George Barker (d. 1684): Sermon on the perseverance of the saints in a rural Yorkshire parish church

George Barker

 

George Barker (d. 1684) was a Reformed conforming churchman. He studied at St Catharine’s Hall, Cambridge (known today as St Catharine’s College), where he took a BA, MA, and BD, and where he also served as a fellow of St Catharine’s for ten years from 1649 until 1659. The masters of St Catharine’s during Barker’s studies and fellowship there were the two Westminster divines William Spurstowe and John Lightfoot. Barker departed St Catharine’s in 1659 to become the rector of Danby Wiske in rural Yorkshire (parish church pictured below), where he diligently ministered for the rest of his life, preaching twice every Sunday despite having such a small rural parish.

Danby_Wiske

A number of Barker’s sermons were collected and published posthumously as Sermons upon Several Texts of Scripture (1697). One of these sermons, preached to his parish at Danby Wiske, was based on Matthew 7:25, “…and it fell not, for it was founded on a rock.” From this text, Barker preached a ripper of a sermon on the perseverance of the saints which is worthy of being reproduced for modern readers. Accordingly, this post is significantly longer than usual, but I believe the read will be worth the reader’s while. Skipping the initial parts, the core of the sermon (p. 198-218) is given below, where Barker proclaims that a person who is “built upon the Rock Christ, can never fall totally, or finally”:

By a total fall I mean, such a fall as would be incurr’d by the Christian, should he be supposed to be removed off the foundation, and to lose his union to Christ. The consequence whereof, must necessarily be the loss of all saving grace; so that though he still retained some gifts and common graces, which might render him tolerable in the world, yea serviceable, yet he was wholly without saving grace: which might make his heart good, bent for God and holiness.

Now thus fall he cannot, though he may commit some sins, yea and gross sins; and also neglect some considerable duties, and come under the tyranny of some lust, which he was unacquainted with before, and little exercise such graces as formerly were stirring in him, yet still he can never be so, but he’ll have the root of grace in him, and still the bent of his heart will be heavenwards, though as to any actual motions of his soul that way, he be either diverted from them by some deceit, or hindr’d in them by some violence. Thus the stone has an inclination towards the center, though it move not that way so long as some hand interposes to stop its motion. The fountain has a strong tendency to send out streams of fresh water, though so long as the spring is stopt with stones, or mud, no water at all appears.

A Christian then may fall partially but he cannot fall totally.

By a final fall I understand such a fall as he will never recover out of, nor shake off the prejudice of.

Now a partial fall may be supposed, where there is no total. As there may be a final death, where there is no total. As when a man dies as to one part, be it a leg or an arm, which is so seized on by the palsey, as to lose all sense and motion, which he never recovers again; in this case he dies finally, as to one part, though he die not totally as to his whole body.

Now this we say of one, who is built on the Rock Christ, and is a Christian. As he can neither fall totally, so as to lose his whole new life, root and branch; so neither can he fall finally, so as never to recover that measure of life and grace, which he is supposed to lose. Indeed he may lie some while in his fall, without rising again by repentance, as it was with St. Peter, who after he had denied Christ once, went on to deny him again, and again more grievously, and continued in this sin without repentance for about three hours, (as divines by comparing together several circumstances of the history, do compute) from nine, till about midnight, though he was admonished of his sin, by the cock crowing twice (Luke. 22: 61). That St. Peter did not remember what Christ had told him about his denying him thrice, before the cock crew twice, till Christ looked upon him; and much more in David, who after he had defiled Bathsheba, and murdered Uriah, continued in his sin about a year not repenting, for he repented not till Nathan reproved him, and Nathan reproved him not, till a child was born of his adultery with Bathsheba (2 Sam 12:14). But God will order it so, that by some ordinance, or some providence he shall be excited, and enabled, to recover himself again, either during his lifetime, or however at his death; he shall recover himself so, as to be able and ready to forsake every sin he has lived in, to discharge every duty he has neglected, to overcome every lust he has been kept under by, to exercise every grace he has been deficient in.

But how do’s it appear, that those, who are built on Christ, neither do, nor can fall, either totally or finally?

I shall not go about to evidence either of these distinctly, but shall handle them conjointly.

1st, That life and grace, which Christians receive upon their union to Christ as their foundation, head and root, are resembled to such things as abide, if they do not grow and flourish. It is like a well of water, which usually is not dried up, though the summer be very droughty (John 4:14). A well of water, springing up into everlasting life. It is like a tree planted by the waters, which lives, and grows, and flourishes, when others are quite dead for want of rain (Jer. 17:8). It is like seed, which has taken root in good ground and therefore abides, and thrives, and brings forth fruit (Matt. 13:23; Luk. 8:15).

But you will say all these things have their end, few fountains but in time they quite fail: No trees, how commodiously soever planted, but in time die: No seed, but when it has brought forth as much fruit as it will, dies itself, and its fruit will in time decay.

Yet let it be considered that all these last full as long as it could be expected they should do according to their nature, and if they last not always, it is because their nature is but to continue for a time.

Now it’s the nature of saving grace to continue forever, for it is everlasting life as it is called (Jn. 3:36). He that believes on the Son hath everlasting life (1 Jn. 5:11). God hath given to us eternal life.

2dly. Those who are thus united unto Christ are such as God has chosen to salvation, and therefore they cannot fall away totally & finally; if they could, they would miss of that salvation which they are chosen to, and so God’s election would be frustrated.

Whoever are united to Christ are chosen of God, is evident, because all those are effectually called, (union to Christ being the immediate result of effectual vocation) and none are thus called by God, but such as he has chosen (Rom. 8:30). Whoever are chosen of God are chosen to salvation, is as evident, for this is the end, which God designs to advance to, when he culls out such from the world, as he judges fit for his purpose (2 Thess. 2:13). God has from the beginning chosen you to salvation &c. That whoever fall away from grace must assuredly miss of salvation, is evident to all, who understand and consider.

