By J O H N.B U N Y A N of Bedford,
A Lover of Peace and Truth.
L O N D O N,
Printed for G. L., and are to be sold in
Turn-stile-alley, in Holbourn, 1674. (Year approximate.)
Published two years after John Bunyan's twelve year incarceration.
eeing then that the grace of God in the gospel, is by that to be proffered to sinners, as sinners; as well to the reprobate as the elect; Is it possible for those who indeed are not elect, to receive it, and be saved?
To this question I shall answer several things: but first I shall shew you what that grace is, that is tendered in the gospel; and secondly, what it is to receive it and be saved.
First then, The grace that is offered to sinners as sinners, without respect to this or that person, it is a sufficiency of righteousness, pardoning grace, and life, laid up in the person of Christ, held forth in the exhortation and word of the gospel, and promised to be theirs that receive it; yea, I say, in so universal a tender, that not one is by it excluded or checked in the least, but rather encouraged, if he hath the least desire to life; yea, it is held forth to beget both desires and longings after the life thus laid up in Christ, and held forth by the gospel (John 1:16; Col 1:19,23; 1 John 5:11,12; Acts 13:38,39; Rom 10:12-14, 16:25,26).
Secondly, To receive this grace thus tendered by the gospel, it is,
1. To believe it is true.
2. To receive it heartily and unfeignedly through faith. And,
3. To let it have its natural sway, course and authority in the soul, and that in that measure, as to bring forth the fruits of good living in heart, word, and life, both before God and man.
Now then to the question.
Is it possible that this tender, thus offered to the reprobate, should by him be thus received and embraced, and he live thereby?
To which I answer in the negative. Nor yet for the elect themselves, I mean as considered dead in trespasses and sins, which is the state of all men, elect as well as reprobate. So then, though there be a sufficiency of life and righteousness laid up in Christ for all men, and this tendered by the gospel to them without exception; yet sin coming in between the soul and the tender of this grace, it hath in truth disabled all men, and so, notwithstanding this tender, they continue to be dead. For the gospel, I say, coming in word only, saveth no man, because of man's impediment; wherefore those that indeed are saved by this gospel, the word comes not to them in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost; is mixed with faith even with the faith of the operation of God, by whose exceeding great and mighty power they are raised from this death of sin, and enabled to embrace the gospel. Doubtless, all men being dead in trespasses and sins, and so captivated under the power of the devil, the curse of the law, and shut up in unbelief; it must be the power of God, yea the exceeding greatness of that power that raiseth the soul from this condition, to receive the holy gospel (Eph 2:1-3; 1 Thess 1:5,6; Col 2:12; Heb 4:1,2; Eph 1:18,19, &c.).
For man by nature, (consider him at best), can see no more, nor do no more than what the principles of nature understands and helps to do; which nature being below the discerning of things truly, spiritually, and savingly good, it must needs fall short of receiving, loving and delighting in them. 'The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned' (1 Cor 2:14). Now I say, if the natural man at best (for the elect before conversion are no more, if quite so much) cannot do this, how shall they attain thereto, being now not only corrupted and infected, but depraved, bewitched and dead; swallowed up of unbelief, ignorance, confusion, hardness of heart, hatred of God, and the like? When a thorn by nature beareth grapes, and a thistle beareth figs, then may this thing be (Matt 7:16-18). To lay hold of and receive the gospel by a true and saving faith, it is an act of the soul as made a new creature, which is the workmanship of God: 'Now he that hath wrought us for the self-same thing is God' (2 Cor 5:5). 'For a corrupt tree cannot bring forth good fruit' (Luke 6:43-45). 'Can the Ethiopian change his skin?' (Jer 13:23).
But yet the cause of this impossibility.
1. Lieth not in reprobation, the elect themselves being as much unable to receive it as the other.
2. Neither is it because the reprobate is excluded in the tender, for that is universal.
3. Neither is it because there wanteth arguments in the tenders of the gospel, for there is not only plenty, but such as be persuasive, clear, and full of rationality.
4. Neither is it because these creatures have no need thereof, for they have broken the law.
5. Wherefore it is, because indeed they are by sin dead, captivated, mad, self-opposers, blind, alienated in their minds, and haters of the Lord. Behold the ruins that sin hath made!
