July 19, 2010

Thomas Ford (1598–1674) on the Death of Christ and the Sinner's Self-Condemnation

This Westminster divine wrote the following:
But the chief design of this Discourse being to shew, How inexcusable they are, who have the light of Gospel-truth, but do not walk in it; [I] shall proceed to enquire into the case of these, that turn the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ into wantonness, some way or other receiving it in vain. For these (I say again) do not perish for want of a Remedy, but only for not applying it.

For proof hereof, I appeal to John 3.16, God so loved the World, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth on him, should not perish. Here's enough said, to shew, That God is not wanting to me, but that they are wanting to themselves. There's provision made such, and so much, as none can perish, but they who refuse to make use of it. Whosoever believeth on him, shall have everlasting life. What can be said or done more on Gods part? What constructions are made of this Scripture are many, I shall not mention, but shall give the sense of Calvin upon it. "The Love of God here testified (saith he) respects Humanum genus, mankind; and a note of universality is added, to invite all promiscously to the partaking of this life, and to cut off all excuse, observe that, from such as believe not. For this purpose (saith he) the word [WORLD] is used, to shew, that though there be nothing in the World worthy of Gods love and favour, yet to shew himself gracious to the whole World, he calls all without exception to the Faith of Christ." Indeed he saith too, "That life eternal is offer'd unto all, so as notwithstanding Faith is not of all." And in this he confesseth, the special grace of God to some particular persons.

Let it also be considered, That the word [WORLD] cannot rationally be taken in any other sense. For in the next Verse, it is meant of the World, whereof some are saved, and some perish, (as Reverend Davenant observes) and that they who perish, perish only because they believe not on the Son of God. I shall not debate, what advantage the coming of Christ into the World brought to such, as make no use, reap no benefit by it. Certainly it states the question beyond all dispute, That as Faith only saves, so Unbelief only condemns, which is all I have to prove. For there's not the least hint of any defect on Gods part, but all the fault is said on man alone, in not believing on the Son of God sent into the World, not to condemn, but to save it. And here let Calvin speak what he thought in this case: Certium quidem e, non omnes ex Christi morte fructum percipere: Sed hoc ideo fit, quia eos impedit sua incredulitas. In Ep. ad Heb. cap. 9. v. 27 [28]. 'Tis only by Infidelity, that all are not partakers of the benefits of Christs death.

Let me now argue a little further, Why do we persuade all men, without exception, to believe on Christ, with a promise of Salvation by him, if they believe? Is it reasonable to do so, if we are not persuaded, there is sufficient provision made, so as nothing is wanting, if there be Faith to receive it? As I take it, we should not perswade men to believe on Christ, by telling them, If they believe, then Christ died for them: Rather, as I suppose, we may safely tell them, That Christ died for them, and thereupon perswade them, to believe on him. We are bound to believe, that the thing is true, before we can believe our share in it. The Object is in order of Nature, before the Action. My believing makes not a thing true; but it is true in it self and therefore I believe it. And this is the method of Scripture, as farr as I know. The Feast was first prepared, and the Guests were invited: All things are ready, come unto the Marriage, Matt. 22.4. The Jews, who are the guests there invited, refus'd to come: But were they not cast utterly off, and put into that condition, wherein they abide unto this day, upon this account, That the Son of God came to his own, and his own received him not? How could they refuse, if there were no provision made for them? Or justly perish only for refusing? I am very willing to believe, That Christ was offer'd for me, before he was offer'd to me; and that if I dye in my sins, it is only for my not receiving Christ offered to me. Sure I am, that Scripture never layeth the death of Sinners, upon the want of a λύτρον, or Price of Redemption; but always upon unbelief, disobedience, neglect of, and setting light by Christ, and the things of Christ. And this is enough to serve my turn, That Scripture never hints any impediment to mens Salvation, more than en evil heart of unbelief. For the intention of God, and Christ, what is that to me, or any man else, seeing it is secret? The revealed things belong to us; and we shall (for certain) be question'd one day only, Why we did not accept Christ, when he was tendered to us? It will not then excuse us, to say, We could not tell, whether we were of those, whom Christ intended to save. Once we have the command of God, to believe on the Son of God; and we have a sure promise, if we believe, to be saved. And this, and nothing else, will be the condemnation of the World, viz. That they disobeyed Gods command, and believed not his promise.

