The Doctrine of the Apostle James Concerning Faith and Works

Taken and adapted from, The Works of John Owen, Edited by William H Goold, Volume 5“The Doctrine of Justification by Faith Through the Imputation of the Righteousness of Christ; Explained, Confirmed, and Vindicated”
Written by John Owen, 1677
Modernized by, William H. Gross, May 2003,
James Concerning Faith and Works

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Many take advantage of the seeming difference that exists between the apostles Paul and James concerning faith, works, and justification.

This requires our consideration of it.

Some of the words and expressions used by James seem to directly oppose the doctrine fully and plainly declared by Paul. But whatever appears to do so, has already been so satisfactorily answered and removed by others, that there is no great need to repeat them. Although I suppose there will be no end of contending and writing about these things, the doctrine has not been in the least impeached, nor has any new difficulty arisen in any recent discourses to that purpose. While we “know in part, and prophesy in part,” I must say that, in my judgment, there is no problem in securing the doctrine of justification by faith, through the imputation of the righteousness of Christ, from any concern or contradiction in the discourse of James, chap. 2:14, to the end.

To this purpose it may be observed that,

1     It is taken for granted, on all hands, that there is no real inconsistency or contradiction between what is delivered by these two apostles. If there were, the writings of one of them must be pseudepistolae, or falsely ascribed to those whose names they bear, and uncanonical. Some have highly but rashly questioned the authority of the Epistle of James historically and of late. Therefore, their words are certainly capable of a just reconciliation. The only reasons why any of us might not agree to this, is because of the darkness of our own minds, the weakness of our understandings, and with too many, the power of prejudices.

2     It is also taken for granted, when there is an appearance of contradiction in any passages of Scripture, that if any of them treat the contradicted matter directly, designedly, and extensively, while others speak of the same things only occasionally, transiently, or for other purposes, then the truth is to be determined from the former. The interpretation of those passages where any truth is mentioned only occasionally, with reference to other things or purposes, is to be taken from and accommodated to those other passages whose design and purpose is directed to that truth. It guides the faith of the church in that truth. There is no more rational and natural rule of the interpretation of Scripture agreed upon by common consent.

3     According to this rule, it is unquestionable that the doctrine of justification before God is to be learned from the writings of the apostle Paul. Light is to be taken from them to all the other places of Scripture where it is occasionally mentioned. This is especially true considering how exactly this doctrine represents the whole scope of the Scripture. It is affirmed numerous times by particular testimonies speaking to the same truth. It must be acknowledged that Paul wrote about our justification before God on purpose, to declare it for its own sake, and for its use in the church. He does that fully, extensively, and frequently, in a constant harmony of expressions. And he acknowledges the reasons that pressed him to fullness and accuracy in this:

(1.) The importance of the doctrine itself. He declares that our salvation immediately depends on it, and that it is the hinge on which the whole doctrine of the gospel turns, Galatians 2:16-21; 5:4, 5.

(2.) The plausible and dangerous arguments made against it. They were presented with such specious pretenses, that very many were turned from the truth by it (as were the Galatians). Many others were detained from the faith of the gospel by their dislike for it, Romans 10:3, 4. Anyone who declares truth knows the care and diligence it requires. The zeal, care, and circumspection it stirred up in the apostle is obvious in all his writings.

(3.) The abuse that the corrupt nature of man is apt to heap on this doctrine of grace. He takes notice of this, and thoroughly vindicates the doctrine from giving the least countenance to such distortions and unfair demands. Certainly, there was never a greater necessity incumbent on anyone to fully and plainly teach and declare a doctrine of truth, than was on Paul at that time, considering the place and duty that he was called to. There is no imaginable reason why we should not learn the truth of it principally from his declaration and vindication of it, especially if we believe that he was divinely inspired and guided to reveal its truth to the church.

As for what was delivered by the apostle James regarding our justification, things are quite different. He does not undertake a declaration of the doctrine of our justification before God.

He had another purpose in mind, as we will see immediately. He vindicates the doctrine from the abuse that some had put it to in those days, as they did with other doctrines of the grace of God. They turned it into licentiousness. We primarily learn the truth in this matter from the writings of the apostle Paul. And he plainly declares how the interpretation of other passages is to be accommodated.

4     Some recently are not of this mind. They earnestly contend that Paul is to be interpreted by James, and not the contrary. To this end, they tell us that the writings of Paul are obscure. They tell us that various ancients agree, and that many find errors in them, or things of a similar nature that are scandalous to Christian religion. Because James is writing after Paul, they say he is presumed to give an interpretation to Paul’s sayings. Therefore, Paul is to be understood by that interpretation.

In Answer to this:

First, there is no need to vindicate the writings of St. Paul, which are beginning to be criticized. This is one effect of the secret prevalence of Atheism today. That will be left for a more proper place. I do not know how anyone, who pretends to have the least acquaintance with antiquity, can take a passage out of Irenaeus, in which he was obviously mistaken, or a rash word from Origen or the like, to derogate the perspicuity of the writings of this apostle. They must know how easy it is to overwhelm their charges with testimonies to the contrary from all the famous writers of the church in several ages. For example, there are forty places in which Chrysostom explains why some men did not understand Paul’s writings, which were so gloriously evident and perspicuous. So for their satisfaction, I refer them only to the preface to his exposition of Paul’s epistles, and to similar evidence in due season. But Paul does not need the testimony of men, nor of the combined church, whose safety and security is built on the doctrine which he taught. In the meantime, it would not be unpleasant to consider how those who have the same purpose agree in their conception of his writings. Most of his epistles were written against the Gnostics, to refute their error. Others point out that the Gnostics were mistaken in their understanding of his writings. Men are so bold to use divine things to satisfy their present interest.

Secondly, this criticism was not the judgment of the ancient church for three or four hundred years. Because the epistles of Paul were always esteemed the principal treasure of the church, the great guide and rule of the Christian faith, this epistle of James was scarcely accepted as canonical by many, and doubted by most, as both Eusebius and Jerome testify.

Thirdly, the purpose of the apostle James was not at all to explain the meaning of Paul in his epistles, as some pretend. It was only to vindicate the doctrine of the gospel from its abuse by those who used their liberty to cloak maliciousness, and who turned the grace of God into lasciviousness. They continued in their sin under a pretence that grace had abounded to that end.

Fourthly, the apostle Paul vindicates his own doctrine from the exceptions and abuses that men turned it into. There is no other doctrine in his epistles than what he preached the world over, and by which he laid the foundation of Christian religion, especially among the Gentiles. These things being said, I will briefly show there is not the least inconsistency or contradiction between what is declared by these two apostles as to our justification or its causes. And this I will do,
1. By some general considerations of the nature and purpose of both their discourses.
2. By a particular explication of the context of James.

Under the first I will show,
(1.) That they do not have the same scope, design, or purpose in their discourses. They do not
consider the same question, state the same case, or determine the same inquiry. Thus, they are
not speaking “ad idem,” to the same thing, and do not contradict one another.
(2.) That because faith has various meanings in the Scripture, and denotes various kinds of
things, they are not speaking of the same kind of faith.
Therefore, there can be no contradiction in what the one ascribes to it and the other takes from it.

(3.) That they do not speak of justification in the same sense, or to the same ends.
(4.) That by works, they both mean works done in obedience to the moral law.

As to the scope and design of the apostle Paul: the question which he answers, and the case which he presents, are manifest in all his writings, especially in his Epistles to the Romans and Galatians. His whole purpose is to declare how a guilty, convinced sinner comes to be accepted by God. He says it is through faith in the blood of Christ. Hereby he has all his sins pardoned, and he obtains a right to the heavenly inheritance; that is, he is acquitted and justified in the sight of God. This doctrine belonged eminently to the gospel. Its revelation and declaration to the Gentiles was uniquely committed to Paul. As we have newly observed, he had a special reason to insist on it because of the opposition that was made to it by the Jews and Judaizing Christians. They ascribed this privilege to the law, and to our own works of obedience done in compliance with the law. This is the case that he states. This is the question that he determines in all his discourses about justification. And in its explication, he declares the nature and causes of our justification, and vindicates it from all exceptions.

All men naturally desire what God has made eternally inconsistent. They want to live in sin here, and come to blessedness hereafter. Men of corrupt minds, who are willing to indulge their lusts, might conclude that if we are justified freely, through the grace of God, by the imputation of a righteousness that originally and inherently is not our own, then no more is required of us. There is no need to relinquish sin, no need to attend to the duties of righteousness and holiness. Paul obviates such impious suggestions, and shows they are not a necessary consequence of the doctrine that he taught. But he does not do this by intimating or granting that our own works of obedience or righteousness are necessary to our justification before God, nor that they cause it. If such were true, it would be inconsistent with the whole of his doctrine, and destructive of it. He would not have omitted such an assertion, as we have shown. It is foolish and impious to suppose that it was necessary for anyone else, like James, to explain Paul’s doctrine, or to defend it against the same exceptions that Paul identifies, using a plea that he would not make himself, a plea which indeed he rejects.

The apostle James, on the other hand, had no such scope or design, nor did he have any such occasion for what he wrote in this matter. He does not inquire about it, or intimate any such
inquiry. He does not state the case for how a guilty, convinced sinner, whose mouth is stopped as to any plea or excuse for himself, may come to be justified in the sight of God. He does not address how he may receive the pardon of sins and the gift of righteousness to life. To resolve this question through our own works, is to overthrow the whole gospel. Instead, he had in mind a business of quite another nature. As we have said, there were many in those days who professed faith in the gospel, presuming that because they were already justified, there was nothing more needed to be saved. They thought they had attained a desirable estate, suited to all the interests of the flesh. They thought they might live in sin, neglecting all their duties of obedience, and yet be eternally saved. Some believe they imbibed this pernicious conceit from the poisonous opinions that some then espoused. The apostle Paul foretold that this would come to pass in 2 Timothy 4:1-4. It is generally agreed that, by this time, Simon Magus and his followers had infected the minds of many with their abominations. Among them was that faith meant a liberty from the law and a freedom to sin. It took away all difference between good and evil.

Or it may be that it was only the corruption of men’s hearts and lives that prompted them to seek after such a countenance to sin. I judge that this was their motivation. Among professed Christians then, were those who assumed that their faith, or whatever religion they professed, would save them. And it would do so even though they lived in flagrant wickedness, utterly devoid of good works or duties of obedience. There is no other occasion intimated in the epistle. Paul makes no mention of seducers, as John expressly and frequently does some time later. Against these sorts of people, to convict them, James designs two things:

First, to prove the necessity of works for all those who profess the gospel and thereby faith in Christ.

Second, to evidence the vanity and folly of their pretenses to being justified, and that they should be saved by a faith that was so far from being fruitful in good works, as to countenance their sin. These are the purposes of all his arguments, and no other. He effectively proves that faith which is completely barren and fruitless as to obedience, and which men pretend can countenance their sins, is not that faith by which we are justified, and by which we may be saved. It is a dead carcass, of no use or benefit, as James declares by the conclusion of his whole dispute in the last verse of chapter 2. “For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also.”

He does not tell anyone how to be justified before God, but convinces some that they are not justified by trusting to such a dead faith. He declares how anyone may evidence and display that he is justified indeed. His design is so plain that nothing can be more evident. Therefore, the principal design of these two apostles being so distant from each other, there is no inconsistency in their assertions, despite the appearance of their words. They do not speak of the same things in the same respect. James does not once inquire how a guilty, convinced sinner, condemned by the law, may come to be justified before God; and Paul speaks of nothing else. Therefore, we must apply each of their declarations to their proper design and scope, or we will depart from sober rules of interpretation, and render it impossible to correctly understand either of them. There is no disagreement, or appearance of it, between them.

(2.) They do not speak of the same faith. Therefore, there can be no discrepancy in what one ascribes to faith and the other denies concerning it. If one person says he is talking about a real fire, and another says he is talking about a painting of a fire, there is no contradiction between them if the first says that his fire will burn and the other denies that his own will. We proved before that there are two sorts of faith, one by which men are said to believe the gospel, and another by which they make a profession of it. What belongs to one does not belong to the other. I do not believe that anyone will deny that the kind of “faith” necessary to our justification is what St. Paul properly calls “kurios.” The only kind he means is the “faith of God’s elect,” “precious faith,” “more precious than gold,” “the faith that purifies the heart, and works by love,” “the faith by which Christ dwells in us, and we abide in him, by which we live to God,” “a living faith.” He ascribes all these things and more to the faith that he insists is the only means on our part to obtain our justification before God. But the faith meant by the apostle James has none of this assigned to it. What he means is what he calls it: a dead faith, a carcass without breath, the faith of devils, a wordy faith. It is no more truly faith than sending away naked and hungry people without relief would be truly charity. He may well deny that any justification results from this kind of faith, whatever the boasting; and yet justification may properly be ascribed to the kind of faith that Paul speaks of.

Bellarmine uses several arguments to prove that the faith meant by James here is justifying faith when considered in itself. But these arguments are contemptibly weak, being built on the assumption that true justifying faith is nothing but an assent to catholic doctrine, or divine revelation: De Justificat. lib. 1 cap. 15.

His first argument is that, “James calls it ‘faith’ absolutely, by which the Scripture always means true faith.”

Answer:
1. James calls it a dead faith, the faith of devils; and he casts all manner of reproach on it. He would not have done that if he meant any duty or grace that was truly evangelical.
2. Not every faith that is true, as to the reality of the assent it gives to the truth, is living, justifying, or saving faith, as has been proved.
3. There are those who are said to have faith absolutely, or who absolutely believe, who never had true and saving faith; John 2:23 (they believed in his name, but Jesus did not commit himself to them); Acts 8:13, 21 (Simon Magus believed, but had neither part nor portion in the kingdom).

Secondly, Bellarmine urges that, “in the same place and chapter that he addresses the faith of Abraham, James affirms that it was wrought with his works, James 2:22, 23; a vain shadow of faith does not do this. Therefore, it was true faith that the apostle meant, and it is most properly called so.”

Answer:
This presence is ridiculous. The apostle does not give the faith of Abraham as an instance of the kind of faith that he treated so severely, but what is directly contrary to it. By this faith he planned to prove that the other faith was of no use or advantage to those who had it; for this faith of Abraham produced good works, which the other faith did not.

