Daniel Whitby, “Arguments against Irresistible Grace (Part 2)”

, posted by Godismyjudge

By Daniel Whitby – part of Discourses on the 5 Points
Editor Note: Archaic spellings and words have been updated, sentences broken down into shorter sentences, and links to Scripture references inserted. – Godismyjudge

To proceed now to the arguments which evidently seem to confute this doctrine:

II. ARGUMENT ONE – Sufficient Grace

And (1.) this is evident from those expressions of the holy scripture, which intimate that God had done what was sufficient, and all that reasonably could be expected from Him in order to the reformation of those persons who were not reformed; ‘for what could have been done more, (HEBREW, what was there more to do?) for my vineyard, which I have not done in it? Wherefore then when I looked (or, expected,) that it should have brought forth grapes, brought it forth wild grapes? (Isaiah 5:4)

For does not this enquiry make it evident, that the means which God had used to make this vineyard bring forth good grapes were both intended for that end, and were sufficient, (though not effectual, through her perverseness,) to produce in her those fruits which he expected from her? If an unfrustrable operation on her were absolutely necessary to that end, must he not in vain have used all other means here mentioned to produce it, while that was not vouchsafed? Admit this supposition, and it demonstrably follows that this vineyard had not grace sufficient to answer her Lord’s expectations; and if so, must He not unreasonably complain that she brought forth wild grapes, and more unreasonably expect good grapes, and chide his vineyard for want of them, and most unreasonably punish her for not doing that which he would not give her grace sufficient to perform, and which could never be performed by her without grace sufficient?

ARGUMENT TWO – God Desires Obedience

Of this we shall be more convinced, if we consider with what vehemence, and in what pathetic expressions God desires the obedience and reformation of his people. Thus when the Jews said to Moses, ‘speak thou to us all that the Lord shall speak to thee, and we will hear it and do it;’ (Deuteronomy 5:27-29), God answers, ‘they have well said all that they have spoken; (mi jitten) tis deoei. Oh that there were such an heart in them that they would fear me and keep all my commandments -always!’ Can it rationally be imagined that he himself, who so passionately desires they might have, and thus enquires who will give them this heart, should himself withhold from them what was absolutely requisite that they might have it? Could he approve their willingness to hear and do his commandments, and yet himself deny them grace or strength sufficient to perform them?

i “Who will give that there may be in them such an heart?” says the bishop of Ely, “an expression of the most earnest desire; but withal signifies that if what he had done for them would not move them to fear and obey him, it was not possible to persuade them to it. Not but he could miraculously work upon them (by an irresistible or unfrustrable operation) says Maimonides and change their hearts, if he pleased, as he miraculously changed the nature of other things; but if this were God’s will to deal with them after this fashion, there would have been no need to send a prophet to them, or to publish laws full of precepts and promises, rewards and punishments, by which, says He, God wrought upon their hearts, and not by his absolute omnipotence.”

Again, can it enter into the heart of man to conceive this, — God was not so desirous of their reformation and obedience as to do all that was requisite on His part to procure it, and so to give them means sufficient for the performance of their duty, when after all His unsuccessful labors that it might be so, he breaks forth into such ardent wishes, ‘O that my people had hearkened to me, and Israel had walked in my ways! Even that Israel whom, for rejecting me, I have now given up to her own heart’s lusts; Oh that thou had hearkened to my commandments, says God to that obstinate people, whose neck was an iron sinew, and their brow brass,'(Isaiah 48:4, 18)

Now can these expressions come from one who had from all eternity decreed their reprobation, and consequently the denial of means sufficient to enable them to do what he thus wishes they had done?

Can there be any doubt of the sincerity or ardency of Christ’s desire of the welfare and salvation of the Jews when his eyes first wept over Jerusalem, arid then his mouth utters these words, ‘Happy hadst thou been hadst thou known in this thy day the things belonging to thy peace; but now they are hid from thine eyes,’ they are so now, therefore they were not always so. For Christ here plainly takes it for granted that the people of Jerusalem in the day of their visitation by the Messiah, might have savingly known the things belonging to their peace; since otherwise,

I know not how our Savior’s tears could be looked on as tears of charity and true compassion. And either his assertion, that they might have been happy, would have been contrary to truth; or his trouble, that they had not known the things belonging to their peace, must have been trouble contrary to the decree of his Father; both which are palpably absurd. And seeing the will of Christ was always the same with the will of the Father, it follows also that God the Father had the same charitable affection to them, and so had laid no bar against their happiness by a decree of preterition, or been wanting in any thing on his part requisite towards their everlasting welfare; and then it must be certain that an unfrustrable operation being not vouchsafed to convert them, it was not necessary to that end.

IV. ARGUMENT THREE – Commands and Exhortations in Vain

If conversion be wrought only by the unfrustrable operation of God, and man is purely passive in it, vain are,

First, all the commands and exhortations directed to wicked men ‘to turn from their evil ways, to put away the evil of their doings, to cease to do evil, and to learn to do well, to wash and make themselves clean,(Isaiah 1:16)’ to circumcise their hearts, and be no more stiff-necked,(Deuteronomy 10:16) to circumcise themselves to the Lord, and take away the foreskins of their hearts, to wash their hearts from wickedness that they may be saved,(Jeremiah 4:4, 14) to put off the old man and put on the new (Ephesians 4:22-24) to lay aside all filthiness and superfluity of naughtiness, and to. receive with meekness the ingrafted word.” (James 1:21)

For to suppose that God commands the duty, or imposes that as our duty, under the penalty of everlasting wrath, which he both knows, and, according to this hypothesis, hath declared we never can do without that mighty aid which He neither does nor ever will vouchsafe to the greatest part of those to whom these precepts are directed, — is to require them in vain to do these things, and in effect to declare they are to look upon themselves as inevitably damned, and that even for not doing that which it is no more in their power to do, than to create a world.

To say here that “the end of these commands and exhortations is to declare, not what we can do, or God would have us do, but what we ought to do,” is, (I.) to suppose we ought to do what we cannot do, yea that we ought to do what God would not have us do, which is a manifest contradiction, seeing we only ought to do it, because his will requires it.

(2.) It is in express terms contrary to the tenor of those numerous scriptures which say, He hath commanded men to do his commandments, and given them such precepts that they may keep and do them.

