The PuritansPreparations Before Conversion by Samuel Rutherford
Preparations before Conversion
Excerpts from Christ Dying and Drawing Sinners to Himself (1647)
Question. But are there no preparations either of nature or at least of grace going before saving grace, and the soul’s being drawn to Christ? Answer. That we may come to consider preparations or previous qualifications to conversion, let us consider whether Christ coming to the soul hath need of an usher.
Assertion. No man but Pelagians, Arminians, and such, do teach, If any shall improve their natural abilities to the uttermost, and sir up themselves in good earnest to seek the grace of conversion and Christ the wisdom of God, they shall certainly and without miscarrying find what they seek. 1. Because no man, not the finest and sweetest nature, can engage the grace of Christ, or with his penny of sweating earn either the kingdom of grace, or glory, whether by way of merit of condignity or congruity. Rom. 9:16: So then, it is not in him that willeth, nor in him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy. I Tim. 1:9: Who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began. So Eph. 2:1-5, Titus 3:3-5, Ezek. 16:4-10. 2. Because there is no shadow of any engagement of promise on God’s part, or any word for it: Do this by the strength of nature, and grace shall be given to you.
3. Nor are we ashamed to say with the Scripture, it’s as impossible to storm heaven, or make purchase of Christ, by the strength of nature, as for the dead man to take his grave in his two arms, and rise and lay death by him and walk. Nor does this impossibility free the sinner from guiltiness and rebukes. 1. Because it is a sinfully contracted inability, except we would deny original sin. 2. It’s voluntary in us, and the bondage that we love. 3. The Scripture both calls it impossibility, and also rebukes it as sinful. John 6:44, Rom. 8:3 and 7-8, Eph. 2:1-3 and 11-13, 4:17-19, 5:8.
Assertion. All preparations, even wrought in us by the common and general restraining grace of God, can have no effective influence to produce our conversion, from the Scriptures alleged; for then should we be called, saved, and quickened, when we are dead in sin, foolish, disobedient, and enemies to God, contrary to Eph. 2:1-5 and 11-13, II Tim. 1:9, Titus 3:3. Then common, general gifts might also engage Christ’s free grace. Men might anticipate grace, and forestall Christ and his merits, which overturns the foundation of the gospel, and cries down Christ and free grace.
Assertion. All these foregoing endeavors and sweatings, being void of faith, cannot please God, Heb. 11:6. These who act in the strength of them are yet in the flesh, and not in the Spirit, and so can do nothing acceptable to God, being yet out of Christ, Rom. 8:8, John 15:4-6. And the tree being corrupt, the fruit must be sour, and naught; humiliation, sorrow for sin, displeasure with ourselves, that go before conversion, can be no formal parts of conversion, nor any essential limbs, members or degrees of the new creature, nor so much as stone or pin of the new building. For parts of the building remain in the building; when the house is come to some perfect frame, all those bastard pieces, coming not from the new principle – the new heart, Christ formed in the soul – are cast out as unprofitable. Paul, when he meets with Christ, casts off his silks and satins that he was lordly of while he was a Pharisee, as old rags, loss and dung, and acts now with far other principles and tools. It’s all new work, after another sampler; heaven works in him now.
Assertion. Those are not moral preparations which we perform before conversion, nor have they any promise of Christ annexed to them, as, He that is humbled under sin shall be drawn to Christ, or He that wisheth the Physician, shall be cured and called to repentance. We read of no such promise in the word. A man not in Christ is without the sphere or element of Christ, at the wrong side of the door of the sheepfold; he is not in Emanuel’s land. All the promises of God are in Christ yea and amen, II Cor. 1:20; the whole stock of gospel promises are put in Christ, as the first subject, and believers have them from Christ, at the second hand. Christ keeps, as the true ark, the book of the New Testament, the believer’s Bible. It’s true, the new heart is promised to the elect, even while they are not in Christ, but they cannot make claim to that promise till they be first in Christ. But those promises are made, in a special manner, to Christ as the head of the redeemed, to be dispensed by Christ to those only whom the Father gave him before time. And as the promises are peculiar to Christ, so the persons and grace promised, both the one and the other, are due to Christ, and result from the head, to those who in God’s decree only shall be members.