Thirdly, he urges verse 24, “‘You see then how a man is justified by works, and not by faith only;’ for the faith that James speaks of justifies with works, but a false faith, the shadow of a faith, does not. Therefore, it is true, saving faith of which the apostle speaks.”

Answer:
Bellarmine is utterly mistaken. The apostle does not ascribe justification partly to works, and partly to faith. In the sense he meant it, he ascribes justification entirely to works, in opposition to the faith he speaks of. There is a plain antithesis between works and faith as they relate to justification, in the sense he meant. A dead faith, a faith without works, the faith of devils, is excluded from having any influence on justification.

Fourthly, Bellarmine adds that, “the apostle compares this faith without works to a rich man that gives nothing to the poor, verse 16; and a body without a spirit, verse 26. Therefore, just as a rich man’s knowledge of the wants of the poor is true and real, and a dead body is still a true body; so faith without works is still true faith, and is considered as such by St. James.”

Answer:
These things clearly destroy what they are produced to confirm, except that the cardinal helps them out with a little sophistry. Because the apostle compares this faith to the charity of a man that gives nothing to the poor, he suggests that this man has knowledge of their poverty. And his knowledge may be true. But more true and certain it is, the false and feigned is his pretended charity expressed in these words, “Go, and be fed and clothed.” Such is the faith that the apostle speaks of. And although a dead body is a true body in being a carcass, it is not the essence of a living man. A carcass does not have the same nature as the body of a living man in being prepared and fitted for all vital acts. And we assert no other difference between the faith spoken of by the apostle and justifying faith, then the difference that exists between a dead, breathless carcass, and a living animated body.

Therefore, it is evident beyond all contradiction, unless we want to be contentious, that the faith which the apostle James refers to here is only a dead, barren, lifeless faith. It is the kind usually pretended by ungodly men to countenance their sins. And this is not the kind of faith asserted by Paul.

(3.) They do not speak of justification in the same sense or for the same purpose. The apostle Paul addresses our absolute justification before God, including our acceptance with God, and the grant of a right to the heavenly inheritance, and that alone. He declares all the causes of that justification, all that is involved on the part of God, and on our part. He does not address the evidence, knowledge, sense, fruit, or manifestation of it in our own consciences, in the church, or to others that profess the faith. He speaks of those things separately on other occasions. There is only one justification he speaks of, that is at once accomplished before God, changing the relative state of the person who is justified. It is capable of being evidenced various ways, to the glory of God and the consolation of those who truly believe.

The apostle James does not address this at all. His whole inquiry is about the nature of that faith by which we are justified, and the only way by which it may be evidenced as the right kind, or one that a man may safely trust to. Therefore, he addresses justification only as to its evidence and manifestation. He had no reason to do otherwise, and this is apparent from both instances he uses to confirm his purpose. The first is that of Abraham, verse 21-23. He says that, by Abraham’s being justified by works, in the way James asserts, “the Scripture was fulfilled which says, Abraham believed God, and it was imputed to him for righteousness.” If his intention was to prove that we are justified before God by works, and not by faith, because Abraham was justified that way, then the testimony he uses directly contradicts what it should prove.

Accordingly, it is left to Paul to prove that Abraham was justified by faith without works, as the words plainly signify. No one can declare how the proposition that, “Abraham was justified by works,” (meaning absolute justification before God,) could fulfill this Scripture, “Abraham believed God, and it was imputed to him for righteousness.” This is especially true considering the opposition that is made both here and elsewhere between faith and works in this matter of justification.

Besides, Bellarmine asserts that Abraham was justified by works when he offered his son on the altar (Genesis 22:12). We believe the same thing, but we ask in what sense he was justified by that. For the testimony of Scripture is that this was thirty years or so after “he believed God, and it was imputed to him for righteousness” (Genesis 15:6). And when righteousness was imputed to him, he was justified. He was not justified twice in the same sense, in the same way, and with the same kind of justification. How, then, was he justified by works when he offered his son on the altar? It was only that, by his work in offering his son, he evidenced and declared in the sight of God and man that he was already justified long before. This is unquestionable and confessed by all. He was justified in the sight of God as declared in Genesis 22:12, and he gave a signal testimony to the sincerity of his faith and trust in God, which manifested the truth of the Scripture that, “He believed God, and it was imputed to him for righteousness.” In quoting this testimony, the apostle James openly acknowledges that he was truly accounted righteous, had righteousness imputed to him, and was justified before God, long before the justification that he ascribes to his works. Therefore, his works can only be the evidencing, proving, and manifesting his justification. Hence, it also becomes apparent what the nature of faith is that justifies us, the declaration of which is the principal design of the apostle. In brief, Bellarmine alleges that the Scripture, “Abraham believed, and it was imputed to him for righteousness,” was fulfilled when he was justified by works as he offered his son on the altar. This was done either by imputing righteousness to him, or by a real efficacious righteousness inherent in him, or by manifesting and evidencing his former justification, or by some other way that must be found out.

First, it is plain in the text that it was not by imputation, because it was imputed to him long before, and in a way by which James proves that righteousness is imputed without works.

Secondly, it is also plain that he was not justified by inherent righteousness, because he was righteous in that sense long before his justification; he abounded in works of righteousness to the praise of God. It remains, therefore, that he was justified to evidence and manifest his prior faith and justification.

James’ other instance is Rahab. He asserts she was “justified by works, when she received the messengers, and sent them away.” But she received the spies “by faith,” as the holy Ghost witnesses in Hebrews 11:31. And therefore she had true faith before they came. If so, she was really justified then, for no one can be a true believer and not be justified; that would destroy the foundation of the gospel. In this condition, she received the messengers and made a full declaration of her faith to them, Joshua 2:9-11. After believing, and being justified based on that, and after the confession she made of her faith, she endangered her life by concealing and sending them away. Hereby she justified the sincerity of her faith and confession. In that sense alone, she is said to be “justified by works.” In no other sense does the apostle James mention justification in this passage.

(4.) As to the “works” that are mentioned by both apostles, they mean the same works. There is no disagreement in the least about them. The apostle James means works of obedience to God according to the law. This is evident from the whole first part of the chapter which discusses faith and works. The same is meant by the apostle Paul, as we proved before. And as to their necessity in all believers as evidence of their faith and justification, it is no less pressed by one than the other; as has been declared.

These things being premised; we may observe some things in particular from the discourse of the apostle James. They sufficiently evidence that there is no contradiction in what is delivered by the apostle Paul concerning our justification by faith, the imputation of righteousness without works, and the doctrine we have learned from him and declared.

  1. He makes no compromise or mixture between faith and works in our justification, but
    opposes one to the other, affirming the one and rejecting the other as to our justification.
  2. He makes no distinction between a first and second justification, or the beginning and continuation of justification. He speaks of only one justification, which is our first personal justification before God. Nor are we concerned with any other justification.
  3. He ascribes this justification entirely to works, in contradistinction to faith in that sense of justification which he meant, and the faith which he discussed. Therefore,
  4. He does not inquire or determine how a sinner is justified before God at all. Instead, he is concerned with how those who profess the gospel can prove or demonstrate that they are believers, so that they do not deceive themselves by trusting in a lifeless and barren faith. All these things will be further evidenced in a brief consideration of the context itself, by which I will close this discourse.

From the beginning of chapter 2 to verse 14, he reproves those to whom he wrote for their many sins against the law, the rule of their sins and obedience, or at least he warns them of them. Having shown them the danger they were in, he reveals the root and principal cause of it in verse 14. This was none other than a vain and deceptive presumption that the faith required in the gospel was nothing but a bare assent to its doctrine. They presumed that they were delivered from all obligation to moral obedience or good works, and that they might, without any danger to their eternal state, live in whatever sins their lusts inclined them to, chap. 4:1-4; 5:1-6. The whole topic he addresses is the state of such people, and it defines and measures the interpretation of all his future arguments: “What does it profit, my brethren, though a man say he has faith, and have not works? Can faith save him?” (2:14).

Suppose someone is guilty of the sins charged in the foregoing verses, and yet he boasts that he has faith. He makes a profession of the gospel. He has left either Judaism or Paganism, and committed himself to the faith of the gospel. Therefore, although he is destitute of good works and lives in sin, he believes he is accepted with God, and will be saved. Will this faith indeed save him? This is the question. The gospel says plainly that, “he who believes shall be saved.”

The issue is whether faith that indulges sin, and neglects duties of obedience, is that faith to which the promise of life and salvation is annexed? How may any man, who says he has faith, prove and evidence that he has that faith which will secure his salvation? The apostle denies that this faith can exist without works, or that any man can evidence himself to have true faith without works of obedience. His whole ensuing discourse consists of the proof of this. Not once does he consider the means and causes of the justification of a convinced sinner before God, nor had he any reason to do so. His words are openly twisted when applied to any such intention. The faith that he means and describes is altogether useless to attain salvation. He proves this by comparing it with love or charity of a like nature in verses 15 and 16. “If a brother or sister is naked and destitute of daily food, and one of you says to them, ‘Depart in peace, be you warmed and filled,’ despite you not giving them those things which are needful to the body; what does it profit?” This love or charity is not that gospel grace which is required of us; for the love of God does not dwells in him he who behaves thus towards the poor, 1 John 3:17. Whatever name it may have, whatever it may pretend to be, whatever it may be professed for, it is not love, nor does it have any of the effects of love. It is neither useful nor profitable. Hence, the apostle infers in verse 17, “Even so faith, if it has not works, is dead, being alone.” He did not undertake to prove that we are justified before God by faith alone, without works. He undertook to prove that faith which is alone, without works, is dead, useless, and unprofitable.

Having given this first evidence to prove his thesis, he resumes the question and states it as a hypothesis in verse 18, “Yea, a man may say, ‘You have faith, and I have works: show me your faith which is without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works.”

It is undeniably plain, that the apostle here again proposes his main question, but on an assumption that there is a dead, useless faith, which he proved before. For now, the only inquiry remaining is how true faith, of the right gospel kind, may be shown, evidenced, or demonstrated, so that it exposes the folly of trusting any other faith. “Deixon moi ten pistin sou,” meaning “Evidence or demonstrate your faith to be true by its only means, which is works.” He says, “You have faith, and I have works” or, “You profess and boast that you have that faith by which you may be saved, and I have works.” What he does not say is, “Show me your faith by your works, and I will show you my works by my faith,” which would be the antithesis. Instead he says, “I will show you my faith by my works.” The whole question concerns evidencing faith, not works.

He further proves that this alleged faith is not the faith that will justify or save us. Faith cannot be evidenced by works which it does not produce.

It consists only in a bare assent to the truth of divine revelation. This is no different than what the devils themselves have. No man can think or hope to be saved by what he has in common with devils, and in which he exceeds them. Verse 19, “You believe there is one God; you do well: the devils also believe, and tremble.” The belief in one God is not the whole of what the devils believe, but it is singled out as the principal, fundamental truth. Once conceded, an assent to all divine revelation necessarily ensues. And this is the second argument by which he proves an empty, barren faith is dead and useless.

The second confirmation being given to his principal assertion, he restates it again in a way that will lead to his final confirmation: “But will you know, O vain man, that faith without works is dead?” verse 20.

Consider the words. First, he calls the person with whom he deals a vain man. This is not in general, because every man living is vain. He is someone who especially puffed up in his own vanity and fleshly mind. He is someone who has entertained vain dreams of being saved by an empty profession of the gospel, without any fruit of obedience.

Secondly, what he plans to do is convict this vain man. It is a conviction of that foolish and pernicious error that he imbibed: “Will you know, O vain man?” Thirdly, what he planned to convince him of alone is that “faith without works is dead;” that is, faith without works is barren and unfruitful; it is dead and useless. This is all that he undertakes to prove by his following examples and arguments. To twist his words for any other purpose, when they are all proper and suited to what he expresses as his only design, is to do violence to them.

He proves this thesis by considering the faith of Abraham, verse 21, “Was not Abraham our father justified by works, when he had offered Isaac his son upon the altar?” Some things must be observed to clarify the mind of the apostle in this:

  1. It is certain that Abraham was justified many years before the work referred to was performed. And long before, this testimony was given concerning him, “He believed in the LORD, and he counted it to him for righteousness.” The imputation of righteousness upon believing is all the justification we inquire or contend about.
  2. It is certain that, in relating the story repeated here by the apostle, not one word is spoken of Abraham being justified before God by that or any other work.
  3. It is plain and evident that, in the place referred to, Abraham was declared to be justified by a sincere and open attestation to his faith and fear of God, and that he evidenced these in the sight of God himself. God condescends to assume human affections in Genesis 22:12, “Now I know that you fear God, because you have not withheld your son, your only son, from me.” It cannot be denied that this is the justification which the apostle means; and this was the manifestation and declaration of the truth and sincerity of his faith by which he was justified before God. Hereby the apostle directly and undeniably proves what he produces this example for: that “faith without works is dead.”
  4. It is just as evident that the apostle had not said anything before as to our justification and its means. It is therefore absurd to introduce this passage as the proof of what he had asserted before, that we are justified by works, which it does not prove at all.
  5. The only safe rule of interpreting the apostle’s meaning, next to the scope and design of his present discourse, is the scope and circumstances of the passages which he takes his proof from. They were plainly these, and no other: Abraham had long been a justified believer, for there were thirty years or so between the testimony given to this in Genesis 15, and the story of sacrificing his son in Genesis 22. All the time he walked with God, he was upright in holy and fruitful obedience. Yet after many others, it pleased God to put his faith to his greatest and last trial. It is God’s way, in the covenant of grace, to try the faith of those who believe by such ways as seem appropriate to him. Hereby he manifests how precious the trial of our faith is, making it “more precious than gold,” 1 Peter 1:7. It raises up glory to himself; which it is the nature of faith to give him, Romans 4:20.

This is the case proposed by the apostle: how to determine whether the faith which men profess is genuine, precious, and of the same nature as that to which the gospel promise of salvation is annexed.

Secondly, this trial was based on works, by one signal duty of obedience that was prescribed to him for that very purpose. For Abraham was to be a pattern to all who would afterwards believe.

And God provided a signal way for the trial of his faith, which was by an act of obedience. This was so far from being commanded by the moral law, that it seemed contrary to it. If he is a pattern for us of justification by works, then these must be works that God has not required in the moral law, because they seem to be contrary to it.