And, (3.) it is repugnant to the plainest reason, for that one end of the precepts, prohibitions, and exhortations contained in God’s law is obedience, is therefore evident because they are there enforced with promises to the obedient, and threatenings to the disobedient; the only end of which is to move us to obedience by the inducements of hope and fear.

Now obedience is one thing, and knowledge another; therefore knowledge is not the only end of God’s precepts and exhortations, and so the only end of them is not to declare to us what we ought to do. Moreover that is to be deemed the principal end of the law and of exhortations grounded on it, without which all other ends of the law, being attained, do not profit, but do rather hurt.

Now thus it is with respect to knowledge of what we do not; ‘for he that knoweth his master’s will and doth it not, shall be beaten with many stripes;”(Luke 12:47) and he that knoweth to do good, and doth it not, to him it is sin ;'(James 4:17) therefore obedience and not knowledge, is the principal end of these things.

Moreover, would not God ‘have all men to obey his commands? Are they not declarations of His will concerning what he would have them do, or leave undone? Would He not have us to comply with his exhortations, and hearken to the voice of his word? Is not obedience to them styled’ “the doing of his will?” Do not all the world conclude that they should do what he commands? Do they not look upon His precepts as a sufficient indication of his will and pleasure?

Are not all men obliged to believe God would have them do what He requires of them? And can they be obliged to believe this if it be not true? Can any person rationally think that an upright God in whom is no hypocrisy or guile, should seriously command that which he is not willing men should do, especially when his commands are so agreeable to his nature, and so beneficial to the souls of men, as the commands of faith, repentance, and obedience are?

The only instance produced to the contrary from God’s command to Abraham, to offer up his only Son, is both impertinent and inconclusive: It is not pertinent, because it is not paralleled to the case in hand.

Had indeed God after these precepts given a contrary command to the sinner not to repent and obey him, as in this case he did to Abraham; had he complained of Abraham, as he does of them, for not obeying his command; had he threatened to and executed his judgments on him, on that account, as he doth on them, then, and then only, would the case have been parallel.

(2.) It is inconclusive; for as precepts of this nature are never made but to private persons, so neither are they made concerning things which have a real goodness and suitableness to reason in them, as the fore-mentioned precepts have; for then they would be no temptations. Add to this that Abraham obeyed upon this very principle, that God would have him do what he commanded, and ceased to continue in and to complete this act, only by virtue of a contrary command; we therefore must, even by this example so much urged, conclude we must repent and obey his precepts till he is pleased to give us a command to the contrary.

Now it being thus evident that obedience is the end of God’s precepts, laws, and exhortations, it is also evident that those precepts which are impossible to be performed, even as impossible as for the dead to raise themselves, are vain and ludicrous, and they are yet more so when they are backed with promises and threats; for where the thing required is impossible, it is as vain to hope or fear, as to think of doing it.

But most of all are those exhortations ludicrous which are grounded on the law, if the matter be utterly impossible; for exhortations carry the appearance of a serious and charitable intention, and some hope of prevailing; whence God so frequently declares he presses them upon his people for their good, and that it may be well with them; but nothing of this nature can really be implied in an exhortation to another to do that which he knows he never can do, and therefore in such cases his exhortations can be nothing better than hypocrisy and mockery.

Secondly, according to this hypothesis, vain also are all the threats denounced in the scripture against them who go on without amendment in their evil ways, and who persist in their impenitency and unbelief, as v.g. that of the Psalmist, ‘The Lord is angry with the wicked; if he turn not, he will sharpen his sword. He has prepared for him the instruments of death:’ (Psalm 7:11-13) — That of the prophet in God’s name, ‘I will destroy my people since they return not from their ways:’ (Jeremiah 15:7) And again, ‘ Behold I frame evil against you, and devise a device against you; return ye therefore from your evil ways, and make your ways and your doings good;'(Jeremiah 18:11) and those of Christ himself, ‘If you repent not, you shall all likewise perish. (Luke 13:3) If you believe not that I am he, you shall die in your sins.’ (John 8:24)

For (1.) either those threats are proper to move the elect to faith, repentance, and obedience: and then, (i.) they may move them so to do, and then an unfrustrable action cannot be necessary to their conversion. Then, (ii.) seeing threats only move by exciting fear of the evil threatened, they may be moved, and God must design to move them, by the fears of perishing and dying in their sins; that is, God must design to move them by a false and an impossible supposition.

Or, (2.) they are proper to move those who are not elected; but this they cannot be, because then they must be moved to endeavor to believe, repent, and turn from the evil of their ways by the hopes of avoiding this death and ruin threatened by so doing; whereas seeing it is the same thing to have God’s decree of preterition past upon them, and to be left inevitably to perish, they must, by virtue of it, be left without hopes that they may not perish.

True it is, that these decrees are secret, and so neither can the elect know certainly they are of that number, nor they who are not elected, that this act of preterition has been past upon them; but yet this alters not the case, seeing upon supposition of such eternal decrees, they must know disjunctively, either that they cannot die in their sins because they are elected; or that they cannot avoid it, because they are not elected.

Thirdly, vain upon this supposition, are the promises of pardon, life, and salvation made to them who do consider and turn from their evil ways, and who repent of their iniquity, as, v.g. ‘wash ye, make ye clean, put away the evil of your doings; then though your sins be as crimson, you shall be white as wool, though they be red like scarlet, ye shall be as snow.’ (Isaiah 1:18) “Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts, and let him turn unto the Lord, and he will have mercy upon him, and to our God, for he will abundantly pardon.” (Isaiah 55:7) O Jerusalem, wash thine heart from wickedness that thou mayst be saved. How long shall vain thoughts lodge within thee? (Jeremiah 4:14) Repent and turn yourselves from all your transgressions, so iniquity shall not be your ruin; for I have no pleasure in the death of him that dieth, saith the Lord God, therefore turn yourselves, and live ye. (Ezekiel 18:30-32) For no promises can be means proper to make a dead man live, or to prevail upon a man to act who must be purely passive.