1st, What those, who are saved, are mainly saved from, and this is their lusts and sins (Matt. 1:21). He shall save his people from their sins, and this they cannot be, if they fall away from grace.

2dly. What they are mainly saved to, or for, and that is glory. Now those, who have lost grace, are incapable of glory, grace differing not at all from glory but in degrees, grace is but glory in its infancy, and glory is but grace in its full growth.

Now that those, who are elected by God unto salvation, cannot miss of it, is evident, whether we consider Scripture or reason. Scripture saith, it’s not possible for the elect to be seduced, i.e. into such errors or sins whereby they may miss salvation (Matt. 24:24). In so much that if it were possible, they shall deceive the very elect. Whoever are blinded, so as to miss salvation, the election obtains it, i.e. those who are elected by virtue of their election (Rom. 11:7). And reason shews, that whoever are chosen by God unto salvation must certainly attain it, unless God want either power, effectually to pursue his purpose till he have brought it about, or will, to do what he is able, neither of which can be supposed, granting but that which none can with any shew of reason deny, that God is omnipotent on the one hand, and all-wise on the other.

If he be almighty, he can effect whatever he has a mind to bring about; and if he be all-wise, he can never alter from what he purposes.

The only reason why men change and give over pursuing what once they intended, when still it is in their power so to pursue it as to attain it, is because they are now of another mind than once they were, and that because they find inconveniencies now, which formerly they never thought of; but this is their foolishness, which is not to be supposed in the all-wise God, who perfectly discerns whatever might be like to induce him to wave his choice before he makes it.

3dly. Those who are thus united unto Christ, are such as are apprehended by Christ for some end, and will not be let go by Christ till that end be attained. As St. Paul was apprehended by Christ, so are all that are in Christ (Phil. 3:12). At our first union unto Christ, Christ takes hold of us by the hand of his Spirit, and we take hold of him by the hand of our faith.

Now that which Christ takes hold of us for, is to bring us unto that, which a Christian by his inclination is carried out to reach after; I follow after, that I may apprehend that, for which also I am apprehended &c. Now there is no attaining this, which is holiness, and righteousness, in their perfection, with the peace, joy and glory, which is the necessary result of these, without holding fast grace, and holding on in good works, in obedience, patience, and self-denial.

Now they being in Christ’s hand, to be brought unto this end, unless Christ want either power to keep them in his hand, or power while he does keep them in his hand, to bring them unto that salvation he designs them for, how can those miss eternal life, of whom Christ saith, I give unto them eternal life (Jn. 10:28)? Who are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation (1 Pet. 1:5). They are come unto Christ, got into his hand, and such Christ will not cast out (Jn. 6:36). It is his Father’s will that he should lose none of them (v. 39). While he was on earth he kept those God gave him (Jn. 17:12). Those that thou gavest me I have kept &c.

4ly. Those who are thus united unto Christ, are such as have a love to God and Christ, and Christ has a love to them; now such no temptations can separate, it is Christ’s love to them, that makes him join himself to them, it is their love to Christ which makes them close with him. Now these Christ will always love, for his love is an everlasting love (Jer. 31:3). Whom he loves he loves to the end (Jn. 13:1). And this love of Christ engages his wisdom, and power for their protection, and no temptations be they never so great are able to prevail against these (Rom. 8:35, 39). God will not suffer them to be tempted above what they are able &c (1 Cor. 10:13). These, by God’s help shall never overcome them so far, as to make them willing to leave Christ, and Christ will not leave them, though they should be willing to leave him, much less when they are not.

5ly. They are sealed by the Spirit unto salvation (2 Cor. 1). Who hath also sealed us. Ye are sealed with the Holy Spirit of promise which is the earnest, &c. Grieve not the Holy Spirit of God. God by giving them his Spirit, does that to them which men do by setting to their seals, or by giving earnest, they do confirm the bargain, and make sure the performance of it; so that hereby God’s truth and faithfulness is engaged to make good the salvation which he by the seal and earnest, has obliged himself unto; which he cannot do without keeping them from total and final apostasy (1 Thess. 5:24). Faithful is he who has called you (1 Cor. 1:8-9). Who shall confirm you unto the end &c. God is faithful by whom ye were called.

6ly. Uniting a soul unto Christ as to its foundation is God’s work, which he begins with a design to complete, for this is an imperfect work in itself; the laying of a foundation is good to nothing unless their follow a building on the foundation, and a perfecting the building you shall not meet with any man who is in his wits, that lets his work rest immediately after he has laid the foundation, unless he be diverted by more urgent business, or hindered by downright violence, as the Jews were in the building of the Temple.

Now this being God’s work, he’ll perfect as well as begin it, for all God’s works are perfect (Deut. 32:4). He leaves them not half done. This made St. Paul confident of the Philippians doing well (Phil. 1:6). God had begun and he could not believe but he would go on.

7ly. For all such as are united to Christ, Christ did pray on earth, and still intercedes in heaven. What he prayed for Peter, he presses God for all, that their faith may not fail, however Satan be let out to tempt them (Luk. 22:32). He prays that God would keep them from evil (Jn. 17:5). And this he begs not only for his disciples that then attended him. But for all that should believe on him through their words (v. 2). Therefore it cannot be pretended that this prayer was made for some few and not for all Christ’s members. Now if the prayer of a righteous man be so effectual (Jam. 5:6), shall we think that the prayer of Christ, who is the holy one of God, the Son of God, that it shall prevail nothing? May Christians be confident that if they ask any thing according to God’s will he hears them (1 Jn. 5:14), and may they not be as confident that if Christ ask anything he shall not be denied? He himself was so (Jn. 11:41-42). I know that thou hearest me always. And St. Paul upon this account was very confident that none could rise up against him to condemn him, or otherwise hurt him, because Christ interceded for him, among others (Rom. 8:34).

