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Answer. We may understand it in the same sense, for an external, visible, material righteousness. When it is said, if he turn from his iniquity and do that which is lawful and right, it must be understood, if he continue so to do, and do not turn from it again. According to the schemes of both Arminians and Calvinists, this must be understood. Whereby the objection is overthrown.
Visible Christians are in Scripture called saints, or holy; which is equivalent to the calling them righteous. The Jews are called an holy nation: the land is a land of uprightness; when only visibility is intended.-By righteous, sometimes is meant only innocent, or materially righteous in some particular. "Wilt thou also destroy a righteous nation?" Gen. xx. 4. Exod. xxiii. 7. "The innocent and the righteous, slay thou not:" Deut. xxv. 1. " Ye shall justify the righteous, and condemn the wicked:" 1 Sam. iv. 11. "How much more, when wicked men have slain a righteous person?" 2 Kings x. 9. By the righteous man that the prophet Ezekiel speaks of, he certainly does not speak in so limited a sense as to mean those that are of perfect and upright hearts, but so as to include those of an unsound heart, that trust in their own righteousness to commit iniquity; (see Ezek. xxxiii. 13;) i. e. those whose motive is only self-love, and their own safety, and so trust that they have righteousness enough to render them safe, though they do commit sin. Those that are only restrained from committing sin by fear, and are ready to embrace, and are glad of opportunities of committing sin with impunity; these cannot be such as the sincerely righteous are often described to be, viz. such as love God with all their hearts and souls; that love the way of his commandments; that choose the way of his commands, &c. The reason why some do not persevere, is, that there is not now a right heart in them; as is evident by Deut. v. 29. "O that there were such an heart in them, that they would fear me and keep my commandments!" &c.
§ 24. When it is said, "If a righteous man turn from his righteousness, and commit iniquity, his righteousness shall not be remembered, but he shall die in his iniquity;" we need not, according to the Scripture manner of expression, understand any thing, but his seeming righteousness, or the righteousness that he seemeth to have. Christ has often such an aphorism as this, "Whosoever hath, to him shall be given, and he shall have more abundance; but whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken away even that he hath;" which he applies to that apparent godliness, grace or piety, which natural men have, as is evident by the contexts, and the occasions of his using this aphorism; as Matth. xiii. 12. and
Matth. xxv. 29. and Mark iv. 25. This, in another place, is explained thus, "Whosoever hath, to him shall be given; and whosoever hath not, from him shall be taken even that which he seemeth to have;" Luke viii. 18. Being a righteous man, does indeed commonly signify to be one that is truly and sincerely godly. And so is believing in Christ mentioned frequently as the distinguishing character of one that is truly Christ's disciple. Yet we read of some that are said to believe, who, even at that very time, are spoken of as wanting something necessary to make them true disciples: John ii. 23, 24, 25. "Now when he was in Jerusalem at the passover, in the feast day, many believed in his name, when they saw the miracles which he did. But Jesus did not commit himself to them, because he knew all men; and needed not that any should testify of man, for he knew what was in man." These words intimate, that though they believed, yet Christ knew that they had not that in them then, that was to be depended on for perseverance; which implies, that if they were true believers, of a right principle, their perseverance might be depended on. And we are elsewhere told, why some that believe, endure but for a while, and do not persevere, viz. because they have no root in themselves.
§ 25. That there is an essential difference between the faith and seeming grace of such professors as fall away, and such as persevere, even before any distinction appears as to perseverance, or while both retain their religion, is exceedingly manifest by John vi. 64, 65. But there are some of you that believe not. For Jesus knew from the beginning who they were that believed not, and who should betray him. And he said, Therefore said I unto you, that no man can come unto me, except it were given unto him of my Father." And verse 70." And Jesus answered them, Have not I chosen you twelve, and one of you is a devil?" Here, before Judas had fallen away, he is said not to believe, and to be a devil. Now Judas was a professing disciple and a distinguished one. He was a visible believer. Christ speaks of him as one that had forsaken all and followed him in the regeneration, as is evident in Matth. xix. 27, 28; and as one that had continued with Christ in his temptations, Luke xxii. 28.-compared with verse 30. There were great appearances of true grace in him, as there were in Ahitophel, his type, with whom David took sweet counsel, &c. And therefore, as a righteous man, Christ had given him the extraordinary gifts of the Holy Ghost, and sent him forth to preach the gospel, and heal the sick, and cast out devils.-Yet he, even before he fell away, is said not to believe, but to be then a devil; which is agreeable to what the apostle says of apostates, "They went out from
us, because they were not of us. If they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us."
