Article of the Month
That election-grace, and the immutability of God’s counsel indefinitely proposed in the promises, is the object of faith.
The 11th verse begins an exhortation, whereof all that follows is the prosecution. The words of that verse are these ‘We desire that every one of you do shew the same diligence, to the full assurance of hope unto the end.’ Here are two things distinct: 1st, An exercise, and diligence 2dly, This is directed towards the attainment of full assurance of hope unto the end; which is somewhat parallel to that of Peter, 2d Epist. i. 10, Brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure.’ To exhort them to all diligence, he lays before them the examples of the eminent saints that they had known in their times, — ver. 12, That ye be not slothful,’ — and refers unto using that diligence he speaks of: ‘Be followers of them who through faith and patience inherit the promises; ‘that is, that have got possession, and obtained, and have arrived unto eternal glory. And by patience, he doth not only mean patience in suffering, but constancy in well-doing, especially waiting by faith for the attainment of the promise, as patience is taken in Rom. ii. 7, ‘Who by patient continuance in well-doing, seek for glory and immortality.’ As for that other part, the full assurance of hope unto the end, he begins at ver. 13, to propound the example of Abraham more particularly and eminently, and shews how God, to assure him in his hope, did give him a promise and an oath, both which you have in ver. 13; that is, he arrived at the end of his days at the enjoyment and fulfilling of the promises, as those other saints he spake of, ver. 12, are said to have ‘ inherited the promises.’ Some refer his obtaining the promise to what was in this life, in having Isaac given him, &c., and by having the comfort of it ever after while he lived. But he had obtained the promise of Isaac before this oath was given, and therefore it is rather to be understood to mean it after that oath given, upon his offering up Isaac, ho having patiently endured to the end of his days, as his exhortation (verse 11), had said, that then he attained the full possession of it.
The assurance which was given to Abraham was the greatest that heaven could afford, a promise and an oath. I say the greatest, as, 1st, the apostle himself argues, ver. 16, if amongst men an oath, when they swear by God, that is greater than themselves, is of such authority, as it ends all strife, though men be liars, and may be supposed even in swearing to lie, yet an oath taken by God, or by their gods, whoever they be, is accounted so sacred, and of such authority, as all men rest in it, and there is an end of strife; much more when God shall take an oath. This you have, ver. 16, ‘For men verily swear by the greater, and an oath for confirmation is to them an end of all strife.’ For that God himself should swear, the apostle says, ver. 18, that ‘it was impossible for God to lie therein.’ It cannot be supposed of him, though of men it may, so ver. 18. But, 2dly, Whom did God swear by? He sware by himself: ver. 13, ‘Because he could swear by no greater, he swear by himself;’ he staked himself; as if he had said, I will cease to be God if I do not perform this.
The thing he sware to was to bless Abraham with all blessings, and that unto the end; ‘Surely blessing I will bless thee’ And if he sware by himself to perform this, then all the power in God, and long-suffering of God towards Abraham, were engaged to the uttermost to work upon Abraham’s soul, and to bear with him effectually to attain this. And whereas those that should read but hitherto what Paul said of the oath to Abraham, would expect of Paul he should declare how this oath did concern those whom he exhorted, or otherwise it had been in vain, and an example not applicable to his purpose, which was to exhort them to the ‘full assurance of hope unto the end,’ such as Abraham had. And whereas, because it was a voice from heaven, they might think that this was singular and proper to Abraham alone, he therefore proceeds in the 17th and 18th verses to apply it to them to whom he wrote, to all the heirs of promise and salvation, and together therewith expounds what was the matter intended in the oath and promise. Thus he applies it in these words: ver. 17, Wherein God, willing more abundantly to show unto the heirs of promise the immutability of his counsel, confirmed it by an oath.’ (1.) Observe that word, ver. 17, ‘wherein God willing,’ &c. ‘Wherein,’ or in which oath and promise he had spoken of before. (2.) It is made to the ‘heirs of promise,’ and therefore to all that are heirs with him, which all that are Christ’s are said to be: Gal. iii. 29, ‘And if ye be Christ’s, then are you Abraham’s seed, and heirs according to the promise.’ (3.) In verse 18 he shews the intent of the oath to be, that we all do believe that have the faith of Abraham; which faith he doth describe by such acts and terms as might include the weakest of believers, unto that end that all such might have strong consolation. So as we are to look upon Abraham in this manner of dispensation (though it was so singular an example in him) to him personally, as that he therein was, Rom. iv. 16, ‘the father of us all.’ As in the case of imputation of righteousness by faith, it is said in the same Rom. iv. 22-24, ‘It was imputed to him for righteousness. Now, it was not written for his sake alone, that it was imputed to him; but for us all, to whom it shall be imputed,’ &c. And indeed this is held forth in the very promise which was then given him, and which the oath confirmed. The promise is in Heb. vi. 14, ‘Surely blessing I will bless thee.’ Now in Gal. iii. 14 the same blessing that was given to Abraham is said to ‘come on the Gentiles that were after to believe;’ and so, in blessing Abraham, he blessed us all that are heirs of promise; and we have the same promise with him and them. For in the latter part of the promise, ‘In multiplying I will multiply thee,’ all the spiritual seed are included. ‘In multiplying I will multiply thy seed,’ or all seed to thee, says God, Gen. xxii., which were the spiritual seed, heirs of promise of salvation with him, and children of the promise with his Isaac, Rom. ix. 7, 8.
