Some Mistaken Scriptures Sincerely Explained,
In answer to one infected with some Pelagian Errours.
Written by Benjamin Cox
when he was first Prisoner in Coventrie.
Now Published by the Author for the clearing of the truth.
I Cor. 2. 14.
The natural man receiveth not the things of the spirit of God,
for they are foolishnesse unto him: neither can he know them,
because they are spiritually discerned,
Licensed and entered according to Order.
Printed by Tho. Paine,
living in Red-crosse-Street
in Gold-Smiths Alley,
over against the Suger loafe. 1646.
Whereas you say that some Scriptures seem to hold forth unto you that a man hath free-will, I desire you for your better information to take notice of these two propositions.
1. Propos. We do not simply deny that a man hath any freedom of will: but only do hold that no natural man, nor any man of himself, hath a sufficient power, or freedom of will, unto the choosing of that way, which is good and right, and acceptable in the sight of God. To the choosing of evil ways; we grant that every natural man hath freedom enough, if so be this may be termed by so good a name as Freedom. Consequently, we do not hold that any man is compelled or enforced by violence to choose the evil, or to refuse the good: but that through the corruption of nature man unrenewed doth willingly and wilfully refuse the good way, and choose the evil. And whereas the unregenerate person can do no otherwise, this is not the fruit of any force or compulsion laid upon him, but only of the obstinate wickedness, or wicked obstinacy of his own corrupted and depraved will. The truth hereof appears by these Scriptures, Gen.8.21. Eccles.9.3. Jerem.17.9. Math.15.19. Rom.3.9,10,11,&c. Rom.8.6,7,8. James 1.13,14,15. Joh.8.44.
2. Propos. The elect do indeed with unfeigned willingness obey the Gospel of Jesus Christ, and choose the Lord to be their God: but this they do when they are effectually called, and not before: and this they do not of themselves, nor only by the well using of an ability or power given to all men: but by the special grace of God to them afforded, who worketh in them both to will and to do, and this according to the good pleasure of his own will concerning them from all eternity. The truth of this appears in these places: Isai.54.13 compared with Joh 6.44,45,64,65, Ezek.36.26,27. Rom.8.28,29,30. Ephes.1.4,5,11. Philip.1.29. Philip.2.13. James 1.18.
These propositions being thus laid down and cleared, I come now to consider those Scriptures which you name to prove that a man hath free will, or free choice; viz. Deut.30.19. Josh.24.15,22. Judg.10.14. Isaiah 65:12.and 66.13. I King.3.5-11. Psal.119.30. Luk.10.42.
Deut.30.19 I call heaven and earth to record this day against you, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing: therefore choose life, &c.
This place shews what was the duty of the Israelites to do: but doth not prove that they had any ability of themselves to do it; or that God gives any such ability to all men. Compare this place with 2 Cor.3.5. and Deut.29.4.
Josh.24.15. And if it seem evil unto you to serve the Lord, choose you this day whom you will serve, &c.
Here I somewhat question what part of the verse you would have especially to be opened: whether this: Choose you this day who you will serve, &c. Or this; But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord. The first implies that Idolaters do freely choose those idols, with which they commit spiritual whoredom. Freely, that is to say, not being enforced or compelled thereunto by any violence constraining them to this motion of their will. This is not denied, but acknowledged and held by us, as you may see in the first proposition. The last part of the verse holds forth the free and constant resolution of the Saints to serve the Lord. This also is taught in my second proposition. But there you must likewise remember, that this is the fruit of the special grace of God afforded to the Elect, who worketh in them both to will and to do; Phil.2.13. And this work is wrought by the infinite power of God. Ephes.1.19. and 3.20.
Josh.24.22. Ye are witnesses against yourselves, that you have Chosen you the Lord, to serve him.
This is meant directly and only of that which went before in vers. 21. The people said unto Joshua, Nay, but We Will serve the Lord. They that were Israelites indeed, did in truth and sincerity make this promise and choice; but this they did not of themselves, but through the special grace of God, as has been already proved.
Judg.10.14. Go and cry unto the gods which ye have chosen.