8ly. This is the great thing which those who are united to Christ do most prize, love, and desire, seek, and pray for, that they may be established in what is good (1 Pet. 5:10). Peter begged no more for the dispersed Jews, than every sincere Christian begs for himself, that they may be kept from the evil of temptations (Matt. 6:13), Christ teaches them thus to pray by his Spirit that they may be made to go in the paths of his commandments (Ps. 119:35). Make me to go &c. Incline mine heart &c. Turn away mine eyes &c. Now shall not he who fulfills the desire of such as fear him (Ps. 145:19) answer them in these which are so every way agreeable to his will? When they desire to be kept close to God, and God desires it too; shall the devil, or the world, or the flesh be able to hinder it? When God bids them ask, seek, knock, and encourages them to this, by telling them they shall receive, find, and get opened (Matt. 7:7)? And when they follow his counsel, and obey his commands and take heart by his encouragements, will he disappoint them?

9ly. God is engaged by covenant to keep them from falling, and therefore he is engaged to do his utmost towards this, and he is able to do what he has engaged to do (Jude 24). Now unto him who is able to keep you from falling &c. This is the tenure of the new covenant which God has entered into with everyone who is really united to Christ, to put his law in their inward parts and write it in their hearts &c (Jer. 31:33). That he’ll neither depart from them nor they from him (Jer. 32:39-40). They shall fear him forever &c. That he’ll cause them to walk in his statutes and keep his judgments and do them (Ezek. 36:27). That he’ll betroth them to himself for ever &c (Hos. 2:19-20). That the mountains should sooner depart, and the hills be removed &c (Is. 54:9-10). That his Spirit shall not depart from them, nor their seed (Is. 59:11). Indeed these promises seem to be made unto Israel after the flesh, but they were designed for Israel after the Spirit; the Jews literal are but a type of the Jews mystical, and the promises, which were made to them in the letter, according to their more spiritual and high meaning belong to the true Israel of God. And we have the very same things promised in the New Testament, though in other terms, that God will build his Church so on a rock that hell’s gates, with all the power and policy of hell, cannot prevail against it (Matt. 16:18). And that the Spirit, which God gives his people, shall abide with them forever (Jn. 14:16). It’s true also, that these promises are not sensibly made good to his people of a long while, yet even then they are really made good, though not so fully as they shall be; they cleave to God, when their hearts seem to wander from him, they fear God, when their hearts seem most hardened from his fear.

10ly. In those, who are truly united unto Christ, sin is so mortified as never to recover life again, and the soul is so quicken’d as never to die again, no more than Christ died after he once rose; those who are really united unto Christ, are baptized into his death, so as they begin to die unto sin, and though sin does not die forthwith in them, no more than Christ dies immediately after he was nailed on the cross, yet they continue dying by degrees, as Christ did, until they be quite dead, and they are baptized into his resurrection, so as to be raised to a new life which shall no more die than Christ did, after he was once raised. And this is the importance of Rom. 6:3, 11, Know ye not that so many of us, as were baptized into Jesus Christ, were baptized into his death? Likewise reckon yourselves dead unto sin, but alive to God. And those whom it is thus with, can never fall either totally or finally.

11ly. Those who thus fall, evidence that whatever they seemed, they never really were united unto Christ, for if they had been, they would have kept to him. It will appear, that we are Christ’s house, if we hold on to the end (Heb. 3:6). We are partakers of Christ, if we hold to the end (v. 14). It will appear that we are disciples indeed, if we continue in Christ’s words (Jn. 8:31). He saith not, we shall be partakers of Christ, or we shall be Christ’s disciples; but we are already, if we have that in us, which will make us steadfast. It will appear that we are sons, if we abide in God’s house forever (v. 35). ‘Tis a certain sign that those were never of the true church of Christ, who at any time go out from it (1 Jn. 2:19).

But, you will say, what reason is there, why those who are thus built on Christ, cannot fall neither totally nor finally?

I answer first, because the foundation itself cannot fail, it being the Rock of Ages (Ps. 26). Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, and today, and forever (Heb. 13:8). He is a sure foundation (Is. 28:16).

2ly. The union between the soul and Christ the foundation cannot be dissolved. On Christ’s part it cannot, because he is altogether unchangeable: On the soul’s part it cannot, because tho’ it be mutable in itself, yet it is established in Christ. There is a double reason of its establishment.

1st. From the nature of that life, which springs up in it from the foundation of life, Christ, unto whom it is united. This continually springing up keeps the will, which otherwise would be fickle enough, steadily bent for God the same way heavenwards; hence it is that he, who is born of God, cannot sin (Jn. 3:9). For there is no sin, but what is voluntary, now their will is already engaged for God: They may do, what ought not to be done, through ignorance or weakness, being overpowered by temptations, transported by lusts and passions, but their will cannot fully consent to sin, because it is otherwise pre-engaged. Thus a weather-cock is very mutable of itself, but if there be a wind, that blows on it continually, that keeps continually in the same quarter, the weather-cock itself will keep immoveable; thus a cork  or some such light thing is easily moveable this way or that way, but if it be cast into a stream, which continually moves the same way, it is determined to a certain motion.

2ly. From the power of God, which helps it against whatever would move it.

To make this help God is inclined both by his infinite goodness, and his peculiar love to them; he is obliged by his faithful promise, he having said, I will strengthen thee, I will help thee, I will uphold thee with the right hand of my righteousness (Is. 41:10).

He is concerned, as he consults his own honour, which is engaged to bring those into Canaan, whom he has brought out of Egypt, and suffer not them to perish in the wilderness: He is enabled by his unsearchable wisdom, his irresistible power, and his being everywhere present, and continuing to eternity, so that in no time or place can there any temptation befall his people, which he is not acquainted with, and which he is not every way able to secure them against.

As for the exceptions against this truth, they are several.

1st. Those, who should best understand this, if it were so, seem to doubt of it, as St. Paul (1 Cor. 9:27), Lest by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway; (Phil. 3:11) If by any means I might attain to the resurrection of the dead.

