Riccaltoun (1691-1769) was the Church of Scotland minister at Hobkirk, Roxburghshire. His Sober Enquiry is a masterful review and adjudication of the issues debated in the Marrow Controversy. “Riccaltoun attempted to mediate, though making it clear that the Marrow Brethren had the better argument and faulting [Principal James] Hadow for widening breaches rather than seeking peace.” (The Dictionary of Scottish Church History and Theology). Riccaltoun corrects misrepresentations among opponents, examines the real import of the Marrow of Modern Divinity’s unfamiliar phrases, and points to the common ground held by all true sons of the Church of Scotland. Though the Sober Enquiry has never been reprinted, the book contains an exceptionally able treatment of the role of the mediator in the covenant of grace, and the instrumentality of faith.
From Robert Riccaltoun, A Sober Enquiry Into the Grounds of the Present Differences in the Church of Scotland, 1723, chapter III: “Of the Law of Faith, or Covenant of Grace; and, First, of Christ’s undertaking and Suretyship, with the Fruits and Effects thereof.”
Upon the breach of that old covenant by Adam’s sin, we have one of the most melancholy prospects presented us, that ever the sun beheld; a creature, but just now the darling of heaven, and whom, we may justly say, God himself delighted to honor, the crown fallen from his head, and himself reduced into such a condition, as might make annihilation a blessing, to be sought for with the most earnest wishes; were there not a door of hope opened, and life and immortality, which might have seemed quite lost under the first covenant, as to man’s interest in them, again brought to light in the gospel; where we have another a better covenant revealed, and all the mischief that was done under the first fully remedied.
As the very end and design of this covenant is the salvation and deliverance of sinners, overwhelmed and sunk under the former, it is easy to see how absolutely necessary it must be, to keep this always in one’s eye; as, without a just view of our natural misery, it is utterly impossible one can either conceive aright of salvation, and deliverance from it, or embrace it with any suitableness when it is known. And I believe it is unto men’s ignorance, or misapprehensions of this, that the many mistakes we find they have fallen into, one or the other, are in a special manner owing; that, before we can stir one foot here, it will be needful to remark something concerning the state of the parties before this covenant is entered into, and upon what terms man stood with God, that is to say, what he owed him, and what he had to expect from his hand.
We have already seen what demands the law, which was then the measure and rule of both his duty and state, had upon man; and how God, who was pleased to bind himself in covenant with man, is and must be by man’s failing freed from any obligations, which otherwise might have lain upon him; that now one can have no other view of him, than a just and righteous judge, to see to the execution of his own law, which man himself had owned to be just and equitable, and therefore had no room left to complain of rigor, whatever were its consequences. What remains here to be observed, is no more than this, how man was able to answer these, and what were the effects and consequences of this, with respect to his state and condition? And, as I believe, there will not readily be any controversy upon these heads amongst us, we shall content ourselves with just noticing the heads, without standing upon the grounds and reasons of them, any further, than is just necessary to let us into a right apprehension of them.
The first thing that occurs unto us here is, that now man has no more room left him, either to hope or to look for life in a way of justice; or, which is all one, in the way of this covenant or law, which is the rule and measure of it. This part of man’s misery was, in a lively manner, set before him in that awful dispensation the flaming sword guarding the way of the tree of life. It is remarkable how it is represented turning every way, that whatever method one should attempt, he must run himself upon the point of it; plainly intimating to us, that one may as well pretend to force omnipotency, and wrest life out of the hands of the Almighty, as to seek it anymore in the way of this covenant.
And indeed, if we look further into this affair, we shall find it could not be otherwise, as it followed upon the very constitution of the nature of things, and that order which God hath appointed, life and death were there set before man, life in obedience, death in disobedience; and that not only by an arbitrary connection in the covenant of works, but, moreover in the very nature of the thing. Sin is a separation of the soul, and a withdrawing it from God the fountain of life, and by communion with whom alone it is to be had: And whosoever forsakes him in any instance, or pitches upon anything else in opposition to him, in reality forsakes life, and chooses death; and I believe it will hold true, in the most part at least, if not all these connections, which God has laid down in his word, between sin and punishment, that they are no more than a declaration of what would have followed in the nature of the thing, whether ever they had been connected by positive institutions or not.
This will be very evident in the present case, from what is necessary to observe here of the very nature of sin; and that habitude and respect it has unto the punishments assigned it in the law, the loss of life, and the inflicting of death; as there is in it not only what is properly called guilt, arising from its contrariety unto the law, and thereby laying the sinner under the just sentence of it; but moreover, a direct contrariety unto the nature of God, and an opposition unto his holiness, which, one may say, is the result and shine of all his glorious perfections united together, as they are in his most holy nature. And as this is the very immediate and direct notion of sin, so it would have been the same, suppose there had never been such a thing as a law in the world; and should have as effectually separated the sinning soul from God, and made it incapable of any communion and fellowship with him, or any gracious communications from him; and robbed him as certainly of God’s image, made him loathsome and abominable in his sight, and laid him under his wrath and displeasure; as now, that this holiness of God is expressed in his law; and these measures, which the infinite rectitude of his nature directed him to, are published and made known to us, which, it is easy to see, make no alteration in the thing itself; though it contributes exceedingly to increase guilt, by aggravating the man’s sin, and making him inexcusable.
And as sin would have been sin, though there had been no law thus formally and explicitly given, so it might be easy to show how, even in that case, it must have firmed its own station, if I may say so, that is, it would have kept its ground; and where it got once possession of a soul, there it would maintain it. But as this is not the case before us, we must also take in the constitution and order which God has set before us in his law, where the case, one should think, were put beyond all controversy, especially as we have attested unto us by the Spirit of God upon all occasions. Here it is that we have sin set before us, as it really is, the root and foundation of all our misery, both of one kind and another; and, that only enemy, from whose oppression and thralldom could we but once be delivered, all the rest, which depend upon it, would, at the same time, lose their strength.