Nor can I seriously design to induce him by them to do what I know he can never do himself, and which, whenever it is done, must be done by me alone. To promise therefore, and give no strength for the performance; or to promise on an impossible condition, or on a condition which I only can perform, and which I have determined never to enable him to do, is indeed to promise nothing, because it is to promise nothing that I can obtain; and nothing of this nature being ever done by any wise and upright governor. How absurd is it to impute such actions to a God infinite in righteousness and wisdom, and who is doubtless serious, and not delusory, in all his dealings with the sons of men!

When therefore these men say, ” God promises pardon and life seriously even to those who are not elected, but lie under an act of preterition, because He does it upon condition that they believe, repent, and be converted, and will, if they perform them, give this pardon and salvation to them;” this is as if I should say, ” God threatens damnation to his elect seriously and in good earnest, because He threatens it to all, and therefore to them also, if they do not turn to him, if they continue in impenitence and unbelief, or if they persevere not to the end:” Whereas if, notwithstanding, he hath in his word of truth declared concerning them that He has from eternity prepared for then that grace which will unfrustrably produce faith, repentance, and conversion in them, and stands engaged by promise to make them persevere unto the end, no man can rationally conceive He threatens damnation to them seriously, because then He must only do it on a condition which He Himself by His decree and promise hath rendered it impossible for them to be subject to.

So, in like manner, if God doth only promise this pardon and salvation to the non-elect, on a condition which his own act of preterilion, and leaving them under the disability they had contracted by the fall of Adam, hath rendered impossible for them to perform; this being in effect no promise, a promise only made on an impossible condition being equivalent to none at all, how can a God of truth and of sincerity be said to promise to them pardon and salvation seriously and in good earnest, who are by His own act of preterition infallibly and unfrustrably excluded from it?

V. ARGUMENT FOUR – Justice in Punishment

If men are purely passive in the whole work of their conversion, and so are utterly void of all power of believing, living to God, or performing any acceptable obedience to his commands, is it righteous to consign them to eternal misery for their disability to do that which God sees them unable to do when he lays these commands upon them? Is not this to require brick where he affords no straw? Yea, ‘ to require much where nothing is given,’ and then to punish eternally the not-doing that which is so unreasonably required? Yea, is not this equal to an absolute decree to damn them for nothing? It being in effect, and in the necessary event and consequence the same thing to damn then for nothing, and to damn them for not doing what they never could do, or for not abstaining from what they never could avoid.

If God makes laws which we cannot without his assistance observe, and then denies that assistance, He by so doing makes obedience to such men impossible, and what sin is it — not to obey beyond possibility?

If it be said “this disability is their sin,” I answer, then by the definition of St. John, it must be a transgression of some law of God, and then some law of his must be produced requiring fallen man to do, on pain of damnation, without divine assistance, what he knows he can no more do than he can create a world; that is, a law declaring it is his will that they should do what it is his will they never should have power to do, or that it is his will we should exert an act without the power of acting.

(2.) Either this divine law is positive or moral: if it be only positive, then all the heathen world must necessarily be ignorant of it, and therefore not obliged by it, God having given them no positive laws, and so their state must be, as to this particular, much better than that of Christians, they being under no obligation to do anything which they cannot do.

If it be moral, how comes it to pass that all the Heathen world should be not only ignorant of it, but possessed with a contrary principle, impossibe ilium nulla est obligatio, ‘that there can be no obligation to a thing impossible,’ “which is,” says Bishop Saunderson, “a thing self-evident, and needs no proof”: and that ‘there can be no fault in doing that which we cannot avoid, or not doing that which we have no power to do; and that God could not produce or nourish that, which, when it had done its utmost, must fall into eternal misery;’ and that quod omnibus neceste – est id tie miserum ase uni potest. ‘that which is necessary to all, can be the ground of misery to none.’

(3.) Either this a sin is avoidable or it is not; if it be not avoidable, must it not unreasonably be required under this dreadful penalty that men should avoid it? If it be avoidable, then is there no such disability as is pretended in us, for we are not disabled from avoiding that which we have power to avoid.

VI. If it still be said, that “it is just to condemn us for what we are now disabled to perform, because this disability came upon us by a guilt which is truly our own, because it came upon us by the sin of our first parents, in whose loins we then were ;” this miserable refuge, and first-born of absurdities, hath been sufficiently confuted in the state of this question.

It hath been also baffled by many plain and cogent arguments in the discourse concerning the extent of Christ’s death. And because it is the foundation of the doctrine of absolute election and reprobation, and the whole system of these men must fall together with it, I shall here show farther the inconsistency of this imagination, both with the tenor of the holy scripture, and with the principles of reason.

First, this vain imagination seems plainly contrary to the whole tenor of the scripture, and even to ridicule God’s dealings in them with the sons of men. If, as I have largely proved in the state of ‘the question, God deals with lapsed man, suitably to the faculties he still retains, endeavoring to excite him to the performance of his duty by hopes and fears, by promises and threats, by prospect of the advantages he will receive by his obedience, and of the miseries to which he will be subject by his disobedience, requiring him to consider and lay to heart these things, that he may turn from the evil of his ways, and do that which is lawful and right;’ by all these things he manifestly declares he is not under such a disability by reason of the fall of Adam, as renders it impossible for him to be moved by all or any of these induce merits to the performance of his duty.

For then he might as well have used them to persuade a blind man to see, or a cripple to walk, or a new-born babe to speak, or a fool to understand mathematics, they both equally wanting or having lost the power to do what is required of them; and though one man should have lost his sight by whoring, another the use of his feet, a third die use of his reason by drinking; though they may be punished for whoring and drinking, they cannot afterwards be justly punished for not seeing, not walking, or not making use of their reason; this being to punish them for not using that which they have not to use. So in like manner, though if the sin of Adam were properly our own, we might be punished for that sin, yet could we not be justly, punished for not having the ability we had lost by it, that being equally to punish for not using that ability which we have not in use.

Secondly, God plainly seems, by his dispensations with the sons of men in order to their reformation, to declare He does not look upon them as lying under this supposed disability to become better; to hearken to his calls and invitations to return and live; to be drawn to him by the cords of love; to learn wisdom by His rod, or be convinced of their duty to believe, and to obey Him, by His miraculous operations.