Let us next consider what is the matter of that promise and oath. 1st, in the letter of it, it is to bless him and us with ‘all spiritual blessings in heavenly things,’ imported in this doubling the words, ‘In blessing I will bless thee,’ and so thy seed. I will bless thee with faith, with holiness, with perseverance to the end, and salvation at the end. But, 2dly, the apostle brings forth a deeper and higher matter that this oath and promise did intend, and that is, the immutability of his counsel confirming the promise by an oath. So, then, his own counsels about Abraham’s salvation, and of us all, are the same kind of decrees for the salvation of us all that was for Abraham’s.
1. If you ask what is meant by his counsel here, I answer, it is his everlasting decrees and purposes taken up within himself concerning Abraham’s salvation, and of us all; and it is the same kind of decrees for the salvation of us all that was for Abraham’s.
1st. I say God’s decrees and resolute determinations concerning our salvation are imported by the word counsel. Concerning Jesus Christ to be crucified the apostle utters himself thus, Acts iv. 28, that the Jews did but ‘whatsoever God’s hand and counsel determined before to he done.’ His counsels, then, are his determinations and purposes.
And, 2dly, they are his purposes within himself, and so differ from a promise. A promise made, is God’s outward declaration to do so and so for us, but his counsel are his purposes within himself, decreeing so and so, as in Eph. i. 9, and v. 11, compared.
3dly. His counsel imports these his purposes which have been from everlasting: Acts iv. 28, ‘What thy counsel determined to be done aforehand.’ And so it imports the same that foreknowledge doth, which in matter of our salvation is said to have been before the world began. And what other is this counsel of his in matter of Abraham’s and our salvation, but the very same we find Eph. i. 3, 4, 9, and ver. 11? ‘Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ Jesus, according as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world; in whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will.’ What is the counsel of God here, is election and predestination there.
2. As his counsel shews it to be his electing love and purposes, so the oath shews these to be immutably fixed and pitched, and that to shew forth the immutability of the promise the oath was given, as verse 17 of my text imports. God’s oath shews an unchangeableness; not a peremptoriness only, but an irreversibleness, and that the matter sworn to shall never be recalled. Therefore, in Psalm lxxxix., when God mentions his oath to David, the type of Christ, and to his spiritual seed (the same that was here made to Abraham’s seed), says God there, in the 35th and 36th ‘verses, Once have I sworn by my holiness, that I will not lie unto David, his seed shall endure for ever.’ Ver. 34, ‘My covenant will I not break, nor alter the thing that is gone out of my lips;’ it having been thus confirmed by an oath. Our divines have generally owned this notion, and from thence, in the case of our redemption by Christ, that he should suffer in our stead, have observed that all God’s threatenings of the law (as the law itself also) was given without an oath added, and that so God might dispense with any commination or exchange of the persons threatened, and put Christ in their stead; for all those threatenings were without an oath. For if they had had an oath annexed to them, we had been everlastingly undone and lost, and Christ’s redemption would not have saved us. But now the gospel coming, and promises thereof, because God intended them with an immutability, he hath therefore confirmed them by an oath, Heb. vii. 21. Those priests, viz., of the law, verse 19, were made without an oath, and therefore were changeable; as, verse 12, he says both law and priesthood were to be changed, because made and given without an oath; but this with an oath, and an oath irreversible, ‘by him that said unto him,’ — unto Christ, namely, — ‘The Lord sware, and will not repent, thou art a priest for ever.’ Where he gives an oath, he will never repent, nor make alteration of it, viz., of what he hath sworn unto.
