William Bradford Institute
for Study of the
Early Settlement of America

John Cotton, 1584-1652

The son of a prosperous lawyer in Derbyshire, Cotton entered Trinity
College, Cambridge when he was thirteen and received his B.A. in 1603. He
moved to Emmanuel College, Cambridge and received an M.A. in 1606. He was
chosen fellow and head lecturer of the College, was ordained in 1610 and
became vicar of St. Botolph's, in Boston, Lincolnshire, in 1612, receiving
a degree of Bachelor of Divinity in 1613. For twenty years he gained a
reputation as a Puritan preacher and theologian. For some time powerful
and sympathetic people protected him from the anti-Puritan policies of
Archbishop Laud. Cotton preached the farewell sermon to John Winthrop's
fleet in 1630; in 1633 he was at last forced to resign because he would
not conform to Lauds policy for the Church of England. He sailed to New
England on the same ship with Thomas Hooker, the only other minister in
New England who could approach him in reputation and learning. He was
immediately chosen teacher of the Boston church. Though coming close to
being ruined during the Anne Hutchinson controversy, he recovered himself
in time, and remained the dominating figure in the councils of the New
England clergy. His many writings on church polity were looked upon both
in New England and in England as the standard expositions of the
Congregational system, and his more general sermons and writings set the
model for New England Puritan theology.

John Cotton: A Treatise of the Covenant of Grace

. . . It is the spirit . . . that beareth witness unto all things . . .
that are needful for us to know in our times. The annointing teacheth you:
all things: the comforter shall teach you all things. Great is the power
of the spirit to beget and encrease [sic] faith. By the word of God and by
the works of his providence, he causeth the soul to trust in God, and to
say, He that hath delivered me out of six troubles, will not he deliver me
out of the seventh? Otherwise if the spirit do not set in, though
judgment be convinced, yet the heart is not enlarged to believe. David
could not gainsay Nathan when he told him from the Lord that God had put
away hit sin, he should not die, yet still he prayed for mercy, Psalms
51:1, and for establishment with God's free spirit.' Make me to hear the
voice of joy and gladness. [Nathan prophesies that David, who has married
the widow of a slain Hittite, will be spared but first his child will die
in recompense for his father's sin (2 Samuel 12:13] Why? Had he not heard
it already? It was a most gracious word that Nathan spake; true, but he is
not yet clear in it. It is that Holy Ghost Ghost; that must make him to
hear the voice of joy and gladness. Otherwise, though a man hath much
experience of God's goodness to him, and sits and talks of the wonderful
things that God hath done for him, to the warming of the hearts of all
that hear him; yet the soul cannot reach that abundant satisfaction which
he doth desire, till at length the Lord comes in some ordinance of his,
and beareth witness freely of love bestowed upon us; and such a testimony
will marvelously settle and establish any soul in; the world. So that it
is the spirit that beareth witness unto faith, and nothing can do it but
the spirit only; and yet if the spirit should breathe out of the word, it
were but a delusion . . . and therefore the Lord couples his word and his
spirit together . . .

Thus the spirit of God in the word is mighty to begin, and mighty to carry
[to] an end spiritual work in the soul. Now the ordinary manner of the
revelation of the spirit is, if he reveal God's free justification of us,
it is by revealing his free grace in a promise not made to works, no not
to faith itself, but rather as a thing to be created by the word of a free
promise unto sanctification. Indeed he doth bear witness in any promise;
as, if the question be about Abrahams sanctification, how the LLord did
reveal it? We may see, Genesis 12.: 22, By this 1know that thou fearest
me. Seeing that thou has withheld thy son, thine only son from me.
[Abrahams obedience in preparing to sacrifice Isaac.] But for his
justification, the Lord had revealed that in another promise, Genesis
15:5-6, wherein God brought him forth and bids him, Look now towards
heaven, and tell the stars, if thou be able to number them. And he said
unto him, so shall thy seed be, and among them he shows him that seed,
that shall be a blessing unto all nations. This is a thing beyond his
capacity, but this he believed, and it was counted unto him for
righteousness. Now in this the Lord reveals nothing but his free grace,
without any respect unto any goodness in Abraham: faith was in him before,
and had put forth itself; by faith when he was called, he went out, not
knowing whither he went, Hebrews 11:8 . . . For it is nothing that God
seeth in Abraham, for which he doth reveal his justification to him; but
this he doth freely of his grace and so Abraham receives it, Romans 4:5‑6,
etc. . . . So it is free blessedness that the Lord reveals unto the soul,
and lest you should think that these things were peculiar to Abraham and
David etc., he tells us (verse 23, 24) that it was not written for his
sake alone, that it was imputed to him, but for us also, etc. As it was
with the father of the faithful, so it is also with all believers, which
are his children: that as he considered not his own body that was dead,
nor the deadness of Sarah's womb, so neither should we consider this is
or that in our bodies, or soul. For if we were thus and thus fitted for
justification, then the reward would be of works, and so a debt unto us:
now though works be there, when justification is again and again
revealed, yet it comes not into sight, for a double reason.