Nor can anyone be encouraged to expect justification by works, by telling him that Abraham was justified by works when he offered up his only son to God. For it will be easy for him to say, that because no such work was ever performed by him, none was ever required of him.

But, Thirdly, upon Abraham’s compliance with the command of God, given to him as a trial, God himself ajnqrwpopaqw~v “anthropopathoos” [as if a man] declares the sincerity of Abraham’s faith, and graciously accepts and justifies him based on that. This is the whole design of the passage which the apostle fits to his purpose. It contains the whole of what he was to prove, and no more. Plainly, it grants that we are not justified by our works before God, because he only gives one instance of a work that was performed by a justified believer many years after he was absolutely justified before God. But this manifestly proves that “faith without works is dead.”

This is because justifying faith alone produces works of obedience, as is evident in the case of Abraham. On such a faith alone, a man is evidenced, declared, and pronounced to be justified or accepted with God. Abraham was not first justified at this point. He was declared to be previously justified by this work. This is the whole of what the apostle meant to prove. There is, therefore, no appearance of the least contradiction between Paul and this apostle.

Paul asserts that Abraham was not justified by works. James only declares that the works which he performed after he was justified manifested and declared him to be justified. In the next verse 22, he indicates that this was his whole design, “See how faith was wrought with his works, and by works his faith was made perfect?” He reinforces two things concerning the conviction of Abraham:

  1. That true faith operates by works; it is effective in obedience.
  2. That faith is made perfect by works; that is, it is evidenced as faith –nowhere in the Scripture does the word “teleios, teleioumai,” signify the internal, formal perfecting of anything. It only indicates its external complement or perfection, its manifestation. It was complete when he was first justified; and that was now manifested. See Matthew 5:48; Colossians 4:12; 2 Corinthians 12:9. The apostle says, “This I have proved in the instance of Abraham, namely, that it is works of obedience alone that can prove a man is justified, or to have that faith by which he may be so.” To confirm this affirmation, he adds, “And the Scripture was fulfilled which says, ‘Abraham believed God, and it was imputed to him for righteousness, and he was called The friend of God.’” (James. 2:23). The apostle affirms two things in this:

1    The Scripture mentioned was fulfilled. It was fulfilled in the justification by works which he ascribes to Abraham. But the only way to explain how this Scripture was fulfilled in this, either as to its timing or as to the justification itself, is that it was evidenced and declared. What the Scripture affirmed about Abraham so long before, was then evidenced to be true by the works which his faith produced; thus this Scripture was accomplished. Otherwise, taking into account the distinction he made between faith and works, and adding the sense of this passage given by the apostle Paul, nothing can be more contradictory to his design than quoting this Scripture if he meant to prove our justification is by works. Therefore, this quoted Scripture was not, and cannot be, fulfilled by Abraham’s justification by works. It is only that, by his works, Abraham was manifested to be justified.

2     He adds that, because of this, Abraham was called the friend of God, see also Isaiah 41:8; 2 Chronicles 20:7. This has the same importance as his being justified by works. For he was not called God’s friend merely as a justified person, but as one who received unique privileges from God, and responded to them walking holy before him. Therefore, his being called “The friend of God,” was God’s approval of his faith and obedience. This is the justification by works that the apostle asserts. Based on this, he makes a double conclusion (Rahab’s example is the same kind, so I will not repeat it here):

His first conclusion is, “That by works a man is justified, and not by faith only.” Essentially, he is saying, “You, whom I intend to convince of the vanity of your imagination, dream that you are justified by a dead faith, a breathless carcass of faith, a mere assent to the truth of the gospel, and profession of it, while you continue in all kinds of impiety, wholly destitute of good fruits. Let me show you what kind of faith is required for justification and salvation. For Abraham was declared to be righteous, to be justified, on that faith which is wrought by works, and not at all by the kind of faith you pretend to have.” A man is justified by works, as Abraham was justified when he offered up his son to God. That is, what he really was by faith long before, as the Scripture testifies, was then and thereby evidenced and declared. And, therefore, let no one suppose that he can be justified by the faith which these people boasted of, seeing that the faith by which Abraham was declared to be justified, evidenced itself by its fruits.

He lays down that great conclusion which he planned to confirm, and proved, by his whole argument, “For as the body without the spirit is dead, so faith without works is dead also” (2:26). A breathless carcass and an unworking faith are alike, as to all the outcomes of natural or
spiritual life.

This was what the apostle designed from the beginning to convict vain and barren professors of faith. Accordingly, this is what he gave sufficient reason and testimony for.

THE LAW OF INDWELLING SIN. Part 3; Its Pleasantness and Madness to the Heart

Taken and adapted from, “REMAINDERS OF INDWELLING SIN”
Written by John Owen, 1616 – 1683

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“Out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies,” etc. –Matthew 15:19

This is the madness, or the root of all that madness which appears in their lives…

There are many outward temptations and provocations that befall men, which excite and stir them up unto these evils; but they do but as it were open the vessel, and let out what is laid up and stored in it. The root, rise, and stirring of all these things is in the heart. Temptations and occasions put nothing into a man, but only draw out what was in him before. Hence is that summary description to the whole work and effect of this law of sin, Genesis 6:5, “Every imagination of the thoughts of man’s heart is only evil continually;” so also chap. 8:21. The whole work of the law of sin, from its first rise, its first coining of actual sin, is here described. And its seat, its work-house, is said to be the heart; and so it is called by our Savior “The evil treasure of the heart:” Luke 6:45, “An evil man, out of the evil treasure of his heart, brings forth evil things.” This treasure is the prevailing principle of moral actions that is in men. So, in the beginning of the verse, our Savior calls grace “The good treasure of the heart” of a good man, whence that which is good doth proceed. It is a principle constantly and abundantly inciting and stirring up unto, and consequently bringing forth, actions conformable and like unto it, of the same kind and nature with itself. And it is also called a treasure for its abundance. It will never be exhausted; it is not wasted by men’s spending on it; yea, the more lavish men are of this stock, the more they draw out of this treasure, the more it grows and abounds!

As men do not spend their grace, but increase it, by its exercise, so do they their indwelling sin. The more men exercise their grace in duties of obedience, the more it is strengthened and increased; and the more men exert and put forth the fruits of their lust, the more is that enraged and increased in them; — it feeds upon itself, swallows up its own poison, and grows thereby.

The more men sin, the more are they inclined unto sin. It is from the deceitfulness of this law of sin, whereof we shall speak afterward at large, that men persuade themselves that by this or that particular sin they shall so satisfy their lusts as that they shall need to sin no more. Every sin increases the principle, and fortifies the habit of sinning. It is an evil treasure, that increases by doing evil. And where doth this treasure lie? It is in the heart; there it is laid up, there it is kept in safety. All the men in the world, all the angels in heaven, cannot dispossess a man of this treasure, it is so safely stored in the heart.

The heart in the Scripture is variously used; sometimes for the mind and understanding, sometimes for the will, sometimes for the affections, sometimes for the conscience, sometimes for the whole soul. Generally, it denotes the whole soul of man and all the faculties of it, not absolutely, but as they are all one principle of moral operations, as they all concur in our doing good or evil. The mind, as it inquires, discerns, and judges what is to be done, what refused; the will, as it chooses or refuses and avoids; the affections, as they like or dislike, cleave to or have an aversion from, that which is proposed to them; the conscience, as it warns and determines, — are all together called the heart. And in this sense it is that we say the seat and subject of this law of sin is the heart of man. Only, we may add that the Scripture, speaking of the heart as the principle of men’s good or evil actions, doth usually insinuate together with it two things belonging unto the manner of their performance: —

1   A suitableness and pleasantness unto the soul in the things that are done. When men take delight and are pleased in and with what they do, they are said to do it heartily, with their whole hearts. Thus, when God himself blesses his people in love and delight, he says the doth it “with his whole heart, and with his whole soul,” Jeremiah 32:41.

2   Resolution and constancy in such actions. And this also is denoted in the metaphorical expression before used of a treasure, from whence men do constantly take out the things which either they stand in need of or do intend to use.

This is the subject, the seat, the dwelling-place of this law of sin, — the heart; as it is the entire principle of moral operations, of doing good or evil, as out of it proceed good or evil. Here dwells our enemy; this is the fort, the citadel of this tyrant, where it maintains a rebellion against God all our days. Sometimes it hath more strength, and consequently more success; sometimes less of the one and of the other; but it is always in rebellion whilst we live. That we may in our passage take a little view of the strength and power of sin from this seat and subject of it, we may consider one or two properties of the heart that exceedingly contribute thereunto. It is like an enemy in war, whose strength and power lie not only in his numbers and force of men or arms, but also in the unconquerable forts that he possesses. And such is the heart to this enemy of God and our souls; as will appear from the properties of it, whereof one or two shall be mentioned.

1   It is unsearchable: Jeremiah 17:9, 10, “Who can know the heart? I the LORD search it.” The heart of man is pervious to God only; hence he takes the honor of searching the heart to be as peculiar to himself, and as fully declaring him to be God, as any other glorious attribute of his nature. We know not the hearts of one another; we know not our own hearts as we ought. Many there are that know not their hearts as to their general bent and disposition, whether it be good or bad, sincere and sound, or corrupt and nothing; but no one knows all the secret intrigues, the windings and turnings, the acting and aversions of his own heart. Hath any one the perfect measure of his own light and darkness? Can any one know what acting of choosing or aversion his will bring forth, upon the proposal of that endless variety of objects that it is to be exercised with? Can any one traverse the various mutability of his afflictions? Do the secret springs of acting and refusing in the soul lie before the eyes of any man? Doth any one know what will be the motions of the mind or will in such and such conjunctions of things, such a suiting of objects, such a pretension of reasonings, such an appearance of things desirable? All in heaven and earth, but the infinite, all-seeing God, are utterly ignorant of these things. In this unsearchable heart dwells the law of sin; and much of its security, and consequently of its strength, lies in this, that it is past our finding out. We fight with an enemy whose secret strength we cannot discover, whom we cannot follow into its retirements. Hence, oftentimes, when we are ready to think sin quite ruined, after a while we find it was but out of sight. It hath coverts and retreats in an unsearchable heart, whither we cannot pursue it. The soul may persuade itself all is well, when sin may be safe in the hidden darkness of the mind, which it is impossible that he should look into; for whatever makes manifest is light. It may suppose the will of sinning is utterly taken away, when yet there is an unsearchable reserve for a more suitable object, a more vigorous temptation, than at present it is tried withal. Hath a man had a contest with any lust, and a blessed victory over it by the Holy Ghost as to that present trial? — when he thinks it is utterly expelled, he ere long finds that it was but retired out of sight. It can lie so close in the mind’s darkness, in the will’s indisposition, in the disorder and carnality of the affections, that no eye can discover it. The best of our wisdom is but to watch its first appearances, to catch its first under-earth heavings and workings, and to set ourselves in opposition to them; for to follow it into the secret corners of the heart, that we cannot do. It is true, there is yet a relief in this case, — namely, that he to whom the work of destroying the law of sin and body of death in us is principally committed, namely, the Holy Ghost, comes with his axe to the very root; neither is there any thing in an unsearchable heart that is not “naked and open unto him,” Hebrews 4:13; but we in a way of duty may hence see what an enemy we have to deal withal.

2   As it is unsearchable, so it is deceitful, as in the place above mentioned: “It is deceitful above all things,” — incomparably so. There is great deceit in the dealings of men in the world; great deceit in their counsels and contrivances in reference to their affairs, private and public; great deceit in their words and acting: the world is full of deceit and fraud. But all this is nothing to the deceit that is in man’s heart towards himself; for that is the meaning of the expression in this place, and not towards others. Now, incomparable deceitfulness, added to unsearchableness, gives a great addition and increase of strength to the law of sin, upon the account of its seat and subject. I speak not yet of the deceitfulness of sin itself, but the deceitfulness of the heart where it is seated. Proverbs 26:25, “There are seven abominations in the heart;” that is, not only many, but an absolute complete number, as seven denotes. And they are such abominations as consist in deceitfulness; so the caution foregoing insinuates, “Trust him not:” for it is only deceit that should make us not to trust in that degree and measure which the object is capable of.

Now, this deceitfulness of the heart, whereby it is exceedingly advantaged in its harboring of sin, lies chiefly in these two things: —

(1.) That it abounds in contradictions, so that it is not to be found and dealt withal according to any constant rule and way of procedure. There are some men that have much of this, from their natural constitution, or from other causes, in their conversation. They seem to be made up of contradictions; sometimes to be very wise in their affairs, sometimes very foolish; very open, and very reserved; very facile, and very obstinate; very easy to be entreated, and very revengeful, — all in a remarkable height. This is generally accounted a bad character, and is seldom found but when it proceeds from some notable predominant lust. But, in general, in respect of moral good or evil, duty or sin, it is so with the heart of every man, — flaming hot, and key cold; weak, and yet stubborn; obstinate, and facile. The frame of the heart is ready to contradict itself every moment. Now you would think you had it all for such a frame, such a way; anon it is quite otherwise: so that none know what to expect from it. The rise of this is the disorder that is brought upon all its faculties by sin. God created them all in a perfect harmony and union. The mind and reason were in perfect subjection and subordination to God and his will; the will answered, in its choice of good, the discovery made of it by the mind; the affections constantly and evenly followed the understanding and will. The mind’s subjection to God was the spring of the orderly and harmonious motion of the soul and all the wheels in it. That being disturbed by sin, the rest of the faculties move cross and contrary one to another. The will chooses not the good which the mind discovers; the affections delight not in that which the will chooses; but all jar and interfere, cross and rebel against each other. This we have got by our falling from God. Hence sometimes the will leads, the judgment follows. Yea, commonly the affections, that should attend upon all, get the sovereignty, and draw the whole soul captive after them. And hence it is, as I said, that the heart is made up of so many contradictions in its acting. Sometimes the mind retains its sovereignty, and the affections are in subjection, and the will ready for its duty. This puts a good face upon things. Immediately the rebellion of the affections or the obstinacy of the will takes place and prevails, and the whole scene is changed. This, I say, makes the heart deceitful above all things: it agrees not at all in itself, is not constant to itself, hath no order that it is constant unto, is under no certain conduct that is stable; but, if I may so say, hath a rotation in itself, where often the feet lead and guide the whole.