I will not stand here to enlarge upon that misery which sin brings upon the person, who is so unhappy as to fall under its tyranny: As it not only shuts up all hopes of life, as has been observed, but moreover binds him under the curse, and all these direful effects of the divine vengeance comprehended under it; it will be more to our present purpose, to take a view of the dominion and tyranny of sin, how strongly it is rooted, and how powerfully supported. There is no better way of judging of the greatness of misery, than the difficulty of its being removed; and the fuller views one has of this, so much better must he be disposed for judging of the deliverance.
The original dominion and power of sin, the apostle assures us, lies in the law, when he points us unto this as its strength; whereby it tyrannizes over those, who are so wretched as to fall under its bondage. What he here points us to in the law, is, I suppose, especially its cursing power; for however there is in the law a rigor and severity, which not only by irritating corruption, but throwing one into despair, mightily strengthens the power of sin, where once it is established; yet it is upon the curse that its sovereignty is founded; as it was by this, that, what was at first but an intruder, came to be vested with a sort of lawful authority, in the just judgment of God so ordaining it. No sooner had the man subjected himself unto sin, than immediately, by the just sentence of the law, he is stripped of any power, he might otherwise have had, to vindicate his liberty. All expectations of assistance are hereby cut off, and himself abandoned unto the pleasure of his enemies; and, as the apostle elegantly expresses it, sold under sin. And upon this it is, that the law comes to be improved, directly contrary unto its first design, to drive men from God; so that until this rigorous connection be, some way or other, removed, sin continues in its strength; and accordingly will keep its hold, and exercise its dominion.
But this is not the only strength which sin has; though it is so much so, that without it, all the rest could not serve to support it. I was saying just now, that by the law the sinner is sold into the hands of his enemies; and by this constitution there is another tyranny erected over him, and that of another kind, it is that of his arch-enemy the devil; whose interest it is to maintain and support sin, and whose creature indeed it is, by maintaining whose possession he effectually secures his own; whence we may assure ourselves, all his power, malice and cunning will be laid out this way; and who must therefore be vanquished, his power broken, and himself dispossessed, and thrown out, before any soul can be saved from sin.
There is yet another enemy, which sin has raised; as a ready instrument, to execute the will and pleasure of the former, it is the world, which, since the curse fell upon it, is good for nothing but to support and maintain sin; and which is thereby become such a stated enemy unto God, that the apostle James assures us, one cannot be a friend with it, without being an enemy to him. This also must be overcome, since there is no compounding with it.
But sin has done yet more toward securing its possession, insomuch that it has wrought so by its enchantments, that man is become his own worst enemy. His nature is so vitiated and debauched, that as he can relish nothing but sin, so he is ready to fall out with any, as his mortal enemy, who shall attempt to rob him of his imaginary pleasures. Hence enmity against God is now become the best definition the Spirit of God gives of man, in this his strangely degenerate state; nor is there any way of deliverance besides this one, of new molding the soul, and restoring it unto that rectitude, which sin has ruined and destroyed.
From this short account of man’s natural state, it is easy to see, how utterly impossible it is for any man to accomplish deliverance for himself, from this bondage and thralldom into which sin has brought him; nay, how impossible it is for any created power to do so. It is unto God he stands bound, and that by a most just and righteous constitution, and from which none but himself can release; or, though this were done, what strength has he to wrestle against principalities and powers? Against the blandishments and threats of a world alternately displayed upon him? especially when all within is ready to join issue with them.
Man’s powers being thus broken, and access denied him unto life, in the way of his own doing, it is abundantly evident, if he has so much as a moment’s reprieve from the threatened vengeance, it must be owing entirely unto the mercy of God; much more, if ever he has life bestowed upon him, it must not, cannot be by virtue of this covenant, which speaks nothing to a fallen sinner but dread, terrors, and death. And the same reasons, which make it impossible under this, will, at the same time, show us the insufficiency of any other of the same kind; I mean, where life is suspended upon man’s own doing, and such a threatening annexed unto the transgression of it.
Hence also we will see, that the promises which were sufficient to Adam, in a state of innocency, are far from being so unto us now, that sin and death have entered upon, and made such havoc and spoil in the world; and one may easily perceive, how the salvation, promised in the gospel, must be of a much larger extent, than that life which was held forth in the covenant of works. Two things especially this salvation holds forth unto us, according to these two views we took of sin, deliverance from the guilt of it, and the obligations it laid us under to punishment, according to the law, and deliverance from the stain, filth and pollution of it; the effects of its opposition unto the holiness of God; together with all that is necessary to put an end unto its tyranny and dominion, in both these views.
But that which I would, in a particular manner, remark upon this state of matters between God and man, is, how impossible it was for these two parties to have any further dealings one with another, in a way of friendship, unless there was a mediator found, to stand between both, with whom both parties might, with honor and safety, transact, and by him with one another. That there could be no other transactions between God and man, upon this state of things, than such as is between a just judge and avenger, and an offending criminal, I presume, will not need much illustration to such, as have accustomed themselves to reflect upon the abominable nature of sin, and the unspotted purity and holiness of God; the infinite majesty and excellency of God, with the internal demerit of sin, and his exact, and every way perfect, justice, with the rigor of that law which he has laid as the measure and rule of it. God cannot look upon the sinner without detestation and abhorrence, and breaking out upon him as a consuming fire; neither can man approach God in this condition without, not to say the most dismal terrors and amazing horrors, but even imminent and most certain destruction: From which and such considerations, the necessity of a mediator between God and man, is held forth unto us with such evidence, that I know not how any man should have got himself so far divested of reason, as to be able to avoid the impressions these must have upon every thinking man. And indeed they are such, as have engaged even these, who are the most eagerly set against any satisfaction or sacrifice for sin, to own the necessity of one, to manage this covenant between God and man, and to carry the mind of one party to the other, in order to an accommodation, which is the very lowest sense can be affixed to the word mediator.
