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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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.

George Stradling (1620/21-1688): The inheritance of the saints, by its very nature as an inheritance, excludes all purchase on our part

George Stradling

 

George Stradling (1620/21-1688) was a Reformed conforming churchman who served as Dean of Chichester Cathedral for the final sixteen years of his life. Before becoming Dean of Chichester, Stradling had successively been a fellow of All Souls’ College and Jesus College, Oxford, and served in a number of parishes, including Fulham and St. Bride’s Fleet Street, London. He was furthermore also a canon of both St. Paul’s and Westminster.

In an All Saints’ Day sermon on Col. 1:12 included in his posthumously-published Sermons and Discourses upon Several Occasions (1692), Stradling discourses beautifully on the saints’ inheritance as being entirely a gift from God:

1. Our Lord himself hath told us, that God is beforehand with us; that whatsoever we can do is due from us to Him; that when we shall have done all those things which are commanded us, we must say, that we are unprofitable servants, and have done but that which was our duty to do (Luk. 17:10). And then what merit can there be in paying just debts?

And, 2. St. Paul hath told us, That we can do no good thing without Him too, who worketh in us both to will and to doe of his good pleasure (Phil. 2:13). So that He crowns His own gifts in us, and rewards not our deservings.

Besides, 3. Our goodness extendeth not to God, says David (Ps. 16:2). And being unuseful, how can it be meritorious? Nay, our best works are so imperfect and so sinful too, that the utmost they can expect is but a pardon, and not a reward; and were they never so good and perfect, yet what proportion can they bear to such a reward as an inheritance in light? Our light affliction, which is but for a moment, to a far more exceeding and eternal weight of glory? (2 Cor. 4. 17). Where we must not let pass an elegant antithesis; For affliction there is glory; For light affliction, a weight of glory; and for momentary affliction, an eternal weight of glory; to shew the vast disproportion between these things; so vast, that even martyrdom itself (the highest, utmost proof of our love to God) is, in St. Paul‘s account, nothing in comparison of that glory we expect; For I reckon, says he, that the sufferings of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in us (Rom. 8. 18)

IV. And lastly, the very word inheritance excludes all purchase on our part. For this were to renounce succession, to cast off all filial duty and affection, not to own ourselves sons, but mercenary purchasers; yea, and purchasers of an inheritance already purchased for us by Christ, and for his sake freely bestowed upon us by our Heavenly Father out of his own pure goodness and bounty, to which alone we must ascribe it. For we all (the best of us) have sinned, and come short of the glory of God (Rom. 3:23). And we are told (Rom. 6:23) that, The wages of sin (our proper wages) is death, but the gift of God is eternal life. The Apostle might have said (and indeed the antithesis or opposition there seem’d to require it) But the wages of Righteousness is eternal life; but he altered the phrase on set-purpose, and chose rather to say, The gift of God is eternal life; that we might from this change of the phrase learn, that although we procure death unto ourselves, yet ‘tis God that bestows eternal life on us; that as He hath called us to his kingdom and glory (1 Thess. 2:12), so he gives that glory and that kingdom for no other reason but because he is pleased so to do; It is your Father’s good pleasure, for into God the Father’s good pleasure Christ resolves it, to give you a kingdom (Luk. 12:32). No merit, nor so much as any good disposition in us for it; He prepares it for us (Matt. 20:23). And he prepares us for it too here in the Text, by making us meet to be partakers thereof.