(2.) Its deceit lies in full promise upon the first appearance of things; and this also proceeds from the same principle with the former. Sometimes the affections are touched and wrought upon; the whole heart appears in a fair frame; all promises to be well. Within a while the whole frame is changed; the mind was not at all affected or turned; the affections a little acted their parts and are gone off, and all the fair promises of the heart are departed with them. Now, add this deceitfulness to the unsearchableness before mentioned, and we shall find that at least the difficulty of dealing effectually with sin in its seat and throne will be exceedingly increased. A deceiving and a deceived heart, who can deal with it? — especially considering that the heart employs all its deceits unto the service of sin, contributes them all to its furtherance. All the disorder that is in the heart, all its false promises and fair appearances, promote the interest and advantages of sin. Hence God cautions the people to look to it, lest their own hearts should entice and deceive them.

Who can mention the treacheries and deceits that lie in the heart of man? It is not for nothing that the Holy Ghost so expresses it, “It is deceitful above all things,” — uncertain in what it doth, and false in what it promises. And hence moreover it is, amongst other causes, that, in the pursuit of our war against sin, we have not only the old work to go over and over, but new work still while we live in this world, still new stratagems and wiles to deal withal; as the manner will be where unsearchableness and deceitfulness are to be contended with.

First, Never let us reckon that our work in contending against sin, in crucifying, mortifying, and subduing of it, is at an end. The place of its habitation is unsearchable; and when we may think that we have thoroughly won the field, there is still some reserve remaining that we saw not, that we knew not of. Many conquerors have been ruined by their carelessness after a victory, and many have been spiritually wounded after great successes against this enemy. David was so; his great giving into sin was after a long profession, manifold experiences of God, and watchful keeping himself from his iniquity. And hence, it comes to pass that the profession of many hath decline in their old age or riper time; which must more distinctly be spoken to afterward. They have given over the work of mortifying of sin before their work was at an end. There is no way for us to pursue sin in its unsearchable habitation but by being endless in our pursuit. And that command of the apostle which we have, Colossians 3:5, on this account is as necessary for them to observe who are towards the end of their race, as those that are but at the beginning of it: “Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth;” be always doing it whilst you live in this world. It is true, great ground is obtained when the work is vigorously and constantly carried on; sin is much weakened, so that the soul presses forwards towards perfection: but yet the work must be endless; I mean, whilst we are in this world. If we give over, we shall quickly see this enemy exerting itself with new strength and vigor. It may be under some great affliction, it may be in some eminent enjoyment of God, in the sense of the sweetness of blessed communion with Christ, we have been ready to say that there was an end of sin, that it was dead and gone forever; but have we not found the contrary by experience? hath it not manifested that it was only retired into some unsearchable recesses of the heart, as to its in-being and nature, though, it may be, greatly weakened in its power? Let us, then, reckon on it, that there is no way to have our work done but by always doing of it; and he who dies fighting in this warfare dies assuredly a conqueror.

Second, Does not the heart have its residence in that which is diverse, inconstant, deceitful above all things? This calls for perpetual watchfulness against it. An open enemy, that deals by violence only, always gives some respite. You know where to have him and what he is doing, so as that sometimes you may sleep quietly without fear. But against adversaries that deal by deceit and treachery (which are long swords, and reach at the greatest distance) nothing will give security but perpetual watchfulness. It is impossible we should in this case be too jealous, doubtful, suspicious, or watchful. The heart hath a thousand wiles and deceits; and if we are in the least off from our watch, we may, be sure to be surprised. Hence are those reiterated commands and cautions given for watching, for being circumspect, diligent, careful, and the like. There is no living for them who have to deal with an enemy deceitful above all things, unless they persist in such a frame. All cautions that are given in this case are necessary, especially that, “Remember not to believe.” Doth the heart promise fair? — rest not on it, but say to the Lord Christ, “Lord, do thou undertake for me.” Doth the sun shine fair in the morning? — reckon not therefore on a fair day; the clouds may arise and fall. Though the morning give a fair appearance of serenity and peace, turbulent affections may arise, and cloud the soul with sin and darkness.

Third, Commit the whole matter with all care and diligence unto Him who can search the heart to the uttermost, and knows how to prevent all its treacheries and deceits. In the thoughts before mentioned lies our duty, but here lies our safety.

There is no treacherous corner in our hearts but he can search it to the uttermost; there is no deceit in them but he can disappoint it. This course David takes, Psalm 139. After he had set forth the omnipresence of God and his omniscience, verses 1-10, he makes improvement of it: verse 23, “Search me, O God, and try me.” As if he had said, “It is but a little that I know of my deceitful heart, only I would be sincere; I would not have reserves for sin retained therein. Wherefore, do thou, who art present with my heart, who knowest my thoughts long before, undertake this work, perform it thoroughly, for thou alone art able so to do.”

THE LAW OF INDWELLING SIN. Part Two; Dominance and Capacity

Taken and adapted from, “REMAINDERS OF INDWELLING SIN”
Written by John Owen, 1616 – 1683

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There are in general two things attending every law, as such…

First, Dominion. Romans 7:1, “The law has dominion over a man whilst he lives:” κυριεύει τοῦ ἀνθρώπου — “It lords it over a man.” Where any law takes place, κυριεύει, it has dominion. It is properly the act of a superior, and it belongs to its nature to exact obedience by way of dominion. Now, there is a twofold dominion, as there is a twofold law. There is a moral authoritative dominion over a man, and there is a real effective dominion in a man. The first is an affection of the law of God, the latter of the law of sin. The law of sin has not in itself a moral dominion, — it has not a rightful dominion or authority over any man; but it has that which is equivalent unto it; whence it is said Μὴ οὖν βασιλευέτω ἁμαρτία ἐν, “to reign as a king,” is brought out –Romans 6:12, and  ἁμαρτία γὰρ ὑμῶν οὐ κυριεύσε “to lord it,” or have dominion, is seen verse 14, as a law in general is said to have, chapter 7:1. But because it has lost its complete dominion in reference unto believers, of whom alone we speak, I shall not insist upon it in this utmost extent of its power. But even in them it is a law still; though not a law unto them, yet, as was said, it is a law in them. And though it has not a complete, and, as it were, a rightful dominion over them, yet it will have a domination as to some things in them. It is still a law, and that in them; so that all its actings are the actings of a law, — that is, it acts with power, though it has lost its complete power of ruling in them. Though it be weakened, yet its nature is not thawed. It is a law still, and therefore powerful. And as its particular workings, which we shall afterward consider, are the ground of this appellation, so the term itself teaches us in general what we are to expect from it, and what endeavors it will use for dominion, to which it has been accustomed.

Secondly, A law, as a law, has the capacity to provoke those that are adamantly against it into the things that it requires. A law has rewards and punishments accompanying of it. These secretly prevail on them to whom they are proposed, though the things commanded be not much desirable. And generally all laws have their efficacy on the minds of men, from the rewards and punishments that are annexed unto them. Nor is this law without this spring of power: it has its rewards and punishments. The pleasures of sin are the rewards of sin; a reward that most men lose their souls to obtain. By this the law of sin contended in Moses against the law of grace. Hebrews 11:25, 26, “He chose rather to suffer affliction with the people of God, than to enjoy the pleasures of sin for a season; for he looked unto the recompense of reward.” The contest was in his mind between the law of sin and the law of grace. The motive on the part of the law of sin, wherewith it sought to draw him over, and wherewith it prevails on the most, was the reward that it proposed unto him, — namely, that he should have the present enjoyment of the pleasures of sin. By this it contended against the reward annexed unto the law of grace, called “the recompense of reward.”

By this sorry reward does this law keep the world in obedience to its commands; and experience shows us of what power it is to influence the minds of men. It has also punishments that it threatens men with who labor to cast off its yoke. Whatever evil, trouble, or danger in the world, attends gospel obedience, — whatever hardship or violence is to be offered to the sensual part of our natures in a strict course of mortification, — sin makes use of, as if they were punishments attending the neglect of its commands. By these it prevails on the “fearful,” who shall have no share in life eternal, Revelation 21:8. And it is hard to say by whether of these, its pretended rewards or pretended punishments, it does most prevail, in whether of them its greatest strength does lie. By its rewards it entices men to sins of commission, as they are called, in ways and actions tending to the satisfaction of its lusts. By its punishments it induces men to the omitting of duties; a course tending to no less a pernicious event than the former. By which of these the law of sin has its greatest success in and upon the souls of men is not evident; and that because they are seldom or never separated, but equally take place on the same persons. But this is certain, that by tenders and promises of the pleasures of sin on the one hand, by threats of the deprivation of all sensual contentments and the infliction of temporal evils on the other, it has an exceeding efficacy on the minds of men, oftentimes on believers themselves. Unless a man be prepared to reject the reasonings that will offer themselves from the one and the other of these, there is no standing before the power of the law. The world falls before them every day. With what deceit and violence, they are urged and imposed on the minds of men we shall afterward declare; as also what advantages they have to prevail upon them. Look on the generality of men, and you shall find them wholly by these means at sin’s disposal. Do the profits and pleasures of sin lie before them? — nothing can withhold them from reaching after them. Do difficulties and inconveniences attend the duties of the gospel? — they will have nothing to do with them; and so are wholly given up to the rule and dominion of this law. And this light in general we have into the power and efficacy of indwelling sin from the general nature of a law, whereof it is partaker.

We may consider, next, what kind of law in particular it is; which will extend our evidence regarding the capacity of its power and how it works, for it is not an outward, written, commanding, directing law, but an inbred, working, impelling, urging law. A law proposed unto us is not to be compared, for efficacy, to a law inbred in us. Adam had a law of sin proposed to him in his temptation; but because he had no law of sin inbred and working in him, he might have withstood it. An inbred law must needs be effectual. Let us take an example from that law which is contrary to this law of sin. The law of God was at first inbred and natural unto man; it was consecrated with his faculties, and was their rectitude, both in being and operation, in reference to his end of living unto God and glorifying of him. Hence it had an especial power in the whole soul to enable it unto all obedience, yea, and to make all obedience easy and pleasant. Such is the power of an inbred law. And though this law, as to the rule and dominion of it, be now by nature cast out of the soul, yet the remaining sparks of it, because they are inbred, are very powerful and effectual; as the apostle declares, Romans 2:14, 15. Afterward God renews this law, and writes it in tables of stone. But what is the efficacy of this law? Will it now, as it is external and proposed unto men, enable them to perform the things that it exacts and requires? Not at all. God knew it would not, unless it were turned to an internal law again; that is, until, of a moral outward rule, it be turned into an inward real principle. Wherefore God makes his law internal again, and implants it on the heart as it was at first, when he intends to give it power to produce obedience in his people: Jeremiah 31:31-33, “I will put my law in their inward parts, and write it in their hearts.” This is that which God fixes on, as it were, upon a discovery of the insufficiency of an outward law leading men unto obedience. “The written law,” saith he, “will not do it; mercies and deliverances from distress will not affect it; trials and afflictions will not accomplish it.” “Then,” saith the Lord, “will I take another course: I will turn the written law into an internal living principle in their hearts; and that will have such an efficacy as shall assuredly make them my people, and keep them so.” Now, such is this law of sin. It is an indwelling law: Romans 7:17, “It is sin that dwells in me;” verse 20, “Sin that dwells in me;” verse 21, “It is present with me;” verse 23, “It is in my members;” — yea, it is so far in a man, as in some sense it is said to be the man himself; verse 18, “I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) dwells no good thing.” The flesh, which is the seat and throne of this law, yea, which indeed is this law, is in some sense the man himself, as grace also is the new man. Now, from this consideration of it, that it is an indwelling law inclining and moving to sin, as an inward habit or principle, it has sundry advantages increasing its strength and furthering its power; as,

  1. The indwelling law of sin always abides in the soul; –it is never absent. The apostle twice uses that expression, “It dwells in me.” There is its constant residence and habitation. If it came upon the soul only at certain seasons, much obedience might be perfectly accomplished in its absence; yea, and as they deal with usurping tyrants, whom they intend to thrust out of a city, the gates might be sometimes shut against it, that it might not return, — the soul might fortify itself against it. But the soul is its home; there it dwells, and is no wanderer. Wherever you are, whatever you are about, this law of sin is always in you; in the best that You do, and in the worst. Men little consider what a dangerous companion is always at home with them. When they are in company, when alone, by night or by day, all is one, sin is with them. There is a living coal continually in their houses; which, if it be not looked unto, will fire them, and it may be consume them. Oh, the woeful security of poor souls! How little do the most of men think of this inbred enemy that is never from home! How little, for the most part, does the watchfulness of any professors answer the danger of their state and condition!
  2. It is always ready to apply itself to every end and purpose that will serve it. “It does not only dwell in me,” saith the apostle, “but when I would do good, it is present with me.” There is somewhat more in that expression than mere indwelling. An inmate may dwell in a house, and yet not be always meddling with what the good-man of the house has to do (that so we may keep to the allusion of indwelling, used by the apostle): but it is so with this law, it does so dwell in us, as that it will be present with us in everything we do; yea, oftentimes when with most earnestness we desire to be quit of it, with most violence it will put itself upon us: “When I would do good, it is present with me.” Would you pray, would you hear, would you give alms, would you meditate, would you be in any duty acting faith on God and love towards him, would you work righteousness, would you resist temptations, — this troublesome, perplexing indweller will still more or less put itself upon you and be present with you; so that you cannot perfectly and completely accomplish the thing that is good, as our apostle speaks, verse 18. Sometimes men, by hearkening to their temptations, do stir up, excite, and provoke their lusts; and no wonder if then they find them present and active. But it will be so when with all our endeavors we labor to be free from them. This law of sin “dwells” in us; — that is, it adheres as a depraved principle, unto our minds in darkness and vanity, unto our affections in sensuality, unto our wills in a loathing of and aversion from that which is good; and by some, more, or all of these, is continually putting itself upon us, in inclinations, motions, or suggestions to evil, when we would be most gladly quit of it.
  3. It being an indwelling law, applies itself to its work with great ability and easiness, like “the sin that does so easily beset us,” Hebrews 12:1. It has a great facility and easiness in the application of itself unto its work; it needs no doors to be opened unto it; it needs no engines to work by. The soul cannot apply itself to any duty of a man but it must be by the exercise of those faculties wherein this law has its residence. Is the understanding or the mind to be applied unto anything? — there it is, in ignorance, darkness, vanity, folly, madness. Is the will to be engaged? — there it is also, in spiritual deadness, stubbornness, and the roots of obstinacy. Is the heart and affections to be set on work? — there it is, in inclinations to the world and present things, and sensuality, with proneness to all manner of defilements. Hence it is easy for it to insinuate itself into all that we do, and to hinder all that is good, and to further all sin and wickedness. It has an intimacy, an inwardness with the soul; and therefore, in all that we do, does easily beset us. It possesses those very faculties of the soul whereby we must do what we do, whatever it be, good or evil. Now, all these advantages it has as it is a law, as an indwelling law, which manifests its power and efficacy. It is always resident in the soul, it puts itself upon all its actings, and that with easiness and facility.

