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'A. Rev. xxii. 14. Rom. ii. 6-8. Tit. ii. 11. 13. 2 Thess. i. 5.'
Ans. 1. In what sense it is possible to keep the commandments, in what not, hath been declared. 2. How it is necessary, or in what sense, or for what end, Mr. B. hath not yet spoken, though he supposeth he hath; but we will take it for granted that it is necessary for us so to do; in that sense, and for that end and purpose, for which it is of us required. 3. To allow then the gentleman the advantage of his captious procedure by a multiplication of entangled queries; and to take them in that order wherein they lie.
To the first, 'whether we may keep the commandments that we may have right to eternal life.' I say, 1. Keeping of the commandments in the sense acknowledged may be looked on in respect of eternal life, either as the cause procuring it, or as the means conducing to it. 2. A right to eternal life may be considered in respect of the rise and constitution of it, or of the present evidence and last enjoyment of it. There is a twofold right to the kingdom of heaven; a right of desert according to the tenor of the covenant of works; and a right of promise according to the tenor of the covenant of grace. I say, then, that it is not lawful, that is, it is not the way, rule, and tenor of the gospel, that we should do or keep the commandments, so that doing or keeping should be the cause procuring and obtaining an original right, as to the rise and constitution of it, or a right of desert to eternal life. This is the perfect tenor of the covenant of works and righteousness of the law, 'do this and live; if a man do the work of the law he shall live thereby ;' and, if thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments:' which if there be any gospel or new covenant confirmed in the blood of Christ, is antiquated as to its efficacy, and was ever since the entrance of sin into the world; as being ineffectual for the bringing of any soul unto God; Rom. viii. 3. Heb. viii. 11, 12. This, if it were needful, I might confirm with innumerable texts of Scripture, and the transcription of a good part of the epistles of Paul in particular. 3. The inheritance which is purchased for us by Christ, and is the gift of God, plainly excludes all such confidence in keeping the commandments, as is pleaded for. For my part, I willingly ascribe to obedience
any thing that hath a consistency (in reference to eternal life) with the full purchase of Christ, and the free donation of God; and therefore, I say, 4. As a means appointed of God, as the way wherein we ought to walk, for the coming to, and obtaining of, the inheritance so fully purchased and freely given, for the evidencing of the right given us thereto by the blood of Christ, and giving actual admission to the enjoyment of the purchase, and to testify our free acceptation with God, and adoption on that account, so we ought to do, and keep the commandments; that is, walk in holiness, without which none shall see God. This is all that is intended, Rev. xxii. 14. Christ speaks not there to unbe lievers, shewing what they must do to be justified and saved; but to redeemed, justified, and sanctified ones; shewing them their way of admission and the means of it to the remaining privileges of the purchase made by his blood.
His next question is, May we seek for honour and glory and immortality by well-doing?' which words are taken from Rom. ii. 7, 8.
I answer, The words there are used in a law sense, and are declarative of the righteousness of God, in rewarding the keepers of the law of nature, or the moral law, according to the law of the covenant of works. This is evident from the whole design of the apostle in that place, which is to convince all men, Jews and Gentiles, of sin against the law; and the impossibility of the obtaining the glory of God thereby. So in particular from ver. 10. where salvation is annexed to works, in the very terms wherein the righteousness of the law is expressed by Mr. B. in the chapter of justification; and in direct opposition whereunto, the apostle sets up the righteousness of the gospel; chap. i. 17. iii. and iv. But yet translate the words into a gospel sense, consider well-doing as the way appointed for us to walk in, for the obtaining of the end mentioned, and consider glory, honour, and immortality, as a reward of our obedience, purchased by Christ, and freely promised of God on that account, and I say we may, we ought, 'by patient continuing in well-doing, to seek for glory, honour, and immortality;" that is, it is our duty to abide in the way, and use of the means prescribed, for the obtaining of the inheritance purchased and promised: but yet this, with the limitations before in
part mentioned: as 1. That of ourselves we can do no good;" 2. That the ability we have to do good, is purchased for us by Christ. 3. This is not so full in this life, as that we can perfectly, to all degrees of perfection, do good, or yield obedience to the law. 4. That which by grace we do yield and perform, is not the cause procuring or meriting of that inheritance: which 5. As the grace whereby we obey, is fully purchased for us by Christ, and freely bestowed upon us by God.
