By Adam Clarke
THERE has been much spoken against the
doctrine of what is called free will by persons who seem not to have
understood the term. Will is a free principle. Free will is as
absurd as bound will: it is not will if it be not free; and if it be
bound, it is no will. Volition is essential to the being of the
soul, and to all rational and intellectual beings. This is the most
essential discrimination between matter and spirit. Matter can have
no choice, spirit has. Ratiocination is essential to intellect; and
from these volition is inseparable. God uniformly treats man as a
free agent; and on this principle the whole of divine revelation is
constructed, as is also the doctrine of future rewards and
punishments. If a man be forced to believe, he believes not at all:
it is the forcing power that believes, not the machine forced. If he
be forced to obey, it is the forcing power that obeys; and he, as a
machine, shows only the effect of this irresistible force. If a man
be incapable of willing good and willing evil, he is incapable of
being saved as a rational being; and if he acts only under an
overwhelming compulsion, he is as incapable of being damned. In
short, this doctrine reduces him either to a punctum stans,
which by the vis inertiae is incapable of being moved, but as
acted upon by foreign influence; or, as an intellectual being, to
The power to will and the power to act must necessarily come from God, who is the Author both of the soul and the body, and of all their powers and energies; but the act of volition and the act of working come from the man. God gives power to will: man wills through that power; God gives power to act, and man acts through that power. Without the power to will man can will nothing; without the power to work, man can do nothing. God neither wills for man, nor works in man's stead, but he furnishes him with power to do both; he is, therefore, accountable to God for these powers.
It is only in the use of lawful means that we have any reason to expect God's blessing and help. One of the ancients has remarked, "Though God has made man without himself, he will not save him without himself;" and therefore man's own concurrence of will, and co-operation of power with God, are essentially necessary to his preservation and salvation. This co-operation is the grand condition, sine qua non, of which God will help or save. But is not this endeavouring to merit salvation by our own works? No: for this is impossible, unless we could prove that all the mental and corporeal powers which we possess come from and of ourselves, and that we hold them independently of the power and beneficence of our Creator; and that every act of these was of infinite value, to make it an equivalent for the heaven we wished to purchase. Putting forth the hand to receive the alms of a benevolent man, can never be considered a purchase price for the bounty bestowed. For ever shall that word stand true in all its parts, "Christ is the Author of eternal salvation to all them that obey him."
It is not for want of holy resolutions and heavenly influences that men are not saved, but through their own unsteadiness; they do not persevere, they forget the necessity of continuing in prayer, and thus the Holy Spirit is grieved, departs from them, and leaves them to their own darkness and hardness of heart. When we consider the heavenly influences which many receive who draw back to perdition, and the good fruits which, for a time, they bore, it is blasphemy to say, They had no genuine, or saving grace. They had it, they showed it, they trifled with it, and sinned against it; and therefore are lost.
What a comfortable thought it is to the followers of Christ, that neither men nor demons can act against them but by the permission of their heavenly Father, and that he will not suffer any of those who trust in him to be tried above what they are able to bear, and will make the trial end in their greater salvation, and in his glory!
Slothfulness is natural to man; it requires much training to induce him to labour for his daily bread: if God should miraculously send it, he will wonder and eat it; and that is the whole. "Strive to enter in at the strait gate," is an ungracious word to many; they profess to trust in God's mercy, but labour not to enter that rest. God will not reverse his purpose to meet their slothfulness: they alone who overcome shall sit with Jesus on his throne. Reader, "take unto thee the whole armour of God, that thou mayest be able to stand in the evil day, and, having done all, to stand." And remember that he only who endures to the end shall be saved.
If to "watch" be to employ ourselves chiefly about the business of our salvation, alas! how few of those who are called Christians are there who do watch! how many who slumber! how many who are asleep! how many seized with a lethargy! how many quite dead!