For what meetness could he find in us for such an inheritance? Title to it we have none, being by nature the children of wrath and disobedience (Eph. 2:2, 3). Mere intruders here and usurpers, The Kingdom of Heaven suffereth violence, and we, the violent take it by force (Matt. 11:12). Qualifications proper for it we have none too; that, an inheritance in light, we, darkness; that, an inheritance incorruptible, undefiled, and that fadeth not away (1 Pet. 1:4), we corruptible, polluted, and still decaying. Οὐχ ἱκανοί ἐσμεν —cries out our Apostle, We are not sufficient, not fit (for the word signifies either) as of ourselves, but our sufficiency, or fitness (call it which you will), is of God, (2 Cor. 3:5; 2 Pet. 1:4), who as He makes us partakers of his divine nature, so meet partakers of the divine inheritance, not by pouring out the divine essence, but by communicating to us those divine qualities which will fit and prepare us for the sight thereof; by putting light into our understandings and holiness into our wills, without which no man shall see the Lord (Heb. 12:14). By cleansing our hearts, and washing our hands, that so we may ascend into the hill of the Lord, dwell and rest in his Tabernacle (Ps. 15:24). He gives us faith, and with that a prospect of our inheritance; and He gives us hope, and with that an interest therein; And, to sum up all in one, He gives us his Holy Spirit, the earnest of that inheritance (Eph. 1:14), who worketh all our works in us, writes his laws in our hearts, and by softening, makes them capable of his divine impressions: In short, that divine Spirit, which by regenerating makes us new creatures, and so fit inhabitants for the new Jerusalem, calling us first to virtue, and then to glory: to that, as the way; to this, as the end (2 Pet. 1:3).

2. But besides this divine operation, we need divine acceptation also, whereby we may be accounted worthy of the kingdom of God, our inheritance (2 Thess. 1:5). For all our works and graces here being imperfect, can never capacitate us for it without God’s gracious acceptance. And therefore κατηξίωσεν ἡμας saith St. Chrysost. here. ‘Tis God’s καταξίωσις, not our ἄξια, his dignifiying of us, not our own dignity, that renders us worthy. And ἐχαρίτωσεν ἡμᾶς, He makes us accepted in the Beloved (Eph. 1:6). And when the saints of God are said to be worthy to walk with Christ in white (Rev. 3. 4), ‘tis because He casts his garment of righteousness about them; and if their good works (which yet are but God’s own gifts) weigh down, ‘tis because He puts his grains of allowance into the scale.

But what need all this, either divine operation or acceptation, to make us meet partakers of the inheritance in light, may the enemies of God’s grace here say? What need we go farther than ourselves and our own nature for it? For Pelagius will tell us, that we are in as good a condition now as Adam himself was before his fall; our faculties the same, as strong and as able as ever; our understandings as clear to discern, and our wills as free to choose good and evil; that all the harm our first parent did us, was but to give us a bad Example, which ‘tis our fault if we will follow, and since our happiness depends on ourselves, that we are to blame ourselves, if we miss of it. And although some have thought this too gross to make man the sole author of his own fate, yet they have very little mended the matter, by so parting stakes between God and him, that they still allow the latter the better share in the work of his salvation. For they deny all preventing grace (the proper mark of a Semi-Pelagian) although they are pleased to grant a concurrent and subsequent one on God’s part to enable him to do his work with more ease and sureness, which otherwise would cost him more pains and hazard. However they so far agree with Pelagius, as to place this meetness for the inheritance in man himself, putting it into his own power to dispose himself to his conversion by an act of his own free-will, antecedent to God’s grace. A piece of heathen divinity borrowed from Seneca and Tully. For Seneca in a Stoical brag could say, That we live, is from God; but that we live well, is from ourselves. And, This is the Judgment of all Mankind, says Tully; That Prosperity is to be sought of God, but Wisdom to be taken up from our selves. On which saying of his, St. Augustine passes this judgment, That by making Men free, he made them sacrilegious. For what greater sacrilege than to rob God of his power to convert us, or at least to let him go but as a sharer with as therein? When, as to the first act of our conversion, we are as purely passive as to that of our creation or resurrection. We cannot create ourselves, and, being dead in trespasses and sins, no more raise up ourselves to a spiritual, than to a natural life: No, God must convert us, that we may be converted: Turn thou us unto thee, O Lord, and we shall be turned, says the Prophet Jeremy (Lam. 5:21. & Jer. 31:18). Nay, The very preparations of the heart in Man are from the Lord, says Solomon (Prov. 16:1). And, It is God who worketh in us both to will and to do, says St. Paul (Phil. 2:13). We cannot come to Christ, except the Father draw us (Joh. 6:44). Nor when we are drawn to Him, do anything without Him; Himself plainly telling us so (Joh. 15:5). Without me ye can do nothing; He does not say a little, but nothing. God must prevent and follow us with his grace, plant good inclinations in us, and nurse them up too. He hath chosen us in Christ before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy (Eph. 1:4), not that we were so before he chose us. He chose us first too, Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you (Joh. 16:15; 1 Joh. 4:10). He chose us also out of his own love, and then loved us for his choice, and made us Holy by his very choosing us. No prevision of our faith or good Works, but his own free goodness and mercy determined his choice; He found us not meet to partake of the inheritance, but made us so, says the text; Could we make ourselves meet, we might thank ourselves and not the Father, as the Apostle here exhorts the Corinthians and us to do.