Ans. If this instance were brought of any other, besides St. Paul and some of like eminent graces with him, or if it was brought of St. Paul when he lay under some great temptation, we might answer, that tho’ this were never so certain a truth, yet those who lie under much darkness (as even these, who are called into the marvelous light of God, during the disadvantages of this life do) may question it. But I rather say, St. Paul there does not declare, that he doubts lest he should become a reprobate, or lest he should come short of that eminent grace, which he expresses by the periphrasis of the resurrection of the dead; but he declares, that if he did not use due means to avoid being a reprobate, and to attain the resurrection of the dead, he might be a reprobate and miss that resurrection; and therefore he could not but bestir himself in the use of means, that he might avoid this danger. He who says, he puts on hard, lest he should not get to his journey’s end that night, does not declare, that he doubts he shall not get to his journey’s end, though he should ride never so hard: he only declares, that without riding hard he expects it not, and if he do but ride hard, he fears it not.

Obj. 2. But what need there any caution, when there is no danger? Thou standest by faith, be not high-minded, but fear (Rom. 11:20). Let him, that thinketh he standeth, take heed least he fall (1 Cor. 10:12).

Ans. 1. Though there be no falling from saving grace, yet there may be from common grace. He that has the talent and improves it not, may lose it. There are none that deny, but common grace, which is only the workings of the Spirit upon a man, may be lost. And it is a disadvantage to lose it (tho’ of itself it is not sufficient to salvation) both because those, who have common grace are nearer to salvation than those, who have it not, and also because, if they should miss of salvation, they are however even by common grace restrained from many sins, which otherwise they would run into, and thereby aggravate their own guilt and increase their misery. Seeing therefore, many of those the Apostle wrote to, were such as had but a common work of grace upon them, (as the generality of the visible church ordinarily have no more) such cautions as these might be of use to them.

2ly. Tho’ one who has saving grace, cannot fall totally and finally from grace, yet they may fall in part, and for a while; they may lose much of their light and strength, and thereby be less holy, & unblameable, and exemplary in their lives, and have less comfort in their hearts, God may be less pleased and honoured by them, and others less edified. Now this is so considerable a disadvantage, that they may well be concerned to take heed of incurring it.

3ly. Tho’ those, who have saving grace, be in no danger of falling quite from it, yet it is not to be expected, they should be preserved without their own watchfulness and wariness. That which is the great security of God’s people in their grace is, that one part of their grace is a fear of God, and a jealousy of themselves, and that which does excite this fear, and awaken this jealousy in them is the being cautioned of their danger. This makes them work out their salvation with fear and trembling (Phil. 2:12). Though the nurse have such hold of the child, as to keep it from falling, yet to make it more cautious in its walking, she may fright it by minding it of the danger it is in of falling, if it be left to itself, and this fear of falling may be one means to keep it on its legs.

Obj. 3. But does not this open a door to all licentiousness, to tell men that they cannot fall away from Christ? May they not then say we may do as we list?

Ans. 1st. Those, whom we assert to be past this danger, are only such, whose hearts are firmly principled with a love to holiness and righteousness, and an hatred of all impurity and iniquity; and those who are such, would not allow themselves in sin, though they should not apprehend any disadvantage by it.

2ly. Those know well that what mainly secures them against this great danger of falling away, is that principle of fear, which God has implanted in them, and that it is the exercise of this, which is the means to preserve them.

3ly. Even those know, that should they give way unto corruptions and temptations, tho’ they do not fall away, yet they may incur other inconveniences, whereby their sorrows may be multiplied, and God’s judgments may be heaped upon them. None can expect to gain by presuming to sin, because they are so joined to Christ as they cannot be separated from him; God will follow them with such inward terrors, and outward pressures, as will weary them out of all these sinful courses.

Use. 1st. This shews the Excellent state, to which Christians (such as are so indeed) are arrived. They have got grace, which is the most precious thing in the world, for it is the seed of glory.

They are got into God’s favour, that favour, which is the original of all blessings whatsoever both of soul and body: They are sons of God, brethren of Christ, temples of the Holy Ghost, heirs of Heaven, objects of God’s love and care, the charge of his providence. And what makes all these advantages complete is, that they are so firmly stated in them, that they can never wholly lose them; whereas all worldly enjoyments and accomplishments are exposed to variety of hazards, even the firmest and surest of them. What reason then have those, who are advanced thus high, to give thanks to their good God for what he has already done for them and further intends them? What need they care, though they want many of the conveniences of the world which others have, when they have that, which is incomparably of greater worth, which the generality of the world are without?

2ly. Take heed of taking up with such attainments in grace, as may be lost again; that which may be lost, can never everlastingly advantage us; we are not rooted and grounded in it. We are not born again of corruptible seed, but of incorruptible, by the word of God, which liveth and abideth forever (1 Pet. 1:23). Indeed common grace is better than no grace, as it is a step nearer saving grace, and as it restrains from such extravagances as would increase our misery in hell, but it is not to be rested in, how specious soever it be, because it cannot assure us of heaven, nor secure us from hell.

We should therefore be much in examining ourselves, whether that grace, which we please ourselves in, have a root and a spring within us; if not, it will not last long, it will never abide the trials, it shall meet with in life and death. If it be not a new nature in us, altering the very bent and inclinations of our hearts, it will never continue. If the living Word be not ingrafted in us, it will never stay long with us.

Whoever they be that think, that saving grace may be so easily lost, it is much to be doubted, whether ever they knew the power of it, what a great alteration it works in the soul.

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Bénédict Pictet (1655-1724) on the perspicuity of Scripture

Benedict Pictet

 

Bénédict Pictet (1655-1724), professor of theology at Geneva, discusses the perspicuity of Scripture in his Theologia Christiana, Book I, Chapter XIII:

Scripture not only perfectly contains all things necessary to salvation, but also contains them in such a clear and perspicuous way, that they may be discovered and known by any man whose eyes have not been plainly blinded by the god of this world.

