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part of that wonderful prudence, whereby Christ makes all these that are outwardly called to be without excuse, , and at the same time, fishes out the elect from the fea of fin and misery, when the rest perish: of which prudence fpeaks God by the prophet, Ifa. lii. 13. “Behold my Servant shall deal prudently, and prosper, and be extolled." O but this wisdom of God, then, in converting the elect, for whom the promise is especially designed, without giving cause of stumbling to the relt, is rather to be admired and praised, than disputed against ! Rom. xi. 33. “ () the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out! God will have mercy on whom he will have mercy: and whom he will he hardeneth. Say not you, why does he yet find fault ? for, who hath resisted his will ? nay, but, О man, who art thou that repliest against God ?” Rom. ix. 18, 19, 20. If you be disputing for the devil and the reprobate against God's righteous decree, you must be left with all such proud and presumptuous unbelieving despisers of plain doctrine, to reckon with your Judge, who can well answer for all his decrees and designs ; mean time you cannot answer for your presumption. Withal, know, that God hath discharged all men to meddle with his secret counsel; " Secret things belong to the Lord our God, but to us the things that are revealed,” Deut. xxix. 29. Our great inquiry, therefore, should be, not what is God's fecret will and promise, but rather who possesses it, and how we may be pofseft of it. Therefore,
2. Who are the obječts of the promise, by whom it is pofleft? Why, even all believers; for, He that believeth,
bath everlasting life, says Christ, John vi. 47. Believers · are in covenant actually, and the promise of the cove.
nant is in their poffeffion, the begun possession of eternal life is commenced with respect to them, and the charter of the promise is delivered to them, and established in their person, they being actually members of the myftical body of Christ ; Tbey, as Isaac was, are children of the promise. Of which more afterwards.
3. Who are the objects of the promise; to whom it is presented, that they may take possession, and build
their faith and hope thereupon ? And here, as the firit question related to the object of the promife, with respect to God's eternal destination; and the second, to the object of it with respect to the Spirit's internal saving operation; so this third concerns the object there. of with respect to the gospel external dispensation : the
first thews us by whom the promise shall be poffeft; the 'second, by whom it is posseft; and the third, by whom it may be possest. Here, I fay, the promise is presented and given in the external gospel dispensation unto finners; particularly,
(1.) To finners of mankind : not to fallen angels, but to fallen men: these are the only kind of finners that God 'designed to save, and for whose behoof, Christ, the promised seed, was fent, came, died, and suffered ; 1 Tim.i. 15.“ This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Jesus Christ came to save finners:' and so the promise is made, and the call to believe the same is giv. en to them; " To you, O men, do I call, and my voice is to the fons of men;" and the minister's commission is, " Go preach 'the gospel to every creature.” . (2.) To finners in Zion, or the visible church. As the promise of Canaan was made to the whole people of Israel ; fo the promise of Christ, and all blessings in him, even the everlasting rest above, of which Ganaan was a type ; that such a promise is given forth to the visible church, see Heb. iv. 1, 2, 3. And hence, whereas these that are without the church are said to be aliens to the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers to the covenant of promise, Eph. ii. 12.: so the members of the visible church are these to whom the proinises are said to belong, as it was with the Jewish church, and much more with the Christian New Testament church, where the privi. leges are not lessened but enlarged, see Aets ii. 39. “ For the promise is to you and to your children; yea, even all that are afar off, even to as many as the Lord our God ihall call," namely, external call; for the apostle is there using this as a motive to their faith, who were yet only pricked in their hearts, and not believers with the heart, Compare ver.- 37, 38. 41. This was the common privilege of the Jews; “. To them belonged the promise,”
motive ? In turn ye at my in lcorning, food
Rom. ix.-4. , and fo do they belong to us. Here is a foundation of faith laid in Zion, Isa. xxviii. 16. you have all a right of access, and warrant to come and take poffellion. Yea, I will certify you, in respect of the external gospel-dispensation, there is not a foul here but hath as good a right to the promise, as ever any believer had the moment before he believed. Yea,
(30) It is to great finners that the promise is presented and given forth ; “ The promise is to you,” Acts ii.-39. To whom was the apostle speaking ? Even to the crucifiers of Christ; to the murderers of the Lord of glory:; and to whom he had said immediately before, “ Him you have taken, and by wicked hands crucified and Nain," ver. 23. It is presented as a ground of faith to enemies, rebels, fools, mockers, and scorners : Prov. i. 22, 23. " The fcorners that delight in fcorning, fools that hate knowledge, turn ye at my reproof.” And what is the motive ? Just a promise, a glorious promise presented to them ; “ Behold, I will pour out my Spirit upon you ; and will make known niy words unto you."
