William Bradford Institute
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Early Settlement of America

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Of Predestination (II)


by Hugh Binning


Lecture 16 on Christian Doctrine

"What if God, willing to show his wrath, and to make his power known, endured
with much long-suffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction." Rom.
9:22.

"In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to
the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will." --
Eph. 1:11.

We are now upon a high subject; high indeed for an eminent apostle, much more
above our reach. The very consideration of God's infinite wisdom might alone
suffice to restrain our limited thoughts, and serve to sober our minds with the
challenge of our own ignorance and darkness; yet the vain and wicked mind of man
will needs quarrel with God, and enter the lists of disputation with him, about
his righteousness and wisdom in the counsel of election and reprobation: 'But, O
man, who art thou that repliest against God,' or disputest? ver. 20. This is a
thing not to be disputed, but believed; and if ye will believe no more than ye
can comprehend by sense or reason, then ye give his majesty no more credit than
to weak mortal man. Whatever secret thoughts do rise up in thy heart when thou
hearest of God's foreordaining men to eternal life, without previous foresight
or consideration of their doings, and preparing men to eternal wrath, for the
praise of his justice, without previous consideration of their deservings, and
passing a definitive sentence upon the end of all men, before they do either
good or evil; whenever any secret surmises rise in thy heart against this, learn
to answer thus; enter not the lists of disputation with corrupt reason, but put
in this bridle of the fear of God's greatness, and the consciousness of thy own
baseness, and labour to restrain thy undaunted and wild mind by it. Ponder that
well, who thou art who disputest; who God is, against whom thou disputest and
if thou have spoken once, thou wilt speak no more what thou art, who is as
clay formed out of nothing; what he is, who is the former; and hath not the
potter power over the clay? Consider but how great wickedness it is so much as
to question him, or ask an account of his matters. After you have found his will
to be the cause of all things, then to inquire farther into a cause of his will,
which is alone the self-rule of righteousness, is to seek something above his
will, and to reduce his majesty into the order of creatures. It is most
abominable usurpation and sacrilege, for it both robs him of his royal
prerogative, and instates the base footstool into his throne; but know, that
certainly God will overcome when he is judged, Psal. 50:6. If thou judge him, he
will condemn thee; if thou assail his absolute and holy decrees, he will hold
thee fast bound by them to thy condemnation; he needs no other defence but to
call out thy own conscience against thee, and bind thee over to destruction.
Therefore, as one saith well, "Let the rashness of men be restrained from
seeking that which is not, lest peradventure they find that which is." Seek not
a reason of his purposes, lest peradventure thou find thy own death and
damnation infolded in them.

Paul mentions two objections of carnal and fleshly wisdom against this doctrine
of election and reprobation, which indeed contain the sum of all that is vented
and invented even to this day, to defile the spotless truth of God. All the
whisperings of men tend to one of these two, either to justify themselves, or
to accuse God of unrighteousness; and shall any do it and be guiltless? I
confess, some oppose this doctrine, not so much out of an intention of accusing
God, as out of a preposterous and ignorant zeal for God; even as Job's friends
did speak much for God. Nay, but it was not well spoken, they did but speak
wickedly for him. Some speak much to the defence of his righteousness and
holiness, and, under pretence of that plea, make it inconsistent with these to
fore-ordain to life or death without the foresight of their carriage; but shall
they speak wickedly for God, or will he accept their person? He who looks into
the secrets of the heart, knows the source and foundation of such defences and
apologies for his holiness to be partly self-love, partly narrow and limited
thoughts of him, drawing him down to the determinations of his own greatest
enemy, carnal reason. Since men will ascribe to him no righteousness, but such
an one of their own shaping, and conformed to their own model, do they not
indeed rob him of his holiness and righteousness?

