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Not by Works, but by Grace
Not by Works, but by Grace
I conclude that you are utterly unable to recover yourself, in the way of works, or by the law. Oh, that you would conclude the same concerning yourself!
Let us try what the sinner can do to recover himself in the way of the gospel. It may be you think that you cannot do all by yourself alone, yet Jesus Christ offering you help, you can of yourself embrace it and use it for your recovery. But, 0 sinner, be convinced of your absolute need of the grace of Christ; for truly there is help offered, but you cannot accept it. There is a rope cast out to draw shipwrecked sinners to land, but, alas! they have no hands to lay hold of it. They are like infants exposed in the open field, who must starve, though their food be lying by them, unless someone put it in their mouths.
To convince natural men of this, let it be considered:
1. That although Christ is offered in the gospel, yet they cannot believe in Him. Saving faith is the faith of God’s elect, the special gift of God to them, wrought in them by His Spirit. Salvation is offered to them that will believe in Christ, but how can you believe (John 5:44)? It is offered to those that will come to Christ, but no man can come unto Him, except the Father draw him.” It is offered to those that will look to Him as lifted on the pole of the gospel (Isaiah 45:22), but the natural man is spiritually blind (Revelation 3:17); and as to the things of the Spirit of God, he cannot know them, for they are spiritually discerned (1 Corinthians 2:14). Nay, whosoever will, he is welcome; let him come (Revelation 22:17); but there must be a day of power on the sinner before he can be willing (Psalm 110:3).
2. Man naturally has nothing wherewithal to improve, for his recovery, the help brought in by the gospel. He is cast away in a state of wrath and is bound hand and foot, so that he cannot lay hold of the cords of love thrown out to him in the gospel. The most cunning artificer cannot work without tools; neither can the most skilful musician play well on an instrument that is out of tune. How can anyone believe, or repent, whose understanding is darkness (Ephesians 5:8), whose heart is a stony heart, inflexible, insensible (Ezekiel 36:26), whose affections are wholly disordered and distempered, who is averse to good, and bent to evil? The arms of natural abilities are too short to reach supernatural help; hence those who most excel in them are often most estranged from spiritual things. “Thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent” (Matthew 11:25).
3. Man cannot work a saving change on himself, but so changed he must be, else he can neither believe nor repent, nor ever see heaven. No action can be without a suitable principle. Believing, repenting, and the like are the product of the new nature and can never be produced by the old corrupt nature. Now, what can the natural man do in this matter? He must be regenerate, begotten again unto a lively hope; but as the child cannot be active in his own generation, so a man cannot be active, but passive only, in his own regeneration. The heart is shut against Christ; man cannot open it, only God can do it by His grace (Acts 16:14). He is dead in sin; he must be quickened, raised out of his grave. Who can do this but God Himself (Ephesians 2:1-5)? Nay, he must be “created in Christ Jesus, unto good works” (Ephesians 2:10). These are works of omnipotence and can be done by no less a power.
4. Man, in his depraved state, is under an utter inability to do any thing truly good, as was proved before at large. How then can he obey the gospel? His nature is the very reverse of the gospel; how can he, of himself, fall in with that plan of salvation and accept the offered remedy? The corruption of man’s nature infallibly includes his utter inability to recover himself in any way, and whoso is convinced of the one must needs admit the other, for they stand and fall together. Were all the purchase of Christ offered to the unregenerate man for one good thought, he cannot command it. “Not that we are sufficient of ourselves, to think any thing as of ourselves’ (2 Corinthians 3:5). Were it offered on condition of a good word, yet “how can ye, being evil, speak good things?” (Matthew 12:34). Nay, were it left to yourselves to choose what is easiest, Christ Himself tells you, “Without Me ye can do nothing” (John 15:5).
