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your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom; Luke xii. 32.'
Eternal life is the gift of God, in opposition to any merit of ours, and in respect of his designation of him, who is eternal life, to be our Mediator, and purchaser of it; yet that Christ did not therefore obtain by his blood, for us 'eternal redemption; Heb. ix. 12. that he did not purchase us to himself; Tit. ii. 14. or that the merit of Christ for us, and the free grace of God unto us, are inconsistent, our catechist attempts not to prove. Of the reconciliation of God's purpose and good pleasure, mentioned, Luke xii. 32. with the satisfaction and merit of the Mediator, I have spoken also at large already.
I have thus briefly passed through this chapter, although it treateth of one of the most important heads of our religion, because (the Lord assisting) I intend the full handling of the doctrine opposed in it, in a just treatise to that purpose.
Of keeping the commandments of God: and of perfection of obedience, how attainable in this life.
THE title of the 16th chapter in our catechist, is, of keeping the commandments, and having an eye to the reward, of perfection in virtue and godliness to be attained; and of departing from righteousness and faith. What the man hath to offer on these several heads, shall be considered in order. His first question is,
'Q. Are the commandments possible to be kept?
'A. His commandments are not grievous; John v. 3. My yoke is easy, and my burden light; Matt. xi. 30.'
1. I presume it is evident to every one, at the first view, that there is very little relation between the question and the answer thereunto suggested. The inquiry is of our strength and power: the answer speaks to the nature of the commands of God. It never came sure into the mind of any living, that the meaning of this question, Are the commandments possible to be kept?' is, 'Is there an absolute impossibility from the nature of the commands of God them
selves that they cannot be kept by any?' Nor did ever any man say so, or can without the greatest blasphemy against God. But the question is, what power there is in man to keep those commandments of God; which certainly the texts insisted on by Mr. B. do not in the least give an answer unto.
2. He tells us not, in what state or condition he supposes that person to be, concerning whom the inquiry is made, whether he can possibly keep the commandments of God or no: whether he speaks of all men in general, or any man indefinitely, or restrainedly of believers. Nor,
3. Doth he inform us, what he intends by keeping the commands of God. Whether an exact, perfect, and every way complete keeping of them, up to the highest degree of all things, in all things, circumstances, and concernments of them: or whether the keeping of them in a universal sincerity, accepted before God, according to the tenor of the covenant of grace, be intended. Nor,
4. What commandments they are, which he chiefly respects, and under what consideration: whether all the commands of the law of God as such; or whether the gospel commands of faith and love, which the places from whence he answers do respect. Nor,
5. What he means by the impossibility of keeping God's commands, which he intends to deny; that which is absolutely so from the nature of the thing itself, or that which is so only in some respect, with reference to some certain state and condition of man.
When we know in what sense the question is proposed, we shall be enabled to return an answer thereunto, which he that hath proposed it here, knew not how to do in the meantime, to the thing itself intended, according to the light of the premised distinctions, we say that all the commandments of God, the whole law is excellent, precious, not grievous in itself, or its own nature, but admirably expressing the goodness, and kindness, and holiness of him that gave it, in relation to them to whom it was given, and can by no means be said, as from itself and upon its own account, to be impossible to be kept. Yet,
2. No unregenerate man can possibly keep, that is, hath in himself a power to keep any one of all the command
ments of God, as to the matter required, and the manner wherein it is required. This impossibility is not in the least relating to the nature of the law, but to the impotency, and corruption of the person lying under it.
3. No man though regenerate, can fulfil the law of God perfectly, or keep all the commandments of God, according to the original tenor of the law, in all the parts and degrees of it; nor ever any man did so, since sin entered into the world; for it is impossible that any regenerate man should keep the commandments of God, as they are the tenor of the covenant of works. If this were otherwise, the law would not have been made weak by sin, that it should not justify.
4. That it is impossible, that any man though regenerate, should by his own strength fulfil any one of the commands of God, seeing without Christ we can do nothing,' and it is 'God who works in us to will and to do of his good pleasure.'
5. That to keep the commandments of God, not as the tenor of the covenant of works, nor in an absolute perfection of obedience and correspondency to the law; but sincerely and uprightly, unto acceptation, according to the tenor of the covenant of grace, and the obedience it requires, through the assistance of the Spirit and grace of God, is not only a thing possible, but easy, pleasant, and delightful.
