« AnteriorContinuar »
who declares that without him we can do nothing, (e) on that account the less reprehend and punish those who without him do what is evil? Does he therefore relax in his exhortations to every man to practise good works? How severely does Paul censure the Corinthians for their neglect of charity! (p) Yet he earnestly prays that charity may be given them by the Lord. In his Epistle to the Romans he declares that "it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy:" (y) yet afterwards he refrains not from the use of admonition, exhortation, and reproof. Why do they not therefore remonstrate with the Lord, not to lose his labour in such a manner, by requiring of men those things which he alone can bestow, and punishing those things which are committed for want of his grace? Why do they not admonish Paul to spare those, who are unable to will or run without the previous mercy of God, of which they are now destitute? As though truly the Lord had not the best reason for his doctrine, which readily presents itself to those who religiously seek it. Paul clearly shews how far doctrine, exhortation, and reproof, can of themselves avail towards producing a change of heart, when he says that "neither is he that planteth any thing, neither he that watereth; but" that the efficacy is solely from "God that giveth the increase." (r) Thus we see that Moses severely sanctions the precepts of the law, and the prophets earnestly urge and threaten transgressors: whilst nevertheless they acknowledge, that men never begin to be wise.till a heart is given them to understand; that it is the peculiar work of God to circumcise the heart, and instead of a stony heart to give a heart of flesh; to inscribe his law in men's minds; in a word, to render his doctrine effectual by a renovation of the soul.
V. What then, it will be inquired, is the use of exhortations? I reply; if the.impious despise them with obstinate hearts, they will serve for a testimony against them, when they shall come to the tribunal of the Lord; and even in the present state they wound their consciences; for however the most audacious person may deride them, he cannot disapprove of them in his heart. But it will be said, what can a miserable sinner do,
(o) John xv. 5. (/i) 1 Cor. iii. 3.
(?) Rom. ix. 16. (r) 1 Cor. iii. 7.
if the softness of heart, which is necessary to obedience, be denied him? I ask, what excuse can he plead, seeing that he cannot impute the hardness of his heart to any one but himself I The impious therefore, who are ready if possible to ridicule the Divine precepts and exhortations, are, in spite of their own inclinations, confounded by their power. But the principal utility should be considered in regard to the faithful, in whom as the Lord performs all things by his Spirit, so he neglects not the instrumentality of his word, but uses it with great efficacy. Let it be allowed then, as it ought to be, that all the strength of the pious consists in the grace of God, according to this expression of the prophet, " I will give them a new heart, that they may walk in my statutes." (e) But you will object, Why are they admonished of their duty, and not rather left to the direction of the Spirit? Why are they importuned with exhortations, when they cannot make more haste than is produced by the impulse of the Spirit? Why are they chastised, if they have ever deviated from the right way, seeing that they erred through the necessary infirmity of the flesh? I reply, Who art thou, O man, that wouldest impose laws upon God? If it be his will to prepare us by exhortation for the reception of this grace, by which obedience to the exhortation is produced, what have you to censure in this economy? If exhortations and reproofs were of no other advantage to the pious, than to convince them of sin, they ought not on that account to be esteemed wholly useless. Now since by the internal operation of the Spirit, they are most effectual to inflame the heart with a love of righteousness, to shake off sloth, to destroy the pleasure and poisonous sweetness of iniquity, and on the contrary to render it hateful and burdensome; who can dare to reject them as superfluous? If any one would desire a plainer answer, let him take it thus: The operations of God on his elect are twofold; internally by his Spirit, externally by his word. By his Spirit illuminating their minds and forming their hearts to the love and cultivation of righteousness, he makes them new creatures. By his word he excites them to desire, seek, and obtain the same renovation. In both he
(*) Erek. xi. 19, 20.