For, 1. God represents it as matter of great admiration and astonishment, and an argument of brutish stupidity, that the Jews were not restrained from their rebellions against him by the consideration of his great goodness to them, speaking thus to them by his prophet, ‘Hear, Oh heavens, and give ear, Oh earth, for I have nourished and brought up children, and they have rebelled against me. The ox knows his owner, and the ass his master’s crib, but Israel doth not know, my people does not consider:’ (Isaiah 1:2-3) enquiring thus, ‘Ah foolish people and unwise, do you thus requite the Lord? Is he not the Lord that made you? Hath he not created and established you’? (Deuteronomy 32:6) and saying, ‘they remembered not the multitude of thy mercies, but were disobedient at the sea, even at the Red sea; they forsook the Lord; when he led them in the way, they walked after vanity, (Psalm 106:7) neither said they, Where is the Lord that led us through the wilderness, and brought us out of Egypt into a plentiful country to eat the fruits thereof’ (Jeremiah 2:5-7) Again, ‘this people, says he, has a revolting and rebellious heart, neither say they, Let us now fear the Lord, who gives us the former and the latter rain in its season, and reserveth to us the appointed weeks of harvest.'(Jeremiah 5:23-24) And on the other hand He promises, that in the latter days they shall fear the Lord and His goodness.’ (Hosea 3:5) The apostle also represents it as the effect of their hard and impenitent heart, that they ‘despised the riches of God’s goodness, patience, and long-suffering, and were not led by them to repentance.’ (Romans 2:4)

Now if they lay under an utter inability to be restrained by all this goodness from their rebellions and their disobedience, and from walking after vanity, what matter of admiration and astonishment, what indication of folly and stupidity could it be in them, that they were not induced by it to abstain from that which they were not able to avoid? Or what sign was it of a rebellious and revolting, hard and impenitent heart, that being under this disability to be moved by this goodness to repent and fear him, they did not do it? Surly He who designed these means to their respective ends, and does thus aggravate the sin of them who do not improve them to those ends, did not conceive these all were vain and insufficient inducements without that supernatural aid He was not pleased to vouchsafe to move them to those duties.

2. The scripture is more frequent in representing God’s punishments and chastisements as sufficient to engage men to fear him, and to depart from their iniquity. ‘Thou shalt, says Moses, consider in thy heart, that as a man chastens his son, so the Lord chastens thee; thou shall therefore keep the commandments of the Lord thy God, to walk in his ways, and to fear him’. (Deuteronomy 8:5-6) God himself declares, that ‘by the Spirit of judgment, and of burning he would wash away the filth of the daughter of Zion, and purge out the blood of Jerusalem;’ (Isaiah 4:4) and speaks of it as a thing certain, that ‘when his judgments are upon the earth, the inhabitants of it will learn righteousness, and that in their affliction they will seek him early. (Isaiah 26:9, 59:18-19, Hosea 5:15) And when they had not this effect upon them, he complains grievously against them, saying, ‘this people turns not to him that smites them, neither do they seek the Lord. In vain have I smitten them, they have received no correction;’ (Isaiah 9:13, Jeremiah 2:30) and having mentioned a variety of judgments he had inflicted upon Israel, he still concludes thus, ‘yet have ye not returned to me, saith the Lord;’ and then adds, (verse 12,) ‘therefore will I do thus unto you.’ (Amos 4:6-12)

His prophets also complain thus: ‘O Lord, thou hast stricken them, but they have not grieved; thou hast consumed them, but they refused to receive correction; they have made their faces harder than a rock, they refused to return.’ (Jeremiah 5:3) And again, ‘this is a nation that obeys not the voice of the Lord nor receives correction.’ (Jeremiah 7:28). Yea, when these judgments do not prevail upon them to return to him, he looks upon them as incorrigible, saying to them ‘Why should you be smitten any more, you will revolt more and more (Isaiah 1:5) and are only fit to be punished seven times more. Thus having threatened to ‘set his face against them, and give them up to be slain by their enemies, who would not hearken to him to do all his commandments; he adds, ‘and if you will not yet for all this hearken to me, I will punish you seven times more for your sins. And if you will not be reformed by these things, but will walk contrary to me, then wilt I also walk contrary to you, and will punish you yet seven times’ more for your sins. And if ye still not for all this hearken to me, but will walk contrary to me, I will walk contrary to you in fury.” (Leviticus 26:14-28)

Now seeing all these judgments and chastisements were only moral motives, and all men through the fall of Adam ‘are utterly incapable of being moved by them without that supernatural and unfrustrable operation, which the event shows God was not pleased to vouchsafe to these lapsed persons, why does God himself represent them as means proper and by him designed, and sometimes efficacious, to produce these ends? Why does He speak as if they certainly would do it? Why doth he complain so much against them, and’ denounce such dreadful judgment on them who were not thus reformed by them, seeing these things, without that aid He was not pleased to vouchsafe, were as unable to produce these effects as to make a blind man see, or a deaf man hear? Why is the one more punishable on this account than the other? Why, lastly, does he represent them as incorrigible who were not thus reformed by them, since it was impossible they should be so without that supernatural aid he was not pleased to vouchsafe? Surely these things are demonstrations of the falsehood of this vain opinion.

3. God does continually represent his calls and invitations, and his messages sent to them by his prophets, as sufficient inducements to procure their reformation and repentance, and looks upon them as incorrigible and past all remedy, and worthy of his heaviest judgments, when these things could not engage them to return to him; so we read, (2 Chronicles 36:15-16) ‘he sent to them his messengers, rising up betimes and sending them, because he had compassion on his people, and on his dwelling-place; but they mocked his messengers, despised his word, and misused his His prophets, till the wrath of the Lord came upon them, and there was no remedy’ So Jeremiah 25:4-5, ‘the Lord sent to you his prophets, rising up early and sending them, but you have not hearkened, nor inclined your ear to hear, when they said, Turn ye again everyone from his evil ways.’ Hence God speaks thus of them, Jeremiah 29:18-19, “I will persecute them with the sword, the famine, and the pestilence, and will deliver them to be removed to all the families of the earth, because they hearkened not to my words, when I sent to them by my servants the prophets, rising up early and sending them, but ye would not hear.” See also Jeremiah 7:13-15. Again, “I will bring upon Judah,” saith God “and upon all the inhabitants of Jerusalem all the evil that I have threatened, because I have spoken to them, but they have not heard, I have called unto them, but they have not answered.” (Jeremiah 35:17)