This we may prove by various arguments. Firstly, since Scripture itself in many places bears testimony to its own perspicuity and clarity, both in respect to the law given to the ancient people [of God], and in respect to the Gospel, by which is comprehended the new covenant. This commandment, which I command thee this day, it is not hidden from thee, neither is it far off. It is not in heaven, that thou shouldest say, Who shall go up for us to heaven? Etc. But the word is very nigh unto thee, in thy mouth and in thy heart. (Deut. 30:11). Thy word is a lamp unto my feet, and a light unto my path (Ps. 119:105). We have most sure word of prophecy, whereunto ye do well that ye take heed, as unto a light that shineth in a dark place (2 Pet. 1:19). But if our gospel be hid, it is hid to them that are lost (2 Cor. 4:2-3).

Secondly, since Scripture would have been given in vain, if it were obscure; for Scripture had been given so that it may teach us, and so that it may be a rule of faith, as Paul observes: Whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning (Rom. 15:4). But how could it teach us, if it surpassed or equalled to Delphic oracles of Apollo in obscurity? And how could its decisions, if they were obscure, be the rule of faith and morals?

Thirdly, either God was not able to reveal himself clearly to men, or he did would not. No one would say that he was not able to, and that he would not is most absurd. For who could believe that God our great Father was unwilling to reveal his will to his children, when this was necessary, so that men might obey it more easily?

A fourth argument is deduced from the examination of all things necessary for salvation, which have perspicuously been delivered unto us. For what is clearer than those things which are contained in the Decalogue, and which Christ reduces to two precepts (Matt. 22)? And who will deny that those dogmas which are read in the Apostles’ Creed, are clearly inculcated, explained, and taught throughout the whole of Scripture?

But here we must observe a few things. Firstly, we concede that some things are obscure and hard to understand, not only in Paul’s epistles, as Peter declares, but also in other books. God has so willed it that the diligence of the faithful should be stirred up and increased, that the pride of others should be subdued, and to remove any disdain which may arise from much easiness, for the human mind is accustomed to slighting and despising such things as are common and easily attainable; but we deny that such are the things which are necessary for salvation. But even if some of them are necessary, we maintain that they are explained in other parts [of Scripture], as we will say below: Scripture, as Gregory says (praef. in Jobum), holds forth in public what may nourish the weak, just as in private it stores up what may suspend the minds of the astute in wonder: it is, as it were, a river both shallow and deep, in which both a lamb may wade, and an elephant may swim. In Scripture, as in nature, there are three kinds of things: some are evident to all, some are known only by the learned, and others are not penetrable to even the learned themselves.

Secondly, we readily admit that there are mysteries in Scripture which surpass our comprehension, and which we shall not understand perfectly even in heaven; but at the same time we maintain that we are taught as much of these mysteries as are useful and necessary for us to know. For example, we do not comprehend the mystery of the trinity or of the incarnation of Christ, namely, how it could be that in in one essence there are three persons, and that God could assume unto himself a human nature. But even though we may be ignorant of the manner, yet we assert that the thing itself is clearly taught, which is all that is necessary to be known for salvation.

Thirdly, while we believe that the Scriptures are perspicuous in things necessary for salvation, yet we admit that these things are not taught clearly every passage, although we add that there is nothing in the obscurer places which is not found elsewhere where it is stated very plainly.

Fourthly, we observe that Scripture is perspicuous, not to all people whatsoever, and to those who read and hear it of whatsoever disposition they may be, but only to those who prove themselves teachable (provided they are in possession of their reason, and implore the light of divine grace), and who are not negligent and slothful, nor blinded by preconceived opinions, nor carried away by their passions, nor perverted by their wickedness, for these are all very great obstacles to the understanding of the Scriptures.

Fifthly, we hold that the Scripture of the Old Testament was less clear than that of the New, for it was clouded by various types, figures, and shadows, but nevertheless was more than clear enough on the things which the fathers [i.e. Old Testament believers] were not to be ignorant of.

Sixthly, we do not deny that we shall know divine things far more clearly in heaven; for there we shall no longer see God through a glass darkly, but face to face, as Scripture teaches. Still, those divine things are more than enough unfolded to us on earth, and therefore, even though it is through a glass, yet we behold the glory of the Lord with an open face, as Paul teaches (2 Cor. 3).

Seventhly, we defend such a perspicuity of Scripture as does not exclude either attention of mind or the necessary assistance of God (hence David prays that his eyes may be opened, so that he may see wondrous things out of the law), or the voice and ministry of the Church, or the reading of commentaries, but the only obscurity which we explode, is that which would drive the people away from the pure fountain of Scripture, and which forces them to have recourse to polluted streams of human tradition.

Thomas Barlow (1607-1691): A post-Restoration Oxford disputation on unconditional election

Thomas_Barlow

 

Thomas Barlow (1607-1691) was one of the preeminent Reformed divines within the post-Restoration Church of England. Having previously been the librarian of the Bodleian Library in Oxford, Barlow became the provost of the Queen’s College, Oxford, in 1657, and the Lady Margaret Professor of Divinity at Oxford in 1660, while simultaneously serving as the archdeacon of Oxford. He retained these positions until he became bishop of Lincoln in 1675. Alongside his former Queen’s colleague Thomas Tully (1620-1676), who became the principal of St. Edmund Hall in 1658, he was actively involved in anti-Arminian polemics at Oxford and within the Church of England more broadly.

A number of disputations held under Barlow at Oxford were translated from Latin into English and released as part of his posthumously-published The Genuine Remains of that learned Prelate Dr. Thomas Barlow, late Lord Bishop of Lincoln (1692). One of these disputations (on p. 577-582) addresses the question of whether eternal election unto salvation is based on foreseen faith (An electio ad salutem sit ex fide praevisa?):

Election is twofold.

  1. Human, when man.
  2. Divine, when God chooseth, and of this only it is disputed. And this election is twofold.

First, of a thing, when a thing not a person is chosen. So God is often said to choose Jerusalem and Mount Sion, and Isaiah, 58.6. eligere jejunium. But of this we enquire not.

Second, election is of a person, which likewise is twofold.

