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النشر الإلكتروني

ON THE POWER OF SINNERS TO REPENT.

SEVERAL ministers being lately in company, who were of different denominations, and who held different opinions, not only respecting the most scriptural form of church government, but also concerning some articles of evangelical doctrine; one of them, who considers himself as a steady Calvinist, (though he neither builds his faith upon that eminent Reformer, nor is he unwilling to acknowledge many who are usually denominated Arminians, as brethren in Cbrist,) remarked, that he feared the doctrine of repentance was more overlooked by some preachers of the gospel, than most articles on which so much is said in the scriptures of truth.'

This occasioned some further discourse on that subject; when, after awhile, a very worthy man, (who would not be offended, if, to avoid circumlocution, we should say, that he is inclinable to the Arminian opinions) rejoined, That he durst say, that he, (the Calvinist) as well as himself, taught his hearers, that whenever God called sinners to repentance, he always gave them power to repent. The Calvinist did not choose to introduce a long dispute, in that company, upon points whereon all present well knew that they differed: but he thought, after the company was gone, that it would not be unprofitable, to write down a few animadversions on this observation, which may not only state his own ideas, but may possibly be of some service to others, on both sides of the controversy between the Calvinists and Arminians.

Had he thought it seasonable to make a reply, it would have been to the following effect.

You conceive that I must allow, that God would not call a man to repent, unless he gave him power to repent. But before I can assent to your proposition, you must allow me to examine its meaning; or, though it may appear to you self-evident, yet I shall not admit it. Now the word “power,” in this connexion, appears to me very vague and ambiguous. I know indeed, that many who suppose themselves to be Calvinists, would agree with you in your axiom, though they would draw from it a conclusion opposite to yours. You say,

You say, “Whenever God calls a man to repent, he certainly gives him power to repent : therefore, as God calls all men every where to repent, doubtless all men have power to repent.” While they say, “Wherever God calls men to repent, he always gives them power to repent: therefore, it is not the duty of any to repent, except of those only that are effectually called.”

Now, after considering this subject with much attention, for many years, I am fully persuaded, that the axiom in which you both agree, is a mere sophism, and that both your inferences are invalid, and derive their apparent force from the ambiguity of the word “ power.”

I believe, at least as much as you do, that it is the duty of every sinner in the world, and a duty especially to be enforced on every sinner that hears the gospel, to repent heartily, and truly, and universally, and in such a way as no man ever did who finally perished. And

I believe, at least as much as they do, that no sinner ever did or will repent, without a special and efficacious influence exerted on his heart by the Holy Spirit ; nor can any thing less than this influence bring the most docile sinner in the world to repent; though this would effectually produce repentance in the heart of the most hardened.

If an evil beast had devoured Joseph, which had no rational capacity, nor power of understanding God's law against murder, nor of forming any idea of Joseph's moral character, and the importance of his life to society, that beast could not be bound to repent of such a deed. Or, if Nebuchadnezzar had killed Daniel, during the time that he was totally insane; though he might, when he recovered his

Well,

reason, have been very sorry for it, yet he could not properly repent of it, as sin, for which he ought to condemn and abhor himself ; as he was bound to do for his pride, and his other sins which he had committed previous to his distraction,

But it was no excuse for Joseph's brethren, that they hated him so that they were not able to speak peaceably to him. And, if they actually repented after a godly sort, when they met with him in Egypt, they would not dare to say, it is right to repent now, but it was not our duty to repent before, because God did not give us power to repent any sooner.'

We need not attempt exactly to explain the expressions used in Exodus, concerning the Lord's hardening the heart of Pharaoh : it is sufficient to observe, that they are the strongest that are ever used on such a subject in the word of God ; and yet that monarch was not at all excusable in his impenitence, on account of his being destitute of special grace; for thus said Jehovah, the God of the Hebrews, unto him, “How long wilt thou refuse to humble thyself before me ?Exod. x. 3.

When the prophet Jeremiah said, respecting some of his cotemporaries, “ Behold their ear is uncircumcised, and they cannot hearken : nay, they were not at all ashamed, neither could they blush ;" (vi. 10. 15.) he seems to have had no suspicion that they could ever turn this reproof into an excuse for their impenitence, and say of him in return, 'Why then does he expect' us to hear him ? or, Why does he call upon us to repent and be ashamed ?'

The Arminian idea of an impenitent sinner's, having a power given him to do what he still neglects to do, and even hates to perform, without which power he presumes God would never call him to repent, has no foundation in scripture.

And the notion of the Pseudo-calvinists, that unless men possess this self-determining power, nothing truly good can be the duty of a sinner ; but all the commands, exhortations, and invitations of scripture must be explained away; op be supposed to signify nothing more than what

sinners may perform without special grace, is equally unscriptural.

The terms natural and moral ability, or inability, which have been used, on this subject, by many judicious divines, seem to me well adapted to express a most useful and necessary distinction. But, whether men will call it by these names or not, the distinction itself certainly exists in the nature of things, and is plainly observed in the Holy Scriptures.

God requires no voluntary obedience of creatures to whom he has not given rational faculties, and a power of receiving intimations of his being, perfections, and will. And of rational creatures he only requires, that all their capacities should be devoted to his service : that they should love him with all their hearts, and serve him with all their might, be it more or less.

But he makes no allowance for a man's loving other objects more than God; nor for the carnal mind's being enmity against him, so that it cannot bear subjection to his law; nor for his being so conceited of his own righteousness, that he cannot submit to God's method of justifying the ungodly ; nor for a man's loving this present evil world, so that he prefers the enjoyment of it to all the bliss of heaven. He makes no allowance for pride, nor envy, nor malice, nor covetousness, nor knavery; nor for a man's eyes being so full of adultery that he cannot cease from sin, nor for his heart being fully set in him to do evil. He makes no allowance for impenitency, because a man is still in sin, or because he hopes to profit by it, and therefore cannot find it in his heart to break it off.

But the effect of special grace lies in a man's receiving from God something over and above that power which is essential to moral agency: for this grace actually inclines him to do that, which he was previonsly bound to do, and which he would have been wholly to blame for not doing; and consequently, that which in some sense he would have had a power to do, though this grace had been denied him.

Nothing, except the gift of Christ, to die for them that

were condemned to eternal death, and be made a curse for them that deserved the curse of the law, can be more evidently free, than that grace which gives repentance to the impenitent; which imparts faith to them that refused to credit the testimony of God; which puts the fear of God into the hearts of them that once cast off his fear; or, in other words, that takes away the heart of stone, and gives a heart of flesh. Though God certainly can do all this, yet he is not bound to do it for any one; and has an evident right to do it for whom he pleases; which he claimed in the days of Moses, saying, “ I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and I will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.

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