Many run, and obtain not, I Cor. 9:24-26. Many strive to enter in, and shall not be able, Luke 13:24. Many lay a foundation, and are not able to finish, Luke 14:29. Many hunt, and catch nothing. Many have storms of conscience, as Cain and Judas, who go never one step further. When, therefore, Antinomians impute to us that we teach, That to desire to believe is faith, or desire to pray is prayer, they foully mistake. For raw desires, and wishes after conversion and Christ, are to us no more conversion, and the soul’s being drawn to Christ, than Esau’s weeping for the blessing was the blessing, or Balaam’s wish to die the death of the righteous was the happy end of such as die in the Lord. But the sincere desires and good will of justified persons are accepted of the Lord, for the deed; and when Christ pronounceth such blessed as hunger for righteousness, we say, in that sense, a sincere desire to pray and believe is materially, and by concomitancy, a neighbor, and near of kin to believing and praying. A virtual or seminal intention to pray, believe, love Christ, do his will, is, in the seed, praying, believing, when the intention is supernatural, and of the same kind with the act, as the seed is the tree. We say not so of natural intentions and desires. As Abraham’s sincere intention to offer his son was the offering of his son, the widow’s casting in her mite was, in her honest desire, the casting in of all that she had. Single desires, unfeigned aims, weigh as much with Christ, as actions, in their reality. So we say many are, in affections, martyrs, who never die nor suffer loss for Christ, because nothing is wanting on the part of such saints, thus disposed, but that God call them to it. So Abraham offered his son Isaac to God, because Abraham did all on his part, and he was not the cause why he was not offered and made an actual sacrifice to God, but God’s countermand and his forbidding was the cause and nothing else.
Assertion. The humiliation and sorrow for sin, and desire of the Physician, by way of merit, or having the favor of a gospel promise, do no more render a soul nearer to Christ and saving grace, than the want of these dispositions. For as a horse, or an ape, though they come nearer to some shadow of reason, and to man’s nature, than the stork, or the ass, or than things void of life, as stones and the like, yet as there is required the like omnipotency to turn an ape into a man as to make a stone a son of Abraham, so the like omnipotency of grace is required to turn an unhumbled soul into a saved and redeemed saint, as to turn a proud Pharisee into a saint. And merit is as far to seek in the one as the other. So an unconverted sinner, though some way humbled, if the Lord of free grace should convert him were no less obliged to free grace, and no less from laying any tie or bands of merits or obligation, on Christ for his conversion, than a stone made a believing son of Abraham should be in the same case of conversion.
And the humbled soul, for ought he knows (I speak of legal humiliation), hath no more any gospel title or promise that saving grace shall be given to him, even of mere grace, upon condition of his humiliation, or external hearing, or desire of the Physician, than the proud Pharisee. Yet as the body framed and organized is in a nearer disposition to be a house to receive the soul, than a stone or a block, so is an humbled and dejected soul, such as cast-down Saul, and the bowed-down jailer, and those that were pricked in their heats, Acts 2, in the moment before their conversion, nearer to conversion, and, in regard of passive and material dispositions made by the law-work, readier to receive the impression and new life of Christ formed in them, than the blaspheming Jews, Acts 13, and the proud Pharisees who despised the counsel of God and would not be baptized, Luke 7:30. There be some preparatory colors in dying of cloth, as blue, that dispose the cloth for other colors more easily; so it is here. And a fish that hath swallowed the bait, and is in the bosom of the net, is nearer being taken, than a fish free and swimming in the ocean. Yet a fish may break the net, and cut the angle, and not be taken. A legally fitted man may be not far from the kingdom of God, Mark 12:34, and yet never enter in. And those same dispositions, in relation to God’s end in saving the elect, are often means and disposing occasions, fitting souls for conversion. Though some be like a piece of gold lying in the dirt, yet it is both true metal, and hath the king’s stamp on it, and is of equal worth with that which goeth current in the market. So, in regard of God’s eternal election, many are in the way of sin, and not converted as yet, notwithstanding all the luster of foregoing preparations, though they be as truly the elect of God as either those that are converted, yea or glorified in heaven; yet their preparations do lead them, in regard of an higher power (that they see not) to saving grace.
And for anything revealed to us, God ordinarily prepares men by the law, and some previous dispositions, before they be drawn to Christ. I dare not peremptorily say that God useth no prerogative royal, or no privileges of sovereignty, in the conversion of some who find mercy between the water and the bridge; yea, I think that Christ comes to some like a roe, or a young hart, skipping and leaping over hills and mountains, and passeth over his own set line, and snatcheth them out of hell, without these preparations; at least, he works them suddenly. And I see no inconvenience, but as in God’s ways of nature he can make dispensations to himself, so in the ways of grace we cannot find him out. However, sure of crabbed and knotty timber he makes new buildings; and it is very base and untoward clay that Christ, who maketh all things new, cannot frame a vessel of mercy of. To change one specie or kind of creature into another, a lion into a lamb, and to cause the wolf and the lamb dwell together, and the leopard lie down with the kid, and the child to lead them, is the proper work of omnipotency, whatever be the preparations, or indisposition of sinners.