Reason 1: First, because when the Lord appears as justifying the soul, he
sits upon a throne of justice, and a throne of grace, together, not
accepting any righteousness but that which is complete and adequate . . .
It is not justice for God to pronounce a man just upon any other
righteousness, besides the righteousness of his son, for if God should
mark what we have done, no flesh living should be justified in his
sight, Psalms 143:2. But through the righteousness of Christ, which is
perfect, the Lord justifies every one that believeth in him. And that act
of faith whereby a man taketh hold on Christ and receiveth Christ, that
is it which quieteth the soul. For it is not meet that the Lord should
justify any simple work of mine: for if the Lord should justify me so,
mine own clothes would defile me,[Job 9:31] and if I should come before
him with any work, which he hath wrought in me, to be accepted for it,
this would be preposterous and out of place. For he will have a full
righteousness to accept me, before he will pronounce me righteous, and
therefore I am first called to his son; for as there is no more required
to make me a sinful man, but that I be found in Adam, so there is no more
required to my justification but that I should have union with the second

Reason 2. Secondly, as the Lord doth sit upon a throne of justice when he
justifies a soul, so he doth also upon a throne of grace . . . and
therefore you shall find it to be true that if the Lord be to declare his
acceptance of the sanctification of his people, he will not do it in
respect of the worth of their works, but according to the grace of his
promise . . . [Job 9:31]

It is usual with the faithful, when the Lord pronounceth any mercy to
them, they see no reason in themselves why the Lord should vouchsafe it.
As you see when the light of the sun shineth upon a candle, it damps the
light thereof, so it is in this case; when the riches of God's mercy
shineth upon the soul, he is not so taken up in the consideration of his
own works and holiness, because his heart is lifted up higher in the
consideration of the grace of God . . .

Use 1. Now for the use of this: let me apply it to teach Christians , not
to be afraid of the word revelation. You have heard of many that have
attended to revelations, that have been deceived. It is true; for the
devil himself will transform himself into an angel of light: he will be
foisting in delusions, yea, many times when the soul waiteth for the
revelation of God's mercy, the devil will be apt to foist in such
revelations, from whence many delusions may grow. But yet on the other
side, let not men be afraid, and say that we have no revelation but the
word; for I do believe, and dare confidently affirm, that if there were no
revelation but word, there would be no spiritual grace revealed to the
soul. For it is more than the letter of the word that is required to it
--- ‑not that I look for any other matter besides the word. But there is
need of greater light than the word of itself is able to give; for it is
not all the promises in scripture that have at any time wrought any
gracious change in any soul, or are able to beget the God's elect . True
it is indeed, whether the father, son, or spirit reveal anything , it is
in and according to the word, but without the work of the spirit there is
no faith begotten by any promise. The word of God, and all his works, may
beget you some knowledge, if you be not mistaken in them,
but to beget the faith of God's elect, that may be able to stand against
all the powers of darkness, and to crush all the temptations of
that wicked one, it is not all the works of God, nor all the word of God,
of itself, that is able to beget such faith. If there he any, it is but an
historical faith, a dead faith that is not able to bring the soul nearer
to God.

I beseech you therefore consider of it, as a mystery of God indeed, yet
marvelous plain in scripture, as I conceive: that neither the word of
grace, nor all the works of grace are able to clear up the grace of God
unto the soul. It is the spirit of God that must do it; he must reveal
the grace of God if ever we see it; otherwise it is not possible that we
should believe. For though we should attain unto fullness of knowledge, we
shall not attain unto fullness of faith. As for our works in
justification, the Lord will dash them to pieces and cast them out of his
sight: and though faith comes by hearing, yet it is the spirit in the word
that maketh the New Testament a lively letter . . .


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