– George Stradling (1620/21-1688), Sermons and Discourses upon Several Occasions, p. 300-308

Robert South (1634-1716) on election and the efficacy of Christ’s death

Robert South

Robert South (1634-1716) was a high churchman, prebendary of Westminster, canon of Christ Church, Oxford, and one of the preeminent Reformed conforming divines of the post-Restoration era. South was renowned particularly for his numerous sermons, which were very much “in vogue” in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, and which were known by his contemporaries for their sometimes outspokenly Reformed contents.

One such example is found in a Good Friday sermon preached before the University of Oxford in Christ Church cathedral, on March 20, 1668. The excerpt below is taken from the 6th edition of South’s Twelve Sermons Preached upon Several Occasions, vol. 3, p. 368-370. The text for this sermon was Is. 53:8, “For the transgression of my people was he stricken,” and South raises the question of how the people mentioned in the text came to be God’s people:

If it be here asked, upon what account the persons here spoken of were denominated and made God’s people? I answer, that they were so by an eternal covenant and transaction between God the Father and the Son; by which the Father, upon certain conditions to be performed by the Son, consigned over some persons to him to be his people. For our better understanding of which we are to observe that the business of man’s redemption proceeds upon a two-fold covenant.

First, an eternal covenant made between the Father and the Son, by which the Father agreed to give both grace and glory to a certain number of sinners, upon condition that Christ would assume their nature, and pay down such a ransom to his justice, as should both satisfy for their sin, and withal merit such a measure of grace as should effectually work in them all things necessary to their salvation. And this covenant may be properly called a covenant of suretyship or redemption. Upon which alone, and not upon any covenant made between God and man in their own persons, is built the infallibility of the future believing, repenting, and finally persevering, of such as Christ from all eternity undertook to make his people.

Secondly, the other covenant made in time, and actually entered into by God and man, by which God on his part promises to men eternal salvation, upon condition of faith and repentance on theirs. And this is called in Scripture, the second covenant, or the covenant of grace, and stands opposed to that which is there called the first covenant, or the covenant of works.

Now by that eternal compact or transaction between the Father and the Son (of which alone we now speak) was this donation of a certain determinate number of persons made to Christ to be his people, by virtue of which agreement or transaction he was in the fullness of time to suffer for them, and to accomplish the whole work of their redemption from first to last. For to affirm that Christ died only to verify a proposition (that whosoever believed should be saved) but in the meantime to leave the whole issue of things in reference to persons so loose and undetermined, that it was a question, whether ever any one should actually believe, and very possible that none ever might, and consequently that after Christ had suffered, had been stricken, and died for transgression, yet for anything that he had done in all this, he might never have had a people; this certainly is a strange and new Gospel, and such as the doctrine of our Church [of England] seems utterly unacquainted with.

