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notions about righteousness imputed to thee in the Antinomian way; but the substantial, evangelical righteousness, which is through the faith of Christ the righteousness which is of God by faith: the true armour of righteousness," with which St. Paul cut in pieces the forces of Pharisaism" on the right hand," and St. James those of Antinomianism" on the left."
Rejoicing, dear sir, that if our arguments should strip you of what appears to us an imaginary garment, you shall not be found naked; and thanking" the God of all grace" for giving you, and thousands of pious Calvinists, a more substantial robe than that for which you so zealously plead; in the midst of chimerical imputations of "calumny," I remain, with personal and inherent truth, honoured and dear sir, your affectionate brother, and obedient servant in our common Lord, JOHN FLETCHER.
To Richard Hill, Esq.
HONOURED AND DEAR SIR,-Having so fully considered in my last the state of our controversy with respect to imputed righteousness, I proceed to the doctrine of free will, which I have not discussed in this Check, because you seem satisfied with what we grant you, and we are entirely so with what you grant us concerning it. Let us, however, just cast three looks, one upon our concessions, another upon yours, and a third upon the difference still remaining between us, with regard to that capital article of our controversy.
I. We never supposed that the natural will of fallen man is free to good, before it is more or less touched or rectified by grace. All we assert is, that whether a man chooses good or evil, his will is free, or it does not deserve the name of will. It is as far from us to think, that man, unassisted by Divine grace, is sufficient to will spiritual good, as to suppose, that when he wills it by grace he does not will it freely. And therefore, agreeable to our tenth article, which you quote against us without the least reason, we steadily assert, that "we have no power to do good without the grace of God preventing us," not that we may have a free will, for this we always had in the above-mentioned sense, but that we may have a good will: believing that, as confirmed saints and angels have a free will, though they have no evil will; so abandoned reprobates and devils have a free will, though they have no good will.
Again: We always maintained that the liberty of our will is highly consistent with the operations of Divine grace, by which it is put in a capacity of choosing life. We are therefore surprised to see you quote in triumph, (Review, p. 33,) the following paragraph out of the Second Check: Nor is this freedom derogatory to free grace; for as it was free grace that gave an upright free will to Adam at his creation, so, whenever his fallen children think or act aright, it is because their free will is mercifully prevented, touched, and rectified by free grace."
At the sight of these concessions you cry out, "Amazing! Here is all that the most rigid Calvinist ever contended for granted in a moment. Your words, sir, are purely evangelical." Are they, indeed ? Well, then, honoured sir, I have the pleasure to inform you, that, if this "is all you ever contended for," you need not contend any more with us; since Mr. Wesley, Mr. Sellon, J. Goodwin, and Arminius himself, never advanced any other doctrine concerning free will. For they all agree to ascribe to the free grace of God, through the Redeemer, all the freedom of man's will to good. Therefore, you yourself being judge, their sentiments, as well as my "words, are purely evangelical."
II. You cannot be more satisfied with our concessions than we are with yours for you grant us as much freedom of will as constitutes us free willers, or moral agents; and in so doing, you expose the ignorance and injustice of those who think, that when they have called us free willers, they have put upon us one of the most odious badges of heresy.
We are particularly pleased with the following concessions, (Review, p. 38:) "Grace may not violate the liberty of the will: God forceth not a man's will to do good or ill. He useth no violence. The freedom of the regenerate is such, that they may draw back to perdition if they will."
We are yet better satisfied with what you say, (p. 35:) "Still it is your own opinion, that, to the end of the world, this plain, peremptory assertion of our Lord, I would, and ye would not,' will throw down and silence all the objections which can be raised against free will—it proves that those to whom it was addressed, might have come if they would. Granted." And (p. 43) you add : "I have granted Mr. Fletcher his own interpretation of that text, 'I would, and ye would not.' " Now, sir, if you stand to your concession, you have granted me, that Christ had eternal life for the Jews who rejected it: that he had a strong desire to bestow it upon them: that he had made them so far willing and able to come to him for it, as to leave them inexcusable if they did not: and that his saving grace, which they resisted, is by no means irresistible. Four propositions that sap the foundation of your system, and add new solidity to ours.