Assertion. Not any Protestant divines, I know, make true repentance a work of the law, going before faith in Christ. The law speaks not one word of repentance, but saith, either Do, or Die. Repentance is an evangelic ingredient in a saint. Christ was made a Prince, and exalted to give repentance, Acts 5:31, and the law as the law hath not one word of Christ, though it cannot contradict Christ, except we say that there be two contradictory wills in Christ, which were blasphemy.
Objection by Saltmarsh. But to bid a troubled soul be humbled for sin, and pray, and set upon duties, and speak nothing of Christ to them, whereas poor souls cannot pray in that condition, is to teach them to seek righteousness in themselves.
Answer. Satan cannot say that we teach any to set on duties, and to silence Christ’s strength and grace, by which only duties may be done. To bid them set on duties, as their righteousness before God, and as the way to find rest and peace for their souls, and that speaking nothing of Christ, we disclaim as Antichristian and Pharisaical. It is no argument, but the Arminian objection against free grace, not to bid a troubled soul pray, because he cannot pray without the Spirit, for Peter, Acts 8, bids Simon Magus, who was in the gall of bitterness, pray, yet without the Spirit he could not pray. Antinomians exhort troubled souls, though not converted, to believe in Christ. Yet they are as unable to believe without the Spirit, as to pray without the Spirit. To bid them set on evangelic duties, without trusting in them, that is, to feel their lost condition, to despair of salvation in themselves, to look afar off to Christ, to desire him, are the set way that Christ walks in, to fit us for saving grace.
Objection. Despair of salvation in myself is a part of faith, so you exhort the troubled in mind at first to believe.
Answer. Not so: Judas and Cain both despaired of salvation in themselves, yet had they no part of saving faith. It’s impossible that any can rely on Christ while they continue resting on false bottoms. Faith is a sailing and a swimming; ships cannot sail on mountains, it’s impossible to swim on dry land. As it is impossible to have a soul and not to have a love, so we cannot have a love to lie by us as useless, but a lover we must have. And Christ’s work of conversion is orderly, as first to plow and pluck up, so then to sow and plant, and first to take the soul off of old lovers. We are on a way of gadding to seek lovers, Jer. 2:36, on a high and lofty mountain to set our bed, Isa. 57:7. God must straw thorns and briars in our love-bed, and take Ephraim off his idols, Hos. 14:6, and from riding on horses, and make the soul as white and clean paper, that Christ may print a new lover on it. Therefore it’s young mortification in the blossom to give half a refusal to all old lovers; this is Christ’s aim, Cant. 4:8: Come from the lion’s dens, and the mountains of leopards, with me.
Objection by Saltmarsh. Desires to pray and believe, being sometimes cold, sometimes none at all, cannot satisfy a troubled soul. I must have besides desires, endeavors. And desires to desire, and sorrow because I cannot sorrow for sin, are but legal works, not such as are required in a broken heart.
Answer. Desires going before conversion are not such as can calm a storming conscience. He knows not Christ who dreams that a wakened conscience can be calmed with anything less than the blood of Jesus Christ, that speaks better things than the blood of Abel. Never Protestant divines promise soul rest in preparations that are wrought by the law. If Antinomians can give soul rest to troubled consciences by all the promises of the gospel, and raise up the spirits of Judas or Cain to sound comfort, let them be doing. Sure there is a lock on a troubled conscience that the gospel letter, or the tongue of man or angel can be no key to open. Christ hath reserved a way of his own to give satisfaction to afflicted spirits. But the question is now, supposing ye deal with unconverted men, whether or no ye are not first to convince them of the curses of the law to come on them, to humble them, and so to chase them to Christ. And if to bid them be humbled, and know their dangerous condition, the state of damnation, and set to these preparatory duties, be to teach them to seek righteousness in themselves, we answer no.
Objection by Crisp. If we preach wrath to believers, we must either make them believe they lie under that wrath, or no. If they be not under that wrath, we had as good hold our tongues. If we say, if they commit these and these sins, they are damned, and except they perform such and such duties, and except they walk thus and thus holily, and do these and these good works, they shall come under the wrath, or at least, God will be angry with them, what do we in this but abuse the Scriptures? We undo all that Christ hath done, we belie God and tell believers that they are under a covenant of works. I would have wrath preached to believers, that they may abstain from sin because they are delivered from wrath, not that they may be delivered from wrath. For God hath sworn, Isa. 54, as the world shall be no more destroyed with waters, so he will be no more wrath with his people.
