And they overcame him by the blood of the Lamb, and by the word of their testimony.—Rev. 12.11.

 Show Menu 
Hide Banner

Spiritual Refining:

A Treatise Composed of Sermons by Anthony Burgess.

Sermon XCVII.

The Hammer of Arminianism: Demonstrating, That God in Converting and Changing a Sinner, works after an Omnipotent, Efficacious and Irresistible Manner.  Against the Patrons of Free-Will and Power of man to Supernaturall things.

X

TrueCovenanter.com Editor’s Introduction.

Throughout the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, there are frequent references to the corruption of man’s heart, and to the wonderful works of grace by which God changes men’s hearts.  The prophet Jeremiah tells us of God’s writing his law on the hearts of his people, (chapter 31.31-34,) and the Apostle writing to the Hebrews cites this prophecy to show the excellence of Jesus Christ’s work as Mediator, (chapter 8.6-13.)  The great lawgiver Moses, while commanding the Lord’s people at one time to circumcise their hearts, (Deut. 10.16,) later promises that this spiritual operation will be performed by God himself. (Deut. 30.6.)  And in the New Testament, we find the history of multitudes of people who are converted by the effect of God’s word on their hearts, one of which was Lydia of Thyatira, “whose heart the Lord opened.” (Acts 16.14.)

Notwithstanding the consistent message of Holy Scripture on the subject, the opinions and expressions of men have exhibited great inconsistency throughout the centuries, as those who handle the Scriptures have often given precedence to the philosophy of men on the subject of man’s freedom and accountability.  How, or whether, God really changes men’s hearts has been disputed as if men could decide for the Lord what he ought to do, and what his word ought to teach.  Never at any time, more than during the Reformation era, did professing Christians finally give up this mode of reasoning, and allow the Scriptures themselves to teach what work the Lord does to convert his elect to himself: to quicken with life those whose sinfulness made them spiritually dead, Eph. 2.1-6.  The sermon below, prepared by Anthony Burgess, serves to unfold this message of the Scripture, and also to put to silence the contrary opinion, so often opposed to the Gospel of Holy Scripture.

2021.01.13::JTK.

EZEK. 36.26.

A new heart also will I give you, and will take away the heart of stone and give you an heart of flesh.

IT is now time to draw nigh to a conclusion concerning this full and quintessential Text [of holy Scripture].  There remain two particulars only to be improved, that were taken notice of in the main division of the Text.  For as we told you, here was observable, the precious mercy promised, described both positively, and oppositely. Here was also the efficient cause of this mercy, and the fruit thereof: So we told you there was a two-fold modus, or manner observable about this mercy: There was a modus rei, and a modus dicti; The manner of God’s working this grace in those whom he Converts; and that is, By his mighty omnipotent power, efficaciously, insuperably, irresistibly: For consider with what authority God speaks it, I will take away the heart of stone, I will give an heart of flesh.  God will do it, and Man’s will shall not hinder: Here is no conditional, suspended operation, as if God would not convert, or turn our hearts to him until we also by our Free-will began to turn to him:—So that this text is an Hammer to beat in pieces all those Doctrines of old, and which now of late multiply, concerning Free-will, and the power of man to supernatural things.  May not this Text satisfy every man?  Doth it not make every man’s heart by nature a stone, insensible and stupid about holy things?  Doth not God here appropriate the whole work of Conversion to himself?  I will give an heart of Flesh, I will take away the stony heart.  Yea, doth he not also declare the manner how he will do this by his Sovereign, Omnipotent, and irresistible power, so that the heart cannot but bow and yield, and give itself up.  Whereas now, if the Patrons of Nature and Free-will,[1] who are enemies to God’s grace, did speak truth, then God should have said no more but this, “I will give you an heart of flesh if you will; I cannot do it alone, unless your Free-will go along with it also; I must suspend, or stay my work till I see what you will do.”  This is the first manner observable.  Then there is modus dicti, the second manner how God will vouchsafe this, and that is by way of Gift; by a free absolute Promise, I will do thus, and thus. He doth not suppose any previous or antecedent conditions on our part.  I shall at {570} this time pitch only upon the manner how God works this glorious mercy in us.  And from thence observe,