So also Isaiah 65:11, 66:4 Wisdom is also introduced by the preacher crying “in the chief places of concourse, Turn ye at my reproof, (and) I will pour out my Spirit upon you, I will make known my words to you;” (Proverbs 1:23-28) and at last thus concluding, “because I have called, and ye refused, I have stretched out my hand, and no man regarded; but ye have set at nought all my counsel, and would none of my reproof; I also will laugh at your calamity, I will mock when your fear cometh. In a word, all these things seem to be put together in those words of the prophet Ezekiel, ‘because I have purged thee (that is, I have done what was sufficient to have purged thee, by my mercies and judgments, my calls, my threats, my promises, and by my prophets, and what should have purged thee,) and thou were not purged, thou shalt not be purged from thy filthiness any more, till I have caused my fury to rest upon thee’ (Ezekiel 24:13)

Now could that God who sent these messengers to his people, ‘because he had compassion on them,’ have decreed from eternity never to have compassion on them in reference to their eternal interests? Could He see them under an utter disability through the fall of Adam to comply with the requests of his messengers and prophets, and not vouchsafe that aid without which he well knew his messengers and prophets must be sent in vain?

And when, after all that they had said, there was no remedy of this fatal disability afforded, did the good God threaten thus to persecute with sword and famine, and banishment, his own beloved people, for not hearkening to his words, and not turning from their evil ways, when they were no more able so to do than to remove a mountain? Might He not as well have threatened thus the man who by temperance had lost his sight and limbs, because he did not see and walk? Especially if we consider that he contracted this disability by his own personal sin, they only had theirs by the transgression of another, long before they had a being, and so before they could be capable of any personal transgression. To what purpose did wisdom say to them who were thus disabled, “turn you at my reproof?” Or could she, without insulting over the misery of fallen man, thus laugh at the calamity they never could prevent?

Or lastly, could God truly say ‘He would have purged them,’ when he withheld that aid, without which it was impossible they should be purged or threaten that ‘they should be purged no more,’ who never were in a capacity of being purged at all?

4. God throughout the whole book of the law, and our blessed Savior in the gospel, still represent the mighty works done for and before the eyes of, the Jews, as strong and sufficient obligations to believe and obey him. “Ask now of the days of old, did ever people hear the voice of God out of the midst of the fire as you have heard, and live? Or hath God assayed to go and take him a nation out of the midst of another nation, by temptations, by signs, and by wonders, and by a mighty hand, and by a stretched-out arm, and by great terrors, as the Lord did for you in Egypt before your eyes? (Deuteronomy 4:32-34)

“Thou shall keep therefore his statutes and his commandments, which I command ye this day. (Verse 40) And chapter 11:2, you have seen the chastisements of the Lord, his greatness, his mighty hand, and his stretched-out arm, and his miracles, and his acts which he did in the midst of Egypt; your eyes have seen all the great acts of the Lord that he did, therefore shall ye keep all the commandments which I command you this day. (Verse 8) And chapter 29:2-3, Ye have seen all that the Lord did before your eyes in the land of Egypt, the great temptations which thine eyes have seen, the signs and the great miracles; keep therefore the words, of this covenant, and do them.” (Verse 9)

So also our Lord proves the obligation the Jews had to believe in him, because of the mighty works which he had done among them, saying “the works that I do, bear witness of me, that the Father hath sent me; (John 5:36) and ye have not his words abiding in you; for whom he hath sent, ye believe not”. (Verse 38) See also John 8:18, 24. And when the Jews came to him saying, “If thou be the Christ, tell us plainly;” his answer is, (John 10:25, 26) “The works that I do in my Father’s name, bear witness of me; but ye believe not, because ye are not of my sheep; and, verse 37, if I do not the works of my Father, believe me not; and chapter 15:24, if I had not done among them the works which none other man did, they had not had sin; but now have they both seen and hated both me and my Father, and so they have no cloak for their sin.” (Verse 22)

Now if the consideration of this mighty hand of God, and stretched-out arm, was not sufficient to induce them to observe his statutes, why doth he so often say, “therefore thou shall keep my statutes,” that is, why does he use a reason which he knew was insufficient to produce that effect?

If all Christ’s miracles, without that supernatural and unfrustrable act of God, which he would not vouchsafe to the Jews, were insufficient to produce faith in them, why doth Christ tell them, that “if they did not believe in him they should die in their sins?” Why doth he represent their infidelity as an act of hatred to him and his Father, and an evidence that they were not his sheep, nor had the word of God abiding in them? Why, lastly, does he say, ‘they had no cloak for their sin,’ who had this remediless [sic] disability to plead in their behalf?

5. This will be farther evident from God’s supposition, that it might be that the methods he and his prophets used would prevail for the producing of the designed effects. Thus when God bids Jeremiah ‘take the roll of his intended judgments, and read it in their ears; he adds, it may be that the house of Judah will hear all the evil that I purpose to do to them, that they may return every man from his evil way, and I may forgive their iniquity and their sin; and verse 7, it may be they will present their supplication before me, and will return everyone from his evil way.’ (Jeremiah 26:3,7)

To his prophet Ezekiel he says this, ‘Prepare ye stuff for removing, and remove by day in their sight; it may be they will consider, though they be a rebellious house.'(Ezekiel 12:3) So in the parable of the vineyard, when God sends his Son to the Jews, He says, “it may be they will reverence my Son.” (Luke 20:13)

Now what room is there for any of these suppositions, where the effects depends upon God’s immediate acting upon the heart, and not upon any hearing, or consideration of man without it, or any dispositions, or any means that they can use to move him to enable them to do it? If indeed they lay under this disability by the fall of Adam, it might as reasonably be expected they should move a mountain, as be induced by these considerations to return every man from his evil ways.

6. God complains of his own people, that they were ‘a rebellious people, because they had eyes to see and saw not, they had ears to hear and heard not; (Ezekiel 12:2) my people, says He, is foolish, they have not known me, they are silly children, and have not understanding; they are wise to do evil, but to do good they have no knowledge.’ (Jeremiah 4:22) And again, ‘to whom shall I speak and give warning’?