Answer. 1. We are to make believers know if they believe not, and walk worthy of Christ, in all holy duties, their faith is a fancy, and a dead faith, and the wrath of God abides on them, and they are not believers. 2. Though they be believers, wrath must be preached to them, and is preached to them everywhere in the New Testament, as death, Rom. 6:21-22, damnation, Rom. 14:23, the wrath of God, Eph. 5:6, condemnation, II Thess. 1:8, perdition, flaming fire, eternal fire, I Cor. 3:17, 11:32 and 34, Jude 7-8, I Tim. 6:9, I Cor. 16:22, to the end they may make sure their calling and election. 3. What is this but to make a mock of all the threatenings of the gospel? For by this argument, the threatenings are not to be preached to the elect before their conversion, except we would make them believe a lie, that they are reprobates and under wrath, when they are under no wrath at all, but from eternity were delivered from wrath, nor should the gospel-threatenings be preached to reprobates. Why? Show me one word where pastors are bidden tell men they are to believe, or they are reprobates and under eternal wrath, peremptorily, except we know them to have sinned against the Holy Ghost. 4. Nor is deliverance from wrath to be believed as absolutely by us, whether we believe and walk worthy of Christ, or do no such thing, but walk after the flesh. Then by this reason, whether men believe on Christ or no, there is no condemnation or wrath to be feared. The contrary is expressly, John 3:18 and 36. I take the mystery to be this: Antinomians would have no moral, no ceremonial law preached at all, and therefore one of them writeth expressly: That there be no commandments under the gospel, no threatenings or penalties at all, and that the whole law of Moses, moral as well as ceremonial, is abrogated under the gospel. That is a merry life.
Objection by Saltmarsh. But others bid the troubled soul believe, but he must first seek in himself qualifications or conditions. But this is to will them to walk in the light of their own sparks.
Answer. If to bid men abstain from flagitious sins, and from seeking glory of men, that are both neck-breaks of faith, John 5:44, and bring men under eternal displeasure, both before and after we believe, be to walk in the light of our own sparks, then when the Lord forbids these in his law and commandeth both the believer and unbeliever the contrary virtues, he must counsel the same with us. To believe and not be humbled and despair of salvation in yourself, is to presume; he that believeth right is cast on that broken board, like a ship-broken man, Either must I cast myself on the Rock Christ, or then drown eternally and perish. The unjust steward was at What shall I do? ere he came to a wise resolution. To go the roadway that Christ leads all believers is not to walk in the light of our own sparks. It’s one thing to seek qualifications of ourselves, trusting in them, and another thing to seek qualifications in ourselves, as preparatory duties wrought by Christ’s grace; the former we disclaim, not the latter.
Objection by Saltmarsh. I will relate mine own experience. First, when I was minded to make away myself for my sin, the Lord sent into my mind this word, I have loved thee with an everlasting love. Ah, thought I then, hath God loved me with such an everlasting love, and shall I sin against such a God? Many doubts and fears arose from the examination of myself, I was afraid of being deluded. The promise, Isa. 55:1, did sweetly stay my heart, Christ in his ordinances witnessed to me that he was mine. I went on for some time full of joy. I was in fears again, that I could not pray, but I had a promise, I will fulfill the desires of them that fear me.
Answer. The method of the conversion of a deluded Antinomian is no rule to others. This man’s first step is from nature, and from thoughts of self-murder, up to the Lamb’s book of life, the secret of eternal election in the breast of God: I have loved thee with an eternal love. It is utterly false that the gospel faith commanded to all the elect and reprobate is the apprehension of God’s eternal love to me in particular. The Scripture saith no such thing. So the Antinomian way of conversion is that every soul troubled for sin, elect or reprobate, is immediately, without any foregoing preparations, or humiliation, or work of the law, to believe that God loved him with an everlasting love. A manifest lie, for so reprobates are to believe a lie, as the first gospel truth. This is I confess a honey-way, and so evangelic that all the damned are to believe that God did bear to them the same everlasting good will and love he had in heart toward Jacob.
The gospel we teach saith eternal election is that secret in the heart of the Lamb, called his book, so as really God first loves and chooses the sinner to salvation. We are blacked with hell, lying amongst the pots, till Christ take us up, and wash and lick the leopard spots off us. But to our sense and apprehension, we first love and choose him as our only liking, and then by our faith and his love on us we know he hath first loved us, with an everlasting love. But there be many turnings, windings, ups and downs, ere it come to this. I have not heard of such an experience, that at the first, without any more ado, forthwith, the Lord saith, Come up hither, I will cause thee read thy name in the Lamb’s book of life. Shall the believing of the love of election to glory be the first medicine that you give to all troubled consciences, elect and reprobate?