This is that law which the apostle affirms that he found in himself; this is the title that he gives unto the powerful and effectual remainder of indwelling sin even in believers; and these general evidences of its power, from that appellation, have we. Many there are in the world who find not this law in them, — who, whatever they have been taught in the word, have not a spiritual sense and experience of the power of indwelling sin; and that because they are wholly under the dominion of it. They find not that there is darkness and folly in their minds; because they are darkness itself, and darkness will discover nothing. They find not deadness and an indisposition in their hearts and wills to God; because they are dead wholly in trespasses and sins. They are at peace with their lusts, by being in bondage unto them. And this is the state of most men in the world; which makes them woefully despise all their eternal concernments. Whence is it that men follow and pursue the world with so much greediness, that they neglect heaven, and life, and immortality for it, every day? Whence is it that some pursue their sensuality with delight? — they will drink and revel, and have their sports, let others say what they please. Whence is it that so many live so unprofitably under the word, that they understand so little of what is spoken unto them, that they practice less of what they understand, and will by no means be stirred up to answer the mind of God in his calls unto them? It is all from this law of sin and the power of it, that rules and bears sway in men, that all these things do proceed; but it is not such persons of whom at present we particularly treat.

From what has been spoken it will ensure, that, if there be such a law in believers, it is doubtless their duty to find it out, and to find if it is true. The more they find its power, the less they will feel its effects. It will not at all advantage a man to have a heretical distemper and not to discover it, — a fire lying secretly in his house and not to know it. So much as men find of this law in them, so much they will abhor it and themselves, and no more. Proportionally also to their discovery of it will be their earnestness for grace, nor will it rise higher. All watchfulness and diligence in obedience will be answerable also thereunto. Upon this one hinge, or finding out and experiencing the power and the efficacy of this law of sin, turns the whole course of our lives. Ignorance of it breeds senselessness, carelessness, sloth, security, and pride; all which the Lord’s soul abhors. Eruptions into great, open, conscience-wasting, scandalous sins, are from want of a due spiritual consideration of this law.

Inquire, then, how it is with your souls. What do you find of this law? what experience have you of its power and efficacy? Do you find it dwelling in you, always present with you, exciting itself, or putting forth its poison with facility and easiness at all times, in all your duties, “when you would do good?” What humiliation, what self-abasement, what intenseness in prayer, what diligence, what watchfulness, does this call for at your hands! What spiritual wisdom do you stand in need of! What supplies of grace, what assistance of the Holy Ghost, will be hence also discovered! I fear we have few of us a diligence proportional to our danger.

THE LAW OF INDWELLING SIN, Part One

Taken and adapted from, “REMAINDERS OF INDWELLING SIN”
Written by John Owen, 1616 – 1683

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“I find then a law, that, when I would do good, evil is present with me.”
–Romans 7:21

There are four things observable in these words:  

First. The appellation he gives unto indwelling sin, whereby he expresses its power and efficacy: it is “a law;” for that which he terms “a law” in this verse, he calls in the foregoing, “sin that dwells in him.” 

Secondly. The way whereby he came to the discovery of this law; not absolutely and in its own nature, but in himself he found it: “I find a law.” 

Thirdly. The frame of his soul and inward man with this law of sin, and under its discovery: “he would do good.” 

Fourthly. The state and activity of this law when the soul is in that frame when it would do good: it “is present with him.” For what ends and purposes we shall show afterward. 

The first thing observable is the compilation here used by the apostle, he calls indwelling sin “a law.” 

First, it is a law. A law is taken either properly for a directive rule, or improperly for an operative effective principle, which seems to have the force of a law. In its first sense, it is a moral rule which directs and commands, and sundry ways moves and regulates, the mind and the will as to the things which it requires or forbids. This is evidently the general nature and work of a law. Some things it commands, some things it forbids, with rewards and penalties, which move and impel men to do the one and avoid the other. Hence, in a secondary sense, an inward principle that moves and inclines constantly unto any actions is called a law.

The principle that is in the nature of everything, moving and carrying it towards its own end and rest, is called the law of nature. In this respect, every inward principle that inclines and urges unto operations or actings suitable to itself is a law.

So, Romans 8:2, the powerful and effectual working of the Spirit and grace of Christ in the hearts of believers is called “The law of the Spirit of life.” And for this reason doth the apostle here calls indwelling sin a law. It is a powerful and effectual indwelling principle, inclining and pressing unto actions agreeable and suitable unto its own nature. This, and no other, is the intention of the apostle in this expression: for although that term, “a law,” may sometimes intend a state and condition, — and if here so used, the meaning of the words should be, “I find that this is my condition, this is the state of things with me, that when I would do good evil is present with me,’” which makes no great alteration in the principal intendment of the place, — yet properly it can denote nothing here but the chief subject treated of; for although the name of a law be variously used by the apostle in this chapter, yet when it relates unto sin it is nowhere applied by him to the condition of the person, but only to express either the nature or the power of sin itself. So, chap. 7:23, “I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members.” That which he here calls the “law of his mind,” from the principal subject and seat of it, is in itself no other but the “law of the Spirit of life which is in Christ Jesus,” chap. 8:2; or the effectual power of the Spirit of grace, as was said. But “the law,” as applied unto sin, hath a double sense: for as, in the first place, “I see a law in my members,” it denotes the being and nature of sin; so, in the latter, “Leading into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members,” it signifies its power and efficacy. And both these are comprised in the same name, singly used, chap. 7:21. Now, that which we observe from this name or term of a “law” attributed unto sin is, that there is an exceeding efficacy and power in the remainders of indwelling sin in believers, with a constant working towards evil.

Thus it is in believers; it is a law even in them, though not to them. Though its rule be broken, its strength weakened and impaired, its root mortified, yet it is a law still of great force and efficacy. There, where it is least felt, it is most powerful.

Carnal men, in reference unto spiritual and moral duties, are nothing but this law; they do nothing but from it and by it. It is in them a ruling and prevailing principle of all moral actions, with reference unto a supernatural and eternal end. I shall not consider it in them in whom it hath most power, but in them in whom its power is chiefly discovered and discerned, — that is, in believers; in the others only in order to the farther conviction and manifestation thereof.

The apostle proposes the way whereby he discovered this law in himself: Εὑρίσκω ἄρα τὸν νόμον, “I find then,” or therefore, “a law.” He found it. It had been told him there was such a law; it had been preached unto him. This convinced him that there was a law of sin. But it is one thing for a man to know in general that there is a law of sin; another thing for a man to have an experience of the power of this law of sin in himself. It is preached to all; all men that own the Scripture acknowledge it, as being declared therein. But they are but few that know it in themselves; we should else have more complaints of it than we have, and more contendings against it, and less fruits of it in the world. But this is that which the apostle affirms, — not that the doctrine of it had been preached unto him, but that he found it by experience in himself. “I find a law;” — “I have experience of its power and efficacy.” For a man to find his sickness, and danger thereon from its effects, is another thing than to hear a discourse about a disease from its causes. And this experience is the great preservative of all divine truth in the soul. This it is to know a thing indeed, in reality, to know it for ourselves, when, as we are taught it from the word, so we find it in ourselves.

Hence we observe, secondly, Believers have experience of the power and efficacy of indwelling sin. They find it in themselves; they find it as a law. It hath a self-evidencing efficacy to them that are alive to discern it. They that find not its power are under its dominion. Whosoever contend against it shall know and find that it is present with them, that it is powerful in them. He shall find the stream to be strong who swims against it, though he who rolls along with it be insensible of it.

Thirdly, the general frame of believers, notwithstanding the inhabitation of this law of sin, is here also expressed. They “would do good.” This law is “present:” τῷ θέλοντι ἐμοὶ ποιεῖν τὸ καλὸν. The habitual inclination of their will is unto good. The law in them is not a law unto them, as it is to unbelievers. They are not wholly obnoxious to its power, nor morally unto its commands. Grace hath the sovereignty in their souls: this gives them a will unto good. They “would do good,” that is, always and constantly. 1 John 3:9, ἁμαρτίαν οὐ ποιεῖ, “To commit sin,” is to make a trade of sin, to make it a man’s business to sin. So it is said a believer “doth not commit sin;” and so ποιεῖν τὸ καλὸν, “to do that which is good.”

To will to do so — is to have the habitual bent and inclination of the will set on that which is good, — that is, morally and spiritually good, which is the proper subject treated of: whence is our third observation, — There is, and there is through grace, kept up in believers a constant and ordinarily prevailing will of doing good, notwithstanding the power and efficacy of indwelling sin to the contrary.

This, in their worst condition, distinguishes them from unbelievers in their best. The will in unbelievers is under the power of the law of sin. The opposition they make to sin, either in the root or branches of it, is from their light and their consciences; the will of sinning in them is never taken away.

Take away all other considerations and hindrances, whereof we shall treat afterward, and they would sin willingly always. Their faint endeavors to answer their convictions are far from a will of doing that which is good. They will plead, indeed, that they would leave their sins if they could, and they would fain do better than they do. But it is the working of their light and convictions, not any spiritual inclination of their wills, which they intend by that expression: for where there is a will of doing good, there is a choice of that which is good for its own excellency’s sake, — because it is desirable and suitable to the soul, and therefore to be preferred before that which is contrary. Now, this is not in any unbelievers. They do not, they cannot, so choose that which is spiritually good, nor is it so excellent or suitable unto any principle that is in them; only they have some desires to attain that end whereunto that which is good doth lead, and to avoid that evil which the neglect of it tends unto. And these also are for the most part so weak and languid in many of them, that they put them not upon any considerable endeavors. Witness that luxury, sloth, worldliness, and security, that the generality of men are even drowned in. But in believers there is a will of doing good, an habitual disposition and inclination in their wills unto that which is spiritually good; and where this is, it is accompanied with answerable effects. The will is the principle of our moral actions; and therefore unto the prevailing disposition thereof will the general course of our actings be suited. Good things will proceed from the good treasures of the heart. Nor can this disposition be evidenced to be in any but by its fruits. A will of doing good, without doing good, is but pretended.

Fourthly, there is yet another thing remaining in these words of the apostle, arising from that respect that the presence of sin hath unto the time and season of duty: “When I would do good,” saith he, “evil is present with me.” 

There are two things to be considered in the will of doing good that is in believers: — 

  1. There is its habitual residence in them. They have always an habitual inclination of will unto that which is good. And this habitual preparation for good is always present with them; as the apostle expresses it, verse 18 of this chapter.
  2. There are special times and seasons for the exercise of that principle. There is a “When I would do good,” — a season wherein this or that good, this or that duty, is to be performed and accomplished suitably unto the habitual preparation and inclination of the will.

Unto these two there are two things in indwelling sin opposed.

To the gracious principle residing in the will, inclining unto that which is spiritually good, it is opposed as it is a law, — that is, a contrary principle, inclining unto evil, with an aversion from that which is good. Unto the second, or the actual willing of this or that good in particular, unto this “When I would do good,” is opposed the presence of this law: “Evil is present with me,” — ὅτι ἐμοὶ τὸ κακὸν παράκειται evil is at hand, and ready to oppose the actual accomplishment of the good aimed at. Whence, fourthly, indwelling sin is effectually operative in rebelling and inclining to evil, when the will of doing good is in a particular manner active and inclining unto obedience.

And this is the description of him who is a believer and a sinner, as everyone who is the former is the latter also. These are the contrary principles and the contrary operations that are in him. The principles are, a will of doing good on the one hand, from grace, and a law of sin on the other. Their adverse actings and operations are insinuated in these expressions: “When I would do good, evil is present with me.” And these both are more fully expressed by the apostle, Galatians 5:17, “For the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other; so that I cannot do the things that I would.”

And here lie the springs of the whole course of our obedience. An acquaintance with these several principles and their actings is the principal part of our wisdom. They are upon the matter, next to the free grace of God in our justification by the blood of Christ, the only things wherein the glory of God and our own souls are concerned. These are the springs of our holiness and our sins, of our joys and troubles, of our refreshments and sorrows. It is, then, all our concernments to be thoroughly acquainted with these things, who intend to walk with God and to glorify him in this world. 

And hence we may see what wisdom is required in the guiding and management of our hearts and ways before God. Where the subjects of a ruler are in feuds and oppositions one against another, unless great wisdom be used in the government of the whole, all things will quickly be ruinous in that state. There are these contrary principles in the hearts of believers. And if they labor not to be spiritually wise, how shall they be able to steer their course aright? Many men live in the dark to themselves all their days; whatever else they know, they know not themselves. They know their outward estates, how rich they are, and the condition of their bodies as to health and sickness they are careful to examine; but as to their inward man, and their principles as to God and eternity, they know little or nothing of themselves. Indeed, few labor to grow wise in this matter, few study themselves as they ought, are acquainted with the evils of their own hearts as they ought; on which yet the whole course of their obedience, and consequently of their eternal condition, doth depend. This, therefore, is our wisdom; and it is a needful wisdom, if we have any design to please God, or to avoid that which is a provocation to the eyes of his glory.

We shall find, also, in our inquiry hereinto, what diligence and watchfulness is required unto a Christian conversation. There is a constant enemy unto it in every one’s own heart; and what an enemy it is we shall afterward show, for this is our design, to discover him to the uttermost. In the meantime, we may well bewail the woeful sloth and negligence that is in the most, even in professors. They live and walk as though they intended to go to heaven hood-winked and asleep, as though they had no enemy to deal withal. Their mistake, therefore, and folly will be fully laid open in our progress.

