POSTED - 10/25/2001
The Doctrines of Election and Final Perseverance - Excerpts from a letter
- John Newton
...Permit me to remind you in the first place, of that important aphorism, John 3:27 (which by the by seems to speak strongly in favor of the doctrines in question) " A man can receive nothing, unless it be given him from heaven." If you should accede to my opinions upon my persuasion only, you would be little benefited by the exchange. The Lord alone can give us the true, vital, comfortable, and useful knowledge of his own truths...It is not therefore by noisy disputation, but by humble waiting upon God in prayer, and a careful perusal of his holy word, that we are to expect satisfactory, experimental, and efficacious knowledge of the truth as it is in Jesus. I am persuaded that you are seeking in this way; If so, I am confident you shall not seek in vain. The Lord teaches effectually, though for the most part gradually. The path of the just is compared to the light , which is very faint at the early dawn, but shineth more and more to the perfect day.
If you sincerely seek the Lord's direction by prayer, you will of course make use of his appointed means of information, and search the Scriptures. Give me leave to offer you the following advices, while you are reading and comparing spiritual things with spiritual. First, not to lay too great stress upon a few detached texts, but seek for that sense which is most agreeable to the general strain of the Scripture. The infallible word of God must, doubtless be consistent with itself. If it does not appear to us, the obscurity and seeming inconsistency must be charged to the remaining darkness and ignorance of our minds. As many locks whose wards differ, are opened with equal ease by one master key; so there is a certain comprehensive view of Scriptural truth, which opens hard places, solves objections, and happily reconciles , illustrates, and harmonizes many texts, which to those who have not this master-key,...appear little less than contradictory to each other. When you obtain this key, you will be sure you will have the right sense.
...Further when you are led (as I think you will be, if you are not already) to view the Calvinist doctrines in a favorable light, be not afraid of embracing them, because there may be perhaps some objections which, for want of the full possession of the key I mentioned, you are not able to clear up; but consider if there are not as strong or stronger objections against the other side. We are poor weak creatures; and the clearing up of every difficulty is not what we are immediately called to, but rather to seek that light which may strengthen and feed our souls.
...Whatever is from God has a sure tendency to ascribe glory to him, to exclude boasting from the creature, to promote the love and practice of holiness, and increase our dependence upon his grace and faithfulness. The Calvinists have no reason to be afraid of resting the merits of their cause upon this issue; not withstanding the unjust misrepresentations which have often been made of their principles, and the ungenerous treatment of those who would charge the miscarriage of a few individuals, as the necessary consequence of embracing those principles.
...You have objections to the doctrine of election. You will however, agree with me, that the Scripture does speak of it, and that in very strong and express terms; particularly St. Paul. I have met with some sincere people, as I believe, who have told me they could not bear to read his 9th chapter to the Romans, but always passed it over: so that their prejudices to election prejudiced them to part of the Scripture, likewise. But why so? Unless because the dreaded doctrine is maintained too plainly to be evaded? But you will say some writers and preachers attempt to put an easier sense upon the apostle's words. Let us judge then, as lately as I have proposed, from experience. Admitting, as I am sure you will admit, the total depravity of human nature, how can we account for the conversion of a soul to God, unless we likewise admit to an election of grace? The work must begin somewhere. Either the sinner first seeks the Lord, or the Lord first seeks the sinner. The former is impossible, if by nature we are dead in trespasses and sins (1); if the god of this world has blinded our eyes, and maintains the possessions of our hearts (2); and if our carnal minds, so far from being disposed to seek God, are enmity against him (3). Let me appeal to yourself....In your own case you acknowledge he began with you; and it must be the case universally to all that are called, if the whole race of mankind are by nature enemies to God (4). Then, further, there must be an election, unless ALL are called. But we are assured that the broad road which is thronged with the greatest multitudes, leads to destruction (5). Were not you and I in this road? Were we better then those who continue in it still? What has made us differ from our former selves? Grace. What has made us differ from those who are as we once were? Grace.Then this grace, by the very terms must be differencing, or distinguishing grace; that is, in other words, electing grace. And to suppose that God made this election or choice only at the time of our calling, is not only unscriptural, but contrary to the dictates of reason, and the ideas we have of the divine perfections, particularly to those of omniscience and immutability. They who believe there is any power in man by nature, whereby he can turn to God, may contend for a conditional election, upon the foresight of faith and obedience: but while others dispute, let you and me admire, for we know that the Lord foresaw us (as we were) in a state utterly incapable of either believing or obeying, unless he was pleased to work in us to will and to do according to his good pleasure (6).