Wherefore whoever receiveth the grace that is tendered in the gospel, they must be quickened by the power of God, their eyes must be opened, their understandings illuminated, their ears unstopped, their hearts circumcised, their wills also rectified, and the Son of God revealed in them. Yet as I said, not because there wanteth argument in these tenders, but because men are dead, and blind, and cannot hear the word. 'Why do ye not understand my speech [saith Christ]; Even because ye cannot hear my word' (John 8:43; Acts 9:15, 26:9,10; Psa 110:3; Gal 1:15; Matt 11:27).
For otherwise, as I said but now, there is, 1. Rationality enough in the tenders of the gospel. 2. Persuasions of weight enough to provoke to faith. And, 3. Arguments enough to persuade to continue therein.
1. Is it not reasonable that man should believe God in the proffer of the gospel and life by it? Is there not reason, I say, both from the truth and faithfulness of God, from the sufficiency of the merits of Christ, as also from the freeness and fullness of the promise? What unreasonable thing doth the gospel bid thee credit? Or what falsehood doth it command thee to receive for truth? Indeed in many points the gospel is above reason, but yet in never a one against it; especially in those things wherein it beginneth with the sinner, in order to eternal life.
2. Again, touching its persuasions to provoke to faith: With how many signs and wonders, miracles and mighty deeds, hath it been once and again confirmed, and that to this very end? (Heb 1:1-3; 1 Cor 14:22). With how many oaths, declarations, attestations, and proclamations, is it avouched, confirmed, and established? (Heb 6:17,18; Acts 13:32; Jer 3:12; Gal 3:15). And why should not credence be given to that gospel that is confirmed by blood, the blood of the Son of God himself? Yea, that gospel that did never yet fail any that in truth hath cast themselves upon it, since the foundation of the world (Heb 9:16-18, 12:1-3).
3. Again, as there is rationality enough, and persuasions sufficient, so there is also argument most prevalent to persuade to continue therein, and that to heartily, cheerfully, and unfeignedly, unto the end: did not, as I have said, blindness, madness, deadness, and willful rebellion, carry them away in the vanity of their minds, and overcome them (Eph 4:17-19).
(1.) For, first, if they could but consider how they have sinned, how they have provoked God, &c., if they could but consider what a dismal state the state of the damned is, and also, that in a moment their condition is like to be the same, would they not cleave to the gospel and live?
(2.) The enjoyment of God, and Christ, and saints, and angels, being the sweetest; the pleasures of heaven the most comfortable, and to live always in the greatest height of light, life, joy, and gladness imaginable, one would think were enough to persuade the very damned now in hell.
There is no man then perisheth for want of sufficient reason in the tenders of the gospel, nor any for want of persuasions to faith; nor yet because there wanteth arguments to provoke to continue therein. But the truth is, the gospel in this hath to do with unreasonable creatures; with such as will not believe it, and that because it is truth: 'And because I tell you the truth, [saith Christ] therefore ye believe me not' (John 8:45).
Quest. Well, but if this in truth be thus, how then comes it to pass that some receive it and live for ever? For you have said before, that the elect are as dead as the reprobate, and full as unable as they, as men, to close with these tenders, and live.
Answ. Doubtless this is true, and were the elect left to themselves, they, through the wickedness of their heart, would perish as do others. Neither could all the reasonable persuasive prevalent arguments of the gospel of God in Christ, prevail to make any receive it, and live. Wherefore here you must consider, that as there is mercy proclaimed in the general tenders of the gospel, so there is also the grace of election; which grace kindly over-ruleth and winneth the spirit of the chosen, working in them that unfeigned closing therewith, that makes it effectual to their undoubted salvation; which indeed is the cause that not only in other ages, but also to this day, there is a remnant that receive this grace; they being appointed, I say, thereto, before the world began; preserved in time from that which would undo them, and enabled to embrace the glorious gospel of grace, and peace, and life (1 Kings 19:18; Rom 11:5; 1 Thess 5:9).
Now there is a great difference between the grace of election, and the grace that is wrapped up in the general tenders of the gospel a difference, I say, and that both as to its timing, latituding, and working.
1. Touching its timing; it is before, yea long before, there was either tender of the grace wrapped up in the gospel to any, or any need of such a tender (Eph 1:4,5).
2. They also differ in latitude; the tenders of grace in the gospel are common and universal to all, but the extension of that of election special and peculiar to some. 'There is a remnant according to the election of grace' (Rom 11:5).