The sweet witnessing of the Spirit, from Isa. 55:1: Ho, everyone that thirsts, come to the waters, is gospel honey; but consider if there were no law-work preparing, no needle making a hole before Christ should sew together the sides of the wound. It’s but a delusion. 1. Because, Isa. 61:1, no wholehearted sinners meet with Christ; none come at first laughing to Christ. All that come to Jesus for help, come with the tear in their eye. 2. To come dry and withered to the waters, Isa. 55:1, is the required preparation. 3. The gold in a beggar’s purse in great abundance is to be suspected for stolen gold, because he labored not for it. This I say not, because preparations, and sweatings, and running, that go before conversion, are merits or such as deserve conversion, or that conversion is due to them. Antinomians impute this to us, but unjustly. That I may clear us in this, let these propositions speak for us.
Proposition 1. We cannot receive the Spirit by the preaching of the law and covenant of works, but by the hearing of the promises of the gospel, Gal. 3. The law, it’s alone, can chase men from Christ, but never make a new creature, nor can the letter of the gospel, without the Spirit do it. Proposition 2. When we look for anything in ourselves, or think that an unrenewed man is a confiding person to purchase Christ, we bewilder ourselves, and vanish in foolishness. This wrong Libertines do us, from which we are as far as the east from the west.
Proposition 3. It is not our doctrine, but the weakness of sinners and of the flesh, that we should be shy to Christ, and stand aloof from the Physician, because of the desperate condition of our disease. This is as if one should say, It is not fit for the naked to go to him who offereth white linen to clothe him, nor that the poor should go to him who would be glad you would take his fine gold off his hand, or to say, Set not a young plant, but let it lie above earth, till you see if it bear fruit. Unworthiness in the court of justice is a good plea why Christ should cast us off. But unworthiness felt, though not savingly, is as good a ground to cast yourself on Christ, as poverty, want, and weakness, in place of a statute and act of parliament to beg, though the letter of the law forbid any to beg. Proposition 4. Acting and doing, though neither savingly nor soundly, is not merit of grace, yet not contrary to grace. To obey the law of nature, to give alms, is not against grace. Libertines should not reject this, though it be not all, but a most poor all to engage Christ.
Proposition 5. Faith is a moral condition of life eternal, and wrought in us by the free grace of God. I never saw a contradiction between a condition wrought by irresistible grace, and the gift or free grace of life eternal. For life eternal given in the law, and Adam’s doing and performing by the irresistible acting and assisting of God, are not contrary; yet the former was never merit but grace, the latter was legal doing. Proposition 6. We do receive the promise of willing and doing, wrought immediately in us, according to the good will and most free grace of Christ, and yet we are agents, and work under Christ. Proposition 7. Luther (for I could fill a book with citations), Calvin, and all our Protestant Divines, are for qualifications void of merit or promise before conversion, and for gracious conditions after conversion under the gospel. Antinomians belie Luther. Proposition 8. Immediate resting on Christ for all we do, and drawing of comfort from the testimony of a good conscience, are not contrary. Proposition 9. Holiness idolized or trusted in, is to make Christ, the alone Savior, no Savior. Proposition 10. God is not provoked to reprobate whom he elected from eternity, by new sins; yet is he displeased with David’s adultery so far, as to correct him for it, and Solomon for his backsliding, with the rod of men.
Proposition 11. Works before justification please not God. But it follows not that God keeps not such an order, as sense of sin, though not saving, should go before pardon and conversion, no more than because Adam’s sin pleased not God, therefore it should not go before the Son taking on our flesh. If we are not to do nor act anything before conversion, neither to hear, confer, know, our sinful condition, nor be humbled for sin, despair of salvation in our selves, because these are not merits before conversion, nor can they procure conversion to us, then neither are we after conversion to believe, for believing cannot merit righteousness and life eternal, nor are we to hear, pray, be patient, rejoice in tribulation, for not any of these can procure life eternal to us. And why is not the doing of the one, as well as the other, a seeking righteousness in ourselves? Proposition 12. There is no faith, no act of Christ’s coin, or of the right stamp, before justification.