Awake, therefore, all of you in whose hearts is anything of the ways of God! Your enemy is not only upon you, as on Samson of old, but is in you also. He is at work, by all ways of force and craft, as we shall see. Would you not dishonor God and his gospel; would you not scandalize the saints and ways of God; would you not wound your consciences and endanger your souls; would you not grieve the good and holy Spirit of God, the author of all your comforts; would you keep your garments undefiled, and escape the woeful temptations and pollutions of the days wherein we live; would you be preserved from the number of the apostates in these latter days; — awake to the consideration of this cursed enemy, which is the spring of all these and innumerable other evils, as also of the ruin of all the souls that perish in this world!

The saints have communion with God

Taken and adapted from, “Communion With God” Chapter 1
Originally written as, “Of Communion with the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost, Each Person Distinctly, In Love, Grace, and Consolation; or, The Saints Fellowship with the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost Unfolded”
Written by, John Owen, 1657
Modernized, formatted, and annotated by, William H. Gross

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That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you,
that ye also may have fellowship with us:
and truly our fellowship is with the Father,
and with his Son Jesus Christ.

–1 John 3:4

In 1 John 1:3, the apostle assures those to whom he wrote that the fellowship of believers “is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ.” The expression he uses speaks with such force that we have rendered it, “Truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ.”

The outward appearance and condition of the saints in those days was paltry and contemptible. Their leaders were considered the scum of the earth, the offscouring of all things. Inviting others to fellowship with them, and to participate in the precious things that they enjoyed, evoked a number of awkward encounters and objections: “What benefit is there in communion with them? All it brings is sharing their troubles, reproaches, scorns, and all kinds of evils.” To prevent or remove these and similar objections, the apostle lets the believers know in earnest, that despite all the disadvantages of their fellowship, at least to a carnal view, in truth what they had was very honorable, glorious, and desirable. For “truly,” he says, “our fellowship is with the Father, and with his Son Jesus Christ.”

This is so earnestly and directly asserted by the apostle, that we may boldly follow him with our affirmation, “That the saints of God have communion with him.” And a holy and spiritual communion it is, as I will demonstrate. Why this reference to the Father and the Son is distinct between them, must be fully examined later.

Since sin entered the world, no man has had communion with God because of his sinful nature. He is light; we are darkness; and what communion has light with darkness? (2Cor. 6:14). He is life; we are dead. He is love; we are enmity. What agreement can there be between us? Men in such a condition have neither Christ, nor hope, nor God in the world, Eph. 2:12. “Being alienated from the life of God through their ignorance,” chap. 4:18. Now, two cannot walk together unless they are agreed, Amos 3:3. So, while this distance between God and man exists, they cannot walk together in fellowship or communion. Our first interest in God was so lost by sin, that no recovery remained in ourselves. We deprived ourselves of all power to return to him. And God had not revealed that there was any way to regain access to him. Nor did he reveal that sinners could approach him in peace for any reason. Nothing that God made, and no attribute that he revealed, provided the least hint of such a possibility. 

The manifestation of God’s grace and pardoning mercy is the only door we have to such communion. It is committed only to the one who atoned. He is the one in whom it is evidenced. He is the one by whom grace and mercy was purchased. He is the one through whom it is dispensed, and from whom it is revealed from the heart of the Father. Hence, this communion and fellowship with God is not expressly mentioned in the Old Testament. It is found there, but its clear light, and the boldness of faith contained in it, is discovered only in the gospel of the New Testament. There the Spirit administers it. By the Spirit we have this liberty of communion, 2Cor. 3:17, 18. Abraham was the friend, of God, Isa. 41:8. David was a man after his own heart. Enoch walked with him, Gen. 5:22. All of them enjoyed the substance of this communion and fellowship. But the way into the holiest of holies was not evident while the first tabernacle was still standing, Heb. 9:8. Although they had communion with God, they did not have parresian [NT:3954], Eph. 3:12, which is a boldness and confidence in that communion. It came only after our High Priest entered into the most holy place, Heb. 4:16, 10:19. And so, the veil remained on those in the Old Testament. They did not have ἐλευθερία [NT:1657], or freedom and liberty in their access to God, 2 Cor. 3:15, 16, etc.

But in Christ we now have boldness and confident access to God, Eph. 3:12. The saints of old were not familiar with this. This distance from God is removed by Jesus Christ alone. He has consecrated a new and living way for us “through the veil, that is, his flesh,” Heb. 10:20. The old way is sealed. “Through him we have access by one Spirit to the Father,” Eph. 2:18. “You who sometimes were far off, are made close by the blood of Christ, for he is our peace…,” verses 13, 14. More of this foundation of our communion with God will follow afterward. On this new foundation, by this new and living way, sinners are admitted into communion with God. They have fellowship with him. It is a truly astonishing provision for sinners to have fellowship with God, the infinitely holy God.

Communion relates to things and persons. It means jointly participating in something, whether good or evil, duty or enjoyment, nature or actions. Sharing a common nature means all men have fellowship or communion in that nature. It is said of the elect, in Heb. 2:14, “Those children partook of” (shared or had fellowship with) “flesh and blood” (their common nature with mankind); “and, therefore, Christ likewise shared in the same fellowship.” 

There is also communion as to our state or condition, whether good or evil, or things internal and spiritual. Such is the communion of saints among themselves, or with regard to their experience of outward things. Christ shared a condition with the two thieves. They were all sentenced to the cross, Luke 23:40. They shared the evil condition they were judged to suffer under. And one of them requested, and obtained, a share in that blessed condition our Savior would enter shortly.

There is also a communion or fellowship in actions, whether those actions are good or evil. Among good actions is the communion and fellowship that the saints enjoy in the gospel, or in performing and celebrating the worship of God that is instituted in the gospel, Phil. 1:5. David rejoices in the same general kind of actions, Ps. 42:4. Among evil actions, there was communion in that cruel act of revenge and murder shared between the brothers Simon and Levi in Gen. 49:5. 

Our communion with God is no single one of these; indeed it excludes some of them. It cannot be natural communion. It must be voluntary and by consent. It cannot be communion in a shared state or condition, but in actions. It cannot be communion in shared actions on a third party. It must be shared actions between God and us. The infinite disparity between God and man made the great philosopher, Aristotle (Ethics, viii. 2; Friendship requires equality), conclude that there could be no friendship between them. He could allow some undetermined closeness between friends; but in his understanding, there was no place for closeness between God and man. Another says that while there is a certain fellowship between God and man, it is only the general interaction of providence. Some expressed higher regard for this communion, but they understood nothing of which they spoke. This knowledge is hidden in Christ, as will be made apparent later. It is too wonderful for our sinful and corrupted nature to comprehend. Guessing only leads to terror and fear of death if we were to come into the presence of God. But as was said, we have a new foundation, and a new revelation of this privilege.

Communion is the mutual communication of the good things that those who commune delight in, based on the union that exists between them. This is how it was with Jonathan and David. Their souls clung to one another in love (1Sam. 20:17). There was a union between them based on love. And they mutually communicated all the outpourings of that love. In spiritual things this exchange is more eminent. The outpourings or issues of that union are the most precious and eminent possible.
Our communion with God consists in him communicating himself to us, and us returning to him the things he requires and accepts. These things flow from the union that we have with him in Jesus Christ.

This communion is twofold:
 
A perfect and complete communion. This is the full fruition of all his glory and our total surrender to him, resting in him as our ultimate end. We will enjoy this kind of communion when we see him as he is in eternity.
An initial and incomplete communion. This consists in the first fruits and the dawning of perfection that we have here and now, in grace. 

By the riches of his grace, the God and Father of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ has restored us from a state of enmity to a condition of communion and fellowship with himself. I pray that anyone who reads these words of his mercy may taste his sweetness and excellence in doing this, so that he will be stirred to a greater longing for the fullness of his salvation, and his eternal fruition in glory.

John Owens Riddle For the Arminians

The Owen’s excerpt was taken and adapted from the extract, “The Death Of Death In The Death Of Christ,” Book I, Chapter III —
The following is from Vol X, p 173, THE WORKS OF JOHN OWEN

God imposed his wrath due unto, and Christ underwent the pains of hell for,

 st-francis-peace-prayer-judy-dodds 1.    either all the sins of all men,
  2.    or all the sins of some men,
  3.    or some sins of all men.

If the LAST, some sins of all men, then have all men some sins to answer for, and so shall no man be saved; for if God entered into judgment with us, though it were with all mankind for one sin, no flesh should be justified in his sight: “If the LORD should mark iniquities, who should stand?”-Ps.30:2 We might all go to cast all that we have “to the moles and to the bats, to go into the clefts of the rocks, and into the tops of the ragged rocks, for fear of the Lord, and for the glory of his majesty.”-Is. 2:20-21

If the SECOND, that is it which we affirm, that Christ in their stead and room suffered for all the sins of all the elect in the world.

If the FIRST, why then, are not all freed from the punishment of all their sins? You will say, “Because of their unbelief; they will not believe.”

But this unbelief, is it a sin, or not?

If not, why should they be punished for it? If it be, then Christ underwent the punishment due to it, or not. If so, then why must that hinder them more than their other sins for which he died from partaking of the fruit of his death? If he did not, then did he not die for all their sins.

Let them choose which part they will.

——————————————————–

A Display of Arminianism: How the Doctrine of Predestination is Corrupted by the Arminians

Taken from: A Display of Arminianism, Chapter 6
Written John Owen

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…wherewith the Arminians and their abettors have troubled the church of Christ, comes next unto our consideration. The eternal predestination of Almighty God, that fountain of all spiritual blessings, of all the effects of God’s love derived unto us through Christ, the demolishing of this rock of our salvation hath been the chief endeavor of all the patrons of human self-sufficiency; so to vindicate unto themselves a power and independent ability of doing good, of making themselves to differ from others, of attaining everlasting happiness, without going one step from without themselves. And this is their first attempt, to attain their second proposed end, of building a tower from the top whereof they may mount into heaven, whose foundation is nothing but the sand of their own free-will and endeavors. Quite on a sudden (what they have done in effect) to have taken away this divine predestination, name and thing, had been an attempt as noted as notorious, and not likely to attain the least success amongst men professing to believe the gospel of Christ; wherefore, suffering the name to remain, they have abolished the thing itself, and substituted another so unlike it in the room thereof, that any one may see they have gotten a blear-eyed Leah instead of Rachel, and hug a cloud instead of a Deity. The true doctrine itself hath been so excellently delivered by divers learned divines, so freed from all objections, that I shall only briefly and plainly lay it down, and that with special reference to the seventeenth article of our church, where it is clearly avowed; showing withal, — which is my chief intention, — how it is thwarted, opposed, and overthrown by the Arminians. Predestination, in the usual sense [in which] it is taken, is a part of God’s providence concerning his creatures, distinguished from it by a double restriction: 

First, In respect of their objects; for whereas the decree of providence comprehendeth his intentions towards all the works of his hands, predestination respecteth only rational creatures.

Secondly, In regard of their ends; for whereas his providence directeth all creatures in general to those several ends to which at length they are brought, whether they are proportioned unto their nature or exceeding the sphere of their natural activity, predestination is exercised only in directing rational creatures to supernatural ends: so that, in general, it is the counsel, decree, or purpose of Almighty God concerning the last and supernatural end of his rational creatures, to be accomplished for the praise of his glory. But this also must receive a double restriction before we come precisely to what we in this place aim at: and these again in regard of the objects or the ends thereof.

The object of predestination is all rational creatures, Now, these are either angels or men. Of angels I shall not treat. Secondly, The end by it provided for them is either eternal happiness or eternal misery. I speak only of the former, — the act of God’s predestination transmitting men to everlasting happiness: and in this restrained sense it differs not at all from election, and we may use them as synonyma, terms of the same importance; though, by some affirming that God predestinateth them to faith whom he hath chosen, they seem to be distinguished as the decrees of the end, and the means conducing thereunto, whereof the first is election, intending the end, and then takes place predestination, providing the means. But this exact distinction appeareth not directly in the Scripture.

This election the word of God proposeth unto us as the gracious, immutable decree of Almighty God, whereby, before the foundation of the world, out of his own good pleasure, he chose certain men, determining to free them from sin and misery, to bestow upon them grace and faith, to give them unto Christ, to bring them to everlasting blessedness, for the praise of his glorious grace; or, as it is expressed in our church articles, “Predestination to life is the everlasting purpose of God, whereby, before the foundations of the world were laid, he hath constantly decreed by his counsel, secret to us, to deliver from curse and damnation those whom he hath chosen in Christ out of mankind, and to bring them by Christ unto everlasting salvation, as vessels made unto honor; wherefore, they who are endued with so excellent a benefit of God be called according to God’s purpose,” etc.

Now, to avoid prolixity, I will annex only such annotations as may clear the sense and confirm the truth of the article by the Scriptures, and show briefly how it is overthrown by the Arminians in every particular thereof: 

First, The article, consonantly to the Scripture, affirmeth that it is an eternal decree, made before the foundations of the world were laid; so that by it we must needs be chosen before we were born, before we have done either good or evil. The words of the article are clear, and so also is the Scripture: “He hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world,” Ephesians 1:4;  “The children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, it was said,” etc., Romans 9:11,12;  “We are called with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began,” 2 Timothy 1:9.

Now, from hence it would undoubtedly follow that no good thing in us can be the cause of our election, for every cause must in order precede its effect; but all things whereof we by any means are partakers, inasmuch as they are ours, are temporary, and so cannot be the cause of that which is eternal. Things with that qualification must have reference to the sole will and good pleasure of God; which reference would break the neck of the Arminian election. Wherefore, to prevent such a fatal ruin, they deny the principle, — to wit, that election is eternal. 1 So the Remonstrants, in their Apology: 2 “Complete election regardeth none but him that is dying; for this peremptory election decreeth the whole accomplishment and consummation of salvation, and therefore requireth in the object the finished course of faith and obedience,” saith Grevinchovius; which is to make God’s election nothing but an act of his justice, approving our obedience, and such an act as is incident to any weak man, who knows not what will happen in the next hour that is yet for to come. And is this post-destination that which is proposed to us in the Scripture as the unsearchable fountain of all God’s love towards us in Christ? “Yea,” 3 say they, “we acknowledge no other predestination to be revealed in the gospel besides that whereby God decreeth to save them who should persevere in faith;” that is, God’s determination concerning their salvation is pendulous, until he find by experience that they will persevere in obedience. But I wonder why, seeing election is confessedly one of the greatest expressions of God’s infinite goodness, love, and mercy towards us, if it follow our obedience, we have it not, like all other blessings and mercies, promised unto us. Is it not because such propositions as these, “Believe, Peter, and continue in the faith unto the end, and I will choose thee before the foundation of the world,” are fitter for the writings of the Arminians than the word of God? Neither will we be their rivals in such an election, as from whence no fruit, 4 no effect, no consolation can be derived to any mortal man, whilst he lives in this world.