Observation ~ Doctrine:

That God in Converting and changing our hearts works after an omnipotent, efficacious, and irresistible manner.  When God speaks to the soul to believe, to repent, to reform, it cannot, it will not but repent,—he makes of unwilling, willing.  Even as at the first Creation God said, Let there be light, and there was light.  There was no power in the Creature to reject God’s Omnipotency: so it is, when God seeth a man wallowing in his blood, or dead in his sin, [Ezek. 16.6, Eph. 2.1,] if he say, Arise and walk, Come forth out of the grave of sin, as he did to Lazarus, presently the soul obeyeth.  This point both Doctrinally, and Practically, is very necessary.  The Orthodox handling of it, makes much for the excellent praise of grace, and the utter overthrow of those dangerous and proud errors that advance Free-will, giving it either all, or part, in the work of conversion; Contrary to the whole scope of the Scripture, which continually debaseth man, discovering his impotency and unworthiness, but giving all to the power of God.  Let us first explain this Doctrine, and then prove it.

The Doctrine explained:

1. Man in the first work of conversion is passive and doth not co-operate.

First therefore, we distinguish between a man in his first Conversion, and afterwards in the progress of it.  In the first moment and instant of Conversion, which is the taking away the heart of stone, and giving an heart of flesh; there we say man is merely a subject passive, and receiving the work of God.  He doth not any ways co-operate: he hath no strength or power to join with God; but as Augustine saith well, These things are wrought in nobis, sine nobis, “in us, yet without us,” God works this spiritual life, this tender heart in us, without our help or strength; Even as when Christ raised up any dead men, he put natural life into them, this was done in them, yet without their help.  Life was put into Lazarus, and Lazarus had no helping hand to effect this.  I shall prove this in the grounds of the Doctrine, I only now explain it.  This then is the truth of God, and plainly grounded on Scripture, that man in the first instant of Conversion, hath no Free-will, no power working with God, but is a mere passive subject, receiving the mighty work of God upon his soul.  But if you consider man in the progress of Sanctification, thus having received this heavenly supernatural life, he is not a mere patient, but being acted and moved by God, he also acts and moveth.  Then indeed we need grace to quicken and enliven those principles of grace, as before was proved; but yet we do not need a new life to be infused into us.

2. Hereby man’s will is not taken away.

Secondly, Although this is the good truth of God, yet hereby we do not take away the nature of a man, and make him a beast, [nor a rock, nor a robot,] as the Adversaries calumniate.  Oh, say they, this is to turn man into a stock or stone, to deprive him of reason and liberty of will.  No, we deny the consequence; for although we say, That he is thus passive for the initial working of Grace; yet we say he hath his understanding, his reason still, he hath a will still; — only, to discern or will what is good, that he cannot.  So then we deny not but a man hath understanding, hath a natural liberty of his will, he cannot be a man if he have not these: but yet in respect of that which is holy, so his mind is blind, his will is obstinate, and rebellious against it.  So that in man here are these three things: To be able to understand, to be able freely to will; this is of mere nature.  To have a corrupt understanding, and a corrupt will, is of defiled nature.  To understanding and will what is good, is of sanctified nature.  So then, what is the true state of the question: not whether there be an understanding, and the natural faculty of Free-will in a man, or not.  None denieth that, every man hath Free-will in natural and civil actions; only, the question is about the object of these, whether he hath power to understand or will things that are merely spiritual and supernatural; and this the Scripture doth expressly deny.

Thirdly, When we say, God doth work grace thus powerfully and irresistibly, the meaning also is not, as if the heart of a man in conversion did not resist and reject the work of the Spirit, in some measure, and in some degrees; for there is no question but the heart of a man doth naturally refuse and oppose the Spirit of God.   Stephen told the Jews, They had always resisted the Spirit of God, Acts 7, {571} and the word of God is said to cast down those strong holds, and every high thing that exalteth itself against God, 2 Cor. 10.5.  So that as there is a natural contrariety, and active opposition between fire and water; thus there is a constant enmity and active resisting of God’s Spirit by our spirit; for if this combat and conflict remain still in a godly man, how much more in natural men that are altogether carnal?  You must therefore distinguish between a prevalent, conquering resisting, and a gradual [resisting]. God in Conversion so works, that he takes away the prevalent, but not the gradual resisting.  Though a man before he be converted, is froward and full of cavils and prejudices, is unwilling to be saved, cannot abide the truth, doth what he can to stifle all good motions; yet if he belong to Election, God will at last over-master his heart, and make him of unwilling willing: his hard heart cannot refuse this Converting grace, because the first thing it doth, is to take away the hardness of heart.