You have many enemies; be continually on your guard; be always circumspect: 1. Be watchful against evil. 2. Watch for opportunities to do good. 3. Watch over each other in love. 4. Watch that none may draw you aside from the belief and unity of the gospel.
He that is self-confident is already half fallen. He who professes to believe that God will absolutely keep him from falling finally, and neglects watching unto prayer, is not in a safer state. He who lives by the moment, walks in the light, and maintains his communion with God, is in no danger of apostacy.
Will it avail any of us how near we get to heaven, if the door be shut before we arrive? How dreadful the thought, to have only missed being eternally saved! to aim well and yet to permit the devil, the world, or the flesh, to hinder in the few last steps! Reader, watch and be sober.
For want of a little more dependance upon God, how often does an excellent beginning come to an unhappy conclusion! Many who were on the borders of the promised land, and about to cross Jordan, have, through an act of unfaithfulness, been turned back to wander many a dreary year in the wilderness. Reader, be on thy guard. Trust in Christ, and watch unto prayer.
He who changes from opinion to opinion, and from one sect or party to another, is never to be depended on; there is much reason to believe that such a person is either mentally weak, or has never been rationally and divinely convinced of the truth.
The apostle shows here five degrees of apostacy: 1. Consenting to sin; being deceived by its solicitations. 2. Hardness of heart through giving way to sin. 3. Unbelief in consequence of this hardness, which leads them to call even the truth of the gospel in question. 4. This unbelief causing them to speak evil of the gospel, and the provision God has made for the salvation of their souls. 5. Apostacy itself, or falling off from the living God, and thus extinguishing all the light that was in them, and finally grieving the Spirit of God, so that he takes his flight, and leaves them to a seared conscience and reprobate mind. He who begins to give the least way to sin is in danger of final apostacy: the best remedy against this is, to get the evil heart removed; as one murderer in the house is more to be dreaded than ten without.
Every believer in Christ is in danger of apostacy while any remains of the evil heart of unbelief are found in him. God has promised to purify the heart, and the blood of Christ cleanses from all sin. It is, therefore, the highest wisdom of genuine Christians to look to God for the complete purification of their souls; this they cannot have too soon, and for this they cannot be too much in earnest.
Who can adequately describe the misery and wretchedness of that soul which has lost its union with the Fountain of all good, and, in losing this, has lost the possibility of happiness till the simple eye be once more given, and the straight line once more drawn?
How strange is it that there should be found any backslider! that one who once felt the power of Christ should ever turn aside! But it is still stranger that any one who has felt it, and given, in his life and conversation, full proof that he has felt it, should not only let it slip, but at last deny that he ever had it, and even ridicule a work of grace in the heart! Such instances have appeared among men.
Where there are so many snares and dangers, it is impossible to be too watchful and circumspect. Satan, as a roaring lion, as a subtle serpent, or in the guise of an angel of light, is momentarily going about seeking whom he may deceive, blind, and devour; and, when it is considered that the human heart, till entirely renewed, is on his side, it is a miracle of mercy that any soul escapes perdition: no man is safe any longer than he maintains the spirit of watchfulness and prayer; and to maintain such a spirit, he has need of all the means of grace. He who neglects any of them which the mercy of God has placed in his power, tempts the devil to tempt him. As a preventive of backsliding and apostacy, the apostle recommends mutual exhortation. No Christian should live for himself alone; he should consider his fellow Christian as a member of the same body, and feel for him accordingly, and love, succour, and protect him. When this is carefully attended to in religions society, Satan finds it very difficult to make an inroad on the church; but when coldness, distance, and want of brotherly love take place, Satan can attack each singly, and, by successive victories over individuals, soon make an easy conquest of the whole.
