THE FORCE OF TRUTH
(First published in 1779)
I had now acceded to most of the doctrines which at present I believe and preach; except the doctrine of personal election, and those tenets which immediately depend on it, and are connected with it. These were still foolishness to me: and, so late as August 1777, I told my friend Mr. N. that I was sure I never should be of his sentiments on that head. To this he answered, that if I never mentioned this subject, he never should, as we were now agreed in all he judged absolutely needful; but, that he had not the least doubt of my very shortly becoming a Calvinist, as I should presently discover my system of doctrine to be otherwise incomplete, and inconsistent with itself. Indeed, I had by this time so repeatedly discovered myself to be mistaken where I had been very confident, that I began to suspect myself in every thing, in which I entertained sentiments different from those with whom I conversed. This, however, did not influence me to take their opinions upon trust: but it disposed me more particularly and attentively to consider them; and in every perplexity to have recourse to the Lord, to be preserved from error, and guided to the truth.
About the same time also, I began to have more frequent applications made to me by persons under deep concern for their souls. My heart was much interested in this new employment; as I was greatly concerned to see their pressing anxieties, and to hear their doubts, difficulties, and objections, against themselves: and, being sincerely desirous to give them good instruction, and to lead them on to establishment and comfort, I felt my deficiency, and seemed to have no ground to go on, nor any counsel to give them, but what, instead of relieving them, led them into greater perplexity. In this case, I earnestly besought the Lord to teach me what word in season to speak unto them.
While I was thus circumstanced, I read Witsius’s “Economy of the Covenants,” and observed what use he made of the doctrine of election for this very purpose. This convinced me that the doctrine, if true, would afford that ground of encouragement which the people wanted. They had been awakened from ignorant formality, open ungodliness and vice, or entire carelessness about religion, to an earnest and anxious inquiry after salvation; they appeared truly penitent, and real believers, and heartily desirous of cleaving unto the Lord; and they wanted some security that they should not, through the deceitfulness of their hearts, their weakness, the entanglements of the world, and the temptations of Satan, fall back again into their former course of sin. This, if genuine, was the regenerating work of the Holy Spirit: and if wrought in consequence of the determinate purpose and fore-knowledge of God respecting them, it would follow from the entire and undeserved freeness of this first gift bestowed on them when neither desiring nor seeking it, but while in a state of enmity and rebellion against God and neglect of His service, and from His unchangeableness in His purpose, and faithfulness to His promises, that He would assuredly carry on and complete the good work of His grace, and keep them by His power, as in a castle, through faith unto salvation.
Having now discovered one use of this doctrine, which before I objected to as useless and pernicious, I was led to consider how the other objections which I had been accustomed to urge against it, might be answered. It is true. I now began to consider it as a mystery, not to be comprehended, nor yet too curiously to be searched into by man’s natural reason; but humbly received by faith, just as far as it is plainly revealed in God’s unerring word. I was therefore constrained to leave many objections unanswered, or to resolve them into the incomprehensible nature of God, whose judgments and counsels are, as the great deep, unfathomable;
and into the sovereignty of God, who doeth what He will with His own, and gives no account of any of His matters, let who will presume to find fault; and into His declarations, that His thoughts and ways are as far above our thoughts and ways, as the heavens are above the earth. Here I left the matter, conscious, at length, that such knowledge was too high for me;
and that, if God had said it, it was not my place to cavil against it. I acknowledge this way of proceeding is not very satisfactory to man’s proud curiosity, who would be as God, and know all that God knows; and who even dares to dispute with Him! and there are times when I can hardly acquiesce in such a
solution. But surely it is highly becoming the depedent state and limited understanding of the creature, to submit the decision of all such high points implicitly to the award of the infinitely wise Creator. Indeed, the Christian religion expressly requires it of us; for our Lord declares, that “Except we receive the kingdom of God” (not as disputing philosophers, but) “as a little child, we shall in no wise enter therein.” The day is coming when we shall be able to answer all objections. Here “we walk by faith,” and see in part, “through a glass, darkly;” “hereafter we shall see face to face, and know even as we are known.”**
*Continued from Vol. 9, p. 190.
**To be continued.