Try out the new BibleStudyTools.com. Click here!

Preface to the First Edition

WHEN the following pages were written, (1781,) the author had no intention of publishing them. He had formerly en» tertaincd different sentiments. For some few years, however^ he had begun to doubt whether all his principles on these subjects were scriptural. These doubts arose chiefly from thinking on some passages of scripture; particularly, the latter part of the second Psalm, where kings who set themselvet against the Lord, and against his Anointed., are positively commanded to kiss the Son: also, the preaching of John the Baptist, Christ, and his apostles; who, he found, did not hesitate to address unconverted sinners ; and that, in the most pointed manner : saying, Repent, for the kingdom of heaven, is at hand.—Repent, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out. And it appeared, to him, there must be a most unwarrantable force put upon these passages, to make them mean any other repentance and faith than such as are connected with salvation.

Reading the lives and labours of such men as Elliot, Brainerd, and several others, who preached Christ with so much success to the American Indians, had an effect upon him. Their work, like that of the apostles, seemed to be plain before them. They appeared, to him, in their addresses to those poor, benighted heathens, to have none of those difficulties with which he felt himself encumbered. These things led him to the throne of grace, to implore instruction and VOL. I. B

resolution. He saw that he wanted both; the one to know the mind of Christ, and the other to avow it.

He was, for some time, however, deterred from disclosing his doubts. During nearly four years, they occupied his mind; and not without increasing. Being once in company with a minister whom he greatly respected, it was thrown out, as a matter of inquiry, Whether we had generally entertained just notions concerning unbelief. It was common to speak of unbelief as a calling in question the truth of our own personal religion; whereas he remarked, " It was the calling in question the truth of what God had said." This remark appeared to carry in it its own evidence.

From this time, his thoughts upon the subject began to enlarge. He preached upon it more than once. From hence, he was led to think on its opposite, faith, and to consider it as a fiersuasion of the truth of what God has said; and, of course, to suspect his former views concerning its not being the duty of unconverted sinners.

He was aware, that the generality of Christians with whom he was acquainted, viewed the belief of the gospel as something presupposed in faith, rather than as being of the essence of it; and considered the contrary as the opinion of IMr. Sandeman, which they were agreed in rejecting, as favourable to a dead, or inoperative kind of faith. He thought, however, that what they meant by a belief of the gospel was nothing more than a general assent to the doctrines of revelation, unaccompanied with love to them, or a dependance on the Lord Jesus Christ for salvation. He had no doubt but that such a notion of the subject ought to be rejected: and, if this be the notion of Mr. Sandeman, (which, by the way, he does not know, having never read any of his works,) he has no scruple in saying, it is far from any thing which he intends to advance.*

• Since the first edition of this Piece made its appearance, the author has seen Mr. Sandeman's writings, and those of Mr. A M'Lean, who, on this subject, seems to agree with Mr Sandeman. Justice requires him to say, that these writers do not appear to plead for a kind of faith which is not followed with love, or by a dependance on Christ alone for salvation ; but their idea of faith itself goes to exclude every thing cordial from it. Though he accords with them, in considering the belief of

It appeared to him, that we had taken unconverted sinners too much upon their word, when they told us that they believed the gospel. He did not doubt but that they might believe many things concerning Jesus Christ and his salvation ; but, being blind to the glory of God, as it is displayed in the face of Jesus Christ, their belief of the gospel must be very superficial, extending only to a few facts, without any sense of their real, intrinsic excellency; which, strictly speaking, is not faith. Those who see no form nor comeliness in the Messiah, nor beauty, that they should desire him, are described as not believing the report concerning him.*

He had also read and considered, as well as he was able, President Edwards's Inquiry into the Freedom of the Will, with some other performances on the difference between natural and moral inability. He found much satisfaction in this distinction; as it appeared, to him, to carry with it its own evidence—to be clearly and fully contained in the scriptures —and calculated to disburden the Calvinistic system of a number of calumnies with which its enemies have loaded it, as well as to afford clear and honourable conceptions of the divine government. If it were not the duty of unconverted sinners to believe in Christ, and that, because of their inability; he supposed this inability must be natural, or something which did not arise from an evil disposition: but, the more he examined the scriptures, the more he was convinced, that all the inability ascribed to man, with respect to believing, arises from the aversion of his heart. They will not come to Christ, that they may have life ; will not hearken to the voice of the charmer, charm he never so wisely ; will not seek after God ; and desire not the knowledge of his ways.

He wishes to avoid the spirit into which we are apt to be betrayed, when engaged in controversy,—that of magnifying the importance of the subject beyond its proper bounds: yet he seriously thinks, the subject treated of in the following pages is of no small importance. To him, it appears to be

the gospel as saving faith; yet there is an important difference in the ideas which they attach to believing. This difference, with some other things, is examined, in an Appendix, at the end of this edition. * Isaiah liii. 1,2.

