George Abbot (1562-1633): This is the Christian’s surest anchor

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George Abbot (1562-1633) was the Archbishop of Canterbury from 1611 to 1633. He had previously been master of University College, Oxford, bishop of Lichfield and Coventry, and bishop of London. He was furthermore part of the translation committee which translated the Gospels, Acts, and the Book of Revelation for the Authorized Version of the Bible (a.k.a. the King James Version).

In 1600, Abbot published his Exposition upon the Prophet Jonah, which consisted of sermons/lectures preached to the University of Oxford in the University Church (St Mary’s). In Lecture XII Abbot preached on Jonah 2:5-6, culminating with Jonah’s calling upon the LORD as “LORD my God”:

20 The only thing now remaining, is the confident appellation, which he useth to the Lord, Jehovah o my God. This sheweth a faith beyond faith, and a hope beyond hope: when he knew that the Lord was angry, and extremely wrathful at him, yet to cling in so to his mercy, as to appropriate to himself a portion in his maker. For what greater insinuation of confidence can there be, than by particular application to apprehend God’s mercy: to lay hold upon him as on a father; and that not as we say, with a reference to the communion of saints, Our father which art in heaven (Matt. 6:9), but my father and my God. This hath been the perfect trust of the faithful in all ages, which hath encouraged them to approach with boldness, unto the throne of grace. My God, my Godsaith David (Ps. 22:1). And, thou that art the God of my salvation(Ps. 51:14). And Job, I am sure that my Redeemer liveth(Job 19:25). My spiritsaith the Virgin Mary, doth rejoice in God my Saviour(Luk. 1:47). My Lord and my God, saith Thomas (Joh. 20:28). Paul saith of himself, I live by faith in the Son of God, who hath loved me and given himself for me(Gal. 2:20). This true faith doth close with God, and incorporateth itself into the body of the Redeemer.

21 And this is it, which bringeth comfort unto the wounded soul, and afflicted conscience, not that Christ is a Saviour, for what am I the better for that? but a Saviour unto me. That I am one of the adoption, reconciled and brought into favour, sealed up against that day, when the quick and dead shall be judged: my portion is with the Highest, mine inheritance with the Saints. How could flesh and blood ever bear the heat of strong temptation, without this firm persuasion? What is it to my belly, that bread is prepared for [an]other, unless I be assured that my part is therein? What is it to my soul, that Christ hath died for [an]other, unless I know that my sins are washed away in his blood? It may be good for Moses, it may be good for Paul, or Peter, or James, or Stephen, but what is it unto me? It is Meusthen and Tuus, as Luther did well teach, it is my God and thy Saviourwhich doth satisfy thirsty consciences (Luther in Epist. ad Galatas). There is the joy of the Spirit, when men come to that measure. Then it is a blessed doctrine which instilleth that faith into us; and in that, if in anything, doth appear the fruit of the Gospel, which is preached in our days: that people sick and dying, being taught before in their health, can give [the] most divine words, and right admirable speeches, in this behalf whereof I speak, sayings full of holy trust and assurance; which as it is a thing most comfortable to themselves (beyond all gold and treasure, which are but as dung and dross to a man yielding up the ghost), so it bringeth good meditations unto the standers by, in causing them to acknowledge very evident and plain arguments of election in the other, whom they see to be so possessed with joy in the holy Ghost, and so rapt up, as if they had already one foot within the heaven.

22 But it is otherwise with the ignorant; they lie grovelling upon the ground, and cannot mount up with the eagle. So is it in that doctrine which the Church of Rome doth maintain, when their people are taught, that they must believe in general, that some shall go to heaven, that some belong to God: but to say or think, that [they] themselves shall be certainly of that number, or constantly to hope it, that is boldness overmuch, that is over-weening presumption. They are to wish and pray, that it may be so with them, but yet it appertaineth to them evermore to doubt because they know not the worthiness of their merits: a most uncomfortable opinion, which cannot choose but distract the heart of a dying man, that he must not dare to believe with confidence, that he shall go to God: that Jesus is his Saviour, & the pardoner of his faults. No marvel if the life and death of such who hearken unto them, be full of sighs and sobs, & groans, and fears, and doubts, since quietness and settled rest cannot be in their hearts. They have a way to walk, but what is the end they know not. They are sure of their departure, but whither they cannot tell. A lamentable taking, and wherein of necessity must be small joy. How contrary hereunto doth Saint Paul speak, being justified by faith we have peace toward God, through our Lord Jesus Christ(Rom. 5:1). How contrary to this doth Saint John speak in the name of the faithful, we know that we are of God(1 Joh. 5:19). How doth dejected Jonah yet keep him fast to this tackling, when he crieth o Lord my God?

