by John Gill

The Cause of God and Truth, Part III, Chapter IV.

Dr. WHITBY, in the second chapter of his Discourse of sufficient and effectual, common and efficacious grace, proposes arguments to overthrow the doctrine of irresistible or unfrustrable grace, as necessary in the conversion of a sinner; and begins with some general considerations, which he thinks sufficient to cause any man to distrust, if not entirely reject it; as, that the defenders of it grant, what is inconsistent with it, "That preventing grace is given irresistibly and universally to men, and is never taken away by God from any man, unless he first, of his own accord, rejects it; that there are certain inward workings and effects wrought by the word and Spirit of God, preceding conversion and regeneration, in the hearts of persons not yet Justified; which God ceaseth not to promote and carry on toward conversion, till he be forsaken of them by their voluntary negligence, and his grace be repelled by them; that God doth very seriously and in earnest call all those to faith and repentance and conversion, in whom, by his word and Spirit, he works a knowledge of the divine will, a sense of sin, a dread of punishment, some hopes of pardon; and yet, that all these men, excepting the elect, are not converted, through a defectiveness in the grace of God to do it, or for want of means sufficient for their conversion, and because God never intended by these means salvation to any but the elect." Who these defenders arc that make these concessions I am not concerned to know, the inconsistency of them with the doctrine of efficacious grace, will be readily owned; how can grace be said to be given universally to men, when multitudes of men have not so much as the means of it? or be said to be given irresistibly, when man of his own accord, may reject it ? And though some certain effects may follow upon hearing the word ­­ as, awakening of the natural conscience, fear of a future judgment, and trembling of the spirits in some persons ­­ as in Felix, who never were or will be converted; yet these things are not promoted and carried on by God, nor were ever designed to be promoted and carried on by him towards conversion, or in order to do it: had they been wrought or designed for that purpose, man's forsaking the Lord by voluntary negligence, or repelling his grace, could never frustrate his designs or cause him to cease promoting the carrying on his own work until he has brought it to perfection. Nor is it true, that God calls all those to faith and repentance, and conversion, who have a knowledge of the divine will, a sense of sin, a dread of punishment, and some hopes of pardon: for the devils have all these but the last, whom he never calls to faith and repentance, and the latter, as well as the former, some men may have, and yet be never called by the grace of God; indeed, all those to whom God by his Spirit and word, gives a spiritual knowledge of his will, a real thorough sense of the evil nature of sin, as well as of the punishment that comes by it, and a good hope through grace, of pardon through the blood of Christ, he not only calls seriously and in earnest to faith and repentance, but he bestows these gifts of his grace upon them. But I proceed to the consideration of the arguments which, it is said, evidently seem to confute the doctrine of irresistible and unfrustrable grace in conversion. The first four arguments, with the eighth and ninth, are founded upon passages of Scripture which have been considered in the first Part of this work, to which the reader is referred; the rest shall be attended to, and are as follow.

I. "If such a divine unfrustrable operation is necessary to the conversion of a sinner then the word read or preached can be no instrument of their conversion, without this divine and infrustrable impulse, because that only acts by moral suasion." I answer it is very true that the word read or preached is not, nor can it be an instrument of conversion, without the powerful and efficacious grace of God; and it is abundantly evident, that it is read and preached to multitudes on whom it has no effect, and to whom it is of no use and service. Some persons are, indeed, begotten with the word of truth, and through the gospel; and are born again of incorruptible seed by the word of God; but then all this is by and through it, not as it comes in word only, or as it acts by moral suasion, or as it is a mere moral instrument, but as it comes in power and in the Holy Ghost, or with the demonstration of the Spirit and of power. The Spirit of God is the efficient cause of regeneration and conversion, the word is only a means which he makes use of when he pleases; for though he, generally speaking, works upon men by and under the means, yet not always; the work of grace upon the soul is not such an effect as doth entirely depend upon these two causes, so that, without the concurrence of them both, it will not be produced: wherefore the argument will not ­hold, that "he that hath it always in his power to resist, that is, to hinder the operation of the one upon him, must also frustrate the other, and consequently hinder the effect." For though the word, unattended with the Spirit and power of God, may be resisted, so as to be of no effect, yet neither the operations of the Spirit, nor the word, as attended with them, can be resisted, so as either of them should be ineffectual. And though the work of grace is wrought by an irresistible and unfrustrable operation, and the word without it is insufficient to produce it, yet it is not unnecessary; for it pleases God, by the foolishness of preaching, to save them that believe; whereby he confounds the wisdom of the world; and, by making use of weak means, he magnifies his own grace and power; he puts the treasure of the gospel in earthen vessels, that the excellency of the power in conversion may appear to be of God, of his operation, and not of man's moral suasion.

II. It is said, "Hence it must also follow, that no motive can be offered sufficient to induce the person who believes this doctrine, to enter upon a change of life, or a religious conversation, till he feel this irresistible impulse come upon him." I reply: that internal conversion, and an external change of life, regeneration, and a religious conversation, are different things. Though no man can be regenerated and converted without the powerful and efficacious grace of God, yet they may, without that grace, enter upon an outward change of life, and a religious conversation with and before men, though no motive can be offered sufficient to induce any person, whether he believes or does not believe this doctrine, to regenerate and convert himself; which does not lie in his own power, but is entirely owing to an unfrustrable operation of grace; yet many motives may be offered, sufficient, without an irresistible impulse of grace, to induce him to an external reformation and amendment of life, and a religious conversation. Though it must be owned, that a change of life, and a religious conversation, when genuine, are the fruits and effects of regeneration and conversion; nor do men truly and rightly enter upon them, nor are these established upon the best principles, until they are regenerated and converted by the Spirit and grace of God.

III. It is further urged, that "if man be purely passive in the whole work of his conversion, and it can only be wrought in him by an irresistible act of God upon him, then can nothing be required as a preparation, or a prerequisite to conversion." I answer: for my own part, I must confess, I know of no works preparatory to conversion. Works are either good or evil; evil works cannot be thought to be preparatory to it; and good works, which are strictly and properly so, spring from a principle of grace implanted in regeneration, and so follow upon it, and are not preparatory to it. And, indeed, what things preparatory to conversion can be thought to be in a natural man, that neither knows or receives the things of the Spirit of God? or in a carnal heart, which only minds the things of the flesh? or in a dead man, in order to be made alive ? There is no middle state between a regenerate and an unregenerate one; what preparatory works were there in a persecuting, blasphemous injurious Saul? l Tim. i. 13, or in those mentioned by the apostle? 1 Cor. vi. 9­11. There are some things which sometimes precede conversion, and which the Spirit of God makes use of for that purpose, such as reading, hearing the word, etc. but then he does not always make use of these for conversion, nor does it always follow upon them. Gods exhortations to men to consider and turn unto the Lord, are said to demonstrate that this consideration is a prerequisite to conversion: what exhortations are referred to, I know not; the Scriptures, which speak of men's considering and turning from their evil ways, regard that consideration which is requisite to an outward reformation of life, the fruit of regeneration, and internal conversion, and so not preparatory to it; and, indeed, there is want of spiritual consideration and attention in every man, until God opens his heart, by his powerful grace, as he did Lydia's, to attend to the things which are spoken, or which regard his spiritual and eternal welfare. The parable of the seed sown, instanced in, shows, that the hearts of unregenerate men are unfit and unprepared to receive the word, and therefore it becomes unfruitful to them; and that it is only fruitful where it is received in an honest and good heart, made so by the Spirit and grace of God in regeneration; whence it follows, that regeneration is rather a preparation for the right hearing of the word than the hearing of the word is a preparation for regeneration. Faith, indeed, often comes by hearing, and hearing by the word of God, when that is attended with the Spirit and power; and therefore it is no wonder, that the Devil comes and endeavours to take away the words out of men's hearts, their minds and memories, by diverting them to other objects, lest they should believe and be saved; since he knows not who will believe and be saved, nor to whom the word will be made effectual, and to whom it will not; nay, even where it is attended with ad unfrustrable assistance, he will endeavour to hinder men's believing to salvation, though he knows his attempts are in vain; which at once discovers both his folly and his malice.