But, if we consider it, even in this, however low, notion of that name, and the office designed by it; this great truth will follow, that the covenant of grace is primarily and originally concerted and agreed between God and the mediator, before it come to be published and declared unto us, for our approbation or consent unto it; and which directs us accordingly unto two very different views of this covenant, as it stands between God and the mediator, and as it is proposed unto us, in the gospel, between God and us. As these different views are plainly pointed out to us in our Confession;(1) so the grounds of them will further appear, I hope, ere we have done; and the mistaking of these for two different covenants, I am apprehensive, have no small tendency toward perplexing of the doctrine of the covenant of grace. As the mediator then is the third party in this covenant, we must also, if we would come to a right view of this matter, know something of the character he bears there, and what it is he undertakes and performs, in order to the completing of this covenant, and the salvation of elect sinners therein.
And here, let us, for their sakes who would have it so, suppose for once, that Christ entered upon this office, merely, as a messenger between the two parties principally concerned; as the demands must, of necessity, have been too high on one side, for the other ever to come up to; such difficulties must have arisen upon it, as should have made the whole negotiation entirely fruitless. The law, tis evident, insists upon perfect obedience, and knows no other satisfaction, but that of bearing the penalty; all God’s perfections concur with these, as the demands of perfect justice, and the only fit means for securing the honor and authority of the lawgiver. And this we find in fact was, what God stood so much upon, that notwithstanding these bowels of compassion, which, speaking to us in our own language, he tells us, rolled within him; and that unexpressible, yea, unconceivable love, which was so strong, as to engage him to give his own only begotten Son to them, and for them; yet not so much as one drop of it could fall upon them, until he had first made provision for his honor, by laying this foundation for communion and fellowship with them. This same law, with the consequences of it already mentioned, I mean, the rigorous connection of it, which is the only thing which binds man under sin, must be removed, before one sinner can be brought to life; and this must be one great part of the mediator’s work.
This is so certain, and withal so obvious, that I find it agreed upon in a manner by all; but how this is done, there is a vast difference in men’s opinions. I will not take any further notice of these, who think, this might be done without any satisfaction at all, as grossly injurious to the honor of God, and his righteous law; the great question, among sober men, is, whether the mediator, as an undertaking surety, entered upon, and fulfilled that same law, which man had broken, and which he lay bound under? Or, whether God was satisfied with this, that he should fulfill a particular law of his own, which, therefore, they who think so, call the law of the mediator? It is the same question with that, whether Christ satisfied the law, or only the lawgiver? And upon which depends the resolution of that other, whether he paid the idem or tantundem? And which we know has made abundance of noise in the world. However small these questions may seem, yet upon these, and such as these, the weightiest of all take their decision; and it is here, if I mistake not, that the foundation and ground-work is laid, of all the different schemes of the gospel, which have hitherto made their appearance in the church.
That the Son of God was under no original obligation to undertake for the salvation of sinners, and therefore had nothing to do with their law, is so true, that I do not know, if ever it was called in question by any sober person: And therefore, whatever obligations of this kind he may be supposed to come under, do not arise upon any necessity of his nature, but his own voluntary undertaking in that eternal agreement between the Father and him, which indeed is no other, than the eternal divine decree, concerning the salvation of sinners; though represented, in a suitableness unto our imperfect conceptions, under the form of a covenant; and where, tis easy to apprehend, the plan and platform of man’s salvation must be laid down, and adjusted with everything belonging unto it, and what was necessary thereunto; particularly, what was to be done by the Son, in order to the execution of what he had undertaken as their surety, and what he was to expect upon it. If anybody pleases to call this the law of the mediator, thus complexly taken, and in the gross, I should not be at pains to contend with him about it: However, it is certain, that here were many things lying upon him, so peculiar to the mediator, that man was never under any obligation, much less in a capacity of performing them. Such are his laying aside his glory, assuming man’s nature, his threefold office, with the particulars peculiarly belonging unto these. It is certain also, that however, supposing him man, he must of necessity, so far come under the obligation of the moral law, yet there was none for his entering upon it, as the covenant of works; since the life, which that covenant promises only upon condition of perfect obedience, was his natural due and right, and what it was utterly impossible he could fall from; and that by virtue of the close union between the divine and human natures. But, after all, the question is not, Whether he was previously obliged to this before his undertaking? Or, whether he did not undertake other things besides this? But, whether he did not undertake this among others, to present himself surety for sinners, in order to the fulfilling of that law, which they had broken, and to bear that curse, which was thereby become their due?
I know no one truth the Spirit of God is more express in, than the affirmative of this question. I cannot stand to draw out these arguments at full length; to reflect upon what has been already hinted from man’s natural state and condition, nor how unlike it is the divine nature, to relax his law without fulfillment; what else can be meant by all these strong expressions, where the mediator is said to be made under the law, to take upon him the form of a servant, to be made sin, to be made a curse, etc.?
These are so strong and evident, that the most learned advocates for this notion, find themselves obliged to fly to another shift, that, viz. it is true, Christ did fulfill the law, and bear the curse; but it was in his own name as mediator, and not in the room or stead of any particular persons, elect or others, that he did so; and therefore, though he indeed satisfied the lawgiver, yet since the law required obedience in one’s own person, he could not be said to satisfy that; neither is it, say they, the same obedience which the law enjoined, nor the same punishment which it threatened, but the equivalent of both. And thus they lay the foundation of their universal redemption, their new law, with the other notions that follow upon them.