Thus all Gods Messengers have a Warrant to invite all men to believe. But not to invite the Devil, though they had an opportunity to speak with him, as any man may speak to another: Yea, I am bold to think, it would be any mans sin, to promise Salvation to the Devil, upon his believing in Christ. It were indeed a belying the Lord, and saying, He saith, what he hath not said. And it were a deceiving the Devil, in telling him, that which is not so. For the consequence of this Hypothetical [if you believest on the Son of God, thou shalt be saved] is true, as to any man, without exception: But as to the Devil, it is (for ought I know) false in the connexion, as well as in the parts of it; because he is none of those, to whom God hath promis'd Salvation, upon condition of believing on Christ, John 3.16. For the Command of God to believe, and his Promise of Life upon believing, is all the ground-work upon which our Faith is built; and this foundation the Devil hath not, for his warrant and encouragement to believe on the Son of God. For the Son of God took not on him, or took not hold on, or helped not the Angels, Heb. 2.16. but the Seed of Abraham. Where [Abrahams Seed] notes not the Jews only (as all will grant) but the Gentiles also; and that expression is used, to shew, that Christ was the same, that was promis'd to the Fathers; and sets out the benefit of Redemption, as belonging to mankind, but not (if I may so speak) to Devil-kind.

Beside, It is not the Devils Sin, not to believe on Christ, or not to receive him: He hath sins enough besides, both for number and nature; and questionless is a greater sinner, than any man can be; having sinn'd himself out of the greatest happiness (and that in actual possession) that a Creature is capable of, and sinn'd against that Light, which no man on earth can attain unto. But Unbelief is not his sin, because there is no command obliging, nor any promise inviting him to believe on Christ. But Unbelief is the sin of men, yea it is in a manner all sin, as it seals upon a man his other sins, and causeth the wrath of God to abide upon him, John 3.36. Yea, it is the great aggravation of all sins in this respect, that they might have been all pardon'd, on such easie terms, as Believing in the Lord Jesus Christ.

We may now bespeak sinners, as Naamans servants bespake him: If the Prophet had commanded thee some great matter, wouldst thou not have done it, &c. So, if God had not requir'd some great matter of us, for our Salvation, should we not willingly have done it? But 'tis a very easie thing, that he requireth us to do. The Word is nigh us, as the Apostle shews, Rom. 10.8. We have nothing to do, or suffer, for the appeasing of Gods Wrath, or for the satisfying of his Justice, or for purchasing the heavenly inheritance. The Son of God, in our flesh, hath done and suffered all; and we have nothing to do, but to receive him, as he is freely tendred and offer'd to us. The Feast is prepared, without any cost or care of ours; and we are call'd to partake of it, with a sure promise of welcome.

All this while I forget not, what a controversie there is among the Learned, about the extent of Christs death, but I dare not touch with it; and the rather, because it no way concerns me, in the main design of this discourse. I have no controversie, but with the frowardness and willingness of sinners, who are willing to make God the Author, both of their sin, and condemnation; and pretend, That if all men would believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, as they are requir'd, they should not however be saved. These are the men I now deal with, and these I desire to try, (whatever is controverted amongst the more Learned) whether this be not a truth, viz. That Christ hath satisfied so farr, as they shall be saved, if they believe: And to these I say, if they dye in their sins, it is not upon the account of Christs not dying for them, but only for their not-believing on him. And for this I appeal to the whole tenor of Scripture, and in particular to John 3.16. where the gift of Christ is common, but the efficacy of it limited to believing. And good cause why, since Christ dyed for none, to save them whether they believe or not.

'Tis neither my design, nor desire, to dispute with any, but with unreasonable and wicked men. And therefore I shall take no notice, to what is commonly said, viz. That Christ dyed in the stead, and sustain'd the persons of all; unto whom the benefit of his Death was intended. Only I say, If a sum be paid, sufficient to redeem so many more poor Captives, provided they shall all their days serve him that is their Redeemer; are they not all redeem'd, thou some should refuse the condition, and choose to be Slaves still? However, this I affirm, The extent of Christs Death is such, and so great as I never read, or heard of any one, that perished in his sin, because Christ had paid [not?] price for his Redemption. For the tenor of the Gospel, I gave it before, and I have never learnt any other, than, That he that believeth shall be saved; and he that believeth not, shall be damned. Let others dispute, for whom Christ dyed, (I cannot hinder them) I am sure Christ never suffered or satisfied for any, so as they shall have the saving benefits of his death, without laying hold on him by a lively Faith. And I shall be as sure, on the other side, That whosoever shall believe on the Lord Jesus, with all his heart, he shall be saved by him. And this I take to be sound Doctrine, that may be safely preached to all, and every one, without exception, viz. Thou, O man, whoever thou art, Christ dyed for thee; and if thou believe on him, with all thine heart, as God hath commanded thee, thou shalt be saved. In this we preach the tenor of the Gospel, as you have it before; and he that thus preacheth Christ, will give little encouragement to sinners, except to repent, and turn to God; and so all sinners should by all means be encouraged. But here is no encouragement to impenitency, or unbelief, because there's no promise of any benefit by Christs death, but only to true believers, and penitents. This then I resolve, That if I, or any other, dye in our sins, it is only, because we believe not on the Son of God. For of a truth, I know not how to clear and justifie God, (as I desire to do) if any thing done, or not done on his part, be it, that shuts us out from having eternal Life. I am (I confess) altogether for this, That a wicked, proud, filthy, evil heart of unbelief, and nothing else, stands in the way of mens Salvation; and if that be once taken away, there will be no other hinderance. I have such thoughts of God, as I cannot think, be he hath done his part, so as nothing will be wanting, if we are but heartily willing to do ours.