IV. It is said, that "the opinion (of God, working upon men and converting them in a way of moral suasion) tendeth much more to the glory of God, than doth the contrary opinion:" and it is urged,

1. That the wisdom of God is most glorified by that opinion which supposeth he acts with man in all his precepts, exhortations, invitations, promises and threats, suitably to those faculties he has given." I reply, according to our opinion God does not act unsuitably to the rational powers and faculties he has given, when he clothes his word with omnipotence, makes it the power of God unto salvation and attends it with an unfrustrable operation upon the understanding, will and affections; since no coactive force or violence is offered to them, the understanding is wonderfully enlightened, the will is sweetly drawn, and the affections delightfully engaged and moved, without any injury, yea with an advantage, to these natural faculties; and therefore can be no imputation upon the divine wisdom; nor does our opinion suppose, that God "uses and appoints means for the recovery of mankind, which he knows cannot in the least degree be serviceable to that end;" but on the contrary, that whatever means he uses and appoints, he makes them powerful and effectual to the ends and purposes for which he appoints and uses them, and does not leave them to the uncertain, precarious, and impotent will of man, so that our opinion is so far from impeaching and depreciating the wisdom of God, that it magnifies and exalts it; nor, according to our hypothesis, as is suggested, might he as well send ministers to preach to stones, and persuade them to be converted into men, because his omnipotency can produce such a change in them. There is no doubt, but that God could convert stones into men, and make them his children; but he has no where signified that he would do this upon men's preaching to them; whereas he has not only signified it as his will, that the gospel should be preached to every creature, but that it shall be the power of God, in the conversion of many souls, both among Jews and Gentiles; wherefore there is not the same reason for sending his ministers, and for their preaching to the one as to the other, though equal power is necessary for the conversion of the one as of the other. Not that unregenerate men are altogether like stocks and stones; for though they cannot contribute anything to their regeneration or new birth, yet they are capable subjects of having the grace of God implanted in them, which stocks and stones are not; but nevertheless, if God did not make bare his holy arm, and exert his mighty power in the conversion of sinners, ministers would preach with as much success to stones as to men; and consequently the wisdom of God, according to our scheme, is greatly displayed, in accompanying the word preached with a divine energy, and an unfrustrable operation; so that all his gracious designs towards his people are effectually answered, and not leaving, it to the bare force of moral suasion.

2. It is observed, that "whereas according to our doctrine (of moral suasion) the truth and faithfulness of God, and the sincerity of his dealings with men is unquestionable; according to the other doctrine (of efficacious grace) God seems to promise pardon and salvation to all men sincerely, and yet in truth, intends it only to some few persons whom he designs to convert by an irresistible power." To which may be replied, that whenever God promises, he not only seems to promise sincerely, but he really does promise sincerely, and is as good as his word; he will never suffer his truth and faithfulness to fail. But then, according to the doctrine of efficacious and irresistible grace in conversion, God neither seems to promise, nor has he promised pardon and salvation to all men: his promise in Christ runs thus, To him give all the prophets witness, that through his name, whosoever believeth in him, shall receive remission of sins; and to all these is it given by Christ, who is exalted to be a Prince and a Saviour, for to give repentance, and forgiveness of sins, not to all men, but to Israel; how then does this doctrine detract from the sincerity, truth, and faithfulness of God ? And, on the other hand, according to the contrary doctrine of moral suasion, these things do not appear so unquestionable as is pretended; for if God has promised to any of the sons of men, to put his law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts, to give them new hearts and new spirits, to take away the stony heart out of their flesh, and give them hearts of flesh, and to put his spirit within them, to cause them to walk in his statutes and keep his judgments, and do them, and yet leaves all this to be brought about by the mere force of moral suasion, and power of man's free will, and does not exert that powerful and unfrustrable grace without which he knows none of these things can be done; where is his sincerity, truth, and faithfulness in his promises ?