Behold their ear is uncircumcised, and they cannot hear: (Jeremiah 6:10) Can the Ethiopian change his skin, and the leopard his spots? Then may ye also do good who are accustomed to do evil.’ (Jeremiah 13:23) And Christ speaks thus to the Scribes and Pharisees, ‘Ye serpents, ye generation of vipers, how can ye escape the damnation of hell!’ (Matthew 23:33)

Now if this were the sad estate of all the lapsed sons of Adam, that ‘they had eyes and saw not, and ears and heard not, that to do good they had no knowledge,’ and no power, whatever motives God should offer to engage them so to do, why is this represented as the peculiar state only of the worst of men? If none of them could be induced by all the arguments the gospel offers to do good, why is this made the effect of a long custom to do evil,’ and an evidence of ‘silly children’.

If this be the sad state of all that are not of the number of the elect, that they cannot escape eternal misery, why is it said, peculiarly of the Scribes and Pharisees, that they could not ‘escape the damnation of hell’? And more particularly concerning Judas, that ‘it had been better for him that he had not been born’? (Matthew 26:24) In a word, all God’s commands and prohibitions, promises and threats, and all his exhortations to lapsed men to consider and lay them to heart, in order to their reformation, are demonstrations of the falsehood of this vain imagination.


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 unfrustrable impulse, because that only acts by moral suasion. Whereas ‘it pleased God,’ says the apostle, ‘by the foolishness of preaching to sate them that believe.'(1 Corinthians 1:21)

And St. James, by saying, ‘we are begotten anew by the word of truth,'(James 1:18) plainly informs us, that this word of God is the ordinary means of our regeneration, it being the word preached, the word we are to hear, (verse 19, 22,) and to ‘receive with meekness,’ by which God works this new birth in us and ‘which,’ says the apostle, ‘is able to save our souls’ (Verse 21)

And it is surely a great disparagement to the word of God, to think that his persuasions, admonitions, exhortations, attended with the highest promises and threats, should be all insufficient to prevail with men to turn from the known evil of their ways, and turn to him; when all men who do use these methods towards their children, servants, friends, and relations, do it in hope that they shall be successful by these means.

Only this is not so to be understood as to exclude the co-operation of God with his word, or the assistance of his Holy Spirit setting [Him] home upon our hearts; provided this be not by “way of physical but moral operation, by that illumination of the understanding from the word which produces that renovation in the spirit of the mind, by which we are enabled to discern and to ‘approve the good, and acceptable, and perfect will of God,'” (Romans 12;2 Ephesians 4:23) to discern ‘what is acceptable to the Lord. (Ephesians 5:10), to understand what the will of the Lord is.’ (Verse 17)

And if the word of God be a perfect rule, ‘able to make us wise unto salvation, and furnish us to every good work,'(2 Timothy 3:17) sure the good Spirit may, by his Suggestion of the truths delivered in it, by ‘bringing them to our remembrance,’ and opening our understanding to perceive the scriptures, remove that darkness which is in our minds either by natural corruption, or by the mist which Satan casts upon them; whence the apostle does inform us, that ‘if the gospel be hid from any to whom it is preached, it is because the God of this world hath blinded the conceptions of their minds, that the light of the glorious gospel should not shine into them.’ (2 Corinthians 4:3-4).

And, secondly, by making deep impressions on the mind of the advantages and rewards promised to our conversion and sincere obedience, and the tremendous evils threatened to the disobedient, and bringing these things often to our remembrance, which, in the scripture phrase, is ‘putting these laws in our minds, and writing them in our hearts, that we may not depart from him.’ (Hebrews 8:10. See the note there.)

For what reason can be given, why the Spirit of wisdom having thus enlightened the eyes of our understanding ‘ to know what is the hope of our calling, and the glorious riches of the inheritance of the saints,’ (Ephesians 1:18) and made these things, firmly believed, thus present to our minds, they should not have greater prevalence on our wills to obedience than any temporal concernments to induce us to yield obedience to the laws of sin?

If, beyond this, there be some physical and irresistible operation, on God’s part, necessary to make us know the things which do belong to our peace, and, knowing them, to chose the good and refuse the evil, this being not wrought in them who are not born anew, why is the want of this new birth, and this spiritual renovation, so often imputed to men’s want of consideration and laying to heart the ‘things propounded to them, to their not inclining their ear to wisdom and applying their heart to understanding, to their rejecting the counsel of God and not choosing the fear of the Lord (Proverbs 1:24-30). Why is it said, that they continue thus unreformed, because ‘they would have none of God’s counsels, but despised all his reproof, or because they could not frame their doings to return unto the Lord.’

This also St. Peter teaches, by saying, ‘We are born again of incorruptible seed, by the word of God;’ (1 Peter 1:23) and St. Paul by letting us know, that ‘faith comes by hearing and hearing by the word of God,'(Romans 10:17) and by saying to his Corinthians, ‘in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel.’ (1 Corinthians 4:15) For if conversion is only wrought by an irresistible operation of the Holy Spirit, and cannot be wrought in us by the word without it, then the word contributes no more to our conversion than the throwing of a pebble doth to the fall of a strong wall blown down by the fury of a tempest.

Since then it cannot be the effect of that unfrustrable power, and not at all of any motives and persuasions offered from the word; and why then is it said ‘to be quick and lively’ in its operation. (Hebrews 4;12)

To say that “conversion, at the same time, may be the work of that word which sinners cannot but resist, till this infrustrable operation comes,” and yet “of that operation and the word,” is to speak things plainly inconsistent with truth, and with the nature of a moral instrument, which if it does not move, does nothing; and if it does, as far as it does so, is not resisted.

Moreover, where an effect does so entirely depend upon two causes, that, without the concurrence of them both, it will not be produced, 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: So that it being certain that the sinner may, and too often doth resist the most powerful persuasions of the word, he may resist the concurrence of the Spirit with it, and then that operation cannot be unfrustrable or irresistible.