§ 26. That they who once truly believe in Christ, never fall away finally and perish, is evident, because they that now believe not, and are in a state of condemnation, are spoken of as those that never have believed, John iii. 18. "Because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God." Which supposes, that none of those that have believed, are now unbelievers, or are now in a state of condemnation. So again, those who shall be condemned at the day of judgment, are represented as those, not only whom Christ then will know not, but as those whom he never knew, Matth. vii. 23. But how can this be a true representation, if some of them were once true Christians, and so were known and owned by Christ, but only have since apostatized? When St. Paul kept under his body, lest he should be a cast-away, (1 Cor. ix. 27.) he did no otherwise than he was wont to do in temporal concerns, in cases wherein he was beforehand certain of the event. So he sent word to the chief captain of the Jews lying in wait to kill him, lest he should be murdered by them, though it was revealed to him from God, but the very night before, that he should live to see Rome; Acts xxiii. 12-21. So he would not allow the sailors to leave the ship." &c. Bellamy's True Religion, Disc. 1. Inference 9. 1 John iii. 6. "Whosoever sinneth, hath not seen him, neither known him." This could not be true, if a man who has truly seen him, and known him, might finally fall away to sin.
§ 27. As to scripture cautions against falling away, lest it should issue in damnation; we may observe that God had been pleased to connect eternal life with eating the fruit of the tree of life; and therefore, although it was utterly impossible that Adam should have eternal life in himself, after he had fallen, as God's peremptory declaration and unalterable constitution had made it impossible; yet we are told, that after the fall, God placed cherubims and a flaming sword to keep the way of the tree of life, lest the man should put forth his hand, and take and eat of the fruit of the tree, and live for ever. So God has connected damnation with living in allowed sin, and being overcome by sin, and brought under its power. And therefore, although it be impossible, that men, after they are once truly converted, should ever perish, yet they are warned against falling away and yielding to the power of sin, lest they should perish and the apostle Paul kept under his body, lest he should be a cast-away.
28. As to objections from such hypothetical propositions as those, Heb. x. 27, &c. "If we sin wilfully, after we have received the knowledge of the truth." Heb. vi. 4, &c. "For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, if they fall away," &c. Such hypothetical propositions may be true, when one or both parts of it are impossible, as the truth of such a proposition consists in the connection of the antecedent and consequent; as when our Lord said to the Jews, "If I should say, I know him not, I should be a liar like unto you." See Gill against Whitby, vol. i. p. 271.
§ 29. Objection. That we are required to TAKE CARE and to PRAY that we may persevere. It was impossible for Christ to fail under his trials; and yet how evident is it that he used means, endeavours, care, labour, and earnest prayers, that he might persevere?-In order to shew, that an absolute. promise of perseverance does consist with counsels and exhortations to endeavour, and care to persevere, I would lay down the following positions.
Position I. What it is proper for us to seek by carnest and importunate prayer, it is proper for us to use means, labour and care, for that end.. The reason is plain: prayer is one kind of secking the thing; it is using means, and one way of labouring for it, taking care to obtain it, and pursuing after it. There are many instances of prayer, and commands to pray for things promised. Christ on earth prayed for things promised; and he continually intercedes in heaven for things promised.
Position II. What it is proper that persons should use endeavours, means, and care for, they are properly exhorted to use those means and endeavours.
Position III. That which it is proper for another to use means, labours, and care for, that he may obtain it, though he knows it is certainly promised, it is proper that we should use means, &c. to obtain for ourselves, though it is promised. But Christ used means, endeavours, labour, &c. for the salvation of sincerely good men, though it be promised. He laboured, took care, denied himself, and suffered for the salvation of sincerely good men; which yet had been before abundantly promised to him, and promised to men in the Old Testament; and Christ himself had promised it. The scripture represents, that Christ ran a race to win a prize, and endured the cross for the joy that was set before him.
§ 30. If it were left to the freedom of men's own will, whether men should persevere, in the sense that the Arminians
suppose; i. e. to a will not determined by God, but self-determined, then it would be absurd to pray to God that we may persevere; that he would keep us from falling, and that he would uphold our goings in his paths, &c.
§ 31. If grace implanted in the heart be not an infallible sign that a man shall have eternal life, how is the Spirit of God an earnest of glory? when a man may have the Spirit, and yet have no assurance that he shall be glorified. For every one who has the grace of God implanted in his heart, has the Holy Spirit of God in his sanctifying influences.