Were no more designed by all this, than, that Christ and the elect are not the same physical persons; that it was he who obeyed and suffered, and not they; and that therefore it is he, and not they, who is judged by God to have done so, this would be indeed very true, and what, I believe, no man in his wits ever thought of refusing or denying; but, as the design is, plainly, to cut off any relation to the elect in this undertaking, I think nothing can be weaker than these distinctions, and the reasonings brought to support them.
Let us suppose then for once, that Christ fulfilled the law only in his own name; but after all, may one ask, What was this name? What was his character? Did he this merely, as the Son of God clothed with our nature? no, certainly; but as mediator between God and man. This is a general name, and which, as it takes in many things under it, may benefit a person of ordinary apprehension. Let us see then further, what is a mediator, in the case now before us? It is true, he is a middle person, and therefore, neither the one nor the other party; but this will not hinder him in his mediatorial offices to represent both, according as he has occasionally the one or the other to deal with. That he actually represents God in his dealings with us, so, as what he does, the Father is interpreted to do by him, is beyond question with all, who allow him any room at all in our communion with God, or understand anything of his prophetical and kingly offices, that in many instances he represents his people in the same manner, so as that they shall be constructed to do what he does in their name, is every whit as undeniable; and, what then should hinder him, in the case now before us, to act as a surety-undertaker for his elect, and to put himself into that very law-place which they held, without any prejudice to his character, as a middle person? Nay, is it not one main part of his mediatory office to do so? That what is done in his own name, being done as an undertaking surety, is therefore really done in theirs, for whom he undertakes.
But to come yet nearer, it is very certain, that our Lord came actually under the law, that he both fulfilled the precept, and bare the curse; and therefore, his obedience and sufferings must have been materially the same, with what the elect ought to have done and suffered. Now, what I would gladly learn is this, by virtue of what law he came into these circumstances? That it was the same law with that, which fallen man lay under, the apostle is as express as can be desired; and therefore, it must needs be this same law by which he is bound: Whatever then he undertook to do, or the Father required of him, being another law, especially, if it required another thing, cannot be that law which man was to be delivered from, he having never been under it. Now the question is, what he had to do with man’s law, unless he condescended to come into their place, and thereby to stand in that very same relation to the law which they did? Which, if he really did, and that, by virtue of his office as mediator, it follows clearly, that then he must have done what he did, in that capacity, in their room and stead; and indeed the law acts to all intents and purposes, as, if the sinners themselves had been under it, except that it falls upon the surety, and therefore not upon them.
That this is really the case, might easily be made appear, with as much evidence as can be, from the expressions the Spirit of God makes use of to this purpose; the proper substitution that appears in the old law sacrifices, and even the very nature of the thing. Nor is it of any moment, what I see so much stood upon by some, that the law required obedience in one’s own person, which would seem to exclude a surety; and which would indeed do so, were the law rigorously insisted on. But, as I reckon it needless to insist upon what has been so often cleared, the difference between dispensing with a law, and a favorable interpretation of it; since this last will answer all the difficulty, it is needless to run ourselves upon greater ones, by having recourse to the former. It was observed upon the constitution of that covenant, that there were several things there which were not founded upon any necessity of his nature, in adjusting and regulating of which, a favorable interpretation may take place, providing respect be still had unto the end and design of the law. And, if we look through that covenant, there are only two things, which seem to militate against admitting a surety, viz. the connection between obedience and life, and that between disobedience and death.
The first, it is evident, says no more than this, If you obey perfectly in your own person, you shall have life; but not one word to exclude a surety. The penalty indeed in annexed to disobedience, and accordingly it takes place upon the sinner himself; but still there is nothing here to hinder the same power, which laid him under it to release him. Especially, if it be considered, how the end and design of that sanction was no other, than to secure the goodness and condescension of God from being trampled upon, and to maintain his honor in that case; whence it easily follows, that when he has fallen upon another method of securing that, this may, without any prejudice, be set aside. And thus, in this dispensation, the faithfulness of God is at once maintained, in inflicting the threatened punishment, and room made for showing forth the glory of his mercy, without any prejudice to any of his other perfections, or setting aside his righteous law.
I was saying before, that there were several other things besides this, which our Lord undertook, as mediator of the covenant; but withal, that the strength and abilities of all the supporters of sin, and even sin itself, depends so much upon this one, that I know not whether it will not be at least as proper, to reckon up his victory over all these, and the destruction of sin, Satan, and the world, as some of the consequences of this. And certain it is, that, in fulfilling the law, he gave these their death’s wounds, depriving them thereby of the only right they had to retain man under bondage: And, it was upon the cross that he triumphed over principalities and powers, finished sin, and made an end of transgression.
And now that I have mentioned the fruits and consequences of this his undertaking, it will be necessary to take some view of these, as what will serve exceedingly to give us a right view of the internal frame and constitution of this gracious covenant, of which he is the mediator. And here, in the first place, it is apparent, that upon this undertaking of his, and performance of the condition of life, as it stood under the first covenant, eternal life, and all that belongs unto it, becomes his property; and, whatever Adam by his transgression had forfeited, comes to be his right and due. I know not how to express this better, than in the words of the accurate Dr. Owen. “God made man the lord of all things here below. He was, as it were, the heir of God, as unto the inheritance of this world in present, and, as unto a blessed state in eternal glory: But he lost all right and title hereunto, by sin. He made forfeiture of the whole, by the tenor whereby he held it; and God took the forfeiture: Wherefore, he designs a new heir of all, and vests the whole inheritance of heaven and earth in him, even in his Son. But as all other inheritances do descend with theirs, so did this unto him with its burden. There was a great debt upon it, the debt of sin, which he was to make payment of, before he could rightly enter upon the inheritance.”(2)
More particularly, as this undertaking of our blessed Savior was not designed at random, or for the world in general, but in the room and stead of such as he designed to save; that he fulfilled the law, by this means he must needs have wrought out freedom and liberty for them, and accordingly must have them given unto him for his peculiar people. Neither let any be scared at this, as I see some have been, as though immediately upon the surety’s performance, those whom he represented, must have a right unto his purchase, since this will not follow any further than this, that it is impossible any of those for whom Christ died, shall ever perish eternally, or miss of life in the event. They are indeed secured in the surety’s hand; there the rights are actually lying, and in due time will be effectually forthcoming. But until they come to be actually related to Christ, and a foundation thus laid for communion and fellowship with him, however, what he has done may be designed for them, it cannot be pleaded by them.