  1. Of Christ as man. For so he was in the number of the elect. Math. 12.18.
  2. Of those united with Christ: namely of the angels, who persevered in their obedience; and of men, God ordain’d, and elected some men to offices and honour in this world; as Saul to the government. Others he elected to salvation and glory in heaven; and of these our question is.

Now here we say that this divine election, by which God chooseth certain men from eternity to salvation, is not an act of the divine intellect or knowledge by which he knows; but of his will by which according to his good pleasure he determines of us.

The reason is because the divine knowledge is natural and necessary; so that it is impossible that God should not know every object that could be known; but election is a free act; since it is a thing confessed, potuisse Deum vel nullos condidisse, vel conditos non elegisse, vel plures, vel pauciores, vel alios pro suo beneplacito, & jure absoluto quo in creaturas utitur. [i.e. that God could have elected none, or more, or fewer, or others, according to his good pleasure and the absolute right which he has over his creatures.]

The divine knowledge doth equally look at all objects possible or future, but not so his election; which is a discretive act, and passeth by some to perish for ever, while it prepares grace and glory for others.  Now when it is ask’d, if election be from faith foreseen?

First, we do not deny that faith was foreseen from eternity, since ‘tis manifest that the knowledge of God is equally eternal with his will. For sicut quicquid est futurum erat ab aeterno futurum, ita etiam ab aeterno cognitum [i.e. just as whatever is future was future from eternity, so likewise what was known from eternity]. But

Secondly, we enquire of the habitude that the foreseeing of faith hath to election. This habitude for foreseen faith in order to election is threefold, and may have the notion,

First, antecedentis [i.e. of an antecedent], so that God chooseth none to heaven, in whom he had not seen faith to come, or did see that faith would come before they were actually elected.

Secondly, it may have the notion conditionis [i.e. of a condition], and so faith may be consider’d as a condition necessarily required in election.

Thirdly, foreseen faith may further have the notion of a cause, and so not to be only an antecedent and a condition of election, but to have the notion of a cause from whence election follows as the effect.

Now when ‘tis enquired, if election be of faith foreseen, historical faith is not meant, nor a faith of miracles; the which unregenerate men may have; but the meaning is of justifying faith which is proper only to the regenerate.

Up till now Barlow has been clarifying that the question being addressed is whether God’s election of people unto salvation is based on God’s foreseeing of them having justifying faith. He concludes negatively that, in God’s eternal decree of election or predestination unto glory, there neither is, nor can there be, any consideration based on any foreseen antecedent action, quality, merit, cause, reason, or condition in us humans. God’s election is therefore entirely unconditional. Barlow offers a number of reasons for this:

The first reason of this conclusion, is; if election be from faith foreseen, then faith foreseen is some way a cause of election: the which consequence though the Remonstrants will sometimes deny and seem not to allow foreseen faith as the cause of God’s electing, as may be seen in the Collatio Hagiensis, p. 103. Yet elsewhere they speak it out plainly in writings held by them most authentical, namely in Actis Synodalibus Part. 2. p. 6. where they tell us, fidem & perseverationem in electione considerari ut conditionem ab homine praestitam, ac proinde tanquam causam [i.e. in election faith and perseverance are considered as a condition fulfilled by man, and accordingly as a cause]. They add this reason, because the condition prescribed and perform’d doth necessario alicujus causae rationem induere [i.e. necessarily takes on the function of a cause].

And indeed they must needs be forc’d to confess this: For, if we ask them why God chose Peter and not Judas, they say, because God foresaw that Peter would believe. So that from their hypothesis, it must needs be that foreseen faith was the cause that Peter was chosen before Judas.

Now I do subsume, that foreseen faith is not the cause, nor reason, nor motive any way of election.

First, because the Scripture allows of no cause of election extra Deum ipsum [i.e. outside of God himself]: but refers it altogether to his εὐδοκία & beneplacitum [i.e. good pleasure]. For this consult Ephes. 1.11. and Rom. 9.11.

On the other hand, If you will believe, you shall be elected, is no where to be found in Holy Writ, either expressly, or by equivalence. There is I confess this proposition in Scripture, He that believes shall be saved, but not he that believes shall be predestinated; because God never required faith as antecedaneous to his decree.

Secondly, if faith be an effect and consequent of election, then is it not the cause of it, or antecedaneous motive; because ‘tis altogether impossible, and implies a manifest contradiction, ut idem respectu ejusdem sit antecedens & consequens, causa & effectus [i.e. that the same thing may in the same respect be both antecedent and consequent, both cause and effect]. But faith is an effect or consequent of election, therefore ‘tis not a cause, or antecedent motive of it.

The minor I prove out of Eph. 1.4. According as he hath chosen us before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy, &c. And v. 5th sheweth that God did predestinate those whom he would adopt for sons, not such as were sons. But if he had chosen such as believed, then he would have chosen holy men and sons. But sanctity, and our sonship are not the cause, nor antecedent motive of election. For, Rom. 8.29. For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son: not as if they were then so.

Again if election were of works, then the Apostle might have had an Answer to his Objection in a readiness, as to what he mentions in the 9th of the Romans about the children neither having done any good or evil, and in vain had the instance there been brought of the potter’s power over the clay, of the same lump, to make one vessel unto honour and another to dishonour. Whereas if election had been from foreseen faith, he had spoke more aptly thus, Hath not the potter the art to know the difference in several parts of Clay, and to separate the good from the bad? But the Apostle’s similitude is exactly pertinent, if we suppose election to be absolute, and all creatures to be in an equal state.

The editor notes that Barlow offers a final reason for God’s election not being based on foreseen faith and perseverance, namely, “that infants are elected, but not from faith and perseverance; for they are not capable thereof.”