3. I add, that such an oath is absolute; and though there are qualifications that God will work, which are necessary to our salvation, and unto the complete performance of the oath, yet these conditions God supposes and includes in the oath, and by the oath undertakes to work them, and effect them in us. When, therefore, God took this oath concerning Abraham’s blessing, ‘I blessing will bless thee,’ &c. (which also takes in the salvation of all the spiritual seed), God did absolutely swear and undertake to perform and accomplish it, and to that end, withal, to give all these qualifications requisite to the full performance. God doth not swear by halves in it, but to do the whole as to Abraham and our salvations. Why, now, I appeal unto all sober spirits that will consider things, whether they will or dare say that God should make an oath for Abraham’s salvation, when yet, according to the principles of free-will grace, as they state it, the performance of this oath must depend upon Abraham’s will, and to the end of his days, and his will must cast the issue of it, and God would only have been to give him such assistance as he should have a power to do so and so. It was Abraham’s will that must have east the event, which is so mutable and changeable as any of ours is, or can be supposed to be. Can we think that God, in swearing that he would save Abraham, and bring him to obtain the blessing, as the phrase is here, should depend upon the mutability of such a man’s will? He was to live many days after this; and if God in his oath had not undertaken to carry on his will effectually and invincibly, as well as to save him in the end, if he went on to will, there is a supposition and a possibility that his oath might have failed, and that God should have taken his own name in vain. I might say the like concerning Isaac, who was included in the oath, who was a young man at this time, he being the first of the seed, the pattern of the rest. He was included in the seed absolutely, and God’s promise was absolute, as to give him Isaac, so to continue Isaac, that his covenant might continue with him for ever as it was. And do we think that God would betrust an oath, such an oath, as to cease to be God if it were not performed, upon any creature’s will? What though they suppose he should foreknow certainly their wills would hold out unto the end, yet, would God honour a creature’s will, so mutable a thing as they say it is, as to venture and pawn an oath upon it, and swear for their salvation in this manner, so as to say, If Abraham be not faithful Abraham to the end, I will not be God? Do you think that God would debase himself so much, if that the keeping Abraham and Isaac, and by consequence us all unto the end, had not depended upon his will, so as to overcome and carry on theirs and ours infallibly unto the end? If God sware by himself, then certainly he sware by all himself, and will therefore put forth all in himself to the utmost whereby to make good his oath; and therefore his will and power to the utmost whereby to make good his own word, nay, to make good himself. Their principles put God upon these straits, that though God will vouchsafe such means and helps as by the laws of free-will-grace they say he doth use, yet if the will of Abraham in the freedom of it, or of any or of all the saints, shall be deficient on its part, then God cannot save him, for he hath tied himself up unto the principles of the liberty in the will, to act or not to act, according to its innate liberty, and so according to this principle he should swear by his holy self to work what he is not able to work, nor can undertake to work. It may be objected, that something in Abraham was made the cause of that oath: ver. 16, ‘By myself have I sworn, saith the Lord; for because thou hast done this thing, and hast not withheld thy son, thy only son; that in blessing I will bless thee.’ And therefore it was not an irrespective or an absolute oath, but founded upon an act of Abraham’s. 1st, I answer in general, the papists, as Pererius, would draw this particle because, set before the promise and oath, ver. 17, and then again repeated, ver. 18, and put after the oath, to favour their merits. And truly the force of those particles will as soon, yea, rather make for their merits, than for God’s having in his decrees had a simple fore-respect unto this famous act of Abraham’s obedience as foreseen, and upon the foresight of which he should have thus immutably resolved and taken up such a purpose in his decrees; but it will serve the turn of neither.