I find two or three objections which may be reduced to this head. First, it
seems unrighteousness with God, to predestinate men to eternal death, without
their own evil deserving, or any forethought of it, that before any man had a
being, God should have been in his counsel fitting so many to destruction. Is it
not a strange mocking of the creatures, to punish them for that sin and
corruption, unto which by his eternal counsel they were fore-ordained? This is
even that which Paul objects to himself, 'Is there unrighteousness with God?' Is
it not unrighteousness to hate Esau before he deserves it? Is he not
unrighteous, to adjudge him to death before he do evil? ver. 14. Let Paul answer
for us, 'God forbid!' Why, there needs no more answer, but all thoughts or words
which may in the least reflect upon his holiness are abomination. Though we
could not tell how it is righteous and holy with him to do it, yet this we must
hold, that it is. It is his own property to comprehend the reason of his
counsels; it is our duty to believe what he reveals of them, without farther
inquiry. He tells us, that thus it is clearly in this chapter; this far then we
must believe. He tells us not how it is; then farther we should not desire to
learn. God, in keeping silence of that, may put us to silence, and make us
conceive that there is a depth to be admired, not sounded. Yet he goeth a little
farther, and indeed as high as can be, to God's will 'He hath mercy on whom he
will, and whom he will he hardeneth.' Now, further he cannot go, for there is
nothing above this. We may descend from this, but we cannot ascend, or rise
above it. But is this any answer to the argument? A sophister could press it
further, and take advantage from that very ground What! Is not this to
establish a mere tyranny in the Lord; that he doeth all things of mere will and
pleasure, distributes rewards and punishments without previous consideration of
men's carriage? But here we must stand, and go no farther than the scriptures
walk with us. Whatever reasons or causes may be assigned, yet certainly we must
at length come up hither. All things are, because he so willed; and why willed
we should not ask a reason, because his will is supreme reason, and the very
self-rule of all righteousness. Therefore if we once know his will, we should
presently conclude that it is most righteous and holy. If that evasion of the
foreknowledge of men's sins and impenitency had been found solid, certainly Paul
would have answered so, and not have had his refuge to the absolute will and
pleasure of God, which seem to perplex it more. But he knew well that there
could nothing of that kind, whether good or evil, either actually be without his
will or be to come without the determination of the same will, and so could not
be foreseen without the counsel of his will upon it; and therefore it had been
but a poor shift to have refuge to that starting-hole of foreknowledge, out of
which he must presently flee to the will and pleasure of God, and so he betakes
him straightway to that he must hold at, and opposes that will to man's doings.
'It is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth
mercy.' If he had meant only that Jacob and Esau had actually done neither good
or evil, he needed not return to the sanctuary of God's will, for still it might
be said, it is of him that runs and wills and not of God's will as the first
original; because their good and evil foreseen did move him to such love and
hatred. It is all alike of works of men, whether these works be present or to
come: therefore I would advise every one of you, whatever ye conceive of his
judgment or mercy, if he have showed mercy to you, O then rest not in thyself,
but arise and ascend till thou come to the height of his eternal free purpose!
And if thou conceive thy sin, and misery, and judgment, thou mayest go up also
to his holy counsels, for the glory of his name, and silence thyself with them.
But it shall be most expedient for thee in the thought of thy miseries, to
return always within, and search the corruption of thy nature, which may alone
make thee hateful enough to God. If thou search thy own conscience, it will stop
thy mouth, and make thee guilty before God. Let not the thought of his eternal
counsels diminish the conviction of thy guilt, or the hatred of thyself for sin
and corruption; but dwell more constantly upon this, because thou art called and
commanded so to do. One thing remains fixed, though he hath fore-ordained man
to death, yet none shall be damned till his conscience be forced to say, that he
is worthy of it a thousand times.

There is another whispering and suggestion of the wicked hearts of men against
the predestination of God, which insinuates that God is an accepter of persons,
and so accuses him of partial and unrighteous dealing, because he deals not
equally with all men. Do ye not say this within yourselves If he find all
guilty, why does he not punish all? Why does he spare some? And if ye look upon
all men in his first and primitive thought of them, as neither doing good nor
evil, why does he not have mercy on all? But is thine eye evil because he is
good? May he not do with his own as he pleases? Because he is merciful to some
souls, shall men be displeased, and do well to be angry? Or, because he, of his
own free grace, extends it, shall he be bound by a rule to do so with all? Is
not he both just and merciful, and is it not meet that both be showed forth? If
he punish thee, thou canst not complain, for thou deservest it; if he show
mercy, why should any quarrel, for it is free and undeserved grace. By saving
some, he shows his grace; by destroying others, he shows what all deserve. God
is so far from being an accepter of persons according to their qualifications
and conditions, that he finds nothing in any creature to cast the balance of his
choice. If he did choose men for their works' sake, or outward privileges, and
refuse others for the want of these, then it might be charged on him; but he
rather goes over all these, nay, he finds none of these. In his first view of
men he beholds them all alike, and nothing to determine his mind to one more
than another, so that his choice proceedeth wholly from within his own breast
'I will have mercy on whom I will.'