I could indeed say (what is sufficient in this case) That no man knows, or can know, (supposing Christs death to be so confin'd, as some will have it) Whether he be one of those, for whom Christ dyed not. And therefore if it were an adventure, a man had better run the hazard, than do worse, by willful shipwrecking himself, through final impenitency and unbelief. As a man (one would think) should not refuse to cast the Dice for his Life, though he knew for certain, that some or other must dye; and he cannot be sure, that he shall not be one of them Only (I say still) there's no hazard in believing on Christ.

But in this I desire to be resolv'd, Whether he that believes not on Christ offered in the Gospel, doth not refuse a fair offer of somewhat that he might have had, if he had believed? This is no Position, but only a Quære. If it be answered, That Unbelievers are damn'd for not obeying Gods Command, and for not believing his Promise, I grant, it is so, and their condemnation, upon that account, is most just. Only give me leave to think still, That such refuse, what they might have receiv'd, and so are guilty, as they were, who made light of the invitation, Mat. 22.5. and went their ways. They might have shar'd in the wedding Feast, as well as others, if they would have come. And therefore I wish all, whom it may concern, to be very wary, that poor ignorant Souls, who are too much bent, and set upon undoing themselves, may have no occasion given them of so doing. For what danger can there be, in saying indifferently, what Scripture saith often in terminus, and so pressing all to believe on him? Herein they will remove a stumbling-block which otherwise many will set up, to cast themselves down. But there is no occasion of stumbling, unless they preach and teach, what they never learn'd from Scripture, viz. That Christ gave himself a ransome for all, live as they list, and do as they please, their Redemption is purchas'd and they are sure to be saved however. This indeed would be a false Doctrine, with a witness, yea, and a vengeance too upon many. But no poor Souls will ever complain of their Ministers, for telling them the good news of Christs dying for them, so long as they tell them withall, How the Death of Christ will be effectual to them, and not otherwise, viz. by a sound, and a working Faith.

For the Question about absolute and conditional Redemption, I am not wholly ignorant of it: But I still resolve to wave all controversies of that nature, and only reason the case with poor Souls, that they may not cast themselves away in their perverse disputings, about they know not what; and in their wilfull neglecting of that Salvation, which they are sure to obtain, in a way of believing, and obeying God, and not otherwise. To these I say again, that which is the Word of God, who cannot lye: Let them repent of their unlawful deeds, deny all ungodliness, and worldly lusts, lead sober, and righteous, and godly lives; and therein give a sure evidence and proof of their reall closing with, and accepting of Christ by Faith, that they shall be as certainly saved, as any that are not in Heaven. For this is indeed Gospel, and this is the Word of Grace, as they may easily read, if they will but open their Bibles. But they may turn over their Bibles long enough, or ever they find any Text to this purpose, That Christ dyed to save them, though they never believe. Paul and Silas told the Jaylor, Act. 16.31. Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved. They never scrupled, Whether he were one of them, for whom Christ dyed; but preached to him the Gospel, as they had received it of the Lord: And he doing, as he was commanded, had forthwith as much as he desired, or needed.

Before I close up this, I shall add one thing more. Is there any man alive, of whom any other can, or dare say, This is one of them, for whom Christ dyed not? If there be not, then make no difference, where thou knowest none; but be wise according to that which is written. This we may all safely resolve upon, We shall never suffer at Gods hand, for our ignorance, or neglect of any thing, that God hath not revealed in his Word. The things that are revealed, belong unto us, &c. These we are to believe, and obey, and so live. And if there be any man excepted in the Act of Pardon, except Unbelievers, and that only for their unbelief, it is more than I ever read of, or could learn by reading the Bible.
Thomas Ford, Autokatakritos, or, The Sinner Condemned of Himself (London: Printed for Edward Brewster, and are to be sold by Giles Widowes, at the Maiden-head, over against the Half-Moon, in Aldersgate-street, near Jewen-street, 1668), 46–56.


No comments: