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ON THE PRESERVATION AND PERSEVERANCE OF TRUE BELIEVERS IN CHRIST.
1 PETER I. 5.
Who are kept by the power of God, through faith, unto salva
a former discourse on these words, we considered the character and state of those who are thus kept-How far they are kept-In what way they are kept-And the certainty of their being so kept. It only remains, according to the method proposed,
That we consider, in the last place, what is objected against believing that all who are once in a state of grace, are so kept by the power of God, that it is impossible they should finally, or totally, fall away.
The objections which have been made to this doctrine, are many and of various kinds. They are taken from scripture; from the nature of things; and from the supposed bad tendency of teaching any men, that they are thus out of all danger in this life. I shall begin with the objections from scripture. Here,
1. Instances are produced of some who were unquestionably good men, that are thought to have fallen totally from a state of holiness for a time; though they were afterwards recovered by repentance.
The apostle Peter himself, the writer of our text, is commonly mentioned as one evident instance of this. He was a firm believer in Christ, and one of his most zealous followers, during the greater part of his public ministry. When many were offended at our Saviour's hard sayings, so as to follow him no more, and he said to the twelve, "Will ye also go away? Peter was the first to answer: "Lord," says he, "to whom shall we go? Thou hast the words of eternal life; and we believe and are sure that thou art the Christ, the Son of the living God." At another time, when Jesus asked his disciples, "Whom do men say that I, the Son of man, am?" and again, "Whom say ye that I am?" Peter answered, “Thou art Christ, the Son of the living God :" whereupon Jesus said unto him, "Blessed art thou, Simon Borjona; for flesh and blood hath not revealed it unto thee, but my Father which is in heaven." Yet, at the time of our Saviour's arraignment before the chief priests, this same Peter thrice denied that he knew him. Must not this be a total apostacy? Was it not relinquishing the ground on which alone any can expect to be owned of Christ? He hath declared, " If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple." And again, "He that denieth me before men, shall be denied before the angels of God."
To this it is answered; We do not dispute Peter's having been in a state of grace before; but we deny that his fall, though a very great one, was a total apostacy. The hating and giving up all, even life itself, for Christ, which is made necessary to being one of his disciples, and the denying him which
is inconsistent with this, we understand to respect one's stated, habitual disposition and choice; and not merely a transient act, or word, under extraordinary circumstances. Peter's situation was peculiarly trying. All his fellow disciples had before fled. He had followed his Lord, it seems, further than any of them dared to do. He was friendless, amidst triumphant enemies, determined, as he probably supposed, on the utter extirpation of the whole He saw nothing but immediate death before him, if he confessed any connection with Christ, His faith was staggered; and his fears so far prevailed as to force from his lips a language foreign from the fixed habits and sentiments of his heart. As soon as Jesus looked upon him, he went out and wept bitterly. Being thus suddenly overcome, in such an hour of extreme temptation, may well consist, I conceive, with the character of a good man, retaining still the principles of virtue and goodness.
Another capital instance alledged, of a true saint's falling totally, though not finally from a state of grace, and the only other one which I shall now take notice of, is that of David. He was said to be a man after God's heart, even from his youth. He had long been truly pious and virtuous, in an eminent degree yet he was guilty afterwards of the greatest crimes. If a righteous man may do such things as he did, retaining all the while his righteousness, what is there in all the abomination that the wicked man doeth, of which he may not be guilty?
To this it is replied; good men have sins which easily beset them. Grace does not eradicate at once, nor wholly in this world, constitutional passions and inclinations; though it generally in a good measure restrains them, when they would lead to transgress the rules of righteousness, or any of the known laws of God. The circumstances of David, in those days of his prosperity, exposed him in a peculiar manner, to presumptuous sins. His elevated station, no
doubt, made the things he did appear very differently to him, from what they would otherwise have done. The custom of kings, who considered the persons and lives of their subjects as being absolutely in their power, it may well be supposed, exceedingly blinded his eyes. And though his crimes were very atrocious indeed, yet, all circumstances considered, and especially considering his very deep repentance, we have no reason to conclude that he ever wholly lost the principle of true holiness. The steps of a good man are not so ordered by the Lord, but that he may often slip his absolute safety is no more than this; though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down, for the Lord upholdeth him. The sanctifica tion of saints is very imperfect in this life. They may be left to fall into particular sins, even beyond what are commonly committed by the unregenerate; yet the general tenor of their lives is materially dif ferent. It is a man's general course, and not one single act, or a few singular instances of either good or evil conduct, that gives a character. And this being kept in mind, we shall not consider all the sins recorded in scripture, of those who are acknowledged to have been godly persons, as any certain proof that the goodness of the regenerate may, for a scason, be totally lost.
Respecting the instance now under consideration, it has been said that David was a murderer; and the apostle John expressly says, "No murderer hath eternal life abiding in him."
To this I answer; It is far from being certain that David was a murderer, in the sense intended by John. The apostle was speaking of the love of our fellow-christians, as an evidence of our being the adopted children of God; and of our hating them as an evidence of the contrary. "We know that we have passed from death unto life," says he, "because we love the brethren; he that loveth not his brother abideth in death. Whosoever hateth his
brother is a murderer: and ye know that no murderer hath eternal life abiding in him." Now, it does not appear evident, nor probable, that David hated Uriah; or that he was actuated at all by malice against him, when he ordered him to be exposed in the battle, with a view that he might be slain. His motive was to conceal his own crime and Bathsheba's infamy; which he had much rather have effected in a more generous way and his order to Joab can hardly, in strict propriety, be denominated murder, as it proceeded not from malice prepense. Much less is it hereby proved that he had that general hatred of good men, which constitutes the apostle John's murderer. He had occasion enough, indeed, to pray, as he did in his penitential Psalm on this occasion; "Deliver me from blood guiltiness, O God, thou God of my salvation."
It may be thought unaccountable, if David was a good man all this while, that he should discover no repentance till Nathan the prophet came to him, which was almost a year after the commission of these abominable crimes. But the answer to this is, that he probably supposed his sins were not known, except to two or three; and that he might have repented deeply of them in secret long before; though he did not think it his duty to confess them publicly.
There is no reason to conclude that either David or Peter, or any other saint that we read of, ever fell totally from grace, or became wholly destitute of holiness of heart. But,
2. Instances are brought of the final apostacy of some, whom the objectors suppose to have been once in a state of grace.
King Saul has been mentioned as an instance of this. That Saul'died a wicked man, I admit, is highly probable: but it is far from being evident that he was ever a true saint. It is said, indeed, on