Fourthly, Therefore it is not every kind of grace that a man may acknowledge is enough, unless it be such a grace as is antecedently efficacious to our will, and omnipotently bowing, and changing of it.  Augustine said, that the Pelagians did use the word Grace, ad frangendam invidiam, to decline the hatred that their opinion might get; so those that cry up Free-will: They will acknowledge grace, and God forbid they should speak against grace: But thou must know, there hath been in this point an horrible abuse of well-meaning men, by acknowledging grace, but not such a grace as we told you, that is efficacious of itself by its inward power, not depending upon man’s will.  Pelagius of old, when he saw his opinion was universally distasted, as if he disputed against grace; he then, to avoid such an odium, began to use the word, and to acknowledge it: insomuch that he deceived an whole Counsel, by his ambiguities and generalities, who acquitted him: yea Augustine himself who was so diligent an opposer of him, was almost deceived by him.  If therefore any who dispute for Free-will, speak also of grace, & they say they are for grace; remember it is not every kind of grace that is enough, but such as shall mightily change the heart; not that shall work with Free-will, but first make the will free, which was a Servant, and a Captive to lust: Then are ye free, if the Son hath made you free, John 8.32-36.

Fifthly, Although God thus omnipotently bow the heart, and grace be vorticordis, as Augustine called it, yet there is great use of the Ministry: of exhortation, of reproof, of commands, of promises and threatenings; for presently men are apt to cavil and say, “If God work all, why then is the Ministry?  Why are we exhorted, when we have no power?  Why doth God command, when we have no ability?”  For exhortation and the Ministry is necessary, because it is the instituted means, by which God will work this, as Christ did not in vain say to Lazarus, Lazarus come forth, because it was a practical powerful word, and thus it is here: the Ministry speaks not in vain; we exhort not in vain, because in and by this, God inflames the heart, and quickens it to Good.  And so the commands to turn to God, to love him above all things, are not in vain, because they are not to demonstrate our power but our duty.  The Creditor may lawfully demand of his prodigal Debtor the sum of money he oweth, though he be not able to pay.  [So] especially we being full of self-righteousness, carnal confidence, and earthly adherence, these commands are [therefore] the more earnestly to be pressed, that we may be ashamed and confounded.

Sixthly, It cannot be denied but that this Doctrine of God’s sole power and efficacy of Grace in Conversion, hath been and may be abused, and that two ways, either to sluggishness and negligence, men thinking, “that if God take away the stony heart, what need I care?  I may sit down and take my ease.”  Or to Enthusiasm, such as will not pray, nor go the the Ordinances, they will only stay at home, and expect the Spirit’s immediate working on them. And these were two reasons, saith Chemnitius, why Pelagius a Brittan, otherwise an ingenious man and famous, as also very innocent in his life, did fall into his error on the other side.  But there is no truth of God [which] can be preached, but carnal hearts will abuse it.  Paul doth abundantly {572} testify this, when he speaks of those corrupt inferences some made from his preaching of grace: and the best truths corrupted prove most dangerous: as when they did not use the Manna according to God’s Institution, it degenerated into noisome worms. [Exod. 16.20.]