Moreover, if conversion be wrought irresistibly by the operation of the Spirit, then the word which may be resisted is unnecessary thereunto, since an irresistible operation must do its work as well without it; and if the word cannot but be resisted, till the effect is wrought by another power which is irresistible, it is evident the effect is owing only to that power, and then the whole ministry of the word must be unnecessary. And what is this but in effect to say, what in express terms would be offensive to tell Christian ears, viz. “the word of God is of no use towards the conversion or reformation of a sinner?”

Vlll. ARGUMENT SIX – No Motive for Conversion

Hence it must also follow that no motive can be offered sufficient to induce the person who believes this doctrine, (as, if it be taught in scripture, all Christians are obliged to do,) to enter upon a change of life, or a religious conversation, till he feel this irresistible impulse come upon him. For as an assent to mere truth does not move the will and affections, unless it be of concernment to us, propounding good to be obtained, or evil to be avoided, so neither can this be sufficient to excite endeavor, if I know as certainly that till this impulse comes upon me I cannot possibly by my best endeavors either obtain that good, or avoid that evil; which being plain to common sense, I shall not farther prosecute.

IX. ARGUMENT SEVEN – No Preparation for Conversion

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; for either that prerequisite is something to be done on our part in order to God’s irresistible act, or it is not ; if nothing is so to be done on our part in order to the work, no preparation can be requisite in order to it; if anything is to be done on our part, it is certain that we are not purely passive in the whole work of our regeneration, since he that must prepare himself for his conversion, must act in order to it.

Now as all God’s exhortations to men to consider and turn unto the Lord, demonstrate, that this consideration is a prerequisite to conversion, so the parable of the seed sown shows. (1.) Negatively, that the word becomes unfruitful, either because men do not at all attend to it, or because they are diverted from that attention by the intervening cares and pleasures of the world, which break off that attention, or are affrighted from it by the fears of suffering; and (2) affirmatively, that it becomes fruitful by being ‘received into a good and honest heart.’ And sure the devil must be a fool, according to this doctrine, when he comes to ‘take away the word out of men’s heart, lest they should believe and he saved,’ if that word could have no influence upon men to salvation, when it was not attended with an unfrustrable assistance; and where it was so, all his attempts to hinder the believing of it to salvation, must be vain.

X. ARGUMENT EIGHT – No one could be converted sooner than he is

Were such an irresistible power necessary to the conversion of a sinner, no man could be converted sooner than he is, because before this irresistible action came upon him he could not be converted, and when it came upon him he could not chose but be converted. Therefore no man could reasonably be blamed that he lived so long in his impenitent or unconverted state. And then God must unreasonably make these enquiries, ‘how long refuse ye to keep my commandments’? How long will this people provoke me’? How long will it be before they believe me? How long, ye simple ones, will ye love simplicity, and the scorners delight in scorning, and the fools hate knowledge? O Jerusalem, wash thyself from wickedness that thou mayest be saved! How long shall thy vain thoughts lodge within thee? And again, O Jerusalem, wilt thou not be made clean, when shall it once be’?” (Exodus 16:28, Numbers 14:11, Proverbs 1:22, Jeremiah 4:14, 13:27)

Seeing none of these changes could be wrought within them, till He was pleased to afford the irresistible impulse: And then it would not be praise-worthy in them, or any other person, that they were then converted, it being not in their power then to be otherwise, since an unfrustrable operation is that which no man can frustrate.

XI. ARGUMENT NINE – Scripture Identifies the Source of Sinfulness

The scripture charges men’s wickedness not upon their impotency and disability, but upon their willfulness, which therefore doubtless is the true account of the matter. It might have reasonably been expected, that if the disability we had contracted by the fall of Adam had been the true source of all that impotency that is in the sinner to hearken to all or any of the motives offered by God in the Old or the New Testament, the holy scripture should somewhere or other have given us some express declaration of it, and not have constantly ascribed this impotency to other causes acquired by, and not born: with, us; whereas I verily believe, that the whole scripture gives not one sentence, or expression, which in the true importance of it bears this sense, or which, either in terms, or by just consequence, claims, that “man is so disabled by the fall, as that he cannot be reformed by any arguments or motives offered by God for his recovery, or by the grace offered to all men in the gospel, but that they must entirely be frustrated, offered and spent in vain upon him, unless God add unto them an unfrustrable operation of the Holy Ghost.”

The scripture is indeed very copious in representing the ignorance and darkness of the Heathen world, given up to gross idolatry, and lying under the dominion of the prince of darkness; declaring, that ‘their foolish hearts were darkened, and that they were alienated from the life of God through the ignorance that was in them;’ that through the evil habits they had contracted, the whole Heathen world ‘lay in wickedness, were filled with it, and were even dead in trespasses and sins, and through the customary practice of sin were become insensible of their own vileness.

But nothing of this nature do I find charged on mankind in general, by reason of the fall of Adam. Whereas there is not anything more frequent or common throughout the whole book of scripture, than the complaints of God and all his prophets, of Christ and his apostles, of the perverseness, obstinacy, rebellion, the inconsideration, folly, and stupidity of them with whom they had to do, and only of their indisposition and disability to hearken to their counsels, and do good, by reason of those evil dispositions, customs, prejudices, hardness of heart, or blindness, which they had willfully contracted.

Now it is reasonable to conclude the fault lies chiefly there where the scripture charges it, and not where it is wholly silent in the case. Now of all these things I have already given instances sufficient; to which may be added the words of Isaiah, ‘thus saith the Lord, in returning and rest shall ye be saved, and in quietness and confidence shall be your strength, and ye would not. And again, they would not walk in his ways, neither were they obedient to his laws.’ And of the prophet Jeremiah, “thus saith the Lord, ask for the old paths, where is the good way? and walk therein; and they said, We will not walk therein; they hold fast deceit, they refuse to return. I sent to them by my servants the prophets, rising up early and sending them, but they would not hear, saith the Lord.” And the prophet Hosea says, “they will not frame their doings to turn unto the Lord”. (Isaiah 30:15, 42:24, Jeremiah 6:16, 8:5, 29:19, Hosea 5:4)

Now, is it to be wondered, is it just matter of complaint, that men who were disabled, by the fall of Adam, from doing any of these things, did not perform them? Were they not rather objects of divine pity, than of wrath? And was it not worthy of the divine goodness to help their unavoidable infirmity, rather than to punish them so severely for what they could not help, and to impute that to the spirit of whoredom in them, which was the natural result of the whoredom of their mother Eve?