3. Touching the working of the grace of election; it differs much in some things from the working of the grace that is offered in the general tenders of the gospel. As is manifest in these particulars:
(1.). The grace that is offered in the general tenders of the gospel, calleth for faith to lay hold upon, and accept thereof; but the special grace of election, worketh that faith which doth lay hold thereof (Acts 16:31, 13:48; Phil 1:29; 2 Thess 1:11).
(2.) The grace that is offered in the general tenders of the gospel, calleth for faith, as a condition in us, without which there is no life; but the special grace of election worketh faith in us without any such condition (Mark 16:15,16; Rom 11:5,6).
(3.) The grace that is offered in the general tenders of the gospel, promiseth happiness upon the condition of persevering in the faith only; but the special grace of election causeth this perseverance (Col 1:23; Eph 2:10; Rom 11:7; 1 Peter 1:5-7).
(4.) The grace offered in the general tenders of the gospel, when it sparkleth most, leaveth the greatest part of men behind it; but the special grace of election, when it shineth least, doth infallibly bring every soul therein concerned to everlasting life (Rom 10:16, 8:33-35).
(5.) A man may overcome and put out all the light and life that is begotten in him by the general tenders of the gospel; but none shall overcome, or make void, or frustrate the grace of election (Jude 4; 2 Peter 2:20-22; Matt 24:24; Rom 11:1-3, &c.).
(6.) The general tenders of the gospel, considered without a concurrence of the grace of election, helps not the elect himself, when sadly fallen. Wherefore, when I say the grace that is offered in the general tenders of the gospel, I mean that grace when offered, as not being accompanied with a special operation of God's eternal love, by way of conjunction therewith. Otherwise the grace that is tendered in the general offers of the gospel, is that which saveth the sinner now, and that brings him to everlasting life; that is, when conjoined with that grace that blesseth and maketh this general tender effectually efficacious. The grace of election worketh not without, but by these tenders generally; neither doth the grace thus tendered, effectually work, but by and with the grace of election: 'As many as were ordained to eternal life believed' (Acts 13:48): The word being then effectual to life, when the hand of the Lord is effectually therewith to that end (Mark 16:20). They 'spake [saith the text] unto the Grecians, preaching the Lord Jesus. And the hand of the Lord was with them; and a great number believed, and turned unto the Lord' (Acts 11:20,21).
We must always put difference between the word of the gospel, and the power that manageth that word; we must put difference between the common and more special operations of that power also; even as there is evidently a difference to be put between those words of Christ that were effectual to do what was said, and of those words of his which were but words only, or at least not so accompanied with power. As for instance: that same Jesus that said to the Leper, 'Say nothing to any man,' said also to Lazarus, 'Come forth'; yet the one obeyed, the other did not; though he that obeyed was least in a capacity to do it, he being now dead, and stunk in his grave. Indeed unbelief hath hindered Christ much, yet not when he putteth forth himself as Almighty, but when he doth suffer himself by them to be abused who are to be dealt with by ordinary means: Otherwise legions of devils, with ten thousand impediments, must fall down before him, and give way unto him. There is a speaking, and a so speaking: 'They so spake, that a great multitude, both of the Jews, and also of the Greeks, believed' (Acts 14:1). Even as I have hinted already, there is a difference between the coming of the word when it is in power (1 Thess 1:5), and when it is in word only. So then, the blessed grace of election chooseth this man to good, not because he is good; it chooseth him to believe, not because he doth believe; it chooseth him to persevere, not because he doth so; it fore-ordains that this man shall be created in Christ Jesus unto good works (Eph 1:4-6), not if a man will create himself thereto (1 Peter 1:2; Eph 2:10).
What shall we say then? Is the fault in God, if any perish? Doubtless no; nor yet in his act of eternal reprobation neither: it is grace that saveth the elect, but sin that damns the rest: it is superabundant grace that causeth the elect to close with the tenders of life, and live; and it is the aboundings of sin that holds off the reprobate from the rational, necessary, and absolute tenders, of grace. To conclude then; the gospel calleth for credence as a condition, and that both from the elect and reprobate; but because none of them both, as dead in sin, will close therewith, and live; therefore grace, by virtue of electing love, puts forth itself to work and do for some beyond reason; and justice cuts off others, for slighting so good, so gracious, and necessary a means of salvation, so full both of kindness, mercy and reason.