His next is, 'Is it the tenor of the gospel that we should live uprightly in expectation of the hope hereafter?' Doubtless, neither shall I need to give any answer at all to this part of the inquiry but what lies in the words of the Scripture, produced for the proof of our catechist's intention. 'The grace of God that bringeth salvation hath appeared to all men, teaching us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, righteously, and godly in this present world; looking for the blessed hope and a glorious appearance of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ;' Tit. ii. 11-13. Christ the great God our Saviour, having promised an inheritance to us with himself, at his glorious appearance, raiseth up our hearts with a hope and expectation thereof; his grace or the doctrine of it, teacheth us to perform all manner of holiness and righteousness all our days; and this is the tenor and law of the gospel, that so we do; but what this is to Mr. Biddle's purpose I
His last attempt is upon the exposition of some (I know not whom) who have minced the doctrine so small, it seems, that he can find no relish in it; saith he, finally ought we to suffer for the kingdom of God, or from the kingdom of God?' his answer is, 2 Thess. i. 5. "That you may be counted worthy of the kingdom of God, for which you also suffer.' I confess suffering from the kingdom of God,'is something an uncouth expression; and those who have used it to the offence of this gentleman, might have more commodiously delivered what they did intend. But the kingdom of God' being sometimes taken for that rule of grace which Christ hath in the hearts of believers, and thereupon being said to be within us, and the word,' from,' denoting the principle of obedience in suffering, there is a truth in the expression, Q
and that very consistent with suffering for the kingdom of God, which here is opposed unto it. To suffer from the kingdom of God, is no more, than to be enabled to suffer from a principle of grace within us, by which Christ bears rule in our hearts; and in this sense we say that no man can do or suffer any thing so, as it shall be acceptable unto God, but it must be from the kingdom of God: for they that are in the flesh cannot please God, even their sacrifices are an abomination to him. This is so far from hindering us, as to suffering for the kingdom of God, that is, to endure persecution for the profession of the gospel (for in the place of the apostle cited denotes the procuring occasion, not final cause) that without it so we cannot do; and so the minced matter hath I hope a savoury relish recovered unto it again.
His next questions are : 1. 'Have you any examples of keeping the commandments under the law? what saith David of himself? Psal. xviii. 20-24. And,
2. 'Have you any example under the gospel? 1 John iii. 10. Because we keep his commandments.'
All this trouble is Mr. B. advantaged to make from the ambiguity of this expression of keeping the commandments. We know full well what David saith of his obedience, and what he said of his sins; so that we know his keeping of the commandments was in respect of sincerity, as to all the commandments of God, and all the parts of them: but not as to his perfection in keeping all or any of them. And he who says we keep his commandments,' says also, that 'if we say we have no sin, we lie and deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us.'
He adds, 'Have you not examples of the choicest saints who obeyed God in hope of the reward both before, under, and after the law?' Heb. xi. 8-10. 24-26. xii. 12. Tit. i. 1, 2.
To obey in hope of eternal life, is either to yield obedience, in hope of obtaining eternal life, as a reward procured by, or proportioned to that obedience; and so no saint of God since the fall of Adam, did yield obedience to God, or ought to have so done: or to obey in hope of eternal life, is to carry along with us, in our obedience, a hope of the enjoyment of the promised inheritance in due time, and to be encouraged and strengthened in obeying thereby.
Thus the saints of God walk with God, in hope and obedience at this day; and they always did so from the beginning. They have hope in and with their obedience, of that whereunto their obedience leads, which was purchased for them by Christ.
'Q. Do not the Scriptures intimate that Christians may attain to perfection of virtue and godliness, and that it is the intention of God and Christ, and his ministers, to bring them to this pitch? Rehearse the texts to this effect.
'A. Eph. i. 4.'
Not to make long work of that, which is capable of a speedy despatch; by virtue and godliness, Mr. B. understands that universal righteousness and holiness, which the law requires; by perfection in it, an absolute, complete answerableness to the law, in that righteousness and holiness, both as to the matter wherein they consist, and the manner how they are to be performed; that Christians may attain, expresses a power that is reducible into act. So that the intention of God and the ministers, is not that they should be pressing on towards perfection, which it is confessed, we are to do, whilst we live in this world, but actually in this life, to bring them to an enjoyment of it. In this sense, we deny that any man in this life, may attain to a perfection of virtue and godliness.' For,
1. All our works are done out of faith; 1 Tim. i. 5. Gal. v. 6. now this faith is the faith of the forgiveness of sins by Christ, and that purifieth the heart;' Acts xv. 8, 9. But the works that proceed from faith for the forgiveness of sins by Christ, cannot be perfect absolutely in themselves, because in the very rise of them, they expect perfection and completeness from another.
2. Such as is the cause, such is the effect; but the principle or cause of the saints obedience in this life is imperfect; so therefore is their obedience. That our sanctification is imperfect in this life, the apostle witnesseth; 2 Cor. iv. 16. 1 Cor. xiii. 9.
3. Where there is flesh and spirit, there is not perfection: for the flesh is contrary to the Spirit, from whence our perfection must proceed if we have any: but there is flesh and Spirit in all believers, whilst they live in this world; Gal. v. 17. Rom. vii. 14.