But then, thirdly, Our hearts object against the righteousness of God; that this
fatal chain of predestination overturns all exhortations and persuasions to
godliness, all care and diligence in well-doing. For thus do many profane souls
conceive If he be in one mind, who can turn him? Then, what need I pray, since
he has already determined what shall be, and what shall become of me? His
purpose will take effect whether I pray or pray not; my prayer will not make him
change his mind; and if it be in his mind he will do it; if he hath appointed to
save us, saved we shall be, live as we desire; if he hath appointed us to death,
die we must, live as we can. Therefore men, in this desperate estate, throw
themselves headlong into all manner of iniquity, and that with quietness and
peace. Thus do many souls perish upon the stumbling-stone laid in Zion, and
wrest the truths and counsels of God to their own destruction, even quite
contrary to their true intent and meaning. Paul, (Eph. 1:4.) speaks another
language 'He hath chosen us in him, that we should be holy and without
blame.' His eternal counsel of life is so far from loosing the reins to men's
lusts, that it is the only certain foundation of holiness; it is the very spring
and fountain from whence our sanctification flows by an infallible course. This
chain of God's counsels concerning us, hath also linked together the end and the
means, glory and grace, happiness and holiness, that there is no
destroying of them. Without holiness it is impossible to see God; so that those
who expect the one without any desire of, and endeavour after the other, they
are upon a vain attempt to loose the links of this eternal chain. It is the only
eternal choosing love of God, which separated so many souls from the common
misery of men. It is that only which in time doth appear, and rise as it were
from under ground, in the streams or fruits of sanctification. And if the
ordinance of life stand, so shall the ordinance of fruits, John 15:16. Eph.
2:10. If he hath appointed thee to life, it is certain he has also ordained thee
to fruits, and chosen thee to be holy; so that whatever soul casts by the study
of this, there is too gross a brand of perdition upon its forehead. It is true,
all is already determined with him, and he is incapable of any change, or
'shadow of turning.' Nothing then wants, but he is in one mind about it, and thy
prayer cannot turn him. Yet a godly soul will pray with more confidence, because
it knows that as he hath determined upon all its wants and receipts, so he hath
appointed this to be the very way of obtaining what it wants. This is the way of
familiarity and grace. He takes with his own to make them call; and he performs
his purpose in answer to their cry. But suppose there were nothing to be
expected by prayer, yet I say, that is not the thing thou shouldst look to, but
what is required of thee, as thy duty, to do that simply out of regard to his
majesty, though thou shouldst never profit by it. This is true obedience, to
serve him for his own pleasure, though we had no expectation of advantage by it.
Certainly he doth not require thy supplications for this end, to move him, and
incline his affections toward thee, but rather as a testimony of thy homage and
subjection to him; therefore, though they cannot make him of another mind than
he is, or hasten performance before his purposed time so that in reality they
have no influence upon him yet in praying, and praying diligently, thou
declarest thy obligation to him, and respect to his majesty, which is all thou
hast to look to, committing the event solely to his good pleasure.

The second objection Paul mentions, tends to justify men. 'Why then doth he yet
find fault? For who hath resisted his will?' Since by his will he hath chained
us with an inevitable necessity to sin, what can we do? Men cannot wrestle with
him; why then doth he condemn and accuse them? 'But who art thou, O man, who
disputest against God?' As if Paul had said, thou art a man, and so I am, why
then lookest thou for an answer from me? Let us rather both consider whom we
speak of, whom thou accusest, and whom I defend. It is God; what art thou then
to charge him, or what am I so to clear him? Believing ignorance is better than
presumptuous knowledge, especially in those forbidden secrets in which it is
more concerning to be ignorant with faith and admiration, than to know with
presumption. Dispute thou, O man, I will wonder; reply thou, I will believe!
Doth it become thee, the clay, to speak so to thy Maker, 'Why hast thou made me
thus?' Let the consideration of the absolute right and dominion of God over us,
more than any creature hath over another, yea, or over themselves, let that
restrain us, and keep us within bounds. He may do with us what he pleaseth, for
his own honour and praise; but it is his will that we should leave all the blame
to ourselves, and rather behold the evident cause of our destruction in our sin,
which is nearer us, than to search into a secret and incomprehensible cause in
God's counsel.

 

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