"But he that lacketh these things:" he, whether Jew or Gentile, who professes to have faith in God, and has not added to that faith, fortitude, knowledge, temperance, patience, godliness, brotherly kindness, and universal love, "is blind," his understanding is darkened, and cannot see afar off, shutting his eyes against the light, winking, not able to look truth in the face, nor to behold that God whom he once knew was reconciled to him; and thus it appears he is wilfully blind, "and hath forgotten that he was purged from his old sins"—has at last, through the non- improvement of the grace which he received from God, his faith ceasing to work by love, lost the evidence of things not seen: for, having grieved the Holy Spirit by not showing forth the virtues of Him who called him into his marvellous light, he has lost the testimony of his sonship; and then darkness and hardness having taken the place of light and filial confidence, he first calls all his former experience into doubt;—questions whether he has not put enthusiasm in the place of religion. By these means his darkness and hardness increase, his memory becomes indistinct and confused, till at length he forgets the work of God on his soul, next denies it, and at last asserts that the knowledge of salvation by the remission of sins is impossible, and that no man can be saved from sin in this life. Indeed, some go so far as to deny the Lord that bought them; to renounce Jesus Christ as having made atonement for them; and finish their career of apostacy by utterly denying his godhead. Many cases of this kind have I known; and they are all the consequence of believers not continuing to be workers together with God, after they had experienced his pardoning love.
Here (2 Peter ii, 22) is a sad proof of the possibility of falling from grace, and from very high degrees of it too. These had escaped from the contagion that was in the world; they had had true repentance, and cast up "their sour-sweet morsel of sin;" they had been washed from all their filthiness, and this must have been through the blood of the Lamb; yet, after all, they went back, got entangled with their old sins, swallowed down their formerly rejected lusts, and rewallowed in the mire of corruption. It is no wonder that God should say, "The latter end is worse with them than the beginning:" reason and nature say, "It must be so;" and divine justice says, "It ought to be so;" and the person himself must confess that it is right that it should be so. But how dreadful is this state! How dangerous, when the person has abandoned himself to his old sins! Yet it is not said that it is impossible for him to return to his Maker; though his case be deplorable, it is not utterly hopeless; the leper may yet be made clean, and the dead may be raised. Reader, is thy backsliding a grief and burden to thee? Then thou art not far from the kingdom of God; believe on the Lord Jesus, and thou shalt be saved.
The backslider's soul, before influenced by the Spirit of God, dilated and expanded under its heavenly influences, becomes more capable of refinement in iniquity, as its powers are more capacious than formerly. Evil habits are formed and strengthened by relapses; and relapses are multiplied, and become more incurable, through new habits.
A soul cut off from the flock of God is in an awful state! His outward defence is departed from him; and being no longer accountable to any for his conduct, he generally plunges into unprecedented depths of iniquity, and the last state of that man becomes worse than the first. Reader, art thou without the pale of God's church? Remember, it is written, "Them that are without, God judgeth."
The backslider's affections and desires are no longer busied with the things of God, but gad about, like an idle person, among the vanities of a perishing world. Swept from love, meekness, and all the fruits of the Spirit; and garnished, or adorned, decorated with the vain showy trifles of folly and fashion. This may comprise also smart speeches, cunning repartees, &c., for which many who have lost the life of God are very remarkable.
In a state of probation every thing may change. While we are in life we may stand or fall. Our standing in the faith depends on our union with God; and that depends on our watching unto prayer, and continuing to possess that faith that worketh by love. The highest saint under heaven can stand no longer than he depends upon God, and continues in the obedience of faith. He that ceases to do so will fall into sin, and get a darkened understanding and a hardened heart; and he may continue in this state till God come to take away his soul. Therefore, let him who most assuredly standeth take heed lest he fall, not only partially, but finally.
When probation ends, eternity begins. In a state of trial the good may change to bad, the bad to good. It is utterly absurd to say that the day of grace may end before the day of life. It is impossible; as then the state of probation would be confounded with eternity. The Scriptures alleged by some in behalf of their sentiment are utterly misunderstood and misapplied. There can be no truer proverb than, "While there is life there is hope." Probation necessarily implies the possibility of change.