November 15, 2007

More from Howe on Common Grace

"X. Ever since the apostacy, even upon the first declared constitution of a Redeemer, and in the shining forth of that first cheering ray of gospel light and grace, "the seed of the woman shall break the serpent's head;" a promise was implied of the communication of the Spirit; that curse, which made the nature of man, as the accursed ground, unproductive of any thing but briers and thorns; and whereby all holy, vital influences were shut up from men, as in an enclosed, sealed fountain, being now so far reversed, for the Redeemer's sake, as that all communication of the Spirit should no longer remain impossible. And hereupon, some communication of it, in such a degree, as might infer some previous dispositions and tendencies to holy life, seems to have been general; (and is therefore fitly enough wont to be called common grace:) but then, in that lower degree, it is not only resistible, but too generally resisted with mortal efficacy; so as that it builds no living temples; but retiring, leaves men under the most uncomfortable and hopeless (but chosen) shades of death."
"But he having interposed, undertaken, and performed, as he hath; what is the effect of it? What! that the Spirit should now go forth with irresistible almighty power to convert all the world? That, the event too plainly shows, was not the design. Or that it should immediately supply men with sufficient grace and power to convert themselves? That, no scripture speaks, and it were strange, if such sufficient grace were actually given to all, it should prove effectual with so very few. But the manifest effect is, that the Spirit may now go forth, (the justice, and malediction of the law not reclaiming against it,) and make gentle trials upon the spirits of men, inject some beams of light, and some good thoughts, with which if they comply, they have no cause to despair of more; and so, that which is wont to be called common grace, may gradually lead and tend to that of a higher kind, which is special, and finally saving. That light, and those motions, which have only this tendency, must be ascribed to the Spirit of God, co-operating with men's natural faculties; and not to their own unassisted, natural power alone; for we are not sufficient of ourselves to think one right thought. And now if they rebel against such light and motions violently opposing their sensual imaginations and desires, to their light, and the secret promptings of God's Holy Spirit; they hereby vex his Spirit, provoke him to leave them, and do forfeit even those assistances they have had, and might further have expected, upon the Redeemer's account. All which seems to be summed up, as a stated rule, in that of our Saviour—" To him that hath shall be given; but from him that hath not" (where having manifestly includes use and improvement) "shall be taken away that which he had." Which latter words must be taken not for a prediction, expressive of the certain event, or what shall be; but a commination, expressing what is deserved, or most justly may be. The true meaning or design of a commination, being, that it may never be executed. And to the same sense is that of Prov. i. 23, 24, &c. "Turn at my reproof—I will pour out my Spirit unto you, I will make known my words unto you: but I called, and they refused; I stretched out my hand, and no man regarded; therefore they shall eat the fruit of their own way." &c. v. 31." Ibid., 1:105.

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