3. It is also said, that ''whereas the justice of God shines evidently from the doctrine which asserts that God cloth only punish men for willful sins, which it was in their power to avoid; it never can be glorified by that doctrine which supposes, that he punisheth men with the extremest and most lasting torments, for not accepting those offers of grace tendered by the gospel, which it was not possible for them to comply with or embrace, without that farther grace which he purposed absolutely to deny them.'' I reply, for my own part, I do not think that any man will be punished for not accepting offered grace, he could not comply with or embrace, for want of further grace, because I do not believe that grace was ever offered to them; but then they will be punished for their willful contempt and neglect of the gospel preached unto them; and for their manifold transgressions of the righteous law of God, made known unto them; and surely this doctrine can never be derogatory to the glory of God's justice.

4. It is asked, "Is it not for God's glory, that the praise of what good we do should be ascribed to his grace, and the shame of our evil doings should rest upon ourselves ? But what reason can there be for this, unless we suppose it possible for the wicked to have been converted, or have ceased to do evil ?" And let me ask, in my turn, which doctrine, that of free will or of free grace, does most ascribe the praise of either what good is in us, or is done by us, to the glory of God's grace ? Not the former, surely, but the latter, and if so, the glory of God's grace is more magnified by the one than by the other. And as this doctrine ascribes the praise of all the good that is done by men to the efficacious grace of God, which makes for his glory; so it leaves the shame of evil doings to rest upon the authors of them, who are not partakers of the grace of God; even though it is not in their power to convert themselves, or cease to do evil; since this is owing to the vitiosity and corruption of their nature, of which they have reason to be ashamed; from whence all their evil doings spring, which being voluntarily committed, are their faults, though conversion­work transcends all the power of man to perform. Our author thinks, that if this be the case, their evil actions may be their misfortunes; but how they should be their faults, it is not easy to conceive; whereas let conversion be by moral suasion, or by omnipotent power, it makes no alteration in the nature of evil actions, they are voluntary transgressions of God's law, and as such, faults in men, as well as misfortunes to them, whether men are turned from them to God by the force of moral suasion, and the power of man's free will, or by the mighty power of God's grace.

I now proceed to mention some arguments in favour of efficacious and irresistible grace in conversion, and consider the exceptions to them. And,

I. If the grace by which we are converted, does not work with that efficacy, that it cannot but obtain the effect, but the co­operation of free­will is required, then grace is not the beginning of every good thing, but the free will of man, yea, the efficacy of grace is made to depend upon the will of man; and so the good work of faith and conversion, from whence all other good things spring, must be ascribed rather to the will of man, than to the grace of God; whereas every good and every perfect gift comes from above, from the grace of God, as the spring and source of it, and not from below, as it must, if it comes from the will of man; for to say, as is said, that when equal grace is conferred on two persons, and the one believes, and the other does not, that the reason is, because the one receives it by the right use of free­will, excited by the grace of God, and the other rejects it by the wicked abuse of free­will, and fresh obstinacy against the grace of God; what is this but to make the free will of man the chief cause of believing when nothing is more certain than that faith is the sole gift of God, and the operation of his power.

II. If God, in the conversion of man, does not make use of that efficacious operation which determines man, but it is in his power to embrace or refuse the grace of God, or to do any thing towards his conversion, which another neglecting to do, is not converted, then he makes himself to differ, and has matter and occasion of boasting. The exceptions to this argument have been considered in the second part of this performance, whither the reader is referred.