Moreover Christ charges the impenitency and unbelief of the Jews upon this account, saying, “Ye will not come unto me that you may have life.” Now if they could not have the will, their condemnation would not be just; if indeed it had once been possible for them to be willing to come, or, supposing their will good, it had been possible for them to come without being irresistibly made to come, the fault might have been imputed to themselves; but if it were impossible for them to be willing, how should they come? Or if it were impossible for them to come if willing, to what end should they be willing?

To say, as some do, that “God’s exhortations to men thus unable to return and yield obedience to him, and his promises to pardon and to save them if they will return, are very serious; because he will pardon and save them if they do these things, and only doth not do this because they will not turn unto him,” — is as if I should say, “a man is serious, when he exhorts a blind or a deaf man, (who had contracted these disabilities by their own fault,) to see and hear, and promises them the highest advantages if they would do so, because he will give them these advantages if they do see and hear, and only doth not give them because they do not do so:” For if you say that “these men cannot see and hear, and therefore will not,” so is it with every lapsed man according to this doctrine.

Moreover it is certain, that what I know I cannot do, if I would, I cannot rationally will to do, because I cannot rationally will in vain; if therefore God has taught the sinner that he cannot turn to him, or hearken to his exhortations to repent and believe, were he never so willing, He has also taught him that he cannot rationally will to do so, and therefore that He must be innocent in not having such a will.

XII. ARGUMENT TEN – Church Fathers

And lastly, our opinion tends much more to the glory of God, than does the contrary opinion. For seeing God is chiefly glorified by the acknowledgment and discovery of his excellencies, and more particularly of those attributes which do inform us of our duty, and are proposed for our imitation, that doctrine which tends most to the acknowledgment of those attributes, must most directly tend to the advancement of God’s glory.

Now, first, the wisdom of God is most glorified by that opinion which supposes He acts with man in all his precepts, exhortations, invitations, promises and threats, suitably to those faculties that He has given us, and doth not attempt by them ‘to engage us to impossibilities’. For is it not a foul imputation upon the divine wisdom to suppose that He uses and appoints means for the recovery of mankind, which he knows cannot in the least degree be serviceable to that end?’ But such is the consequence of that opinion which makes it as impossible for the sinner to be converted, as for the dead to be raised, by any of those arguments or motives delivered by him in the scripture to engage us to repent and turn unto him: For, according to this hypothesis, we might as well send ministers to preach to stones, and persuade them to be converted into men; for His omnipotence can, upon their preaching, produce this change in those stones: and according to this opinion, the conversion of a sinner cannot be effected without a like act of the divine omnipotency.

Secondly, whereas according to our doctrine, the truth and faithfulness of God, and the sincerity of his dealings with men is unquestionable; according to the other doctrine, God seems to promise pardon and salvation to all men sincerely, and yet in truth intends it only to some few persons whom he designed to convert by an irresistible power; leaving the salvation of the rest impossible, because He never designed to afford them this unfrustrable operation, enquiring why those men would die, why they would not be made clean, whom He knew could not avoid that death, or obtain that purgation without that divine impulse He would not afford them; and saying He had purged them who were not purged, and had done all things requisite to make his vineyard bring forth good grapes, when he had withheld from them that unfrustrable operation without which they neither could be purged, nor bring forth good grapes.

Thirdly, whereas the justice of God shines evidently from our doctrine, which asserts that God doth 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 punishes men with the extremes 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.

Now such is the consequence of that opinion which resolves the conversion of sinners into that unfrustrable operation which is vouchsafed only to a few, but is withheld from all the rest of mankind to whom grace is offered by the gospel.

Fourthly, 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, as ‘our own conscience shows it does by the remorse which follows the commission of sin’? But what reason can there be for this, unless we suppose it possible for the wicked to have been converted, or to have accused to do evil? If indeed you ascribe conversion and obedience to a cause that transcends all the power of man under the gospel dispensation to perform, his evil actions may be his misfortunes, but how they should be his faults, it is not easy to conceive.

I should now proceed to show the concurrence of antiquity with this doctrine; but this will be fully done by me in the following DISCOURSE, where it will evidently be proved that the Fathers, in their confutation of the assertors of fate, and of the heresies of the Valentinians, the Marcionites, the Basilidians, the Manichieans, the doctrines of Origen, and upon many other occasions, use the very same arguments in confutation of those heresies and doctrines, which I have done in confutation of this doctrine. To this I shall at present only add, that the Fathers generally teach that God does only persuade, and by his Spirit assist those that are willing to be good; but leaves them still under the power to neglect and resist his persuasions, not laying them under a necessity to be good, because that would destroy the virtue and reward of being so.

“God,” says Irenaeus, “redeems his from the apostate spirit, non vi, sed suadela, ‘ not by force, but by persuasion;’ quemadmodum decebat Deum suadentem, et non vim tnferentem aecipere qua veliet, ‘as it became God to receive what he would by persuasion, and not by force’.

He sent his Son into the world,” says Justin Martyr, “os pethon beiluminos ‘as persuading but not compelling men to be good.'”

The wisdom of God,” says Cyril of Alexandria, “thought fit to convert men rather by persuasion, than by necessity, that he might preserve the liberty of man’s will; for because,” says he, “the Maker of all things, ‘will have man to have power over his own self, and be governed by his own will, in what he does,’ it seemed good to our Savior, ‘that man should be withdrawn from what is bad, and drawn to what is better, rather by persuasion than by a necessity laid upon him;’ for if, having invincible power, he had commanded all men to believe, ‘faith would not have been the fruit of a full persuasion; but rather of necessity and unavoidable commands.’

And again, “man,” says he, “is carried both to good and evil by free motions; if God, by using a divine energy and virtue, (that is, an unfrustrable operation,) should turn the mind of every man to good works, his goodness would not be the fruit of counsel or praiseworthy, but rather of necessity. And if God had dealt thus with man at the beginning, and afterwards (that is, after the fall,) subjected him, to necessary turns (to vice or virtue,) and unavoidable concupiscence or lusting, how can he be freed from blame”?

Proceed to part 3 Refuting Arguments for Irresistible Grace

Back to part 1 Defining the Question