Ezekiel Hopkins (1634-1690) on union with Christ, double imputation, and justification

Ezekiel Hopkins

 

In a previous post we looked at a snippet from John Edwards of Cambridge (1637-1716) on the believer’s union with Christ as the foundation of double imputation. The same doctrine can be seen beautifully treated by another Reformed conforming churchman, Ezekiel Hopkins (1634-1690), Bishop of Derry in Ireland, in his posthumously published The Doctrine of the Two Covenants (1712, p. 52-53):

…Faith gives us a title to the righteousness of Christ, and makes it ours not only by the promise of God, but as it is the bond of union between Christ and the soul. By faith it is that we are made mystically one with Christ, living members in his body, fruitful branches of that heavenly and spiritual vine. We have the communication of the same name. So also is Christ, saith the Apostle (1 Cor. 12:12), speaking there of Christ mystical, both his Person and his Church. We have the same relations, I ascend to my Father and to your Father (John 20:17). We are made partakers of the same Spirit, for if any man have not the Spirit of Christ he is none of his (Rom. 8:9), he that is joined to the Lord is one Spirit (1 Cor. 6:17). And finally, the very life that we live is said not to be ours, but Christ liveth in us, and that we live by the faith of the Son of God (Gal. 2:20). So that being thus one with Christ, his righteousness becomes our righteousness, even as our sins became his: and God deals with Christ and believers, as if they were one person. The sins of believers are charg’d upon Christ, as though they were his; and the righteousness of Christ is reckoned to believers as theirs: neither is God unjust either in the one, or the other imputation, because they are mystically one; and this mystical union is a sufficient ground for imputation. Yet from this union flows the participation only of the benefits of his mediatorship: for we are not hereby transubstantiated or deify’d, as some of late years have blasphemously conceited; neither the Godhead of Christ, nor his essential righteousness as God, nor his divine and infinite properties are made ours; but only the fruits and effects of his mediation: so that hereupon God graciously accounts of us as if we had done in our own persons, whatsoever Christ hath done for us, because by faith Christ and we are made one.

Later on he offers a further discussion of this doctrine, this time drawing on the biblical imagery of the marriage between Christ and believers (p. 186-188):

Faith makes the righteousness of Christ to be ours, as it is the bond of that mystical union that there is between Christ and the believing soul. If Christ and the believer be one, the righteousness of Christ may well be reckoned as the righteousness of the believer. Nay, mutual imputation flows from mystical union: the sins of believers are imputed to Christ, and the righteousness of Christ to them; and both justly, because being united each to [the] other by a mutual consent (which consent on our part is faith) God considers them but as one person. As it is in marriage, the husband stands liable to the wife’s debts, and the wife stands interested in her husband’s possessions, so it is here: faith is the marriage-band and tie between Christ and a believer; and therefore all the debts of a believer are chargeable upon Christ, and the righteousness of Christ is instated upon the believer: so that upon the account of this marriage-union he hath a legal right and title to the purchase made by it. Indeed this union is an high and inscrutable mystery, yet plain it is that there is such [a] close, spiritual, and real union between Christ and a believer. The Scripture often both expressly affirms it, He that is joined to the Lord is one spirit (1 Cor. 6:17); and also lively illustrates it by several resemblances. It is likewise plain that the band of this union on the believer’s part is faith: consult Rom. 11:17 with 11:20. And therefore from the nearness of this union there follows a communication of interests and concerns: insomuch that the Church is called Christ (1 Cor. 12:12, so also is Christ), and their sufferings called the sufferings of Christ (Col. 1:24; Acts 9:4). So likewise from this mystical union the sins of believers are laid upon Christ, and his righteousness imputed unto them: see this as to both parts: He hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him (2 Cor. 5:21) and He hath redeemed us from the curse of the law, being made a curse for us, that the blessing of Abraham might come upon us (Gal. 3:13-14). It is still upon the account of this union that Christ was reckoned a sinner, and we are reckoned as righteous. And therefore as faith is the bond and tye of this union, so it is, without more difficulty, the way and means of our justification. By faith we are united unto Christ; by that union we have truly a righteousness; and upon that righteousness the justice of God, as well as his mercy, is engaged to justifie and acquit us.