1. Because the promise or matter sworn unto was given to Abraham long before this his high act of obedience, and therefore it cannot ho the merit of this obedience, nor yet could the foresight of this obedience after to come any way be the ground of making that promise; for it is the promise that contains the matter of the oath sworn to. Now God long before this oath gave the same promise to Abraham without an oath, which hero he confirms with an oath: Gen. xii. 2, ‘I will bless thee, and thou shalt be a blessing; and in thee,’ that is, in thy seed, as here, Gen. xxii., ‘shall all the families of the earth be blessed; ‘as here in Heb. vi. it is said, ‘all the nations,’ &c.; and the same again is in Gen. xviii. 17, 18. And the apostle also, Heb. vi., affirms the same, by saying that the promise had testified the same thing that this oath did, and that the oath was but a confirmation thereof. If indeed the promise had been but now first given upon his obedience, there might have been some colour for merit, or a respective decree, but so it was not. And it is inconsistent to think a promise declared a long time before should be in respect unto an act that was to come after; for it must be something that had at that present been performed by Abraham, upon which, as foreseen, if anything foreseen had been the ground of it, the promise should have been declared. For it being so that at the giving of the promise he was actually and indubitately estated thereinto, and possessed of it, it therefore must have been some present or former act of obedience, upon the respect of which, if any such respect had been, the promise should have begun to ho uttered to him. Now in that Gen. xii., those promises are said to have been given him at, and together with, God’s first command and invitement of him to go out of his own country, and as antecedent to any act of obedience first put forth by him. Thus we have the account in ver. 1-3, ‘Now the Lord had said unto Abraham, Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred, and from thy father’s house, unto a land that I will shew thee: and I will make of thee a great nation, and I will bless thee, and make thy name great; and thou shalt be a blessing: and I will bless them that bless thee, and curse him that curseth thee: and in thee shall all the families of the earth be blessed.’ There you have the promises and the date of them; and then his obedience follows after as the effect of those promises uttered to him, and moving his heart thereunto. Thus expressly, ver. 4, it follows, ‘So Abraham departed, as the Lord had spoken to him,’ &c. So that of the two, it must be said that Abraham had rather an eye and respect unto the promises first given absolutely unto him, than that God had a respect unto Abraham’s obedience foreseen, and that he did thereupon declare them. And it will remain that God’s eternal counsels had first resolved to do such and such things for Abraham out of mere grace, and from thence put them into promises, and uttered them to Abraham without mention of respective conditions upon which he should give forth these promises, as foreseeing Abraham would do so or so, and those promises drew his heart to that obedience upon the manifestation of them.
But, 2, although we grant that these promises and this oath after them might have been given with a respect unto some former or present act of obedience, yet still the decree or counsel that determined to give those things promised, might still be, yea, and was, absolute; that is, without respect to those acts. Even as a father may and doth often absolutely resolve within himself to give such and such good things to his child, and yet defers giving the promise of them to him until such or such an act or acts of obedience are performed by him; and then in giving the promise of them professeth an high approbation of that obedience, and as a gratification or remuneration of it to him, makes the promise, although the counsel and determination of it in his heart had been absolute. And so indeed in substance and effect the apostle speaks here, that both the promise and oath were but to shew or declare the immutability of his counsel and absolute determination taken up before, so as still the decree and the immutability of it was fixed first, and God did but by these utter and declare it. It was not his oath made his counsel for the future immutable, but his counsel being immutable, he did by his oath shew it, and gave demonstration thereof.
3. That singular obedience was the occasion of the oath, as Rivet speaks. By myself have I sworn it,’ says God; ‘because thou hast done this, and hast not withheld,’ &c. But it was the immutability of his counsel that was the supreme cause why Abraham did that thing. It was that which was the cause of that obedience in Abraham, and of the oath and all; and if be had not been greatly strengthened by the promise before given, which had absolutely declared and shewn what his counsel was, Abraham had never arrived at so high an act of gracious obedience as this was.
Nor, 4, would God for one singular act of obedience have sworn then his perpetual perseverance, which was to consist in so many other acts of grace to succeed for so many years yet to come till after Abraham’s death, had not his own grace immutably decreed it first, and therefore it was that he did not stick to make declaration of it by an oath irreversibly, which if it had been left to Abraham’s will, only assisted with power to persevere or not to persevere (as it is said of all other believers by the Arminians, that so they are left), God would never have ventured an oath thus.
But, 5, what he sware to Abraham here therein did God in person swear to all Abraham’s seed, the heirs of promise with him, whosoever they be, and therefore their salvation and perseverance is as sure as Abraham’s, though they never do or did perform any such high act of self-denial as Abraham here did. And therefore this must wholly flow from the immutability of God’s counsel both towards Abraham and them all alike, or else Abraham had this promised him upon more hard and higher, yea, unnatural terms than the rest have.