As the elect themselves, so all that belongs unto their deliverance, whatever God means to bestow upon them, either in time or eternity, even as far as the fullness of the Godhead, is put into his hands, and made to dwell in him, as the great treasury and store-house, where all is laid up, and that for their use and behoof for whom they were purchased by him; that after this there is nothing wanting to their complete furniture, but to come to him and receive, whatsoever is necessary for removing guilt, whatsoever is necessary to the healing of their natures, and fitting them for communion and fellowship with God, is there to be had; the love, kindness, and favor of God, all the communications he can make of himself, and the gifts which he gives unto his creatures, are there to be enjoyed.
The law thus fulfilled by him, and its demands answered to the least jot and tittle, must, in like manner, be delivered up to him, and left at his disposal, as having now no more to claim at his hand, or any of these whom he represented in order unto a life-giving righteousness; and justice being fully satisfied upon this head, can no longer detain the instrument of its vengeance. And hence, though the elect, before their union with Christ, are indeed children of wrath even as others by nature, yet there is a vast difference between their state and others. For, though indeed they have not in their own persons life, or anything belonging unto it, nor any plea that way, yet they have all secured unto them in the hands of a faithful surety, as has been observed; and the law so bound up, that it shall never be able to bring them actually under eternal condemnation. It is the want of distinguishing between the right in the surety’s hand, and actually communicated unto the person, that hath misled the Antinomians, and some others too of better note, into some very unwarrantable notions on the state and condition of a believer, both before and after conversion. What we have here observed, will, I hope, be owned by everybody. But what should have become of an elect person, had he died before actual union with Christ? the supposition being extravagant and impossible, one cannot say, without speaking absurdities and impossibilities, as it is whatsoever one answers, that one for whom Christ died, should be damned, or that one should be saved without an actual interest in Christ.
But besides all this, we find all power in heaven and earth committed unto him; and good reason it should be so, since it is, without all question, owing unto him, that the world was not ruined under sin, that any grain of mercy, of any kind, is bestowed upon the sinner; yea, that they are reprieved one moment from hell. And here it is that the foundation of Christ’s kingdom, as mediator between God and man, is laid. And as one will easily see there, how different the grounds are of his sovereignty over the world in general, and these whom he had upon his heart in this his undertaking, so are their state and condition, and the measures of their government very different, as shall be seen in its own place.
One will easily see, if they consider it with any degree of attention, even from this faint draught of this great affair, how justly it was observed, that the covenant of grace was erected primarily and originally with Christ the mediator, as the elect’s surety and representative, and in this respect the second Adam; and with them no otherwise than as represented by him or his seed. It is unto him all the promises are originally made, and to them in him; unto him also they are all fulfilled and made good: He has all things actually in his hand, and thus all the promises are yea and amen in him; nor are they any otherwise fulfilled unto any of the elect, than by participation with him. In one word, the covenant lies ready in him, complete and perfect in all points; when he is given, the covenant is also given; when he is received by faith, the covenant is also closed with: Nor is there anything further necessary to give one an interest therein, and all that’s contained in it, than an interest in him; nor will anything do it, where this is wanting.
I cannot help observing here, and tis a delightful thing to observe, the harmony there is in the works and contrivances of infinite wisdom; how well this new erected covenant agrees with that old one; that though it carries in it a conveyance of life quite in another manner unto us, and displays unto us the riches of grace, in the most amiable light, yet is it so carried, that it seems rather a piece of the former, and the compliment and fulfillment of it, than any new institution: And thus naturally, and without any violence done any of the divine institutions, by reversing or repealing; but, on the contrary, exalting and glorifying them, is the dispensation of grace ushered in, and all along advanced and carried on.
I suppose I need not, after what has been said, observe, how justly the Westminster Divines conclude, in their Confession, “That for whomsoever salvation was purchased by Christ, to them also it was actually applied”! If the mediator actually represented a certain number of persons in his undertaking, if he became surety, and actually fulfilled the law in their room and stead, and therein paid that very debt which they owed; if he actually purchased them for his peculiar people, and all that belonged to their salvation; if he had all this not only promised, and actually put into his hand, for their benefit and behoof, and the law, which was their bond and obligation, delivered up to him; let what difficulties will press upon it, and I know there are not a few, tis impossible that the man, that believes this, can ever suffer himself to be persuaded, that any of these can miss of that salvation, which was thus purchased for them. Some have indeed contrived another notion of Christ’s undertaking besides this, which looks like a redemption without making any peremptory purchase, and which they extend unto all men, which, when they come to explain, it implies little more than this, that his obedience and sufferings were sufficient to have been a price for, and to have made a purchase of the whole world, had it been so designed, and ordered so; which I believe is what scarce anybody will deny. But, if it is extended further, so as to belong to others than the elect, I believe it will be found encumbered with much greater difficulties. And, as it is none of our business to search into God’s secrets, which he has seen fit to conceal from us: and as it is none of these objects our faith is concerned in, whether Christ died for us or not; but whether he and the covenant of grace, with all its blessings, be offered to us in the gospel? I cannot see any fruit one can propose, by running out into uncertainties, when we may so easily satisfy ourselves, that never a soul shall be lost merely for want of a Savior, without meddling with God’s secrets, either in one side or other. And we might here proceed to the other view of this covenant, as held forth and offered to sinners in the gospel, and the application of this blessed purchase unto them thereby: Did not some of the faults here charged upon the Marrow, redounding also upon its defenders, make some of the main occasions of our differences? And which, from what has been said, may, I think, without any great difficulty, be, at least, so far adjusted, as that they need not give anybody uneasiness about them.