Proposition 13. We are justified 1. in Christ virtually, as in the public head, when he rose again and was justified in the Spirit. 2. In Christ, as his merits are the cause of our justification. 3. In Christ, apprehended by faith, formally, in the Scripture’s sense, in the Epistle to the Romans and Galatians. Not that faith is the formal cause, or any merit in justification, but because it lays hold on imputed righteousness, which is the formal cause of our justification. 4. We are justified in our own sense and feeling, not by faith simply (because we may believe, and neither know that we believe, nor be sensible of our justification), but as we know that we believe, whether this knowledge result from the light of faith, or from signs as means of our knowledge. 5. Justification by way of declaration to others is not so infallible as that the Scripture calls it justification, properly so named.
Antinomian objection. I was, in hearing the word, shined upon, by a sweet witnessing of the Spirit. But O how I did strive against this work! I was called upon, but I put away all promises of mercy from me. I may justly say, The Lord saved me, whether I would or no. Sometimes I was dead, and could not pray, sometimes so quickened that me-thought that I could have spent a whole night in prayer to God.
Answer. If the faith of the eternal love of free election was his first conversion, no wonder he was shined upon with light. But it was not Scripture light, but wild fire; for the method of Christ’s drawing in the Scripture is not enthusiastical, up at secret election at first. There is no doubt 1. we put Christ away from us after conversion, Cant. 5:1, and that so Christ saves us against our will, and that the principle of saving is free grace, and 2. that free will is neither free nor willing till Christ first draw us, till he renew and work upon the will. But I fear Antinomians will have free will a block to do nothing at all. If Christ will let me sin, say they, let him look to it, upon his honor be it. And, Faith justifies an unbeliever; that is, that faith that is in Christ justifieth me who have no faith in myself. And, It is legalistic to say we act in the strength of Christ. And, To take delight in the holy service of God is to go a-whoring from God. And, A man may not be exhorted to any duty, because he hath no power to do it. And, The Spirit acts most in the saints when they endeavor least. And, In the conversion of a sinner, the faculties of the soul and working thereof are destroyed, and made to cease. Yea, The naked influence of God annihilates all the acts of the soul. Boiling desires after Christ savors too much of action, hindereth the soul to be perfectly illuminated, and to arise to the rosy kisses and chaste embraces of her Bridegroom. And, In place of them the Holy Ghost works. And, The Spirit of adoption works not freely when men are in bondage to some outward circumstances of worship, as time, place, or persons, that they cannot pray but at such hours, or in such places, etc. Protestant divines teach no such thing. But his aim is to set on foot the Familists’ doctrine, We are not bound to keep a constant course of prayer in our families, or privately, unless the Spirit strive us up thereunto. And Antinomians have no stomach to marks, nor belongs it to the way of his conversion which he relates. It is true, we cannot tie the Spirit to our hours. But then all the Lord’s Day worship, all set hours at morn or at night, in private or in families, set times and hours for the church’s praying, preaching, hearing, conference, reading, were unlawful.
Antinomian objection. I seldom desired pardon of sin, till I were fitted for mercies, but now I see we are pardoned freely. O rest not in your own duties.
Answer. To desire pardon of sin before we be fitted for pardon, by no divinity is contrary to free pardon, though such desires be fruitless, as coming from no gracious principles.
Assertion. To believe and take Christ, because I am a needy sinner, is one thing, and to believe, because I am fitted for mercy and humbled, is another thing. This latter we disclaim. Preparations are no righteousness of ours, nor is it our doctrine to desire any to rest on preparations, or to make them causes, foundations, or formal means of faith; they hold forth the mere order and method of grace’s working. Not to desire pardon but in God’s way of foregoing humiliation is nothing contrary, but sweetly subordinate, to free pardon. And to cure too suddenly wounds, and to honey secure and proud sinners, and sweeten and oil a Pharisee, and to reach the Mediator’s blood to an unhumbled soul, is but to turn the gospel into a charm, and when by magic you have drawn all the blood out of the sick man’s veins, then to mix his blood with sweet poison and cause him drink, and swell, and say you have made him healthy and fat.
Now Peter, Acts 2, poured vinegar and wine at first on the wounds of his hearers when he said, Ye murdered the Lord of glory, and they were pricked in their heart. This is the law’s work, Rom. 3, to condemn and stop the sinner’s mouth. And you cannot say that Peter failed in curing too suddenly, because he preached first the law to wound and prick them, for that they crucified the Lord of glory, before he preached the gospel of belief and baptism. And the Lord rebuking Saul from heaven, convincing him of persecution, casting him down to the ground, striking him blind while he trembled, and the Lord’s dealing with the jailer, was more sour work than proposing and pouring the gospel oil and honey of freely imputed righteousness in their wounds at the first, and a close unbottoming them of their own righteousness. And the Lord’s way of justifying Jews and Gentiles is a law-way as touching the order, Rom. 3; having proved all to be under sin, verses 9-18, he saith, verse 19, Now we know that what things soever the law saith, it saith to them who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world become guilty before God. Indeed, if they be convinced of sin by the Spirit, and so converted, and yet under trouble of mind, a pound of the gospel for one ounce weight of the law is fit for them.