However, you try to make your readers believe, that "still we are but just where we were. The fault yet remains in the corruption of the will:" giving us to understand, that because the Jews would not be gathered by Christ, he had never touched and rectified their will. Thus you suppose, that their choosing death is a demonstration that they could not have chosen life: that is, you suppose just what you should have proved.
You imagine that a wrong choice always demonstrates the previous perverseness of the will that makes it; but we show the contrary by matter of fact. Satan and his legions, as well as our first parents, were created perfectly upright. Their will was once as free from corruption as the will of God himself. Nevertheless, with a will perfectly capable of making a right choice; with a will that a few moments before had chosen life, they all chose the ways of death. Hence appears the absurdity of concluding, that a wrong choice always proves the will was
so corrupted, previously to that choice, that a better choice was morally impossible. Take us right, however. We do not suppose that the will of the obstinate Jews had not been totally corrupted in Adam. We only maintain, that they made as free and fatal a choice with their free will, which free grace had rectified, as Adam, Eve, and all the fallen angels once made with the upright free will with which free grace had created them.
But I return to your concessions. That which pleases us most of all, I find, (Review, p. 39:) "For my own part, (you say,) I have not the least objection to the expression free will, and find it used in a very sound sense by St. Augustine, Luther, and Calvin, the great patrons for the doctrine of man's natural inability to do that which is good since the fall. God does not force any man to will either good or evil; but man, through the corruption of his understanding, naturally and freely wills that which is evil; but by being wrought upon and enlightened by converting grace, he as freely wills that which is good, as before he freely willed the evil. In this sense the assembly of divines speak of the natural liberty of the will, and affirm that it is not forced."
These, honoured sir, are our very sentiments concerning free will. How strange is it, then, when you have so fully granted us the natural and necessary freedom of the will, to see you as flushed with an imaginary victory, as if you had just driven us out of the field! How astonishing to hear you cry out, (p. 34,) "Jesus Christ on the side of free will! What! The Gospel on the side of free will! What!" Yes, honoured sir, Jesus Christ and the Gospel on the side of free will! And if that is not enough, appeal to the thirty-fourth page of your Review, to show that the assembly of divines and yourself are on the side of free will also.
III. Consider we now the difference still remaining between us. From our mutual concessions, it is evident we agree, (1.) That the will is always free. (2.) That the will of man, considered as fallen in Adam, and unassisted by the grace of God, is only free to evil,-free to live in the element of sin, as a sea fish is only free to live in salt water. And, (3.) That when he is free to good, free to choose life, he has this freedom from redeeming grace.
But although we agree in these material points, the difference between us is still very considerable; for we assert, that, through the Mediator promised to all mankind in Adam, God, by his free grace, restores to all mankind a talent of free will to do good, by which they are put in a capacity of "choosing life or death," that is, of acquitting themselves well or ill, at their option, in their present state of trial.
This you utterly deny, maintaining that man is not in a state of probation; and that, as Christ died for none but the elect, none but they can ever have any degree of saving grace, i. e. any will free to good. Hence you conclude, that all the elect are in a state of finished salvation; and necessarily, infallibly, and irresistibly choose life: while all the reprobates are shut up in a state of finished damnation; and necessarily, infallibly, and irresistibly choose death. For, say your divines, God has not decreed the infallible end, either of the elect or the reprobates, without decreeing also the infallible means conducing to that end. Therefore, in the day of his irresistible power, the fortunate elect are
absolutely made willing to believe and be saved; and the poor reprobates to disbelieve and be damned.
I shall conclude this article by just observing, that we are obliged to oppose this doctrine, because it appears to us a doctrine of wrath, rather than a doctrine of grace. If we are not mistaken, it is opposite to the general tenor of the Scriptures, injurious to all the Divine perfections, and subversive of this fundamental truth of natural and revealed religion, "God shall judge the world in righteousness." It is calculated to strengthen the carnal security of Laodicean professors, raise horrid anxieties in the minds of doubting Christians, and give damned spirits just ground to blaspheme to all eternity. Again: it withdraws from thinking sinners and judicious saints the helps which God has given them, by multitudes of conditional promises and threatenings, designed to work upon their hopes and fears. And, while it unnecessarily stumbles men of sense, and hardens infidels, it affords wicked men rational excuses to continue in their sins, and gives desperate offenders full room to charge, not only Adam, but God himself, with all their enormities.