[ Grounds of the Truth of this Doctrine for its Proof: ]

Let us discover the grounds of this truth: And

First, All those places of Scripture which do describe the total and universal pollution of man, making him not so much a sinner, as even sin itself; doth plainly argue, that God’s converting grace is all in all; that man is a mere patient, and cannot actively consent to the least good thing.  Thus, Genesis 6.5, The imagination of the thoughts of a man’s heart are only evil, and that continually.  What can be said more? Every imagination or thought that stirreth in a man, it’s evil, and only evil, and that continually!  How then can this consent, or be active to God? so Ephesians 2.1, You hath he quickened that were dead in sins: What doth a dead man do to get life again?  Who can bring a clean thing out of an unclean? Not one. [Job 14.4.]  That is, no man, God only doth.  Our Saviour saith, A corrupt tree cannot bring forth good fruit, [Matth. 7.18.]  especially Romans 8.5-7, [and also 1 Cor. 2.14]: A natural man perceiveth not the things of God, neither can he [Geneva trans.]; he doth not, and he cannot.  See what pregnant places of Scripture here are; Mark them, because that unsavory error doth so much spread.  If these texts be true, all our thoughts and affections are only evil; we are dead in sin, we do not, we cannot so much as perceive the things of God: how then dare any think of the power of nature, and her ability to what is holy?

Secondly, This is fully proved by these excellent and emphatical similitudes which are used to declare the work of Conversion; which the Spirit of God on purpose useth to declare God’s glorious power in us.  As it is called often A Creation, and Grace is A new Creature: we are said to be Created to good works.  Now Creatio fit ex nihilo, Creation doth suppose nothing pre-existent, either physically or morally.  Was the world when it was created any ways co-operant to its Creation?  Neither is it [so] here.  Remember then it is he that hath made us, and not we ourselves, [Psalm 100.3]: If we did not make ourselves men, shall we make ourselves new Creatures, better than men? so it’s expressed by the similitude of a new Birth.  He hath begotten us by his word.  A godly man is said to be born of God.  Now these are full expressions to shew that we are not born by our free-will, or consent, but by God’s sole power; as John 1.13.  Lastly, it is compared to the Resurrection: You that were dead hath he quickened, [Eph. 2.1, Col. 2.13.]  Now was there ever any man that could raise up himself out of the grave, and give life to himself? yea, [in] Eph. 1, it’s compared to that glorious power of God in raising up Christ, the very self-same power is there said to work in those that believe.  Now how can any man answer these comparisons the Scripture useth? for howsoever similitudes must not be stretched beyond the scope of him that useth them; yet the Holy Ghost doth for this end use such expressions, that we should attribute all to God, be debased in ourselves, saying, Not unto us Lord, not to our free-will or our power, but to thy Name be all glory. [Psalm 115.1.]

Thirdly, All those places prove this, which take all ability of good from man, and attribute it wholly to God: So our Saviour likeneth every man out of him to a Branch separated from the Vine, John 15 [verses 4 & 5]: The Branch out of the Vine can bring forth no fruit; Thus every man out of Christ: Hence our Saviour concludes, Without me ye can do nothing.  He doth not say, You cannot do any great thing, but nothing.  And again, 2 Cor. 3, [verse 5,] the Apostle saith, We are not sufficient of ourselves to think one thought, viz. In reference to the good either of others, or of ourselves.  Thus you see how man is made utterly impotent.  Well, then see those places that positively attribute all to God: It is God that works in us both to will and to do, [Phil. 2.13.] You see all is given to him.  And again, What hast thou that thou hast not received? [1 Cor. 4.7.]  But above all, how plain is this, Romans 9, It is not of him that willeth, nor him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy. [Verse 16.]  This is a noble place, for who is likely to have it, but him that willeth, or that runneth? yet it is not of him, but of Him that sheweth mercy; whereas if Free-will, or man’s power had any co-partnership in this work, {573} we might as well say, It is not of him that sheweth mercy, but of him that willeth or runneth.  So that this Doctrine robs God of all that honour and glory that is due to him both in the prayers and praises of his people.  For how will the Patrons of Nature’s Free-will deport themselves in this Duty?  Must they not in effect come to this?  “Lord, I pray thee mollify and soften my heart, if I will.”  Again, “Lord I praise thee, that thou gavest me an heart to repent, when I consented and was willing;” — And is not all this highly derogatory to God’s glory?  This made profound Bradwardine encourage himself to write against Pelagius, because he could heartily pray for the grace of God to help him in that work, whereas his adversaries could not do so.