5. The natural man cannot but resist the Lord’s offering to help him; yet that resistance is infallibly overcome in the elect by converting grace. Can the stony heart choose but to resist the stroke? There is not only an inability, but an enmity and obstinacy in man’s will by nature. God knows, 0 natural man, whether you know it or not, that “thou art obstinate, and thy neck is an iron sinew, and thy brow brass” (Isaiah 48:4), and cannot be overcome but by Him who hath “broken the gates of brass and cut the bars of iron in sunder.” Hence, humanly speaking, there is such hard work in converting a sinner. Sometimes he seems to be caught in the net of the gospel, yet quickly he slips away again. The hook catches hold of him, but he struggles, until, getting free of it, he goes away with a bleeding wound. When good hopes are conceived of him by those that travail in birth for the forming of Christ in him, there is oft-times nothing brought forth but wind. The deceitful heart makes many contrivances to avoid a Savior and cheat the man of his eternal happiness. Thus the natural man lies sunk in a state of sin and wrath, utterly unable to recover himself.
Objection 1: If we can be under an utter inability to do any good, how can God require us to do it?
Answer: God, making man upright (Ecclesiastes 7:29), gave him a power to do everything that He should require of him; this power man lost by his own fault. We were bound to serve God and do whatever He commanded us, as being His own creatures; and also, we were under the superadded tie of a covenant for that purpose. Now we having, by our own fault, disabled ourselves, shall God lose His right of requiring our task because we have thrown away the strength He gave us whereby to perform it? Has the creditor no right to require payment of his money because the debtor has squandered it away and is not able to pay him? Truly, if God can require no more of us than we are able to do, we need no more to save us from wrath but to make ourselves unable for every duty and to incapacitate ourselves for serving God any manner of way, as profane men frequently do. So the deeper a man is plunged in sin, he will be the more secure from wrath, for where God can require no duty of us, we do not sin in omitting it; and where there is no sin, there can be no wrath.
As to what may be urged by the unhumbled soul against the putting our stock in Adam’s hand, the righteousness of that dispensation was explained before. But, moreover, the unrenewed man is daily throwing away the very remains of natural abilities, that rational light and strength which are to be found among the ruins of mankind. Nay, further, he will not believe his own utter inability to help himself, so that out of his own mouth he must be condemned. Even those who make their natural impotency to do good a covert to their sloth, do, with others, delay the work of turning to God from time to time, and, under convictions, make large promises of reformation which afterwards they never regard, and delay their repentance to a death-bed, as if they could help themselves in a moment. This shows them to be far from a due sense of their natural inability, whatever they pretend.
Now, if God can require of men the duty they are not able to do, He can in justice punish them for their not doing it, notwithstanding their inability. If He has power to exact the debt of obedience, He has also power to cast the insolvent debtor into prison for his not paying it. Further, though unregenerate men have no gracious abilities, yet they want not natural abilities, which nevertheless they will not improve. There are many things they can do, which they do not; they will not do them, and therefore their damnation will be just. Nay, all their inability to do good is voluntary; they will not come to Christ (John 5:40). They will not repent; they will die (Ezekiel 18:31). So they will be justly condemned, because they will neither turn to God, nor come to Christ, but love their chains better than their liberty, and darkness rather than light (John 3:19).
Objection 2: Why do you then preach Christ to us, call us to come to Him, to believe, repent, and use the means of salvation?
Answer: Because it is your duty so to do. It is your duty to accept of Christ as He is offered in the gospel, to repent of your sins, and to be holy in all manner of conversation; these things are commanded you of God; and His command, not your ability, is the measure of your duty. Moreover, these calls and exhortations are the means that God is pleased to make use of for converting His elect and working grace in their hearts; to them “faith cometh by hearing” (Romans 10:17); while they are as unable to help themselves as the rest of mankind are. Upon very good grounds may we, at the command of God, who raises the dead, go to their graves and cry in His Name, “Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light” (Ephesians 5:14). And seeing the elect are not to be known and distinguished from others before conversion, as the sun shines on the blind man’s face, and the rain falls on the rocks as well as on the fruitful plains, so we preach Christ to all and shoot the arrow at a venture, which God Himself directs as He sees fit.
Moreover, these calls and exhortations are not altogether in vain, even to those who are not converted by them. Such persons may be convinced, though they be not converted; although they be not sanctified by these means, yet they may be restrained by them from running into that excess of wickedness which otherwise they would arrive at. The means of grace serve, as it were, to embalm many dead souls which are never quickened by them; though they do not restore them to life, yet they keep them from putrefying, as otherwise they would do.
— Rev. Thomas Boston
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