Thus we say,
1. That a person regenerate by the assistance of the Spirit and grace of God, may keep the commandments of God, in yielding to him, in answer to them, that sincere obedience, which in Jesus Christ, according to the tenor of the covenant of grace, is required: yea, it is to him an easy and pleasant thing so to do.
2. That an unregenerate person should keep any one of God's commandments as he ought, is impossible, not from the nature of God's commands, but from his own state and condition.
3. That a person, though regenerate, yet being so but in part, and carrying about him a body of death, should keep the commands of God, in a perfection of obedience, according to the law of the covenant of works, is impossible from the condition of a regenerate man, and not from the nature
of God's commands. What is it now that Mr. B. opposes Or what is that he asserts ?
I suppose he declares his mind in his lesser catechism, chap. vii. Q. 1. where he proposes his question in the words of the ruler amongst the Jews; What good shall a man do that he may have eternal life?' An answer of it follows in that of our Saviour, Matt. xix. 17-19. If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments.
The intendment of this inquiry must be the same with his that made it, as his argument in the whole is; or the answer of our Saviour, is no way suited thereunto. Now it is most evident, that the inquiry was made according to the principles of the Pharisees, who expected justification by the works of the law, according to the tenor of a covenant of works, to which presumption of theirs, our Saviour suits his answer and seeing they sought to be justified, and saved, as it were, by the works of the law, to the law he sends them. This then being Mr. B.'s sense, wherein he affirms that it is possible to keep the commandments, so as for doing good, and keeping them, to enter into life, I shall only remit him, as our Saviour did the Pharisees to the law: but yet I shall withal pray, that our merciful Lord, would not leave him to the foolish choice of his own darkened heart, but in his due time, by the blood of the covenant, which yet he seems to despise, send him forth of the 'prison wherein is no water.'
Q. 2. But though it be possible to keep the commandments, yet is it not enough, if we desire and endeavour to keep them; although we actually keep them not? And doth not God accept the will for the deed?
'A. 1 Cor. vii. 19. Matt. vii. 21. 24. 26. James i. 25. Rom, ii. 10. John xiii. 17. Luke xi. 24. 2 Cor. v. 10. Matt. xvi. 27. Rev. xxii. 21. Matt. xix. 18, 19. In all which places, there is mention of doing the will of God, of keeping the commandments of God.'
The aim of this question, is to take advantage at what hath been delivered by some, not as an ordinary rule for all men to walk by, but as an extraordinary relief for some in distress. When poor souls, bowed down under the sense of their own weakness and insufficiency for obedience, and the exceeding unsuitableness of their best performances to
the spiritual and exact perfection of the law of God (things which the proud Pharisees of the world are unacquainted withal), to support them under their distress, they have been by some directed to the consideration of the sincerity that was in their obedience, which they did yield, and guided to examine that, by their desires and endeavours. Now as this direction is not without a good foundation in the Scripture; Nehemiah, describing the saints of God by this character, that they desire to fear the name of God; Neh. i. 11. and David every where professing this, as an eminent property of a child of God, so they who gave it, were very far from understanding such desires, as may be pretended as a colour for sloth and negligence, to give countenance to the souls and consciences of men in a willing neglect of the performance of such duties, as they are to press after; but such they intend, as had adjoined to them, and accompanying of them, earnest, continual, sincere, endeavours (as Mr. B. acknowledgeth) 'to walk before God in all well-pleasing, though they could not attain to that perfection of obedience that is required. And in this case, though we make not application of the particular rule of accepting the will for the deed, to the general case, yet we fear not to say, that this is all the perfection which the best of the saints of God in this life attain to and which, according to the tenor of that covenant wherein we now walk with God in Jesus Christ, is accepted. This is all the doing or keeping of the commandments that is intended in any of the places quoted by Mr. B. unless that last: wherein our Saviour sends that proud Pharisee, according to his own principles to the righteousness of the law which he followed after, but could not attain. But of this more afterward. He farther argues :
'Q. Though it be not only possible but also necessary to keep the commandments, yet is it lawful so to do that we may have a right to eternal life, and the heavenly inheritance? May we seek for honour, and glory, and immortality, by well-doing? is it the tenor of the gospel that we should live uprightly in expectation of the hope hereafter? and finally, ought we to suffer for the kingdom of God, and not as some are pleased to mince that matter from the kingdom of God? Where are the testimonies of Scripture to this purpose?