But Antinomians err, not knowing the Scriptures, 1. in dreaming that converted souls are so from under the law that they have no more to do with the law, no more than angels and glorified saints, so as the letter of the gospel doth not lead them, but some immediate acting of the Spirit. And that 2. there is no commandment under the gospel, but to believe only. That 3. mortification and new obedience, as Town and others say, is but faith in Christ, and not abstinence from worldly lusts that war against the soul. 4. That the gospel commandeth nothing, but persuadeth rather; that we may be Libertines, and serve the flesh, and believe and be saved. 5. That God hath made no covenant with us under the gospel; the gospel is all promise, that we shall be carried as mere patients to heaven, in a chariot of love. 6. That the way is not strait and narrow, but Christ hath done all to our hands. 7. That it’s legalistic, not gospel, conversation to keep the soul so long under the law for humiliation, contrition and confession, and then bring them to the gospel. It is true, Peter never preached the law to Cornelius, nor Philip to the eunuch, nor Ananias to Paul, but these were all converted aforehand. We think the unconverted man knows neither contrition nor confession aright.
But I was more confirmed that the way of the Antinomians is for the flesh, not for the gospel, when I read that Crisp, expounding confession, I John 1, maketh it no humble acknowledging that the sinner in person hath sinned, and so is under wrath eternal if God should judge him; he maketh it a part of faith, by which a sinner believeth and confesseth that Christ prayed for his sin and he is pardoned in him. Sure confession in Scripture is no such thing: Ezra 10:1, Neh. 9:2. In Scripture, confession of sins is opposed to covering of sin and not forsaking of it, Prov. 28. Joshua sought not such a confession of Achan. James commands not such a confession. Daniel’s, Ezra’s, Peter’s, confession were some other thing, John 1:20, Acts 19:18, Heb. 11:13, Prov. 28:13, I John 4:2, Mark 3:6, Josh. 7:19, Dan. 9:4, Rom. 10:10, I Tim. 6:13, Psalm 32:5, James 5:16, Lev. 5:5, 16:21, 26:40, II Chron. 6:24. In which places, faith and confession of sins cannot be one, nor are we justified by confession, as by faith. But these men have learned to pervert the Scriptures.
Assertion. There be more vehement stirrings and wrestlings in a natural spirit under the law, as the bullock is most unruly at the first yoking, and green wood casts most smoke. Paul, Rom. 7, was slain by the law, but this makes more way for Christ, and though it do not morally soften and facilitate the new birth, yet it ripeneth the out-breaking. Preparations are penal, to subdue, not moral, to deserve or merit, nor conditional, to engage Christ to convert or to facilitate conversion.
Assertion. There be no preparations at all required before redemption, I Tim. 1:15, Rom. 5:8. But there is a far other order in the working of conversion. Those who confound the one with the other speak ignorantly of the ways of grace, for though both be of mere grace, without wages or merit, yet we are mere patients in the one, not in the other. Saltmarsh and Antinomians argue from the one to the other, most ignorantly.
Assertion. That the promises of the gospel are holden forth to sinners as sinners, hath a twofold sense. 1. As that they be sinners and all in a sinful condition to whom the promises are holden forth. This is most true and sound. The kingdom of grace is an hospital and guest house of sick ones, fit for the art and mercy of the Physician Christ. 2. So as they are all immediately to believe and apply Christ and the promises, who are sinners, and there be nothing required of sinners but that they may all immediately challenge interest in Christ, after their own way and order, without humiliation or any law-work. In this sense it is most false that the promises are holden forth to sinners as sinners, because then Christ should be holden forth to all sinners, Americans, Indians, and sinners who never by the least rumor heard one word of Christ. Peter desires not Simon Magus to believe that God had loved him in Christ Jesus with an everlasting love, nor doth the gospel promise offer immediately soul rest to the hardened and proud sinner wallowing in his lusts, as he is a hardened sinner. Nor is the acceptable year of the Lord proclaimed, nor beauty and the oil of joy offered immediately, to any but to those who are weary and laden, and who mourn in Sion, and wallow in ashes, Matt. 11:28-30, Isa. 61:1-3. It’s true, to all within the visible church Christ is offered without price or money, but to be received after Christ’s fashion and order, not after our order; that is, after the soul is under self-despair of salvation, and in the sinner’s month, when he hath been with child of hell.