Isaiah 65.12. When I speak, ye did not hear, but did evil before mine eyes, and did chase that wherein I delighted not.
Isaiah 66.3. They have chosen their own ways, and their soul delighteth in their abominations.
These three places imply no more then what we clearly hold; as you may see in my first proposition.
I Kings 22.214.171.124.10. God said, ask what I shall give thee. And Solomon said, Give thy servant an understanding heart, &c. And the speech pleased the Lord, that Solomon had asked this thing.
This place seems to you to import, that Solomon did freely make a choice to ask of God understanding to hear judgment: This we deny not. But consider also that this choice and petition was the fruit of the wisdom and grace which God had already given him. Compare this place with Zechar.12.10. I will pour out upon the house of David, and upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem, the spirit of grace, and of supplications. See also Rom. 8.26.
Psal. 119.30. I have chosen the way of truth.
Luke 10.42. Mary hath chosen that good part.
True, but it was the special grace of God: the special, gracious and powerful work of God's spirit, which caused David and Mary to make that good choice: as also hath been already proved. And thus have I done with your first catalogue of texts of Scripture.
Your second catalogue contains certain places, in which (as you conceive) the promises of God do depend upon our doing of his commands. Hereto I answer first more generally.
The Scripture promiseth eternal life to those that obey the Gospel of Christ: Heb.5.9. and threatens eternal destruction to the disobedient, John 3.36. 2 Thes.1.8. This we acknowledge, and thus we teach But consider that which I have also already proved, that the elect of God perform this obedience through God's special Grace: and that this special grace is freely given to them of God according to his own purpose concerning them from all eternity; and that God hath freely promised this grace to his elect. All this appears by places of Scripture already alleged for this confirmation of my second propositions.
Thus I descend to consider more particularly the places of Scripture that you here present unto me. viz. Levit.26.3. and Isaiah 1.19. Prov.1.23. Jer.7.13. Mat.19.17. Mat.11.28. Mat.11.21. Mat.23.37. Luke 16.16. Jer.3.22.
Levit.26.3.&c. If ye walk in my statutes, and keep my commandments, and do them, then I will give you, &c.
Here we must remember; 1. That since Adams fall no mere man either did or could keep God's commandments, and do them according to the rigor and strictness of the Law. Eccles.7.20. 2. That whereas the Elect among the Israelites did truly believe in the promised Messiah, and did shew the truth of their faith by the sincerity of their obedience to God's revealed will in every thing; this was the fruit of God's special grace to them afforded. Numb. 14.24. Psal.119.32,36. These clear truths may also free you from your doubts that seem to rise from the next place by you mentioned. viz. Isaiah.1.19.
Prov.1.23. Turn you at my reproof, behold, I will pour out my spirit unto you, I will make known my words unto you.
The former part of this verse is an exhortation. It is the conceit of some that such exhortations do always imply that the persons exhorted have a sufficient ability in them to obey the exhortation directed unto them. But this conceit is mere presumption, not only without ground, but also against the Scripture, as appears in John 6.65. and other places. It is demanded, why then are such exhortations used? I answer, 1. To mind the persons exhorted of their duty, and to leave them more inexcusable in their willful disobedience. 2. Because the Lord is pleased to work powerfully upon the Elect by such exhortations.
The latter part of this verse contains a promise. You (as it seems) conceive the promise to be here made only unto those that obey the exhortation, afore going. Be it so. Only remember then, that they which obey the exhortation, do obey the same through God's special grace; and that the promise serves to assure them of the continuance and increase of grace.
Jer.7.13. And now because ye have done all these works, saith the Lord, and I spake unto you, rising up early, and speaking, but ye heard not; and I called you, but you answered not.
If you consider this verse only, and read no further, it only holds forth the goodness and patience of God, in admonishing and exhorting the stubborn Jews; and their willful and obstinate disobedience to God's word. If ye read the verses following also, this Scripture minds you that the disobedience and obstinacy of the Jews was the cause of their destruction. All these things we readily acknowledge neither do they make anything at all against us.
Matt.19.17. If thou wilt enter into life, keep the commandments.
