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.