I grant, in regard of time, sinners cannot come too soon to Christ, nor too early to Wisdom; but in regard of order, many come too soon, and unprepared. Simon Magus too soon believed. Saltmarsh saith, He misbelieved too soon, for he falsely believed; none can believe too soon. Answer. To believe too soon, is to misbelieve, and Saltmarsh and the Antinomians teach us the method of false believing when they teach us too soon to believe, that is, to believe that God hath loved you (be ye what ye will, Simon Magus, Judas, or others) with an everlasting love; for this is the Antinomian faith. Simon Magus is without any foregoing humiliation, or sense of sin or self-despair; to believe he was no less written in the Lamb’s book of life from eternity than Peter, and this he cannot believe soon enough, I say neither soon or late ought a reprobate to believe any such thing. A covetous man, who had great possessions, had not yet bidden farewell to his old god Mammon, when he came to Christ; therefore he departed sad from Christ. Another came before he had buried his father; and some come, Luke 14:28-29, before they advise with their strength, and what Christ will cost them.
I desire I be not mistaken. None can be thoroughly fitted for Christ before he come to Christ; but it is as true, some would buy the pearl before they sell all they have, which is not the wise merchant’s part. And they err foully who argue thus, If I were not a sinner, or if my sins were less heinous, and so I were less unworthy, I would come to Christ and believe; but ah, I am so grievous an offender, and so unworthy, that I cannot go. Their antecedent is true, but the consequence is naught and wicked. It is true, I am sick, and it’s good that I both say and feel that I am sick. But, ergo, I cannot, I will not, go to the Physician, that is wicked logic, and the contrary consequence is good, whereas the other consequence is a seeking of righteousness in ourselves. Another false ground is here laid by Libertines, That we place worth and righteousness in preparations, or that preparations make us less unworthy, and less sinners. But preparations are not in any sort to us money nor hire. We value them as dung, and sin; yet such sin, as sickness is in relation to physic. Preparations remove not one dram, or twentieth part of an ounce, of guiltiness or sin. Christ, in practice of free grace, not by law, yea not by promise, gives grace to the thus prepared, and often he denies it also.
Yea, and there is a good hour appointed by God, when Christ comes. Other physicians take diseases so early as they can, lest the malice of the disease overcome art; but Christ lets sin of purpose ripen, to the eleventh hour, often to the twelfth hour. He knows his art can overtake and outrun seven devils, most easily. The omnipotency of grace knows no such thing as more or less pardonable in sin; yea of purpose to heighten grace, that sinfulness may contend with grace and be overcome, the Gentiles must be like corn ripe, white and yellow, ere the sickle cut them down and they be converted, John 4:35. The boil must be ripe ere it break, the sea full ere it turn; therefore the Lord appoints a time and sets a day for conversion, Titus 3:3. We ourselves were sometimes mad, but the Lord hath a gracious when: When the kindness and man-love of God appeared, he saved us. And, Jer. 50:4, In those days, and at that time, saith the Lord, the children of Israel shall come, they and the children of Judah, going and weeping, they shall seek the Lord. Zech. 12:11: And in that day, there shall be a great mourning in Jerusalem, as the mourning of Hadadimmon in the valley of Megiddon. It’s good to lie and wait at the door and posts of Wisdom’s house, and to lie and attend Christ’s tide; it may come in an hour that you would never have believed. O what depth of mercy, when for natural waiting, or upon a poor venture, What if I go to Christ, I can have no less than I have?, the Lord saves, and the wind not looked for turns fair for a sea voyage to heaven, in the Lord’s time.
Assertion. The ground moving Christ to renew his love in drawing a fallen saint out of the pit is the same that from heaven shined on him at the beginning. Love is an undivided thing; there are not two loves, or three loves, in Christ. That which begins the good work, advances it, even the same love which Christ hath taken up to heaven with him, and there ye find it before you when ye come thither. Some love sickness goes before his return, Cant. 3: I was but a little passed, I found him whom my soul loves. The sky divides and rends itself, and then the sun is on its way to rise; the birds begin to sing, then the summer is near; the voice of the turtle is heard, then the winter is gone. When the affections grow warm, the well-beloved is upon a return. You die for want of Christ; absence seems to be at the highest when hunger for a renewed drawing in the way of comforting is great. Let Christ moderate his own pace; hope quietly waiteth; hope is not a shouting and a tumultuous grace. Your disposition for Christ’s return can speak much for a renewed drawing, as when the church finds her own pace slow, and prays, Draw me, we will run; then he sendeth ushers before to tell that he will come. Sick nights for the Lord’s absence in not drawing are most spiritual signs.