(4.) It is given not only to humbled and penitent finners, that see their need, and are convinced of their fin and misery, but even to the unhunbled and impeni. tent: though none indeed will flee to the promise, - or to Christ therein, except they be convinced of their need. And though the promise is given forth to fuch, preaching good-tidings to the meek, for-binding up the broken-hearted, Ifa. Ixi. I.; yet, because these that are humbled are ordinarily the perfons that complain, saying, Alas! I-am neither humbled nor convinced ; therefore. I must tell you, that the promise is presented, and given out, not only to the humbled and legally penitent, but to the most unhumbled, impenitent, unconvinced, and hardened finner that hears this gospel ; even such as see no. thing of their need, but think they are well enough with: out Christ. See Rev. iii. 17, 18. « Because thou fayeft, I am rich, and increased with goods, and have need of nothing; and knoweft not that thou art wretched;" where their very-want of conviction and knowledge of their own sad state, is made the reason of the gospel-offer by Christ; “ I counsel thee to buy of me gold tried in
the fire that thou mayest be rich; and white raiment, that thou mayest be clothed ; and that the shame of thy nakedness do not appear; and anoint thine eyes with eye. salve, that thou mayest fee.” See also, Isaiah lv. I, 2. where these that are thirsting after vanity, are called to look to the free promise of life in Christ; “ Ho, every one that thiríteth, come ye to the waters ; and he that hath no money, come ye; buy and eat; yea, come; buy wine and milk, without money, and without price.” What fort of thirsters they were, the challenge in the second verse sheweth ; " Wherefore do ye spend your money for that which is not bread; and your labour for that which satisfieth not? Hearken diligently unto me, and eat ye that which is good, and let your foul delight itself in fatness.” Hence the gospel-promise is given out to these, whose hearts are hardened against God, and all that is good ; “ Hearken unto me, ye stouthearted, and far from righteousness; I bring near my righteousness, it shall not be far off, and my salvation shall not tarry: I will place salvation in Zion for Israel my glory,” Ifa. xlvi. 12, 13.
Thus you see the promise is given forth to all finners in the visible church, in a general indefinite way and manner, in the external dispensation of the word, which names no particular person of any sinner, but speaks to all, without distinction of nation, state, or condition, and under such names and characters as are applicable to all alike, in their natural, loft, dead, and undone circum. stances. Thus run all the promises of the new covenant, both in the Old and New Testament, Gen. iii. 15. and xxii. 18. Gal. iii. 8. Jer. xxxvi. 25, 26. and xxxi. 31. 33, 34. compared with Heb. viii. 9, 10, 11, 12. where you see the promises come directed to all nations that shall hear of them, and to all persons indefinitely, and supposes them to be in a cursed, condemned, dead, and wretched state, to whom they are thus directed, presented and offered ; and this makes it indeed to be the joyful sound of glad news to all people, Luke ii. 10. But here several questions may be propounded, and a solution of them attempted.
Quest. 1. You will perhaps say, If the free and absolute promise be thus given forth to all in a gospel-dif. pensation, then, what need of the use of means ? · I answer, 1. In favour of the fovereign grace of God, which is a thing, that is neither furthered by our good, nor hindered by our evil, that God will have his elect saved and brought within the covenant, though they were even living in the contempt and neglect of good means : and therefore, I ask, What was Manasses dc-: ing, when God apprehended him in the briars and thorns of Babylon? And what was Paul doing, when God first took hold of him by his converting grace ; I suppose he was furiously perfecuting all that were using any good means; yea, breathing out threatenings and slaughter against the church of God, ard per. fecuting the Son of God: yea, no mean will be used rightly by any, till God begin the work, and pour fome grace out of the absolute promise, which is indefinitely dispensed; and therefore, not knowing but this fame sovereign grace may take hold of some gofpel. despisers, who are yet slighting all the means of grace, this doctrine of grace, absolutely free grace, must be preached, though reprobates should break their neck upon it. Yet,
2. In favour of the holiness of God, who hath afpointed the use of means as the ordinary channel wherein his grace runs. I must tell you, that this doctrine carries no prejudice against the use of means, but ra. ther fortifies the same ; for the promises are absolute, in opposition to all conditionality on our part, but not in opposition to the diligent use of means: even as the decree of God in election is free and absolute, and yet does not exclude, but include God's executing and accomplishing his decree by such and such means, and ordering our use of them ; even so the promise of God is absolute, yet it does not exclude the use of means, no more than the absolute promise that Paul got, that : none in the ship should die, did exclude the mean, which . was their abiding in the ship, Acts xxvii. 24. 31. And
therefore, tho' the natural use of means, which is all the use that can be made of them by natural men, is not