23 And this is the surest anchor, whereunto a Christian man may possibly know how to trust. This is it which in the blasts of adversity, will keep him fast at the root; which in the waves of temptation, will hold him fast by the chin, which in the greatest discomforts, and very pangs of death, will bring him to life again: To ground himself upon this, as on a rock assured, that his God is his father, that Jesus is his redeemer, that the holy Ghost doth sanctify him, that although he sin oft-times, yet evermore he is forgiven; and albeit he do transgress daily, yet it is still forgotten; that whether he live or die, yet ever he is the Lord’s. Good father lead us so by thy most blessed Spirit, that we never do fall from this. But although sin hang upon us, as it did upon the Prophet, yet raise us so by thy love, that laying hold on thy promises, and the sweetness of thy favour, we may reap eternal life, to the which o blessed Lord bring us for thine own Son Christ his sake, to whom with thee and thy Spirit, be laud for evermore.

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Thomas Brooks (1608–1680) on the Lord’s Supper and assurance

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It was the principal end of Christ’s institution of the Sacrament of the Supper, that he might assure them of his love, and that he might seal up to them the forgiveness of their sins, the acceptance of their persons, and the salvation of their souls (Matt. 26:27-28). The nature of a seal is to make things sure and firm among men; so the Supper of the Lord is Christ’s broad seal, it is Christ’s privy-seal, whereby he seals and assures his people that they are happy here, that they shall be more happy hereafter, that they are everlastingly beloved of God, that his heart is set upon them, that their names are written in the book of life, that there is laid up for them a crown of righteousness, and that nothing shall be able to separate them from himwho is their light, their crown, their all in all (2 Tim. 4:8; Col. 3:11). In this sacrament Christ comes forth and shows his love, his heart, his bowels, his blood, that his children may no longer say, ‘Doth the Lord Jesus love us? Doth he delight in us, &c?’ but that they may say with the spouse, I am my beloved’s and his desire is towards me(Songs 7:10).

Many precious Christians there are, that have lain long under fears and doubts, sighing and mourning, and that have run from minister to minister, and from one duty to another, &c, and yet could never be persuaded of the love of Christ to their poor souls, but still their fears and doubts have followed them, till they have waited upon the Lord in this glorious ordinance, by which the Lord hath assured them of the remission of their sins, and the salvation of their souls. In this ordinance God hath given them mannahto eat, and a white stone, and new name, which no man knoweth, but he that receiveth it. Tell me, you precious believing souls, whether you have not found God in this ordinance, often whispering of you in the ear, saying, Sons and daughters be of good cheer, your sins are forgiven you? I know you have.

– Thomas Brooks (1608–1680), Heaven on Earth (1654), p.23-25.

John Calvin (1509-1564): Christians should not tremble at the fear of death

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In my spare time over the past while I have been reading several early modern commentaries on the twelfth article of the Apostles’ Creed concerning the life eternal, as well as other sources touching on this theme, particularly on the immense consolation it provides to believers in the face of death. In his Institutes of the Christian Religion, III.ix.5-6, John Calvin (1509-1564) writes about the benefits of meditating on the future life, and counsels Christians on why they have no reason to fear death:

[M]any who boast of being Christians, instead of thus longing for death, are so afraid of it that they tremble at the very mention of it as a thing ominous and dreadful. We cannot wonder, indeed, that our natural feelings should be somewhat shocked at the mention of our dissolution. But it is altogether intolerable that the light of piety should not be so powerful in a Christian breast as with greater consolation to overcome and suppress that fear. For if we reflect that this our tabernacle, unstable, defective, corruptible, fading, pining, and putrid, is dissolved, in order that it may forthwith be renewed in sure, perfect, incorruptible, in fine, in heavenly glory, will not faith compel us eagerly to desire what nature dreads? If we reflect that by death we are recalled from exile to inhabit our native country, a heavenly country, shall this give us no comfort? But everything longs for permanent existence. I admit this, and therefore contend that we ought to look to future immortality, where we may obtain that fixed condition which nowhere appears on the earth. For Paul admirably enjoins believers to hasten cheerfully to death, not because they “would be unclothed, but clothed upon,” (2 Cor. 5:2). Shall the lower animals, and inanimate creatures themselves even wood and stone, as conscious of their present vanity, long for the final resurrection, that they may with the sons of God be delivered from vanity (Rom. 8:19); and shall we, endued with the light of intellect, and more than intellect, enlightened by the Spirit of God, when our essence is in question, rise no higher than the corruption of this earth? […] This, however let us hold as fixed, that no man has made much progress in the school of Christ who does not look forward with joy to the day of death and final resurrection (2 Tim. 4:18; Tit. 2:13) for Paul distinguishes all believers by this mark; and the usual course of Scripture is to direct us thither whenever it would furnish us with an argument for substantial joy. “Look up,” says our Lord, “and lift up your heads: for your redemption draweth nigh,” (Luke 21:28). Is it reasonable, I ask, that what he intended to have a powerful effect in stirring us up to alacrity and exultation should produce nothing but sadness and consternation? If it is so, why do we still glory in him as our Master? Therefore, let us come to a sounder mind, and how repugnant so ever the blind and stupid longing of the flesh may be, let us doubt not to desire the advent of the Lord not in wish only, but with earnest sighs, as the most propitious of all events. He will come as a Redeemer to deliver us from an immense abyss of evil and misery, and lead us to the blessed inheritance of his life and glory.