John Edwards (1637-1716) on God’s justice and rewards

John_Edwards

 

There is righteousness in God’s rewarding. The Apostle tells us, that he that comes unto God must not only believe that he is, but that he is the rewarder of them that diligently seek him (Heb. 11:6). There is, as our Saviour informs us, a difference of rewards, there is a prophet’s reward, and a righteous man’s reward (Matt. 10:41), i.e. God will reward, but in a different manner, those who shew kindness to either of these. Yea we are told in the same chapter, that he who refreshes a disciple with a cup of cold water, shall be recompensed for it. Whence we may infer, that no good action (be it never so mean) shall go unrewarded. Now, ‘tis plain that God’s justice is shewed in this, for else the Apostle would not have said (Heb. 6:20) God is not unjust to forget the labour of love. And (2 Thess. 1:6) It is a righteous or just thing with God, to recompense to you that are troubled, rest. It is manifest therefore, that God acts according to the laws of justice and righteousness, when he rewards the good services of the faithful in this life. And he doth so when he crowns them with everlasting glory in the mansions of the blessed, as we may gather from 2 Thess. 4:8, There is laid up for me a crown of righteousness, which the Lord the righteous judge shall give me at that day. By the tenor of the New Covenant, there is assured unto all believers eternal happiness, both as God is merciful, and as he is just. That the crown is laid up for them, is the product of divine mercy, that it is actually given to them, at the great day of accounts, argues God to be righteous, for seeing he hath engaged by his promise to bestow heaven upon them, it becomes an act of justice or righteousness to perform his word and promise: though to make this promise to them at first, was an act of mere grace and favour. So that the remunerative justice of God is not to be measured by the rules and proportions of human justice, which is according to men’s merits: but God’s giving a reward to holy men (none of whom are in a capacity to deserve anything at his hands; yea whose daily failings render them obnoxious to him) is to be reckoned as an act of mercifulness and liberality.

– John Edwards (1637-1716), Theologia Reformata, vol. 1 (1713), p. 100-101.

Thomas Allen (1681-1755) on the perseverance of the saints

ThomasAllen

 

Thomas Allen (1681-1755) was a Reformed conforming churchman and rector of Kettering, Northamptonshire, for a sturdy innings of 41 years from 1714 until his death. Prior to his long ministry at Kettering, Allen studied at Wadham College, Oxford, and served as rector of Irchester, Northamptonshire. He died in his parish church (St Peter and St Paul’s, Kettering) as he was reading prayers.

Allen published a number of works during his lifetime, one of which is his devotional book The Practice of a Holy Life; or, the Christian’s Daily Exercise, in Meditations, Prayers, and Rules of Holy Living (1716). One of the “daily exercises” in this book treats the doctrine of the perseverance of the saints. Allen writes that, if it were possible for the faith of a true regenerate Christian to be overthrown, then it must be overthrown “either by God, or by some inferior cause.” Yet “God will not, and no inferior [cause] can overthrow it.”

God will not overthrow the faith of regenerate believers because:

he has made an everlasting covenant with them, never to turn from them, to do them good; but will put his fear into their hearts, that they shall not depart from him (Jer. 32:40); that is, his fear shall be the cement whereby they shall adhere and cleave unto him forever. Whom he loves in Christ Jesus, he always loves unto the end (John 13:1). They that trust in him, are like Mount Sion, which cannot be removed (Ps. 125:1). They are sheep, which no man can pluck out of his hands (John 10:29), chosen ones, whom it is not possible to seduce: Neither shall they be tempted above what they are able to bear (Matt. 24:24; 1 Cor. 10:3). And tho’ they fall, yet shall they not utterly be cast down; for the Lord upholdeth them with his hand (Ps. 37:24). Christ Jesus will not undermine their happy state; for he is the prince of their salvation, has washed them in his own blood (Rev. 7:14), has engaged himself to advance them to his glory, and, of all the Father giveth him, he loseth not one (John 6:39). The Holy Ghost will not alter it; for he it is that enables them to do the will of God, seals them unto the day of redemption (Eph. 4:30), and is not come to stay a day or two, but abide in them forever (John 14:16).

Allen hence concludes that “[s]ince it cannot be by God, it must be by some inferior cause, either the Devil, or by the loss of faith, or by some great sin, that their estate is vanquishable, or not at all.” He accordingly goes through these three inferior causes to determine whether it is possible for them to cause the falling away of a believer, and argues:

Not by the Devil; for though he be a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour, and his wrath is increased, because his time is short (1 Pet. 5:8), yet his head is broken (Rev. 12:12), his main strength is gone (Gen. 3:15), and greater is he that is in them, than he that is in the world (1 John 4:4).” And tho’ he marcheth after the sons of God, as Pharaoh did after Israel, with all his strength, yet they go forth with an high hand (Ex. 14:8) and mighty is he that defends their cause against him.

Neither can they hazard their estate by the loss of faith. This indeed is the very bond of adoption: and if [there was a way] it could be lost, there were danger; but, blessed be God, there is none. Faith is the gift of God, begotten in them by the Holy Ghost, independent of the will of the flesh, or of man (John 1:13), and therefore must partake of the nature of God, which is, to be unchangeable (Mal. 3:6) and without repentance (Rom. 11:29). And though it may be much weakened, and for a time be without fruit, as trees in winter, and seemingly lifeless, and dead; yet that it should finally miscarry, is impossible: for Christ, in the person of St. Peter, has prayed for the faith of all his elect (Luke 22:31). And God cannot but hear, and answer, a prayer so agreeable to his own will: otherwise, if but one could perish, then may all; for one has no more privilege than another: and if all, then Christ may have died in vain, which is a gross absurdity.

Neither, lastly, can sin dispossess the sons of God from their inheritance: Nothing can separate them from the love of God (Rom. 8:35), therefore not sin: All things shall work together for their good (v. 28) and therefore sin, among the rest, though contrary to its own nature, shall promote it: much wariness, fear, humility, thankfulness to God, and charity to men, is wrought by it. And though God permits them to fall into it, to shew them their weakness, he will not let them lye in it, to shew them his power. The promise of God to Solomon, is the freehold of all his children: I will be his Father, and he shall be my son: if he sin, I will chasten him with the rod; but my mercy shall not depart from him (2 Sam. 7:14). And they are bidden daily to pray, lead us not into temptation (Matt. 6:13), which were to no purpose, if it were not his will to hear them, and to establish, strengthen, and settle them in every good word, and work, till he has brought them to his heavenly kingdom.