I shall now be shorter in the review of the state of our controversy. Free will to good is founded upon general free grace, and general free grace upon the perfect oblation which Christ made upon the cross for the sins of the whole world. General redemption, therefore, I have endeavoured to establish upon a variety of arguments, which you decline answering.
Justification by (the evidence of) works in the last day is the doctrine which you and your brother have most vehemently attacked. You have raised against it a great deal of dust, and some objections, which I hope you will find abundantly answered in the three first letters of this Check, and in the ninth. But suppose I had not answered them at all, you could not have won the day; because after all your joint opposition against our doctrine, both you and your brother bear your honest testimony to the indubitable truth of it, as our readers may see in our first, fifth, and ninth letters.
I need not remind you, sir, that upon this capital doctrine, the Minutes in general stand as upon a rock. If you doubt it, I refer you to the fifth and sixth letters.
The doctrine of a four-fold justification appears monstrous to your orthodoxy. Both you and your brother, therefore, have endeavoured to overturn it. But as you had neither Scripture nor argument to attack it with, you have done it by some witticisms, which are answered in the tenth letter.
Calvinian everlasting love, according to which the elect were never children of wrath, and apostates may go any length in sin without displeasing God, is a doctrine which I have attacked in all the Checks. You cannot defend it, and yet you will not give it up. You just intimate, that when the elect commit adultery and murder, they are in a sense penitent. This frivolous plea, this last shift, is exposed, letter tenth.
Finished salvation, which you call your "grand fortress," and which your brother styles, "the foundation of the Calvinists," you have endeavoured to support by a variety of arguments, answered, I trust,
letter vii, in such a manner that our impartial readers will be convinced your foundation is sandy, and your grand fortress by no means impregnable.
The oneness of speculative Antinomianism and of barefaced Calvinism is the point in which our controversy insensibly terminates. I will not say that what we have advanced upon this subject is unanswerable; but I shall wonder to see it answered to the satisfaction of unprejudiced readers. In the meantime, I confess that I cannot cast my eyes upon the Calvinian creed in the seventh letter, and the Gospel proclamation in the eleventh, without being astonished at myself, for not seeing sooner that there is no more difference between Calvinism and speculative Antinomianism than there was between the disciple who betrayed our Lord, and Judas, surnamed Iscariot.
Such, honoured sir, is, I think, the present state of our controversy; but what is that of our hearts? Do we love one another the better, and pray for each other the oftener, on account of our theological contest? Alas! if we sell love to buy the truth, we shall be no gainers in the end. Witness those awful words of St. Paul: "Though I have all knowledge, and all faith, if I have not charity, I am nothing but a tinkling cymbal." O sir, we stand in great danger of being carried away by our own spirits beyond the sacred lines of truth and love, which should bound the field of Christian controversy. Permit me, then, to propose to our common consideration, and future imitation, the most perfect patterns in the world.
Let us consider Him first," who in all things has the pre-eminence." With what wisdom and fortitude, with what a happy mixture of rational and Scriptural arguments, does Christ carry on his important controversy with the Pharisees! He stands firm as a rock against all the frothy billows of their cavils and invectives. With astonishing impartiality he persists in telling them the most galling truths, and condemning them out of their own mouths, consciences, and sacred records. In so doing, he loses indeed their love and applause; but he maintains a good conscience, and secures the praise which comes from God. Nor does he give over bearing his testimony against them by day, and praying for them by night, till they shed his innocent blood: and when they have done it, he revenges himself by sending them the first news of his pardoning love. "Go," says he to the heralds of his grace, "preach forgiveness of sins among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem," the city of my murderers. O sir, if the Lord of glory was so ready to forgive those who, for want of better arguments, betook themselves first to pitiful sophisms, and groundless accusations, and then to the nails, the hammer, and the spear; how readily ought we to forgive each other the insignificant strokes of our pens!
Let St. Paul be our pattern next to Jesus Christ. Consider we with what undaunted courage, and unwearied patience, he encounters his brethren, the Jews, who engrossed the election to themselves, and threw dust into the air, when they heard that there was salvation for the Gentiles. In every city, he mightily convinces them out of the Scriptures. They reyile him, and he entreats them; they cast him out of the temple, and he wishes himself "accursed from Christ for their sake." And yet, when they charge him with crimes of which he