Secondly, The article affirmeth that it is constant, — that is, one immutable decree; agreeably also to the Scriptures, teaching but one purpose, but one foreknowledge, one good pleasure, one decree of God, concerning the infallible ordination of his elect unto glory; although of this decree there may be said to be two acts, — one concerning the means, the other concerning the end, but both knit up in the “immutability of God’s counsel,” Hebrews 6:17. “The foundation of God standeth sure, having this seal, The Lord knoweth them that are his,” 2 Timothy 2:19; “His gifts and calling are without recalling,” not to be repented of, Romans 11:29. Now, what say our Arminians to this?

Why, a whole multitude of notions and terms have they invented to obscure the doctrine. “Election,” say they, 5 “is either legal or evangelical, general or particular, complete or incomplete, revocable or irrevocable, peremptory or not peremptory,” with I know not how many more distinctions of one single eternal act of Almighty God, whereof there is neither “vola nec vestigium,” sign or token, in the whole Bible, or any approved author. And to these quavering divisions they accommodate their doctrine, or rather they purposely invented them to make their errors unintelligible.

Yet something agreeably thus they dictate: 6 “There is a complete election, belonging to none but those that are dying; and there is another, incomplete, common to all that believe: as the good things of salvation are incomplete which are continued whilst faith is continued, and revoked when that is denied, so election is incomplete in this life, and revocable.” Again: “There are,” they say in their Confession,7 “three orders of believers and repenters in the Scripture, whereof some are beginners, others having continued for a time, and some perseverants. The first two orders are chosen vere, truly, but not absolute prorsus, absolutely, but only for a time, — so long as they will remain as they are; the third are chosen finally and peremptorily: for this act of God is either continued or interrupted, according as we fulfill the condition.” But whence learned the Arminians this doctrine? Not one word of it from the word of truth; no mention there of any such desultory election, no speech of faith, but such as is consequent to one eternal irrevocable decree of predestination: They “believed” who were “ordained to eternal life,” Acts 13:48. No distinction of men half and wholly elected, where it is affirmed that it is impossible the elect should be seduced, Matthew 24:24, — that none should snatch Christ’s sheep out of his Father’s hand, John 10:28,29. What would they have more? God’s purpose of election is sealed up, 2 Timothy 2:19, and therefore cannot be revoked; it must stand firm, Romans 9:11, in spite of all opposition. Neither will reason allow us to think any immanent act of God to be incomplete or revocable, because of the mere alliance it hath with his very nature. But reason, Scripture, God himself, all must give place to any absurdities, if they stand in the Arminian way, bringing in their idol with shouts, and preparing his throne, by claiming the cause of their predestination to be in themselves. 

Thirdly, The article is clear that the object of this predestination is some particular men chosen out of mankind; that is, it is such an act of God as concerneth some men in particular, taking them, as it were, aside from the midst of their brethren, and designing them for some special end and purpose. The Scripture also aboundeth in asserting this verity, calling them that are so chosen a “few,” Matthew 20:16, which must needs denote some certain persons; and the “remnant according to election,” Romans 11:5; those whom “the Lord knoweth to be his,” 2 Timothy 2:19; men “ordained to eternal life,” Acts 13:48; “us,” Romans 8:39; those that are “written in the Lamb’s book of life,” Revelation 21:27; — all which, and divers others, clearly prove that the number of the elect is certain, not only materially, as they say,8 that there are so many, but formally also, that these particular persons, and no other, are they, which cannot be altered. Nay, the very nature of the thing itself doth so demonstratively evince it, that I wonder it can possibly be conceived under any other notion. To apprehend an election of men not circumscribed with the circumstance of particular persons is such a conceited, Platonical abstraction, as it seems strange that any one dares profess to understand that there should be a predestination, and none predestinated; an election, and none elected; a choice amongst many, yet none left or taken; a decree to save men, and yet thereby salvation destinated to no one man, either “re aut spe,” in deed or in expectation.

In a word, that there should be a purpose of God to bring men unto glory, standing inviolable, though never any one attained the purposed end, is such a riddle as no AEdipus can unfold. Now, such an election, such a predestination, have the Arminians substituted in the place of God’s everlasting decree. “We deny,”9 say they, “that God’s election extendeth itself to any singular persons as singular persons;” that is, that any particular persons, as Peter, Paul, John, are by it elected. No; how, then? Why,10 “God hath appointed, without difference, to dispense the means of faith; and as he seeth these persons to believe or not to believe by the use of those means, so at length he determineth of them,” as saith Corvinus. Well, then, God chooseth no particular man to salvation, but whom he seeth believing by his own power, with the help only of such means as are afforded unto others who never believe; and as he maketh himself thus differ from them by a good use of his own abilities, so also he may be reduced again unto the same predicament, and then his election, which respecteth not him in his person, but only his qualification, quite vanisheth. But is this God’s decree of election? “Yes,” say they; and make a doleful complaint that any other doctrine should be taught in the church.11 “It is obtruded,” say the true-born sons of Arminius, “on the church as a most holy doctrine, that God, by an absolute, immutable decree, from all eternity, out of his own good pleasure, hath chosen certain persons, and those but few in comparison, without any respect had to their faith and obedience, and predestinated them to everlasting life.” But what so great exception is this doctrine liable unto, what wickedness doth it include, that it should not be accounted most holy? Nay, is not only the matter but the very terms of it contained in the Scripture? Doth it not say the elect are few, and they chosen before the foundation of the world, without any respect to their obedience or any thing that they had done, out of God’s mere gracious good pleasure, that his free purpose according to election might stand, even because so it pleased him; and this that they might be holy, believe, and be sanctified, that they might come unto Christ, and by him be preserved unto everlasting life? Yea, this is that which galls them:12 “No such will can be ascribed unto God, whereby he so willeth any one to be saved as that thence their salvation should be sure and infallible,” saith the father of those children.

Well, then, let St Austin’s definition be quite rejected,13 “That predestination is a preparation of such benefits whereby some are most certainly freed and delivered from sin and brought to glory;” and that also of St Paul, “That (by reason of this) nothing can separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ.” What is this election in your judgment?14 “Nothing but a decree whereby God hath appointed to save them that believe in Christ,” saith Corvinus, be they who they will; or a general purpose of God, whereby he hath ordained faith in Christ to be the means of salvation. Yea, but this belongs to Judas as well as to Peter. This decree carrieth as equal an aspect to those that are damned as to those that are saved. Salvation, under the condition of faith in Christ, was also proposed to them; but was Judas and all his company elected? How came they, then, to be seduced and perish? That any of God’s elect go to hell is as yet a strange assertion in Christianity. Notwithstanding this decree, none may believe, or all that do may fall away, and so none at all be saved; which is a strange kind of predestination: or all may believe, continue in faith, and be saved; which were a more strange kind of election.

We, poor souls, thought hitherto that we might have believed, according unto Scripture, that some by this purpose were in a peculiar manner made the Father’s (“Thine they were”), and by him given unto Christ, that he might bring them unto glory; and that these men were so certain and unchangeable a number, that not only God “knoweth them” as being “his,” but also that Christ “calleth them by name,” John 10:3, and looketh that none taketh them out of his hand. We never imagined before that Christ hath been the mediator of an uncertain covenant, because there are no certain persons covenanted withal but such as may or may not fulfill the condition. We always thought that some had been separated before by God’s purpose from the rest of the perishing world, that Christ might lay down his life for his “friends,” for his “sheep,” for them that were “given him” of his Father. But now it should seem he was ordained to be a king when it was altogether uncertain whether he should ever have any subjects, to be a head without a body, or to such a church whose collection and continuance depend wholly and solely on the will of men.

These are doctrines that I believe searchers of the Scripture had scarce ever been acquainted withal, had they not lighted on such expositors as teach,15 “That the only cause why God loveth” (or chooseth) “any person is, because the honesty, faith, and piety wherewith, according to God’s command and his own duty, he is endued, are acceptable to God;” which, though we grant it true of God’s consequent or approving love, yet surely there is a divine love wherewith he looks upon us otherwise, when he gives us unto Christ, else either our giving unto Christ is not out of love, or we are pious, just, and faithful before we come unto him, — that is, we have no need of him at all. Against either way, though we may blot these testimonies out of our hearts, yet they will stand still recorded in holy Scripture, — namely, that God so loved us when we were his “enemies,” Romans 5:10, “sinners,” verse 8, of no “strength,” verse 6; that “he gave his only-begotten Son” to die, “that we should not perish, but have everlasting life,” John 3:16. But of this enough.

Fourthly, Another thing that the article asserteth according to the Scripture is, that there is no other cause of our election but God’s own counsel. It recounteth no motives in us, nothing impelling the will of God to choose some out of mankind, rejecting others, but his own decree, — that is, his absolute will and good pleasure; so that as there is no cause, in any thing without himself, why he would create the world or elect any at all, — for he doth all these things for himself, for the praise of his own glory, — so there is no cause in singular elected persons why God should choose them rather than others. He looked upon all mankind in the same condition, vested with the same qualifications, or rather without any at all; for it is the children not yet born, before they do either good or evil, that are chosen or rejected, his free grace embracing the one and passing over the other. Yet here we must observe, that although God freely, without any desert of theirs, chooseth some men to be partakers both of the end and the means, yet he bestoweth faith, or the means, on none but for the merit of Christ; neither do any attain the end or salvation but by their own faith, through that righteousness of his. The free grace of God notwithstanding, choosing Jacob when Esau is rejected, the only antecedent cause of any difference between the elect and reprobates, remaineth firm and unshaken; and surely, unless men were resolved to trust wholly to their own bottoms, to take nothing gratis at the hands of God, they would not endeavor to rob him of his glory, of having mercy on whom he will have mercy, of loving us without our desert before the world began. If we must claim an interest in obtaining the temporal acts of his favor by our own endeavors, yet, oh, let us grant him the glory of being good unto us, only for his own sake, when we were in his hand as the clay in the hand of the potter. What made this piece of clay fit for comely service, and not a vessel wherein there is no pleasure, but the power and will of the Framer? It is enough, yea, too much, for them to repine and say, “Why hast thou made us thus?” who are vessels fitted for wrath. Let not them who are prepared for honor exalt themselves against him, and sacrifice to their own nets, as the sole providers of their glory. But so it is: human vileness will still be declaring itself, by claiming a worth no way due unto it; of a furtherance of which claim if the Arminians be not guilty, let the following declaration of their opinions in this particular determine: —
“We confess,” say they,16 “roundly, that faith, in the consideration of God choosing us unto salvation, doth precede, and not follow as a fruit of election.” So that whereas Christians have hitherto believed that God bestoweth faith on them that are chosen, it seems now it is no such matter, but that those whom God findeth to believe, upon the stock of their own abilities, he afterward chooseth. Neither is faith, in their judgment, only required as a necessary condition in him that is to be chosen, but as a cause moving the will of God to elect him that hath it,17 as the will of the judge is moved to bestow a reward on him who according to the law hath deserved it,” as Grevinchovius speaks: which words of his, indeed, Corvinus strives to temper, but all in vain, though he wrest them contrary to the intention of the author; for with him agree all his fellows.18 “The one only absolute cause of election is, not the will of God, but the respect of our obedience,” saith Episcopius. At first they required nothing but faith, and that as a condition, not as a cause;19 then perseverance in faith, which at length they began to call obedience, comprehending all our duty to the precepts of Christ: for the cause, say they, of this love to any person, is the righteousness, faith, and piety wherewith he is endued; which being all the good works of a Christian, they, in effect, affirm a man to be chosen for them, — that our good works are the cause of election; which whether it were ever so grossly taught, either by Pelagians or Papists, I something doubt.

And here observe, that this doth not thwart my former assertion, where I showed that they deny the election of any particular persons, which here they seem to grant upon a foresight of their faith and good works; for there is not any one person, as such a person, notwithstanding all this, that in their judgment is in this life elected, but only as he is considered with those qualifications of which he may at any time divest himself, and so become again to be no more elected than Judas.

The sum of their doctrine in this particular is laid down by one of ours in a tract entitled “God’s Love to Mankind,” etc.; a book full of palpable ignorance, gross sophistry, and abominable blasphemy, whose author seems to have proposed nothing unto himself but to rake all the dunghills of a few of the most invective Arminians, and to collect the most filthy scum and pollution of their railings to cast upon the truth of God; and, under I know not what self-coined pretences, belch out odious blasphemies against his holy name.

The sum, saith he, of all these speeches (he cited to his purpose) is,20 “That there is no decree of saving men but what is built on God’s foreknowledge of the good actions of men.” No decree? No, not that whereby God determineth to give some unto Christ, to ingraft them in him by faith, and bring them by him unto glory; which giveth light to that place of Arminius, where he affirmeth,21 “That God loveth none precisely to eternal life but considered as just, either with legal or evangelical righteousness.”

Now, to love one to eternal life is to destinate one to obtain eternal life by Christ, and so it is coincident with the former assertion, that our election, or choosing unto grace and glory, is upon the foresight of our good works; which contains a doctrine so contradictory to the words and meaning of the apostle, Romans 9:11, condemned in so many councils, suppressed by so many edicts and decrees of emperors and governors, opposed as a pestilent heresy, ever since it was first hatched, by so many orthodox fathers and learned schoolmen, so directly contrary to the doctrine of this church, so injurious to the grace and supreme power of Almighty God, that I much wonder any one, in this light of the gospel and flourishing time of learning, should be so boldly ignorant or impudent as to broach it amongst Christians. To prove this to be a heresy exploded by all orthodox and catholic antiquity were to light a candle in the sun; for it cannot but be known to all and every one who ever heard or read any thing of the state of Christ’s church after the rising of the Pelagian tumults.22 

To accumulate testimonies of the ancients is quite beside my purpose. I will only add the confession of Bellarmine,23 a man otherwise not overwell affected to truth. “Predestination,” saith he, “from the foresight of works, cannot be maintained unless we should suppose something in the righteous man, which should make him differ from the wicked, that he doth not receive from God; which truly all the fathers with unanimous consent do reject.” But we have a more sure testimony, to which we will take heed, even the holy Scripture, pleading strongly for God’s free and undeserved grace.

