.the Epistle to the Romans the Apostle is arguing against the Jews, about the reception of the heathens; a thing they could never bear to hear of, because they confiued all grace. to themselves. There is not a Christian upon earth who can prove that be is entitled to any one privilege but what he hath in common with other Christians ; he. is therefore to pass the time of his sojourning here w fear; not to think that he has found out a short way, of being saved, a way unknown to other people: not, to be high-minded,.as the. Jews were, who fell, through vain confidence of their own election. Such a sort of election the scriptures do not teach; they shew the vanity of it from the example of the Jews: the text also is expressly against it; for if Christians are called; upon to make their election sure, then is that election such as may be not sure. Why else is it said, "k| "him that th'inketh he standeth take heed lest he-fall?" He who thinketh he hath got farther xan only think so; and in that he may be grossly,mistaken.. An$ how doth he stand? not by certain knowledge, as he pretends, but by faith: faith in the promise of Cody as his only security.
There is no case more to our purpose than that of the Apostle St. Paul: he was a vessel individually chosen by God: in him we see the election of God's grace falling on a single person: but what does he infer from it? No absolute exemption from danger: he supposes that he may still be cast away, and lost by his own neglect. He led a severe, watchful, and mortified life, "lest, when he had preached to others, he "himself should be a castaway." Will any man presume upon privileges higher and surer than those of this great Apostle? Might St. Paul be cast away? who, then shall dare to be secure? He, who can persuade himself that God hath called him to a privilege which St. Paul had not, must be under some strong delu
But is there no assurance? Undoubtedly there is' but it is the assurance of faith, and the assurance of hope: for any thing further we must wait till that judgment for which all men are reserved; which shall detect the secrets of all hearts; laying open to thousands the true nature of those works, that they never understood before, though they imagined they did. How shall God judge evert/ man according to hisworksi if every man is to judge himself before half his works are done, according to his jeelings? Are we to judge first, and is God to judge afterwards? Can we think such a thing without blasphemy? and can we teach it, without thereby rendering our whole religion of no effect, as the Jews did by a like presumption? Shall we take from the chief Shepherd his office of separating the sheep from the goats in the next life, by doing it for him beforehand in this life? Shall we poor blind
» See Note 1, p. 327.