To begin with the least first, as it is evident, and I believe perfectly agreed upon among us, that our Lord Jesus Christ in his gracious undertaking, entered upon that same covenant which Adam broke, and which the persons he represented lay bound under, and fulfilled, in their name, every jot and tittle of it; it seems no great matter which is here charged upon the Marrow, that, viz. the author should say, “The covenant of works was made a second time with Christ”; when he who was no ways bound by it, was pleased voluntarily to come under it, and his fulfillment of it, was made the condition, of his people their having life bestowed upon them; and which we find he conceives of thus;(3) as if God should have said concerning the elect, “I know these will break, and never be able to satisfy me; but thou art a mighty and substantial person, therefore I will look for my debt of thee, and what they owe me, I will require at thy hand”: And in some such manner as this, I am satisfied everybody must conceive of it, who has any notion at all of his suretyship.
There is something indeed very harsh in these other words, which are, in a manner, a consequence of this, “That our Lord undertook under the same penalty which lay upon man to suffer”;(4) especially unto such, as are not accustomed to think of Christ otherwise, than in an exalted state as Lord Redeemer. But if men will consider the thing as it really is, I believe all the horridness that is really in it, will be found owing to the impossibility of that supposition upon which it is spoken, that, viz. the Son of God should miscarry in his work; which, since we know is a case which can never happen; we ought not to trouble ourselves about the consequences of it any further than this, that whatsoever are the unavoidable consequences of the state and condition into which he put himself, ought to be improven, as they are the most illustrious evidences of his love. And as it is certain that our blessed Lord, in that his astonishing condescension cannot only hypothetically, or upon any particular supposition, under that penalty, which lay upon man, to have undergone, but really and actually, so as that the law, or covenant, said the very same things to him as sponsor, which it should have said to the principal (though it neither does, nor can speak against him otherwise than as sponsor), I think the reverend Principal will not find it so very easy, to show clearly what there is in that expression so “horrid and injurious to the honor of the Son of God”;(5) without charging his undertaking and suretyship itself with the same. On the contrary, as his humiliation and debasement, is the true ground of his mediatorial glory, the lower that is, the greater is his real honor; and this I am satisfied will be found a better rule of judging in this case, than humorous men’s nice ears and sickly taste.
The other charge is indeed of more consequence, and, so far as I can judge, has likewise more foundation in the author’s words, than most others have. It is, that he maintains an universal redemption as to purchase;(6) but after all that has been said upon it, I think it has never yet been made appear, that this was the author’s real sentiment; or, at least, not with such evidence, as that one needs be suspected of that error, who cannot condemn him on that account. A few observations will set this, I think, in a pretty clear light.
And, in the first place, it is observable, that the author makes use of terms and expressions in discoursing upon this subject (I mean the hints he gives about it, for nowhere does he speak directly upon it), such as none of these do, who set up for any degree of universal redemption; such I take these to be, “That Jesus Christ entered into covenant with God for all the elect, that is, all such, as have, or shall believe in his name;(7) that he took upon him the sins of all the faithful,”(8) with others of the same import. It is very true, that some of those who maintain an universal redemption as to purchase, maintain also a particular redemption, wherein the salvation of a certain set of men is secured to them. But it is as true, that when they speak of Christ’s undertaking, they never confine it unto these, as the author of the Marrow does. The account he gives of the persons whom he designs by the elect, and whom he describes a posteriori, all “who have or shall believe”; and, “all the faithful,” is so far from weakening this, as the Reviewer of the Conference would have us believe it does, that it very much strengthens it. For, let it pass for true, that Arminians would go into this definition of election; unless they will also agree, that these are the persons whom Christ undertook for, and whose sins he took upon him, they say nothing at all of what he does. And tis well known, how not only they, but all the patrons of universal redemption are obliged stiffly to maintain, that, in purchasing redemption, at least, our Lord took no particular person’s sins upon him, but suffered for the world in general: But, that none may think, this was all the notion that author had of election, we are further to notice, how he describes these same elect, whom the second Adam had included in him in his undertaking, as all orthodox divines use to do; “the first-born, whose names are written in heaven,”(9) and these “whom God has chosen before the foundation of the world.”(10) Now, if any of these gentlemen will bring any one Universalist, speaking of the elect, in this sense, as the persons for whom Christ purchased salvation, good; but, until this is done, it is, one should think, but reasonable to put a difference between him and them. The Reviewer, as keen as he is, for having the Marrow condemned, touches this very tenderly; and yet even thus cannot clear himself of it, without asserting a notorious untruth, that, viz. Arminians will grant this, I say it is a notorious untruth; as all, who know anything of these gentlemen’s way, know also, that ascertaining the number, and the names of the elect, would subvert their whole scheme, and especially this part of it.
But further, I find in the Marrow, not only such expressions, as no Universalist can make use of; but the manner of Christ’s undertaking so explained, that it is utterly impossible for any to have the least part in it, unless they are, in the event, actually saved. I had occasion but just now to observe, how he maintains, that Christ came under the same covenant with man, and actually fulfilled it, and that as a public person and surety, in the name and behalf of those whom he represented; the manner of this, as he lays it, is remarkable,(11) that what he did and suffered, they are reckoned to have done also, in the same manner, as what Adam did, was reckoned done by all these whom he represented. And, as all the elect, formerly described, were in him, and no other besides them; so they, and no other, must be the persons, who are thus reckoned to have fulfilled the law in him. And, as nothing can be more evident, than that they must have this same performance of his, in due time, imputed unto them, and that, by this, they are in the same case touching righteousness, as if they had perfectly kept the law: it must be every whit as clear, that all whom Christ represented, must, in the event, be actually saved. This pulls up universal redemption by the roots, and destroys at once all the foundations, upon which that scheme is built; as was more fully cleared in the foregoing part of this discourse.