displays the efficacy of his power, according to the mode of his dispensation. When he addresses the same word to the reprobate, though it produces not their correction, yet he makes it effectual for another purpose, that they may be confounded by the testimony of their consciences now, and be rendered more inexcusable at the day of judgment. Thus Christ, though he pronounces that "no man can come to him, except the Father draw him," and that the elect come when they have "heard and learned of the Father;" (O yet himself neglects not the office of a teacher, but with his own mouth sedulously invites those, who need the internal teachings of the Holy Spirit to enable them to derive any benefit from his instructions. With respect to the reprobate, Paul suggests that teaching is not useless, because it is to them "the savour of death unto death," but " a sweet savour unto God." (p)
VI. Our adversaries are very laborious in collecting testimonies of Scripture; and this with a view, since they cannot refute us with their weight, to overwhelm us with their number. But as in battles, when armies come to close combat, the weak multitude, whatever pomp and ostentation they may display, are soon defeated and routed; so it will be very easy for us to vanquish them with all their multitude. For as all the passages, which they abuse in their opposition to us, when properly classed and distributed, centre in a very few topics, one answer will be sufficient for many of them; it will not be necessary to dwell on a particular explication of each. Their principal argument they derive from the precepts; which they suppose to be so proportioned to our ability, that whatever they can be proved to require, it necessarily follows we are capable of performing. They proceed therefore to a particular detail of them, and by them measure the extent of our strength. Either, say they, God mocks us, when he commands holiness, piety, obedience, chastity, love, and meekness, and when he forbids impurity, idolatry, unchastity, anger, robbery, pride, and the like: or he requires only such things as we have power to perform. Now almost all the precepts, which they collect, may be distributed into three classes. Some require the first conversion to God;
(0 John vi. 44, 45 («) 2 Cor. ii. 16.
others simply relate to the observation of the law? others enjoin perseverance in the grace of God already received. Let us first speak of them all in general, and then proceed to the particulars. To represent the ability of man as co.extensive with the precepts of the Divine law, has indeed for a long time not been unusual, and has some appearance of plausibility; but it has proceeded from the grossest ignorance of the law. For those who think it an enormous crime to say that the observation of the law is impossible, insist on this very cogent argument, that otherwise the law was given in vain. For they argue just as if Paul had never said any thing concerning the law. But pray what is the meaning of these expressions: "The law was added because of transgressions;" "by the law is the knowledge of sin;" "the law worketh wrath;" " the law entered that the offence might abound?" (w) Do they imply a necessity of its being limited to our ability, that it might not be given in vain? Do they not rather shew that it was placed far beyond our ability, in order to convince us of our impotence? According to the definition of the same apostle, " the end of the commandment is charity." (x) But when he wishes the minds of the Thessalonians to "abound in love," (y) he plainly acknowledges that the law sounds in our ears in vain, unless God inspire the principles of it into our hearts.
VII. Indeed, if the Scripture taught only that the law is the rule of life, to which our conduct ought to be conformed, I would immediately accede to their opinion. But since it carefully and perspicuously states to us various uses of the law, it will be best to consider the operation of the law in man according to that exposition. As far as relates to the present argument, when it has prescribed any thing to be performed by us, it teaches that the power of obedience proceeds from the goodness of God, and therefore invites us to pray that it may be given us. If there were only a commandment, and no promise, there would be a trial of the sufficiency of our strength to obey the commandment; but since the commands are connected with promises, which declare that we must derive not
(o) Gal. iii. 19. Rom. in. 20. iv. 15. v. 30.
(x) 1 Tim. i. 5. ( y) 1 The»t. iii. 12.
only subsidiary power, but our whole strength from the assistance of Divine grace, they furnish abundant evidence that we are not only unequal to the observation of the law, but altogether incapable of it. Wherefore let them no more urge the proportion of our ability to the precepts of the law, as though the Lord had regulated the standard of righteousness, which he designed to give in the law, according to the measure of our imbecility. It should rather be concluded from the promises, how unprepared we are of ourselves, since we stand in such universal need of his grace. But will it, say they, be credited by any, that the Lord addressed his law to stocks and stones? I reply that no one will attempt to inculcate such a notion. For neither are the impious, stocks or stones, when they are taught by the law the contrariety of their dispositions to God, and are convicted of guilt by the testimony of their own minds; nor the pious, when admonished of their own impotence, they have recourse to the grace of God. To this purpose are the following passages from Augustine: " God gives commands which we cannot perform, that we may know what we ought to request of him. The utility of the precepts is great, if only so much be given to free will, that the grace of God may receive the greater honour. Faith obtains what the law commands; and the law therefore commands, that faith may obtain that which is commanded by the law: moreover God requires faith itself of us, and finds not what he requires, unless he has given what he finds." Again," Let God give what he enjoins, and let him enjoin what he pleases."
VIII. This will more clearly appear in an examination of the three kinds of precepts which we have already mentioned. The Lord, both in the law and in the prophets, frequently commands us to be converted to him; (z) but the prophet, on the other hand, says, "Turn thou me, and I shall be turned." "After that I was turned, I repented," &c. (a) He commands us to circumcise our hearts; but he announces by Moses, that this circumcision is the work of his own hand. (A) He fre. quently requires newness of heart; but elsewhere declares that this is his own gift, (c) "What God promises," as Augustine
(a) Joel ii. 12. (a) Jer. xxxi. 18, 19.
(6) Deut z. 16. and xxx. 6. (c) Jer.iv. 4 Ezck. xxxvi. 36.