the same controversy, for substance, as that which, in all ages, has subsisted between God and an apostate world. God has ever maintained these two principles: All that is evil is of the creature ; and to him belongs the blame of it: and, All that is good is of himself; and to him belong* the praise of it. To acquiesce in both these positions, is too much for the carnal heart. The advocates for free-will would seem to yield the former; acknowledging themselves blameworthy for the evif: but they cannot admit the latter. Whatever honour they may allow to the general grace of God, they are for ascribing the preponderance in favour of virtue and eternal life, to their own good improvement of it. Others, who profess to be advocates for free grace, appear to be willing that God should have all the honour of their salvation, in case they should be saved; but they discover the strongest aversion to take to themselves the blame of their destruction, in case they should be lost. To yield both these points to God, is to fall under in the grand controversy with him, and to acquiesce in his revealed will; which acquiescence includes repentance towards God, and faith cowards our Lord Jesus Christ. Indeed, it were not very difficult to prove, that each, in rejecting one of these truths, does not, in reality, embrace the other. The Arminian, though he professes to take the blame of the evil upon himself, yet feels no guilt for being a sinner, any farther than he imagines he could, by the help of divine grace, given to him and all mankind, have avoided it. If he admit the native depravity of his heart, it is his misfortune, not his fault: his fault lies, not in being in a state of alienation and aversion from God, but in not making the best use of the grace of God to get out of it. And the Antinomian, though he ascribes salvation to free grace, yet feels no obligation for the pardon of his impenitence, his unbelief, or his constant aversion to God, during his supposed unfegeneracy. Thus, as in many other cases, opposite extremes are known to meet. Where no grace is given, they are united in supposing that rio duty can be required; which, if true, grace is no more grace.

The following particulars are premised, for the sake of a plear understanding of the subject;—

First: There is no dispute about the doctrine of election, or any of the discriminating doctrines of grace. They are allowed on both sides; and it is granted, that none ever did, or will, believe in Christ, but those who are chosen of God from eternity. The question does not turn upon what are the causes of salvation, but rather, upon what are the causes of damnation. " No man," as Mr. Charnock happily expresses it, " is an unbeliever, but because he will be so; and every man is not an unbeliever, because the grace of God conquers some, changeth their wills, and bends them to Christ."*

Secondly: Neither is there any dispute concerning who ought to be encouraged to consider themselves as entitled to the blessings of the gospel. Though sinners be freely invited to the participation of spiritual blessings; yet they have no interest in them, according to God's revealed will, while they continue in unbelief: nor is it any part of the design of these pages, to persuade them to believe that they have. On the contrary, the writer is fully convinced, that, whatever be the secret purpose of God concerning them, they are at present under the curse ?

Thirdly: The question is not, whether men are bound to do any thing more than the law requires; but, whether the law, as the invariable standard of right and wrong, does not require every man cordially to embrace whatever God reveals : in other words, whether love to God with all the heart, soul, mind, and strength, does not include a cordial reception of whatever plan he shall, at any period of time, disclose ?

Fourthly: The question is not, whether men are required to believe any more than is reported in the gospel, or any thing that is not true; but, whether that which is reported ought not to be believed with all the heart; and whether this be not saving faith ?

Fifthly: It is no part of the controversy, whether unconverted sinners be able to turn to God, and to embrace the gospel: but what kind of inability they lie under with respect to these exercises ? Whether it consists in the want of natural powers and advantages, or merely in the want of a heart to make a right use of them ? If the former, obligation, it is

* Discourses, Vol. II. p. 473.

granted, would be set aside; but, if the latter, it remains in full force. They that are in the flesh cannot please God: but it does not follow, that they are not obliged 10 do so ; and this their obligation requires to be clearly insisted on, that they may be convinced of their sin, and so induced to embrace the gospel remedy.

Sixthly : The question is not, whether faith be required of sinners as a virtue, which, if complied with, shall be the ground of their acceptance with God ; or that on account of which they may be justified in his sight: but, whether it be not required as the appointed mean of salvation. The righteousness of Jesus believed in, is the only ground of justification ; but faith in him is necessary to our being interested in it. We remember the fatal example of the Jews, which the apostle Paul holds up to our view. The Gentiles, saith he, who followed not after righteousness, have attained to righteousness ; even the righteousness which is of faith : but Israel, who followed after the law of righteousness, hath not attained to the law of righteousness : Wherefore? Because They Sought It Not By Faith, but, as it were, by the works of the law ; for they stumbled at that stumbling-stone.* Though we had not been elsewhere told, that in doing this they were disobedient;\ yet our judgements must be strangely warped by system, if we did not conclude it to be their sin, and that by which they fell and perished. And we dare not but charge our hearers, whether they will hear, or whether they will forbear, to beware of stumbling upon the same stone, and of falling after the same example of unbelief.

Finally: The question is not, whether unconverted sinners be the subjects of exhortation ; but, whether they ought to be exhorted to perform spiritual duties ? It is beyond all dispute, that the scriptures do exhort them to many things. If, therefore, there be any professors of Christianity who question the propriety of this, and who would have nothing said to them, except that, " if they be elected they will be called," they are not to be reasoned with, but rebuked, as setting themselves in direct opposition to the Word of God. The greater part of those who may differ from the author on these sub

• Eom. ix, 30-.32. f * peter ii. 8.

jeets, it is presumed, will admit the propriety of sinners being exhorted to duty; only this duty must, as they suppose, be confined to merely natural exercises, or such as may be complied with by a carnal heart, destitute of the love of God. It is one design of the following pages to show, that God requires the heart, the whole heart, and nothing but the heart; that all the precepts of the Bible are only the different modes in which we are required to express our love to him; that, instead of its being true, that sinners are obliged to perform duties which have no spirituality in them, there are no such duties to be performed ; and that, so far from their being exhorted to every thing, excepting what is spiritually good, they are exhorted to nothing else. The scriptures undoubtedly require them to read, to hear, to repent, and to pray, that their sins may be forgiven them. It is not, however, in the exercise of a carnal, but of a spiritual state of mind, that these dutie are performed.