Lastly, If so be that the will and power of man, did make grace effectual to us, so that God’s grace should not take away our stonyness, till we consented, Then the greatest glory of a man’s Conversion would belong to him: For we may suppose God offering grace equally to the same men; They both live in the same Family, both under the same Ministry.  Now what is the cause why one receiveth the Word, and not the other? Shall we say, because he by his free-will entertained the grace of God, and not the other?  What derogation would this be to God’s glory?  Doth not the Apostle say, Who hath made thee to differ from another? 1 Cor. 4.7.  Why was Peter converted, and not Judas?  They both enjoyed the same means, they both saw the same wonderful miracles: Shall any man say, Because Peter used his free-will well, and not Judas?  This were to make Peter no more beholden to Christ than Judas was.  Oh a gracious heart knoweth not how to digest such presumptuous opinions![2]  God made me to differ from others, By the grace of God I am what I am. [1 Cor. 15.10.]  So then, have all these arguments in your eyes, they are plain and easy; and then though error be never so subtilly painted, yet it will not make you enamored with it, especially if, to all these places of Scripture, thou canst set to thy own experience of God’s wonderful change upon thee.  Art not thou able to say, That though ten thousand teachers should come and preach free-will, yet thine own experience in thy Conversion will make thee not believe it, for thou wert so far from consenting or agreeing to the work of grace, that all thy shifts and care was how to put off the work of God?  How often didst thou labour to blind thy own eyes, to harden thy own heart? how unwilling to be convinced, how sorry to part with thy dear lusts? how often didst thou put off and defer, saying, “Yet a little more and still a little more,” that had not God by his mighty power opened thy heart, made thee of unwilling willing, to this very day thou hadst still been wallowing in thy blood! [Ezek 16.6.]

Use.

Use of Instruction.  Concerning a three-fold duty:

1. Of deep debasement and humiliation: How vain, weak, and unprofitable are we become?  Of rich to become poor, of honourable to become debased, is nothing [compared] to this: of holy and altogether holy, to become altogether sinful.  Oh, why doth not this wound thee?  Is there any room left for pride, carnal jollity, and confidence, while in this polluted estate?

2. Of daily thankfulness to God, who hath put forth his great power on thee; Oh call upon thy soul, and all within thee, to speak for the grace of God.

3. Here is encouragement to pray to God for the subduing of any strong corruptions or passions: He that did the greater, take away the heart of stone at first, cannot he do the less?


Footnotes:

1. Among the patrons of Nature and Free-will may be accounted the Roman-Catholics, Eastern Orthodox, Arminians, and Wesleyans, as well as most of the notorious heresies and cults of history.  In the original Reformation era, Episcopalians were thoroughly opposed to the Arminian doctrine of Free-will, but in the 1600s their churches were leavened with this doctrine throughout England.  Archbishop Ussher in Ireland opposed the teaching with his might.  As for Baptists, those in England which first attempted to distinguish themselves from the continental Anabaptists rejected the teaching of Free-will for many years, but like the Episcopalians they experienced such a decline in the love for Bible teachings, that now most of their churches in Britain and America are also leavened with the doctrine of Free-will.  Many notable exceptions exist, but they are a small minority.  On the other side of the question, Presbyterian, Reformed, and Lutheran churches generally stood in opposition to the doctrine of Free-will, and only embraced this error when the modern Christian church collectively fell into the snare of theological Liberalism.—JTK.

2. This expression makes clear that in our author’s judgment, Arminianism and its doctrine of Free-will are in radical conflict with the saving faith of a truly gracious heart.  Because our age of mutual flattery and wishy-washy indifference to Bible doctrine has involved many Presbyterian and Reformed Christians in underestimating the importance of these issues, it is worth noting that, whatever happened in the generations afterwards, the Presbyterians of Mr. Burgess’ time, like the Synod of Dort in 1618-1619, were not only convinced that the Arminian doctrine of Free-will was incorrect, and would spoil a Christian’s comfort in believing, but that its essential nature, as a semi-pelagian heresy, diverted those who held its opinions from the exercise of faith, into a kind of believing that is better termed presumption: trusting in a man’s ability & decision, rather than trusting in the righteousness of Christ.—JTK.