And, as the author, in his avowed and fixed sentiments, destroys this notion; so we find he makes no use of it in the only place where it can be useful in practice; I mean, for encouraging a poor desponding soul to believe in Christ: I know some are of another mind, and their reasons for it shall be considered by and by.
In the meantime, let us consider the method he takes with Neophytus, and I think this will be as evident, as almost anything can be. Had this been the man’s real opinion, what should have hindered him upon this perplexed question? Has such an one as I any warrant to believe in Christ? To have told his convert roundly, and at once, that Christ died for all men alike; and therefore all have the same warrant to believe, that he died for them. But he not at all regarding this, which notwithstanding would have at once removed all difficulties of this kind, takes a quite other method, and founds all his encouragements to believe upon the general offers, invitations and calls of the gospel, directed unto all who hear the same, to believe in him, and thereby to receive pardon and forgiveness. Which, are on purpose contrived not only so, as to exclude none, but, on the contrary, to warrant, yea, and bind and oblige all unto this, both as a privilege and duty.
All that I find alleged against this, and to prove that he makes use of universal redemption here, may be reduced to these three, that he speaks of an universal deed of gift and grant; that he makes the gospel to say to every one of the hearers of it, Christ died for you; and that he makes God to have pardoned all their sins. And, if it can be made appear, that none of these, no, nor altogether, as explained and applied by the author, will bear any universal redemption; it will appear also, that he makes no use of it in this place; and that the Principal was a little too forward, when he makes this the mystery of faith in the opinion of the Marrow.(12)
For the first of these expressions, which related to the “deed of gift and grant,” we find there has been no small stir about it; and the asserters thereof roundly charged with the same error, which they blame the Marrow for. Whatever is in this, it appears to me evident, that the author designed it not so, since he immediately explains it in a sense quite opposite to this, that, viz. the gift runs thus, “That whosoever of all mankind shall believe in the name of the Son of God, shall not perish, but have everlasting life.” As this is the very voice of the gospel, and the result of that covenant, which is proclaimed there, the only question about it must be, whether this can, in any tolerable propriety of speech, be called “a deed of gift”? which, as it concerns not the present business, we shall leave to its own place.
But say some, though thus far the Marrow might be excused, yet, when he comes to explain himself further upon this head, he plainly bewrays his opinion: for thus he paraphrases upon our Savior’s command, which he makes the foundation of this deed, “Go preach the gospel to every creature”; that is, says he, “Go teach every man without exception, here is good news for him, Christ is dead for him,”(13) to which one may easily answer by reading out the sentence, “Christ is dead for him,” but how? Was it to purchase salvation for him whether he believes or not? No such thing; but so far as no man shall ever perish for want of a Savior to die for them: “If he will take him,” dead as he is, “and accept of his righteousness,” which by his death he has wrought out, he shall have him. And this he illustrates farther, by a comparison taken from an obvious case, and thereby opens to us how safely a man they venture his soul upon the strength of this grant, which is made in the gospel of Christ and his benefits to all, who will accept of him.(14) “Suppose some good and holy king should cause a proclamation be made through his kingdom, that all rebels and banished men, shall safely return to their own houses, because that at the suit and desert of some dear friend of theirs, it hath pleased the king to pardon them; certainly none of these rebels ought to doubt, but that he shall obtain true pardon,” etc. One cannot help observing here, what sort of a pardon this here spoken of is, when he says it pleased the king to pardon them, and which he tells us, they may be sure of obtaining; implying no more than a pardon proclaimed and offered unto all that come in upon it. And it is upon the strength of this proclamation and the king’s faithfulness there interposed, that these, who come home to their own dwellings, venture their safety; and not that they are fully assured, that their friend obtained the pardon for them in particular, and every one of them. Nor indeed does this part of the proclamation contribute anything at all to their safety, unless it is, that the mentioning of this makes it more credible, that such a pardon should be offered in good earnest, and thereby influences them to venture home with more confidence, than otherwise they could have done. The reddition therefore of the simile must have the same scope; and the pardon there mentioned must be the same with that which is proclaimed in the gospel, the import of which, as he expresses it, is, “that everyone may safely return to God in Jesus Christ.”