The corollary which I infer from hence is, that the promises of Abraham’s salvation and ours are but extracts, transcripts of God’s everlasting decrees concerning man’s salvation. His counsels within himself are the original, and those are the types. The matter of the promises are the decrees of election. Promises are but God’s inward counsels put into words and into writing; as when a man makes his will which he had contrived within himself, he sets it down, and seals or swears to it before witnesses. Or promises are but the expressions of election, but concerning persons and things only. There is this differing case between the case of Abraham and Isaac in this particular, that the person of Abraham by name was expressed in the promise made of them. But the promises made of the rest of the seed are as to persons made indefinitely, concerning whom the persons are not named, but yet intending them very persons, and them only, and therefore they are called children of promise as well and as much as Isaac was. And in that place Isaac is called a child of promise as he was an elect child of God, and declared by promise so to be, to prove election, which is the subject of that chapter; and first Isaac, then Jacob’s instance brought for the proof of it.
It is next to be considered, how doth this oath, as to the matter of it, belong to us?
1st. It doth, re ipsa, in the nature of the thing, belong to us as well as to Abraham, and our salvation is sworn to as well as Abraham’s, and therefore it is made sure, whether we have attained the assurance of it or no, if we be true believers. And indeed I desire my salvation to be no surer than Abraham’s was, and it is as sure by this oath as his was.
2. Yet it tends to the same end that it was made for to Abraham, which was for the confirmation of him in his faith, and to us to give ‘assurance of hope,’ Heb. vi. 11, for that is the head of this discourse, and he carries it along in his eye, ver. 17, to give a strong consolation; even as it served to give Abraham assurance, so it serves to give us.
As for observations upon this oath as it relates to us, and Abraham’s example therein in the tendency of it to give us assurance, I would consider this oath two ways.
(1.) In the matter of it, as it is to be made use of by all believers as a ground for them to attain assurance by.
(2.) In the circumstances of it, as by the story it appears it was personal and singly given to Abraham, and God’s dealings with him in doing of it are to be considered, which are not common to all believers, but yet hold some parallel with God’s dispensations to some eminent saints in the New Testament, as in relation to his giving assurance to them as he gave to Abraham.
My observation upon the oath in the matter of it, as it is common to all, is this, that the immutability of God’s counsel in his electing grace doth in the whole of it lie as a fit object to all believers, even the weakest, so as it is not only warrantable for them to have recourse to it, and apply it to themselves, but it is their duty. I shall prove and explain this by parts.
1. That it belongs to all believers, we have shewed before from ver. 17 and 18. But,
2. That which I observe for this purpose is, that his scope was to relieve even the weakest. Do but observe how, ver. 18, when he describes believers, his description of them is such as includes the weakest, and such as have not attained a faith of assurance but of recumbency, although the faith of those that have assurance may be included in that description. Yea, in the general it may be observed in that verse, that he speaks of consolation, and ‘strong consolation,’ as of a thing which yet might be obtained, as distinct from the faith which he doth describe, for so the words run. He speaks of their consolation as of a thing which they might have for the future. But the faith which he describes is that which in the time past all those had already attained, and might now attain to this strong consolation, so that their strong consolation is a distinct thing from their first faith exercised at conversion; and he chooseth to decipher all believers by the acts that were at first, though continued still, that so he might be sure to include all the seed. But let us examine every word whereby he doth describe their faith, and it will be found to be such as I have said, and which the weakest, even they that want assurance, have.