Here you must consider to whom our Saviour spake this, viz. one that sought to establish his own righteousness, and to get to Heaven by his own doing of good works which the Law required; who accordingly had propounded this question? What good thing shall I do that I might have eternal life? The meaning of our Saviours answer is this if thou wilt think to get eternal life this way, thou must keep the commandments; that is, thou must be found a person not any way guilty of any transgression against Gods commandments. This was a thing of mere and utter impossibility, and our Saviour's scope in returning to him was this answer, was to discover unto him the vanity and madness of his proud and foolish imagination. Thus this place rightly understood hath not in it the least shew of opposition against our doctrine.
Mat.11.28. Come unto me all ye that labour, and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.
Here Christ promiseth to give rest, not to all Persons whatsoever, but only to those labouring and heavy laden ones which come to him, namely by a true faith in him. This maketh nothing against us, it still remaining true that they, and they only, do thus come unto Christ, in whose hearts God worketh lively faith. And this God worketh in his Elect, and only in them.
Mat.11.21. Woe unto thee Chorazin, Woe unto thee Bathsaida: for if the mighty works which were done in you, had been done in Tyre and Sidon, &c.
The manifest scope of our Saviour in this place, is to shew the open and inexcusableness of the impenitency and unbelief of Chorazin and Bethsaida. The last words of the verse, from which your doubt ariseth, may be understood to be a figurative speech, like unto that in Luke 19.40. If these should hold their peace, the stones should would immediately cry out. Otherwise the words may be thus rendered, They had possibly repented; or, They would possibly have repented. This translation would be found well to agree to the signification of the potential particle which is here used in the Greek. And then this will be the true and easy interpretation of this passage: viz. A man would think they should have repented. Beyond this, this place must not be stretched. For no interpretation must be given of any place of Scripture, which shall indeed make it to contradict the Scripture itself in other places.
Mat.23.37. O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a Hen gathereth her chickens under her wings and ye would not.
The meaning of this; How often have I graciously afforded unto the people of Jerusalem excellent means of salvation? but the stubborn people of Jerusalem have willfully refused to accept of those means of salvation, and to profit by the same. This is all that this place doth import: and this maketh nothing at all against us.
Luke 16.16 The Law and the Prophets were until John: since that time the kingdom of God is preached and every man, &c.
The words in this verse which you would have to be opened are thus commonly rendered: The kingdom of God is preached, and every man presseth into it. Suppose this translation to be right and the meaning to be the same that our common expositors have held forth in this ensuing interpretation; Every man, that is to say, many men or every order and degree of men presseth into it; that is, with willingness and forwardness receiveth the doctrine of the kingdom; and so enter into the kingdom of God. Suppose I lay that this were indeed the meaning of this place, yet it would be found to make nothing at all against us. For still it will remain true, that the Elect do this through Gods special grace. But the truth is, that this interpretation doth not reach our Saviours meaning in this place. The words should thus be rendered; every man offereth violence unto it. The meaning is this; every man; that is, the whole world of ungodly men Offereth violence unto it, that is, makes a violent opposition against the kingdom of God and the preaching thereof, See Mat.11.13. compared with vers.16,17,18.7&c.
Jer.3.22. Return ye backsliding children, &c.
In this verse is contained:
1. An exhortation: Return ye backsliding children.
2. A promise: I will heal your backslidings. This promise you understand to belong only unto those that obey the aforesaid exhortation. Even so this maketh nothing against us, but perfectly agreeth with our doctrine. But let me here mind you that this promise may be understood not only to be a promise of pardon to them that repent, but also a promise of the gift of repentance to the Elect. See Jer.31.33.34. and Acts 5.31. The particle and here inserted, seems to make against this, But this need not trouble us, since it is only a supplement or addition of the translators, and is not in the text.
3. A profession of repentance and faith, Behold, we come unto thee, for thou art the Lord our God. You must understand this is to be the speech of the Elect endued with God's special grace. See Jer 31.18.19.
Thus according to your request, according to the ability which God hath given me, I have opened the Scriptures that you have mentioned. The Lord open your understanding, that you may discern the truth and acknowledge the same to the glory of God.