This case is so plain, and withal so very agreeable unto the ordinary way of speaking, where a pardon offered is called simply a pardon; that I should have been ashamed to spend so many words upon it, had it not been again and again insisted on, to prove the author a patron of universal redemption; and therefore the reader must not take it ill, if we insist a little further for the clearing of it. That it is indeed the author’s design, thus to set before his convert the proclamation, offer and promise of the gospel, as the ground and warrant of his believing in Christ, and not that Christ died for every man, and for him among the rest, appears fully from the sense in which Neophytus takes it, which I believe must be owned the author’s own. For thus we find he excepts against what had been urged by Evangelista on this head; not that he did not know that Christ died for him, which would have been most proper, had that been the scope of the foregoing discourse; but that he is not satisfied of his own interest in this proclamation; and the ground of his doubting we find is taken from a principle, which flatly contradicts that pretended opinion of his: It is, that God does not design to pardon all unto whom this proclamation is made, and that notwithstanding of these offers and calls made in the gospel, yet possibly he might be none of these who are chosen, but of these who are ordained to condemnation. What does Evangelista answer to this; does he tell him, as Universalists use to do, of God’s readiness to pardon all mankind, or of his general good-will to mankind? Does he object anything against a decree reprobating particular persons? or does he so much as mention Christ’s shedding his blood, or purchasing pardon for all mankind. Nothing like it. On the contrary, he plainly grants him what he had advanced,(15) that it is true some men are ordained to condemnation; and for removing his discouragement takes the same course, which all orthodox divines use in the like case, by drawing off from the consideration of these things which God has nowhere revealed, whether it be one’s own election, or anything else, as none of these things which our faith is concerned about; and directs him unto the revelation God has made of his will in his word, where pardon is offered generally to all without any respect either to election or reprobation; that therefore this can be no good objection against one’s believing, when he sees the pardon held forth unto him as well as to others, as it is much better reasoning to say, the pardon is offered to me, therefore I will accept of it, and come in upon it, than to stand it out, and refuse the offer, because they know not whether they are elected or not, that is, to make that the ground of one’s refusing the offer, which can never be certainly known any other way, than by one’s accepting it, and believing. That God has not only held forth pardon unto us in the offers and promises of the gospel; but has directed his commands unto us to embrace them, and thereby bound every particular person to a compliance. That these together, the offer, and the command to receive it, are at once warrant and encouragement enough to believe, and that with the strongest and most particular faith, which, if rightly exercised, one may thereby safely apply unto himself Christ’s redeeming love, and all the blessed fruits and effects of it. This bottom he reckons so good, that he judges it needless to say anymore upon the head of general warrants, but proceeds to answer the objections taken from felt unworthiness.
There is yet another observation we have to make for clearing the author’s sense upon this head, that is, his own comment or paraphrase upon our Savior’s injunction to his disciples, “Go preach the gospel unto every creature,” and which, after what has been said, may, I think, satisfy any reasonable person, that in alleging the former from Dr. Preston, he had no mind to espouse universal redemption. I shall give it, as himself has laid it, in his own words, and which I think must be owned the best evidence one can have of his real sentiments upon this head; “Go and tell every man without exception, whatsoever his sins be, whatever his rebellions be, go and tell him these glad tidings, that if he will come in, I will accept of him, his sins shall be pardoned, and he shall be saved; if he will come in and take me and receive me, I will be his loving husband, and he shall be my spouse.”(16) I need not I think tell the reader, that this is the author’s drought of that proclamation which he had formerly spoke of, and therefore lets us see clearly how he designs the pardon of sins there spoken of.
There is only one expression more, that I know of, applied with any color to infer this charge, that, viz. He should say “Christ hath taken upon him the sins of all men.”(17) But if we consider this, as himself has laid it in his book, I am well satisfied we shall find no more ground for charging him, than the Scriptures themselves, with universal redemption, upon this account. And truly, were there no more than this, that it is but an incidental expression, and if taken in this sense, contrary unto his express and declared sentiments, charity should oblige us to cover it: But not only is it contrary to his declared sentiments, but freighted with so many senseless absurdities, if interpreted this way, that it is not to be imagined any man, in his wits would have advanced it. It is notorious, that with him the phrase of Christ’s taking one’s sins upon him, signifies no less than representing their persons before God, and fulfilling the law so in their room and stead, that what he does and suffers is reckoned so to them, as that they shall be in the same condition with respect to right to life, as if themselves had fulfilled it; so, that the man must not only maintain universal redemption but universal salvation. But the truth is, he had immediately before prevented any such abuse of his words, as anyone may see, who will give himself the trouble of reading with any tolerable judgment, what he had said of Christ’s coming under the covenant, as man’s surety, but two or three lines before; whereby he put himself in the room and place of all the faithful, according to that of Isaiah, “The Lord hath laid on him the iniquities of us all”; which us, he, with all orthodox divines restricts unto, believers. It is this Scripture phrase gives him occasion to bring in the law speaking as he does, “I find him such an one, as hath taken upon him the sins of all men.” All which considered, I think one cannot, without a plain injustice, extend the words any further.
But there is another sort of evidence, or, to speak more properly, a prejudice rather, which I find much insisted on to this purpose; that, viz. the author’s scheme requires something of universal redemption to support it. As this surmise is founded entirely upon his notion of faith, and that, I am well satisfied, very much mistaken; this is not a proper place for discoursing it. But let us even grant, for once, that his definition of faith must be meant, as they would have us believe it should; it must at the same time with as much reason infer, that these who defined faith in the same terms must have means so likewise. And as it needs no proof, that the generality at least of our old divines did so, this same reasoning, if it has any strength against the Marrow, must be allowed to have the same against them, to conclude them patrons of universal redemption: a thing so notoriously false, that it is strange how any way of reasoning, which has such an odd tendency, should receive any countenance from men of thought and reflection. And I believe we may safely conclude, that one many be a very honest man who yet cannot condemn the Marrow, as guilty of this error.
(1) Westminster Confession, chapters VII, VIII.
(2) Owen, Christologia, p. 273.
(3) Marrow of Modern Divinity, pp. 27-28.
(4) Marrow of Modern Divinity, p. 27.
(5) Doctrine and Practice of the Church of Scotland anent the Sacrament of Baptism vindicated, p. 118.
(6) Review of a Conference, pp. 40ff., Doctrine and Practice, p. 34.
(7) Marrow of Modern Divinity preface, p. 1.
(8) Marrow of Modern Divinity, p. 108.
(9) Marrow of Modern Divinity, p. 29.
(10) Ibid., p. 147.
(11) Ibid., pp. 28, 29, compared with pp. 110ff.
(12) Antinomianism of the Marrow of Modern Divinity Detected, p. 34.
(13) Marrow of Modern Divinity, p. 120, Doctrine and Practice, p. 32, Review of a Conference, pp. 47ff.
(14) Marrow of Modern Divinity, p. 120.
(15) Marrow of Modern Divinity, pp. 121-22.
(16) Marrow of Modern Divinity, p. 132.
(17) Marrow of Modern Divinity, p. 108.