III. If such determining grace, or such a powerful operation of it, is not requisite to men's conversion, and is not put forth in it, then God does not bestow any more singular special grace on them who are converted, than he does on them who are not converted; and so no more grace was given to Peter than to Judas, to Paul than to Pilate; whence it follows, that he that believes has no more reason to give thanks to God, than he that does not believe. In the reply to this, it is owned, that God, in the ordinary vocation of men, does not give to one more grace than to another, or any special singular grace which he denies to another; but gives equal and sufficient grace to all to obey the call, provided by more grace is meant the species of grace, but not the same degree. But if the same degree of grace is not given to one as to another, how does it appear that God gives equal grace to all, and what is sufficient for them to obey the divine call ? or that the greater degree of grace is not attended with such an efficacious operation and irresistible power pleaded for by us ? Moreover, it is said to be no absurdity, that he who does not believe has equal reason to give thanks to God as he who does believe, if we respect the first offer of grace. But surely, according to this writer's own scheme it can never be thought that he, who, though he has the same kind of grace bestowed upon him, yet not the same degree of grace, and so does not operate in the same way, nor produce the same effect in him as it does in others, can ever have the same reason to give thanks to God, as such have who have a greater degree of it, and in whom it is productive of true faith and real conversion.

IV. Such is the method of Divine Providence, that second causes should so depend upon God, in their beings and operations, that they cannot determine themselves to any act; but it is requisite that they be fore­ordained from eternity, and in time be pre­determined by God, not only to the act itself, but to the mode of it. The answer to this is, that if this was admitted, a fatal and an inevitable necessity of all things and events, negative and positive, and of actions, good and bad, would be introduced, and God must be the only cause of all the sins and iniquities committed in the whole world. To which may be replied, that the dependence of second causes upon God, in their beings and operations, and the preordination and predetermination of them to their acts, do indeed introduce a necessity of the event, that is, that such and such things shall be done, and in the manner appointed by God; but do not introduce a coactive necessity or force on the will of man; neither God's purposes in eternity, nor his predeterminations in time, infringe the liberty of man's will, nor make God the author or cause of any one sin, as appears from the instances of the selling of Joseph by his brethren, and the crucifixion of Christ by the Jews.

V. The opinion which makes the grace of God resistible, leaves it uncertain whether any one will be converted by it or not; for, if God did not work with an irresistible operation of grace upon the hearts of men in conversion, it was possible that not one soul would have been converted. To this it is answered, "that it leaves it as uncertain, whether any one will be converted or not." I reply; since this irresistible grace finds all men unconverted, and considering the irresistibility of it, and the state and condition of man, that he is dead in sin, in enmity against God, his heart hard, and his will obstinate and perverse, it is not so uncertain whether any one will be left by it unconverted, as that whether any one will be converted by it. It is moreover said, that "a man may, notwithstanding this opinion, be infallibly certain, otherwise, that many will be found true converts at the last, because he knows that many have already died in the fear of God, and in the faith of Christ, and because the holy Scriptures do assure us, that some shall arise to everlasting life, and receive the end of their faith in the salvation of their souls." This is very true, and yet, according to this opinion, it was possible that not one of these might have been converted, because they might have resisted the grace of God, and made it of none effect. Besides, such who will be found true converts at last, who die in the fear of God, and in the faith of Christ, who shall arise again to everlasting life, and receive the end of their faith, the salvation of their souls, are such who are regenerated and converted by the efficacious and irresistible grace of God, and are kept by the power of God, through faith unto salvation. It is further observed, that "to say that it is barely possible, in the nature of the thing, that none may be converted, hath no inconvenience in it, because it tends not to hinder any man's endeavours after his conversion." I reply; supposing it does not, yet it has these inconveniences in it, that if it is possible that none may be converted, then it is possible that God's choice of persons to eternal life may be made void, and all his counsels and purposes concerning his elect frustrated. It is possible, that the purchase and redemption by Christ may become of no effect, and he not see the travail of his soul, and be satisfied, though it is promised to him; and it is possible, that the Spirit and grace of God may have none of the glory which arises from the conversion of a sinner, as well as that the salvation of every man must be very precarious and uncertain.