6. Thus, indeed, it is; the whole body of the faithful, so long as they live on the earth, must be like sheep for the slaughter, in order that they may be conformed to Christ their head (Rom. 8:36). Most deplorable, therefore, would their situation be did they not, by raising their mind to heaven, become superior to all that is in the world, and rise above the present aspect of affairs (1 Cor. 15:19). On the other hand, when once they have raised their head above all earthly objects, though they see the wicked flourishing in wealth and honour, and enjoying profound peace, indulging in luxury and splendour, and revelling in all kinds of delights, though they should moreover be wickedly assailed by them, suffer insult from their pride, be robbed by their avarice, or assailed by any other passion, they will have no difficulty in bearing up under these evils. They will turn their eye to that day (Isaiah 25:8; Rev. 7:17), on which the Lord will receive his faithful servants, wipe away all tears from their eyes, clothe them in a robe of glory and joy, feed them with the ineffable sweetness of his pleasures, exalt them to share with him in his greatness; in fine, admit them to a participation in his happiness. But the wicked who may have flourished on the earth, he will cast forth in extreme ignominy, will change their delights into torments, their laughter and joy into wailing and gnashing of teeth, their peace into the gnawing of conscience, and punish their luxury with unquenchable fire. He will also place their necks under the feet of the godly, whose patience they abused. For, as Paul declares, “it is a righteous thing with God to recompense tribulation to them that trouble you; and to you who are troubled rest with us, when the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven,” (2 Thess. 1:6, 7). This, indeed, is our only consolation; deprived of it, we must either give way to despondency, or resort to our destruction to the vain solace of the world. The Psalmist confesses, “My feet were almost gone: my steps had well nigh slipt: for I was envious at the foolish when I saw the prosperity of the wicked,” (Psalm 73:3, 4); and he found no resting-place until he entered the sanctuary, and considered the latter end of the righteous and the wicked. To conclude in one word, the cross of Christ then only triumphs in the breasts of believers over the devil and the flesh, sin and sinners, when their eyes are directed to the power of his resurrection.

William Burkitt (1650-1703) on glorifying God in our everyday employments

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William Burkitt (1650-1703) was a Reformed divine of the Church of England. After studying at Pembroke Hall, Cambridge, Burkitt ministered successively at Milden, Suffolk, and Dedham, Essex. His name is primarily associated with his biblical expositions and his devotional book titled The Poor Man’s Help, and Young Man’s Guide. To add to a previous post from Wilhelmus a’ Brakel (1635–1711) on this same topic, Burkitt writes in this latter book about glorifying God in our everyday employments, labour, and callings. The excerpt is taken from the 2nd edition (1694), ch. 5:

Almighty God has sent no man into the world to be idle, but to serve him in the way of an honest and industrious diligence: He that says, Remember the Sabbath-day to keep it holy, says also, Six days shalt thou labour, either with the labour of the mind, or of the body, or with both. Riches and a great estate will excuse none from labouring in some kind or other, in the service of our Maker; for he that receives most wages, surely ought to do some work.

  1. Labour to understand and be thoroughly sensible how much you are beholden to God for the benefit of a calling: Thousands are now blessing God in heaven for the blessing of a calling here on earth, by which multitudes of temptations were prevented; how many sins doth a life of idleness expose unto?

  2. Be diligent and Industrious in the way of thy calling, and that from a principle of obedience to the divine command: He that says, Be fervent in prayer, says also, Be not slothful in business. An idle man has no pattern or precedent either in hell or heaven: Not in hell, for the devils are diligent about their deeds of darkness: Not in heaven, for the angels are continually employed, either in beholding God’s beauty, or in executing God’s commands.