First, our Savior Christ, Matthew 11:26, declaring how God revealeth the gospel unto some, which is hidden from others (a special fruit of election), resteth in his will and good pleasure as the only cause thereof: “Even so, Father; for so it seemed good in thy sight.” So, comforting his “little flock,” Luke 12:32, he bids them fear not, “for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom;” — “His good pleasure is the only cause why his kingdom is prepared for you rather than others.” But is there no other reason of this discrimination? No; he doth it all “that his purpose according to election might stand” firm, Romans 9:11; for we are “predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will,” Ephesians 1:11. 

But did not this counsel of God direct him to choose us rather than others because we had something to commend us more than they? No; “The LORD did not set his love upon you, nor choose you, because ye were more in number than any people; but because the LORD loved you,” Deuteronomy 7:7,8. “He hath mercy on whom he will have mercy;” yea, “the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that calleth, it was said unto her, The elder shall serve the younger: as it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated,” Romans 9:11-13.

In brief, wherever there is any mention of election or predestination, it is still accompanied with the purpose, love, or will of God; his foreknowledge, whereby he knoweth them that are his; his free power and supreme dominion over all things. Of our faith, obedience, or any thing importing so much, not one syllable, no mention, unless it be as the fruit and effect thereof. It is the sole act of his free grace and good pleasure, that “he might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy,” Romans 9:23. For this only end hath he  “saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began,” 2 Timothy 1:9.  Even our calling is free and undeserved, because flowing from that most free grace of election, whereof we are partakers before we are [i.e., exist]. It were needless to heap up more testimonies in a thing so clear and evident. When God and man stand in competition who shall be accounted the cause of an eternal good, we may be sure the Scripture will pass the verdict on the part of the Most High. And the sentence, in this case, may be derived from thence by these following reasons: —

First, If final perseverance in faith and obedience be the cause of, or a condition required unto, election, then none can be said in this life to be elected; for no man is a final perseverer until he be dead, until he hath finished his course and consummated the faith. But certain it is that it is spoken of some in the Scripture that they are even in this life elected: “Few are chosen,” Matthew 20:16; “For the elect’s sake those days shall be shortened,” chapter 24:22; “And shall, if it were possible, deceive the very elect,” verse 24, — where it is evident that election is required to make one persevere in the faith, but nowhere is perseverance in the faith required to election; yea, and Peter gives us all a command that we should give all diligence to get an assurance of our “election,” even in this life, 2 Peter 1:10: and, therefore, surely it cannot be a decree presupposing consummated faith and obedience.

Secondly, Consider two things of our estate, before the first temporal act of God’s free grace (for grace is no grace if it be not free), which is the first effect of our predestination, comprehendeth us: — First, “Were we better than others.” No, in no wise: both Jews and Gentiles were all under sin,” Romans 3:9. “There is no difference; for all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God,” verse 23; — being all “dead in trespasses and sins,” Ephesians 2:1; being “by nature the children of wrath, even as others,” verse 3; “far off,” until we are “made nigh by the blood of Christ,” verse 13. We were “enemies” against God, Romans 5:10; Titus 3:3. And look what desert there is in us with these qualifications, when our vocation, the first effect of our predestination, as St Paul showeth, Romans 8:30, and as I shall prove hereafter, separateth us from the world of unbelievers. So much there is in respect of predestination itself; so that if we have any way deserved it, it is by being sinners, enemies, children of wrath, and dead in trespasses. These are our deserts; this is the glory, whereof we ought to be ashamed. But, secondly, When they are in the same state of actual alienation from God, yet then, in respect of his purpose to save them by Christ, some are said to be his: “Thine they were, and thou gavest them me,” John 17:6; — they were his before they came unto Christ by faith; the sheep of Christ before they are called, for he “calleth his sheep by name,” chapter 10:3; before they come into the flock or congregation, for “other sheep,” saith he, “I have, which are not of this fold, them also must I bring,” chapter 10:16; — to be beloved of God before they love him: “Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us,” 1 John 4:10. Now, all this must be with reference to God’s purpose of bringing them unto Christ, and by him unto glory; which we see goeth before all their faith and obedience.

Thirdly, Election is an eternal act of God’s will: “He hath chosen us before the foundation of the world,” Ephesians 1:4; consummated antecedently to all duty of ours, Romans 9:11. Now, every cause must, in order of nature, precede its effect; nothing hath an activity in causing before it hath a being. Operation in every kind is a second act, flowing from the essence of a thing which is the first. But all our graces and works, our faith, obedience, piety, and charity, are all temporal, of yesterday, the same standing with ourselves, and no longer; and therefore cannot be the cause of, no, nor so much as a condition necessarily required for, the accomplishment of an eternal act of God, irrevocably established before we are.

Fourthly, If predestination be for faith foreseen, these three things, with divers such absurdities, will necessarily follow:

First, That election is not of “him that calleth,” as the apostle speaks, Romans 9:11, — that is, of the good pleasure of God, who calleth us with a holy calling, — but of him that is called; for, depending on faith, it must be his whose faith is, that doth believe. 

Secondly, God cannot have mercy on whom he win have mercy, for the very purpose of it is thus tied to the qualities of faith and obedience, so that he must have mercy only on believers antecedently to his decree. Which, 

Thirdly, hinders him from being an absolute free agent, and doing of what he will with his own, — of having such a power over us as the potter hath over his clay; for he finds us of different matter, one clay, another gold, when he comes to appoint us to different uses and ends.

Fifthly, God sees no faith, no obedience, perseverance, nothing but sin and wickedness, in any man, but what himself intendeth graciously and freely to bestow upon him; for “faith is not of ourselves, it is the gift of God;” it is “the work of God, that we believe,” John 6:29; he “blesseth us with all spiritual blessings in Christ,” Ephesians 1:3. Now, all these gifts and graces God bestoweth only upon those whom he hath antecedently ordained to everlasting life: for “the election obtained it, and the rest were blinded,” Romans 11:7; “The Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved”’ Acts 2:47. Therefore, surely, God chooseth us not because he foreseeth those things in us, seeing he bestoweth those graces because he hath chosen us. “Wherefore,”24 saith Austin, “doth Christ say, ‘Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you,’ but because they did not choose him that he should choose them; but he chose them that they might choose him.” We choose Christ by faith; God chooseth us by his decree of election. The question is, Whether we choose him because he hath chosen us, or he chooseth us because we have chosen him, and so indeed choose ourselves? We affirm the former, and that because our choice of him is a gift he himself bestoweth only on them whom he hath chosen.

Sixthly, and principally, The effects of election, infallibly following it, cannot be the causes of election, certainly preceding it. This is evident, for nothing can be the cause and the effect of the same thing, before and after itself. But all our faith, our obedience, repentance, good works, are the effects of election, flowing from it as their proper fountain, erected on it as the foundation of this spiritual building; and for this the article of our church is evident and clear. “Those,” saith it, “that are endued with this excellent benefit of God are called according to God’s purpose, are justified freely, are made the sons of God by adoption; they be made like the image of Christ; they walk religiously in good works,” etc.

Where, first, they are said to be partakers of this benefit of election, and then by virtue thereof to be entitled to the fruition of all those graces. 

Secondly, it saith, “Those who are endued with this benefit enjoy those blessings;” intimating that election is the rule whereby God proceedeth in bestowing those graces, restraining the objects of the temporal acts of God’s special favor to them only whom his eternal decree doth embrace. Both these, indeed, are denied by the Arminians; which maketh a farther discovery of their heterodoxies in this particular.25 “You say,” saith Arminius to Perkins, “that election is the rule of giving or not giving of faith; and, therefore, election is not of the faithful, but faith of the elect: but by your leave this I must deny.” But yet, whatever it is the sophistical heretic here denies, either antecedent or conclusion, he falls foul on the word of God. “They ‘believed,”’ saith the Holy Ghost, “who were ‘ordained to eternal life,’” Acts 13:48; and, “The Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved,” chapter 2:47. From both which places it is evident that God bestoweth faith only on them whom he hath pre-ordained to eternal life; but most clearly, Romans 8:29,30, “For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son. Moreover whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified.” St Austin interpreted this place by adding in every link of the chain, “Only those.” However, the words directly import a precedency of predestination before the bestowing of other graces, and also a restraint of those graces to them only that are so predestinated. Now, the inference from this is not only for the form logical, but for the matter also; it containeth the very words of Scripture, “Faith is of God’s elect,” Titus 1:1.

For the other part of the proposition, that faith and obedience are the fruits of our election, they cannot be more peremptory in its denial than the Scripture is plentiful in its confirmation: “He hath chosen us in Christ, that we should be holy,” Ephesians 1:4; not because we were holy, but that we should be so. Holiness, whereof faith is the root and obedience the body, is that whereunto, and not for which, we are elected. The end and the meritorious cause of any one act cannot be the same; they have divers respects, and require repugnant conditions. Again; we are “predestinated unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ,” verse 5. Adoption is that whereby we are assumed into the family of God, when before we are “foreigners, aliens, strangers, afar off;” which we see is a fruit of our predestination, though it be the very entrance into that estate wherein we begin first to please God in the least measure. Of the same nature are all those places of holy writ which speak of God’s giving some unto Christ, of Christ’s sheep hearing his voice, and others not hearing, because they are not of his sheep; all which, and divers other invincible reasons, I willingly omit, with sundry other false assertions and heretical positions of the Arminians about this fundamental article of our religion

Endnotes:
1. “Electio non est ab aeterno.” — Rem. Apol.
2. “Electio alia completa est, quae neminem spectat nisi immorientem. Electio peremptoria totum salutis complementum et consummationem decernit, ideoque in objecto requirit totam consummatam fidei obedientiam.” — Grevinch, ad Ames. p. 136, passim. dis.
3. “Non agnoscimus aliam praedestinationem in evangelio patefactam, quam qua Deus decrevit credentes et qui in eadem fide perseverarent, salvos facere.” — Rem. Coll. Hag., p. 34.
4. “Electionis fructum aut sensum in hac vita nullum agnosco.” — Grevinch.
5. Episcop. Thes., p. 35; Epist. ad Walach., p. 38; Grevinch. ad Ames., p. 133.
6. “Electio alia completa est, quae neminem spectat nisi morientem, alia incompleta, quae omnibus fidelibus communis est; ut salutis bona sunt incompleta quae continu-antur, fide contlnuata, et abnegate, revocantur, sic electio est incompleta in hac vita, non peremptoria, revocabilis.” — Grevinch, ad Ames.
7. “Tres sunt ordines credentium et resipiscentium in Scripturis, novitli, credentes aliquandiu, perseverantes. Duo priores ordines credentium eliguntur vere quidem, at non prorsus absolute, nec nisi ad tempus, puta quamdiu et quatenus tales sunt,” etc. —Rem. Confess., cap. 18, sect. 6,7.
8. Aquinas.
9. “Nos negamus Dei electionem ad salutem extendere sese ad slngulares personas, qua singulares personas.” — Rem. Coll. Hag., fol. 76.
10. “Deus statuit indiscrimlnatim media ad fidem administrare, et prout has, vel illas personas, istis mediis credituras vel non credituras videt, ita tandem de illis statuit.” — Corv. ad Tilen., 76.
11. “Ecclesiae tanquam sacrosancta doctrina obtruditur, Deum absolutissimo et immutabili decreto ab omni retro aeternitate, pro puro suo beneplacito, singulares quosdam homines, eosque, quoad caeteros, paucissimos, citra ullius obedientiae aut fidei in Chris-tum intuitum praedestinasse ad vitam.” — Praefat. Lib. Armin. ad Perk.
12. “Nulla Deo tribui potest voluntas, qua ita velit hominem ullum salvari, ut salus inde illis constet certo et infallibiliter.”–Armin. Antip., p. 583.
13. “Praedestinatio est praeparatio beneficiorum quibus certissime liberantur quicunque liberantur.” — Aug, de Bono Per. Sen., cap. 14.
14. “Decretum electionis nihil aliud est quam decretum quo Deus constituit credentes in Christo justificare et salvare.” — Corv, ad Tilen., p. 13.
15. “Ratio dilectionis personae est, quod probitas, tides, vel pietas, qua ex officio suo et prrescripto Dei ista persona praedita est, Deo grata sit.” — Rem. Apol., p. 18.
16. “Rotunde fatemur, fidem in consideratione Dei in eligendo ad salutem antecedere, et non tauquam fracture electionis sequi.” —Rem. Hag. Coll., p. 85.
17. Grevinch. ad Amea, p. 24; Corv. ad Molin., p. 260.
18. “Electionis et reprobationis causa unica vera et absoluta non est Dei voluntas, seal respectus obedientise et inobedientise.” — Epis. Disput. 8.
19. “Cum peccatum pono causam merltoriam reprobationls, ne existlmato e contra me ponere justitiam causam meritoriam electionis.” — Attain. Antip.; Rein. Apol., p. 73.
20. God’s Love, p. 6.
21. “Deum nullam creaturam preecise ad vitam ,eternam amare, nisi consideratam ut justam sire justitia legali sire evangelica” — Armin. Artic. Perpend., fol. 21.
22. Vid. Prosp. ad Excep. Gen. ad Dub., 8,9. Vid. Car. de Ingratis., c. 2,3.
23. “Non potest defendi praedestinatlo ex operibus praevisis, nisi aliquid boni ponatur in homine justo, quo discernatur ab impio, quod non sit illi a Deo, quod sane patres omnes summa consensione rejiciunt.” — Bellar, de Grat., et Lib. Arbit., cap. 14.
24. “Non ob aliud dicit, ‘Non vos me eligistis, seal ego vos elegi,’ nisi quia non elegerunt eumut eligeret eos; sed ut eligerent eum elegit eos.” — Aug, de Bono Perse, cap. 16.
25. “Dicis electionem divinarn esse regulam fidei dandae vel non dandae; ergo, electio non est fidelium, sed tides electorum: seal liceat mihi tua bona venia hoc negare.” — Armin. Antip., p. 221.