1st. His first expression, ‘We that have fled for refuge.’ This speaks the very heart and condition of one who at first begun to believe, and doth not necessarily import assurance that he is saved, or that he shall certainly be saved. For it speaks but his running and flying for refuge and shelter to be saved. And, as I said, it speaks the very heart and condition of such a man at that time, and in his first act of believing (though he exerciseth it all his life, whether with assurance or without it), but his condition at first is that which this holds forth. (1.) He hath a sense of present danger, and that the extremest, as a man in danger of death by reason of his own sins that come upon him, together with an apprehension that the wrath of God abideth on him in the estate be hath thereunto continued in; and so (2.) flies out of, and from that condition (and that word imports a terminus à quo) or, if you will, he flies à Deo irato, from an angry God (or from out of that dominion wherein there remains nothing but wrath to him, if he continue therein), unto a God of grace, and his dominion of grace in and through Christ, as the Scripture expresseth it, Rom. v. and vi. And this his then condition, and this act of flying for refuge thereupon, doth not necessarily contain in it assurance of being saved, &c., but only a hope that he may be saved from the wrath to come, even as coming to Christ imports a believing on Christ that we may be saved (as Christ speaks when he says, ‘Come unto me, that ye may have life’), as also a believing on Christ that we may be justified, as the apostle’s speech is, which imports not a knowledge that we are justified or that we have life. And thus much the metaphor here barely insinuates, whether it be taken for one that is in danger of his life, and seeks to save it by flying to another dominion, or to a privilege place, as the murderer fled to the city of refuge, Num. xxxv., not as then knowing he should be able to arrive thither, or whether the gates would be set open to him; or whether it be taken for such a flight as that of Joab to the horns of the altar. And all we believers may from our experience well know that the first acts of faith at conversion, and perhaps for a long while after, were but such as these; and yet we can all say, we, seeing our lost condition, have fled for refuge, all of us.
2dly. If we consider what it is to lay hold en the hope set before us, the question here may be about the word hope, whether the thing hoped for should be that intended, or the hope which out of the gospel offers itself to, and riseth up in and to a man’s own heart and apprehensions from what is in and out of the revelation of grace made therein. And thus we may take hope for the grounds thereof set before the soul in the gospel, together with the hopes which they beget in men’s hearts upon the revelation of them, that the salvation spoken of may be theirs, and he or they may be the person that shall obtain it. This I find to be the sense of Calvin, and of the most considerative late interpreters; and my main reason (as theirs also seems to be) is, that in the next verse he says, ‘Which hope we have as an anchor,’ &c. Now the hope there compared to the anchor of the soul must be the hope which a man hath in his own heart for himself to obtain it, and it cannot agree to the object of hope or thing hoped for, since the things hoped for are such for which this anchor is cast into within the veil. And I add not simply the act of hope in our hearts, but withal the grounds of that hope, as arising from out of the revelation of the gospel; or as Calvin doth most aptly express it, confidendi materiam, the matter of hoping, there being in the word hope, as he says, a metonymy of the effect for the cause, and so the promise on which hope bears up itself and is grounded, is connotated in that word hope. So then I expound the words thus, that to a man truly a-working upon by the Spirit of God, the same Spirit (as he is a Spirit of faith to him) doth begin to raise up in his heart a hope, from some declarations or other in the gospel about the grace of God, and the intent of Christ coming into the world, and the tenor of such promises laying forth this before him, that there is an hope for him that he may be saved, notwithstanding his sinful condition; as it is said, ‘There is hope in Israel concerning this thing.’ And he is said to ‘lay hold on this hope,’ which the Spirit of God hath thus raised up to him and in him, as a man is said to lay hold on the hopes of such a preferment, which the intimations of the person in whose power it is set before him, and lie resolves not to let slip the opportunity of it, but to put in and seek it with all his might. So here this believer lays hold fast upon the hopes that have been begotten in him, and the grounds thereof, and will not cast them away, but holds them fast, and that strongly too (as the word signifies) with all his might, and he will not at any hand forsake those mercies which he hopes may be his own. Hope is taken here, as Cameron would have it, in opposition to an utter despondency, whereby a man doth cast away all hope, and lets all go; as they in the prophet, who said, ‘there is no hope.’ Now then this also does not necessarily speak full assurance, but a faith rather that wants it. For,
1. Because that is barely and simply called hope, with distinction from full ‘assurance of hope,’ in ver. 11. Here is the hope of the recumbent expressed, but there the hope of one fully ascertained and insured. And, again, this hope is distinct from ‘consolation’ in the same ver. 18; and hope thus singly taken in this distinction (ver. 11), speaks a lower matter than assurance, and we use, in ordinary phrase, to say of a matter we are not fully certain of, I hope well. Under the Old Testament, when assurance was so rare a thing, for they were generally under bondage, their faith was expressed by this, ‘those that hope in his mercy.’ I observe there is hope, as it is in us sometimes single and simply said, and there is a good hope, which is rising up to some degrees of assurance; and in all languages, when we would express hopes that are exceeding promising, we call them good hopes when yet we are not sure; and this word we have, 2 Thes. ii. 16, ‘Now our Lord Jesus Christ, and God, even our Father, which hath loved, and given us everlasting consolation, and given us good hopes through grace, comfort your hearts;’ that is, more and more, with further degrees. And that consolation which is already vouchsafed, but under good hopes, is yet called ‘everlasting,’ because it is such as will not (finally) be taken from us, though suffering many interruptions at present. The consolation under such good hope is everlasting consolation, but it riseth not up to strong consolation, which the apostle says they may here attain, and which those that have an anchor that holds fast may yet want.