  3. If thou art called to the meanest and most laborious calling, that of an husband-man, murmur not at it, because it is wearisome to the flesh; but eye the command of God, and in obedience thereunto be diligent in thy place, and then thou glorifiest God as truly when digging in thy field, as the minister in his pulpit, or the prince upon his throne.

  4. Be strictly just and exactly righteous in the way of thy calling, and with a generous disdain and resolute contempt abhor the getting of riches by unrighteousness: Cursed gain is no gain. How sad is it to be rich on earth, and to roar in hell for unrighteous riches. He that cheats and over-reaches, he that tricks and defrauds his neighbours, is as sure to go to hell without repentance and restitution, as the profanest swearer or drunkard in a town. Know ye not that the unrighteous shall not inherit the Kingdom of God? (1 Cor. 6:9).

  5. Be very careful that thy particular calling as a private person, do not encroach upon thy general calling as a Christian: The world is a great devourer of precious time, it robs the soul of many an hour which should be spent in communion with God, and in communing with our own hearts. How many are so taken up with their trade on earth, that they forget to converse with heaven: Verily there is a holy part in every man’s time, which the daily exercises of religion call for, and which it is our daily duty to keep inviolable from the sacrilegious hands of an encroaching world.

  6. Labour after an heavenly frame of spirit in the management of thy earthly business; and take heed that thy worldly employments do not blunt the edge of thy spiritual affections, but endeavour to keep thy heart close with God when thy hand is employed in the labours of thy calling. A faithful and loving husband, when he has been abroad all day in varieties of company, yet when he comes home at night he brings his affections with him as entire to his wife, as when he went forth in the morning from her; yea he is inwardly pleased, that he is got from all other company, to enjoy hers: Thus doth a heavenly-minded Christian, after he has spent some time amidst his worldly business in the labours of his calling; he desires and endeavours to bring his whole heart to God with him, when at night he returns into his presence to wait upon him; yea he strives to keep his heart with God all the day long, by often lifting it up to God, in holy thoughts and pious ejaculations [i.e. utterances], which are an help rather than an hindrance to worldly business.

  7. Eye God in every providence thou meetest with in thy calling. Dost thou meet with any disappointment, see and be sensible of God’s hand in it. All that are diligent are not thriving in this world: There are mysteries of providence as well as mysteries of faith, which we can never fathom. Dost thou meet with a blessing? Own God in all that good success thou findest in thy employment; with holy Jacob, The Lord hath dealt graciously with me, and I have enough (Gen. 33:11). When God at any time sends thee in profit, let it be thy care to send him back praise: For nothing is so acceptable to God as a grateful mind.

  8. Watch daily against the sin of thy calling, as also against the sin of thy constitution; and whatever temptations thou meetest with from either, cry mightily to heaven for power to resist them; knowing that thou never yieldest to a temptation, but the Spirit withdraws in tears, and the devil goes away in triumph.

  9. Having used faithful diligence in thy lawful calling, perplex not thy thoughts about the issue and success of thy endeavours; but labour to compose thy mind in all conditions of life to a quiet and steady dependence on God’s providence, being anxiously careful for nothing. There is a threefold care which the Scripture takes notice of: Namely, a care of the head, a care of the hand, and a care of the heart. A care of the head, and that is a care of providence and prudential forecast, this is commendable. A care of the hand, that is a care of diligence and industry, this is profitable. But then there is the care of the heart, which is a care of diffidence and distrust, a care of anxiety and perturbation of mind, this is culpable, and exceeding sinful (See Matt. 6:31-34).

  10. Resolve it in thy mind to be cheerful and contented with thy portion (little or much) which God as a blessing upon thy endeavours, allots unto thee: Not content because thou canst not have it otherwise, but from an approbation of divine appointment. Necessity was the heathen school-master to teach contentment, but faith must be the Christian’s. I have learnt, says the holy Apostle, (not at the feet of Gamaliel, but in the School of Christ,) both how to be abased and how to abound; how to be full, and how to be empty; yea I know in whatsoever state I am, therewith to be content (Phil. 4:11). How are some Christians minds like musical instruments, quite out of tune, with every change of weather. But it is an even composedness of mind in all conditions of life, that glorifies God, and is advantageous to ourselves. Godliness with contentment is great gain (1 Tim. 6:16). Not godliness with an estate, but godliness with contentment.

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

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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.

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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.

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

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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

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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.