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The first of these is the doctrine of an absolute unconditional election to salvation. For if God, by a mere act of his sovereign will, and according to an irresistible decree, elects men to eternal salvation, without regard to conditions and circumstances; then no visible ordinances are necessary as means of grace; they are all superseded, and we are as safe without them as with them. This doctrine is so convenient to all the irregular classes of Christian people, who have cast off the Church and its authority, that it has been much insisted upon almost from the beginning of the Reformation; and has done infinite mischief. For he who is divided from his brethren, with this doctrine in his mind, is thereby confirmed and fortified in his errors. In vain shall we recommend the benefits of Church communion to him, who is saved in consequence of a decree, made before the Church or the world had a being. God hath elected him, without any regard to outward ordinances; and so the want of those ordinances can never render his election of no effect. And supposing his doctrine to be true, who can deny the consequence? But the doctrine is false. Thus much of it is true; that, according to the scripture, man is chosen, or elected, out of the world, by the free grace of God, without any respect to his own
works, works, (of which he can have none till he is
called; being in the state of an unborn infant)
and brought into God's Church, where he is in
- a state of salvation. But he may fall from this
state, or be cast out of it by the authority which
brought him into it, and forfeit all the privileges
of his election; therefore the Apostle gives us
this warning: let him that thinketh he standeth,
take heed lest he fall: and St. Peter bids us give
diligence to make our calling and election sure.
How can that be, if we are elected to salvation,
by an irreversible decree? We need take no
pains to make that sure, whkh in its nature is
irreversible. Paul was a vessel chosen of Gods
and yet this same Paul supposes it possible for
him to fall from the grace of God, and become
a castaway *. Eleftion, therefore, as it is
spoken of in the Scripture, hath been grossly
misunderstood: for there is no such thing there
F F 4 .as as any election of individuals to final salvation,' independent of the ordinances of the Church. Election is an inward and spiritual grace; but there is no such thing administered to man without some outward sign. A man might tell us that he is ordained to preach the gospel: but we know this can never be-without the laying on of hands. He may tell us he is one of God's elect; and if the reality of his election were to depend upon his own report, how should we confute him, although he were guilty of all manner of wickedness? If we believe him on his own authority, we may be tempted to be as wicked as he is: and multitudes have, by this doctrine, corrupted one another, and fallen into what is called Antinomianism; a neglect of God's commandments, as not necessary to those who are elected independent of works and sacraments. To secure us from all such delusions, God hath affixed some outward sign or pledge to all his inward gifts, to assure us of their reality, and prevent imposture. Therefore, where there is an inward calling, there is an outward calling with it; where there is regeneration, there is the sacrament of baptism-; and the gospel knows of no regeneration without it. I might shew how this doctrine of absolute election is dishonourable to God, and contrary to -bis most express declarations. How it encourages some to presumption, pride, and ungodlyliving*; and how it drives others to despair and distraction f, who have not, nor can bring themselves to an assurance of their own personal election to the favour of God: but my business in this place is only to remark, how convenient this doctrine is to all those who do not come to God in the ordinary way of his institutions, nor can prove themselves to be members of his Church.
* Another proof of this argument may be found in I Cor. 8» c. xi. "Through thy knowledge shall the weak brother perish for 'whom Christ died?" The true notion of predestination is to be met with in Eph. I, c. xi. xii. where those are said to be predestinated to the praise of God's glory who frus/edin Christ. Our attainment of eternal happiness is the consequence of our belief in Christ, and the irreversible decree of God is, that those that believe in him should not perish, and this is probably the only sense in which the doctrine of predestination and election can be maintained from Scripture.
* I remember a woman in a country parish, who used to boast much of her own experiences, and insult the people of the church as reprobates; goats who were to be placed on the left band, at the day of judgment; while she and her party were the true elect, the sheep who were to be placed on the right hand. Suph was the usual strain of her conversation. But after a time, I heard that this elect lady was gone off with the husband of another woman. She was a severe critic on the Clergyman of the parish, as one who had many Popish actions, because he made a practise of turning to the East when he repeated the Creed; and though he was much attended to as a preacher, sh« said it all signified no more than the barking of a dog.
+ When Dr. Sparrow was Bishop of Exeter, there rarely passed a day without a note or notes brought to Priest, Vicar, or Reader, for the prayers of the congregation, for persons troubled in mind or possessed; which, as some judicious persons conjectured, was pecasioned by the frequent preaching up of the rigid Predentin-ition doctrines in some places in that city. Preface to the View of the 1 imes.
A second doctrine, on the ground of which men place themselves above the Church, is that of immediate inspiration. For if men are now receiving new direction from Heaven, and God speaks in them as he did in Moses, and the Prophets, and the Apostles, they have no need to consult either the Scriptures or the Church: for they are independent of both, and have an higher rule. This is the reason why no impression can ever be made upon a Quaker, by arguments from the Scripture. He answers, that the Scriptures (as applied by us who do not understand them) cannot be brought in evidence against him; because (to speak in the Quaker language) he has within himself the same spirit that gave forth the Scriptures; and the Revelation which has past must give place to that which is present. Nothing blinds the eyes of men so effectually as pride; whence he who is vain enough to believe, that he is under the direction of immediate inspiration, must believe many other strange things. Such people therefore never fail to despise the ministry and worship of the Church, and make light of all its institutions. The Apostles of Jesus Christ foreseeing by a true * revelation, that there would be false pretentions to inspiration in the Christian Church, as there were false