2. This hope is said to be set before them to lay hold on, because the groundwork and foundation is in the promises, and the things declared in the gospel, which give the heart this hope for its own salvation; as, for example, the promise being indefinitely expressed concerning some, and that there is a seed shall be made partakers of it, and that Christ died for sinners; by such promises as these indefinitely expressed doth the Spirit of God work a hope in the heart of the weakest believer, and causes the heart to think with itself, why may not I be the man that shall obtain? And from such expressions set before us, the heart doth gather itself up into hope, and by the power of God lays hold on them in such gospel-manifestations that may give it hope. As to Benhadad’s servants, a word, though afar off, did give them hope concerning the life of their master, and they laid hold upon it; and, says the soul, take away this hope and you take away my life. The devil comes and persuades a man to cast it away; but, says the soul, I have laid hold on it, and I will never let it go; I will hold it and keep it, and hold to it. And though neither of these words, either of ‘laying hold,’ or that it is said to be ‘ set before us,’ do express that we have possession of it, or apprehensions that it is ours already, but that we view it before us; and likewise the word to lay hold, or to retain so fast as I will not let it go, is short from being a persuasion that it is already mine, but argues indeed that I would have it mine, and therefore lay hold upon it, and seek it that it may be mine, and that I would keep it for mine, yet with hopes it shall never be taken away.
8. That similitude of an anchor, though it would seem to express an assurance of hope, in that it is called ‘sure and stedfast,’ is more inclining to express the hope of a recumbent, than assurance of hope; for he that casts anchor, casts anchor in the dark, blindfold as it were, in the bottom of the sea. It expresses a pure act of faith, joined with hope, of what a man sees not, and it is usually cast in extremities, just as when a man fears he may be cast away, knows not but he may; and when he casts it, he knows not whether it will take hold of the ground or no; and sometimes it comes back again. And whereas it is said, it is an anchor sure and stedfast, it follows not that he speaks in respect of a man’s own apprehension, but it is so re ipsa, in the nature of the thing itself, through God that secretly strengthens it. That weak hope which a poor believer hath doth stay it, and but stay it, as a ship in a storm, that it shall not split upon rocks of despair. God makes a mere it may be, and who knows but that God will be merciful to a man, which is as slender a hope as may be, and as a weak straw for holding the heart in a great extremity of temptation, and yet God makes it as strong to hold the heart that it shall not sink or be cast away, as the strongest cable that is. It is sure, because it breaks not, snaps not asunder, as the ropes of the anchor use to do; and it is stedfast, because where it hath took hold, there it sticks, and holds the will as firm to cleave to God that he will not let him go till he bless him and assure him, when the assurance in the understanding of the party, that God will certainly save him, may be fluctuating, and in that respect his soul be cast up and down, and ready to sink, and that in the storms of doubtings to the contrary. Therefore it doth not necessarily imply fulness of assurance.
Thomas Goodwin was born near Yarmouth in 1600, and not expected to survive childhood, and died in his eightieth year, in 1679, at the end of a life of unusual influence and after a ministry characterized by a rich knowledge of Holy Scripture and close acquaintance with the operations of the human heart.
Chosen a Fellow and Lecturer at St. Catherine's Hall, from 1625-1634, Goodwin served as a preacher and lecturer in the University, until, in the rising persecution he emigrated to Holland. After the impeachment of Archbishop Laud by the Long Parliament, he returned to England and gathered a church in London. Thereafter his commanding presence was soon recognized and his influence was prominent in the Westminster Assembly where he led the brethren of Independent persuasion. He counselled Oliver Cromwell in the spiritual concerns of the Protector's last hours.
No doubts appear to have attended his own experience of death; among his last words were these; “I could not have imagined I should have had such a measure of faith in this hour . . . My bow abides in strength. Is Christ divided? No. I have the whole of his righteousness . . . Christ cannot love me better than he doth. I think I cannot love Christ better than I do. I am swallowed up in God.”
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