(1)Ephesians 2:2 . (2)Ephesians 2:2-3 . (3)Romans 8:7, 3:11 .(4) Romans 5:10, Colo.1:21 . (5)Matthew 7:13 (6)Phil. 2:13
As to final perseverance...it is not to be wondered at that this doctrine, which gives to the Lord, the glory due his name, and provides so effectually to the comfort of his people, should be opposed and traduced by men of corrupt hearts. But it may well seem strange, that they who feel their need of it, and cannot be comfortable without it, should be afraid or unwilling to receive it. Yet many a child of light is walking in darkness upon this account. Either they are staggered by the sentiments of those they think wiser then themselves, are stumbled by the falls of professors who were once advocates for this doctrine, or perplexed because they cannot rightly understand those passages of Scripture which seem to speak a different language. But as light and knowledge increase these difficulties are lessened. The Lord claims the honor and He engages for the accomplishment of a complete salvation, that no power shall pluck his people out of his hand, or separate them from his love (7). Their perseverance in grace...may be proved with the fullest evidence from the unchangeableness of God, the intercession of Christ, the union which subsists between him and his people, and from the principle of spiritual life he has implanted in their hearts, which in its own nature is connected with everlasting life, for grace is the seed of glory. I have not room for the particulars but refer you to the following texts...Luke 14:28-30 compared with Phil. 1:6; Hebrews 7:25 compared to Rom. 8:34-39; John 14:19 compared with John 15:1-2; John 4:14. Upon these grounds, my friend, why may not you who have fled for refuge to the hope set before you, and committed your soul to Jesus, rejoice in his salvation; and say, "While Christ is the foundation, root, head and husband of his people, while the word of God is Yea and Amen, while the councils of God are unchangeable, while we have a Mediator and High Priest before the throne, while the Holy Spirit is willing and able to bear witness to the truths of the Gospel, while God is wiser then men, and stronger than Satan, so long the believer in Jesus is and shall be safe? Heaven and earth may pass away but the promise, the oath, the blood on which my soul relies, affords me a security which can never fail."
(7John 10:28-29, Romans 8:38-39
As the doctrines of election and perseverance are comfortable, so they cut off all pretense of boasting and self-dependence, when they are truly received in the heart, and therefore tend to exalt the Savior. Of course they tend to stain the pride of all human glory, and leave us nothing to glory in but the Lord. The more we are utterly convinced of our depravity first to last, the more excellent will Jesus appear. The whole may give the physician a good word but the sick know how to prize him. And here I cannot but remark a difference between those who have nothing to trust to but free grace and those who ascribe at least a little to some good disposition and ability of man. ...Their experience seems to lead them to talk of themselves, of the change that is wrought in them, and the much that depends upon their own watchfulness and striving. We likewise would be thankful if we could perceive a change wrought in us by the power of grace: we desire to be found watching likewise. But when our hopes are most alive, it is less from a view of the imperfect beginnings of grace in our hearts, than from an apprehension of him who is our all in all. His person, his love, his sufferings, his intercessions, compassion, fullness and faithfulness,_ these are our delightful themes, which leave us little leisure to speak of ourselves. ...If any persons have contributed a mite to their own salvation, it was more than we could do. If any were obedient and faithful to the first calls and impressions of his Spirit, it was not our case. If any were prepared to receive him beforehand, we know that we were in a state of alienation from him. We needed sovereign irresistible grace to save us, or we had been lost forever. If there are any who have a power of their own, we confess ourselves poorer than they are. We cannot watch, unless he watches with us; we cannot strive unless he strives with us; we cannot stand one moment unless he holds us up; And we believe we must perish after all unless his faithfulness is engaged to keep us. But this we trust he will do; not for our righteousness, but for his own name's sake, and because having loved us with an everlasting love, he has been pleased in loving kindness to draw us to himself, and to be found of us, when we sought him not.
...We confess that we fall sadly short in everything, and have reason to be ashamed and amazed that we are so faintly influenced by such animating principles; yet, upon the whole, our consciences bear us witness, and we hope we can declare it both to the church and to the world without just fear of contradiction, that the doctrines of grace are according to godliness.
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