Stable therefore is the adoption of sons by faith in Christ, which, whosoever is possess’d of, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living waters; new graces, and new assurances of that eternal life which he is hastening to; such a I know, whom I have believed. I am persuaded, that he is able to keep that which I have committed to him, against that day; that he will deliver me from all evil, and preserve me unto his heavenly kingdom. Who will lay anything to my charge? Who will separate me from the love of God in Jesus my Lord? I have fought a good fight; I have kept the faith: Henceforth there is laid up for me a crown of righteousness.

Thomas Allen (1681-1755), The practice of a holy life; or, the Christian’s daily exercise, in meditations, prayers, and rules of holy living (1716), p. 265-267.

Richard Duke (1658-1711) on faith’s role in justification

Richard Duke

 

To add to previous posts from William Ames, Thomas Chalmers, Henricus Siccama, and H.C.G. Moule on faith’s role in justification, here is a small snippet from the Reformed conforming churchman Richard Duke (1658-1711), who served as a prebendary of Gloucester, rector of Witney, Oxfordshire, and royal chaplain to Queen Anne. The excerpt is taken from his Fifteen Sermons preach’d on Several Occasions (1715), p. 254:

As there is no merit in works, so neither is there in faith; and tho’ God do’s justifie the believing man, it is not for the worthiness of his belief, but the worthiness of him, in whom he believes. In whom he believes, and from whom alone it proceeds also that he do’s believe. For let us give to faith all the highest elegies that are recorded of it, and very glorious things are spoken of it in the Book of God; let us own all its victories which are so triumphantly display’d in the 11th chapter to the Hebrews, and what is greater than all those what the same Apostle speaks of it in the text, through it ye are sav’d, yet that there may be no room for doubt but that salvation is still entirely to be ascrib’d to grace, we are at the same time taught that this faith, instrumentally imploy’d in so great a work, is itself of grace, it is not of yourselves, it is the gift of God.

Nathanael Taylor (fl. 1671-1691): Reformed instruction of children in a rural post-Restoration Church of England parish

Nathanael Taylor

 

Nathanael Taylor (fl. 1671-1691) was a Reformed conforming churchman, vicar of Hibaldstow, Lincolnshire, and first master of the Grammar School in nearby Brigg, Lincolnshire – which still exists today as Sir John Nelthorpe School, Brigg. Little else is known about Taylor, and he is not to be confused with his dissenting contemporary namesake Nathanael Taylor (d. 1702). In the picture above, taken from the front matter of a published sermon of his, Taylor can be seen in clerical habit, teaching the children at his school.

Despite information on his life having been lost in the sands of time, we can nevertheless get a good idea of the doctrine Taylor the rural parish minister would have taught his pupils, as in 1683 he published his A Practical and Short Exposition of the Catechism of the Church of England by way of Question and Answer, which, the title page explains, is intended to “instruct children in the true Protestant religion of the Church of England.” Two extra editions of this exposition were released over the following two years.

It does not take long to spot the Reformed credentials of Taylor’s exposition, which is peppered with citations from various domestic and foreign Reformed divines, including William Nicholson, John Arrowsmith, Richard Baxter, Edward Leigh, Franciscus Junius, Immanuel Tremellius, Richard Hooker, James Ussher, John Pearson, Philippe Du Plessis-Mornay, Johann Heinrich Alsted, John Calvin, William Ames, and even the Belgic Confession. This work was furthermore published under the patronage of the bishop of his diocese, the Reformed churchman Thomas Barlow, bishop of Lincoln.

Judging by the lack of information on his life, Taylor was most probably never well known to his contemporaries, as of course has been the case with most parish ministers throughout the ages, particularly rural ones. Yet his reading and absorption of the Reformed sources of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries was clearly extensive, and undoubtedly those children who had sat at the feet of this Gamaliel in a small Lincolnshire town would have been nurtured in Reformed orthodoxy from a young age. Below is a sample :

Q. How doth Christ save us?

A. 1. Christ underwent the whole wrath of God due to us, and so satisfied God’s offended justice (2 Cor. 5:21; Matt. 26 and 27). 2. He performed actively what the law required, and so was without sin (Matt 3:17; 5:17). 3. Hence God is, through him, reconciled to us (2 Cor. 5: 18, 20-21). 4. Christ hath made known to us the terms of salvation, that we on our repentance for sin, and closing with him by faith, and living in obedience to him in the life of faith, may be saved (Luk. 24:47; Joh. 3:16). 5. He by his Word, ordinances, ministers, Spirit and graces, instructs us in his will, and enables us to perform what he requires (Jam. 1:28; Phil. 1:6). 6. He intercedes with God his Father, for the pardon of those sins attending our persons and performances, and pleads for the acceptance of us and them, on the account of his merits and mediation. (p. 31)

As a final taster, consider also Taylor’s beautiful exposition of what we should learn from Christ’s threefold office:

I learn from the offices of Christ, 1. That as Christ is my Lord and King, so I ought to obey him; and as he loved me so as to dye for me, I ought to love him so as to live to him, and to my power promote his kingdom and glory (2 Cor. 5:15). 2. As Christ is Prophet I ought to reverence God’s Word, ordinances and ministers, and to obey what Christ by them and his Spirit doth teach me to be my duty, it becoming me to have an ear to hear where the Almighty God condescends to speak (Prov. 1:24, 26, 28). 3. As Christ is my High Priest and Saviour to expiate my sin, and save my soul by his merits and mediation. I learn to disown all merits and works of righteousness of my own, and not to relie on any creature’s righteousness for justification, but wholly by faith and obedience, close with and live to him, expecting from him my salvation on the account of his own merits and free grace (Is. 64:6; Luk. 17:19). I learn also to disown all co-mediators, as saints and angels, and to account him as the sole procurer of my happiness, to whom my complaints of wants, and prayers for supplies, ought to be offered up and made known. (p. 32-33)