John Bunyan, ca. 1674
Whether Eternal Reprobation in itself, or in its Doctrine, be in very deed an Hindrance to any Man in seeking the Salvation of his Soul?
IN my discourse upon this question I must entreat the reader to mind well what is premised in the beginning of the former chapter, which is, that reprobation makes no man a sinner, appoints no man to condemnation, but leaveth him upright after all. So, then, though God doth leave the most of men without the bounds of his election, his so doing is neither in itself nor yet its doctrine (in very deed) an hindrance to any man in seeking the salvation of his soul.
I. It hindereth not in itself, as is clear by the ensuing considerations:
1. That which hindereth him is the weakness that came upon hint by reason of sin. Now God only made the man, but man?s listening to Satan made him a sinner, which is the cause of all his weakness. This therefore is it that hindereth him, and that also disenableth him in seeking the salvation of his soul "Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God; for God cannot be tempted of evil, neither tempteth he any man. God made man upright, but he hath sought out many inventions."
2. It hindereth not in itself, for it taketh not any thing from a man that would help him might it continue with him; it takes not away the least part of his strength, wisdom, courage innocency, or will to good; all these were lost by the fall in that day when he died the death Nay, reprobation under some consideration did rather establish all these upon the repro bate; for as, it decrees him left, so it left him upright. Wherefore man?s hindrance cometh on him from other means, even by the fall, and not by the simple act of eternal reprobation.
3. As reprobation hindereth not either of these two ways, so neither is it from this simple act that Satan is permitted either to tempt them, that they might be tried or that they might be overthrown.
1. It is not by this act that Satan is permitted to tempt them that they might be tried, because then the Son of God himself first be reached by this reprobation, he being tempted by the devil as much if not more than any; yea, and then must every one of the elect be under eternal reprobation; for they also, and that after their conversion, are greatly assaulted by him: "Many are the troubles of the righteous," etc.
2. Neither is it from the act of reprobation that Sill hath entered the world, no more than from election, because those under the power of election did not only fall at first, but do still generally, as foully, before conversion, as the reprobate himself. Whereas, if either the temptation or the fall were by virtue of reprobation, then the reprobates, and they only, should have been tempted and have fallen. The temptation, then, and the fall, doth come from other means, and so the hindrance of the reprobate, than from eternal reprobation. For the temptation, the fall, and hindrance being universal, but the act of reprobation particular, the hindrance must needs come from such a cause as taketh hold on all men, which indeed is the fall; the cause of which was neither election nor reprobation, but man?s voluntary listening to the tempter.
3. It is yet far more evident that reprobation hindereth no man from seeking the salvation of his soul, because, notwithstanding all that reprobation doth, yet God giveth to divers of the reprobates great encouragements thereto; to wit, the tenders of the Gospel in general, not excluding any; great light also to understand it, with many a sweet taste of the good work of God and the powers of the world to come; he maketh them sometimes also to be partakers of the Holy Ghost, and admitteth many of them into fellowship with his elect; yea, some of them to be rulers, teachers, and governors in his house; all which, without doubt, both are and ought to be great encouragements, even to the reprobates themselves, to seek the salvation of their souls.
II. As it hindereth not in itself, so it hindereth not by its" doctrine; for all that this doctrine saith is, that some are left out of God?s election, as considered upright, Now this doctrine cannot hinder any man, for ?
1. No man still stands upright.
2. Though it saith some are left, yet it points at no man, it nameth no man, it binds all faces in secret. So, then, if it hinder, it hindereth all, even the elect as well as reprobate; for the reprobate hath as much ground to judge himself elect, as the very elect himself hath before he be converted, being both alike in a state of nature and unbelief, and both alike visibly liable to the curse for the breach of the commandment. Again, as they are equals here, so also have they ground alike to close in with Christ and live; even the open, free, and full invitation of the Gospel and premise of life and. salvation by the faith of Jesus Christ.
3. It is evident also by experience that this doctrine doth not; indeed, neither can it, hinder any, (this doctrine, I mean, when both rightly stated and rightly used,) because many who have been greatly afflicted about this matter have yet at last had comfort; which comfort, when they have received it, hath been to them as an argument that the thing they feared before was not because of reprobation, rightly stated, butt its doctrine much abused was. the cause of their affliction; and had they had. the same light at first they received afterwards, their troubles then would soon have fled, as also now they do. Wherefore discouragement comes from want of light, because they are not skillful in the word of righteousness; for had the discouragement at first been true, (which yet it could not be, unless the person knew by name himself under eternal reprobation, which is indeed impossible,) then his light would have pinched him harder; light would rather have fastened this his fear that at all have rid him of it.
Indeed the Scripture saith, The word is to some the savor of death unto death, when to others the savor of life unto life. But mark, it is not this doctrine in particular, if so much as some other, that doth destroy the reprobate. It was respite at which Pharaoh hardened his heart, and the grace of God that the reprobates of old did turn into lasciviousness. Yea, Christ the Savior of the world is a stumbling-block unto some and a rock of offense unto others. But yet, again, consider that neither he nor any of God?s doctrines are so simply and in their own true natural force and drift; for they beget no unbelief, they provoke to no wantonness, neither do they in the least encourage to impenitency; all this comes from that ignorance and wickedness that came by the fall. Wherefore it is by reason of that also that they stumble, and fall, and grow weak, and are discouraged, and split themselves, either at the doctrine of reprobation or at any other truth of God.
Lastly. To conclude as I began, there is no man while in this world that doth certainly know that he is left out of the electing love of the great God; neither hath he any word in the whole Bible to persuade him so to conclude and believe, for the Scriptures hold forth salvation to the greatest of sinners. Wherefore, though the act of reprobation were far more harsh, and its doctrine also more sharp and severe, yet it cannot properly be said to hinder any. It is a foolish thing in-any to be troubled with those things which they have no ground to believe concerns themselves, especially when the latitude of their discouragement is touching their own persons only: "The secret things belong unto the Lord our God." Indeed every one of the words of God ought to put us upon examination, and into a serious inquiry, of our present state and condition, and how we now do stand for eternity; to wit, whether we are ready to meet the Lord, or how it is with us. Yet, when search is fully made, and the worst comes unto the worst, the party can find himself no more than the chief of sinners, not excluded from the grace of God tendered in the Gospel; not from an invitation, nay, a promise, to be embraced and blest if he comes to Jesus Christ. Wherefore he hath no ground to be discouraged by the doctrine of reprobation.
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