predestination isn’t an excuse for unbelief

Thomas Boston devotes a whole chapter to demonstrating from every possible angle that human beings are ‘sunk in a state of sin’ and utterly unable to save themselves or do anything to help themselves.

Right at the end of the chapter he deals with three specific objections to this doctrine. This is his answer to one objection; the most hard-hitting point is perhaps the last.

Objection 2. Why do you then preach Christ to us, call us to come to him, to believe, to repent, and use the means of salvation?

  • Because it is your duty so to do. It is your duty to accept of Christ, as he is offered in the gospel, to repent of your sins, and to be holy in all manner of conversation; these things are commanded you of God, and his command, not your ability, is the measure of your duty.
  • Moreover, these calls and exhortations are the means that God is pleased to make use of, for converting his elect, and working grace in their hearts: to them, ‘faith cometh by hearing,’ Rom 10:17, while they are as unable to help themselves as the rest of mankind are. Upon very good grounds may we, at the command of God, who raises the dead, go to their graves, and cry in his name, ‘Awake, thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light,’ Eph 5:14. And seeing the elect are not to be known and distinguished from others before conversion, as the sun shines on the blind man’s face, and the rain falls on the rocks as well as on the fruitful plains, so we preach Christ to all, and shoot the arrow at a venture which God himself directs as he sees fit.
  • Moreover, these calls and exhortations are not altogether in vain, even to those who are not converted by them. Such persons may be convinced, though they be not converted: although they be not sanctified by these means, yet they may be restrained from them from running into that excess of wickedness which otherwise they would arrive at. The means of grace serve, as it were, to embalm many dead souls, which are never quickened by them: though they do not restore them to life, yet they keep them from putrefying as they otherwise would do.
  • Finally, though you cannot recover yourselves, nor take hold of the saving help offered to you in the gospel, yet even by the power of nature you may use the outward and ordinary means whereby Christ communicates the benefit of redemption to ruined sinners who are utterly unable to recover themselves out of the state of sin and wrath. You may and can, if you please, do many things that would set you in a fair way for help from the Lord Jesus Christ. You may go so far on as ‘not to be far from the kingdom of God,’ as the discreet scribe had done, Mark 12:34, though, it would seem, he was destitute of supernatural abilities.
  • Though you cannot cure yourselves, yet you may come to the pool, where many such diseased persons as you have been cured; though you have none to put you into it, yet you may lie at the side of it: ‘Who knows but the Lord may return, and leave a blessing behind him,’ as in the case of the impotent man (recorded in John 5:5-8). I hope Satan does not chain you to your houses, nor stake you down in your fields on the Lord’s day, but you are at liberty and can wait at the posts of wisdom’s doors if you will. When you come thither, he does not beat drums at your ears, that you cannot hear what is said’ there is no force upon you, obliging you to apply all you hear to others; you may apply to yourselves what belongs to your state and condition.

    When you go home, you are not fettered in your houses, where perhaps no religious discourse is to be heard, but you may retire to some separate place, where you can meditate, and exercise your consciences with suitable questions upon what you have heard. You are not possessed with a dumb devil, that you cannot get your mouths opened in prayer to God. You are not so driven out of your beds to your worldly business, and from your worldly business to your beds again, but you might, if you would, make some prayers to God upon the case of your perishing souls. You may examine yourselves as to the state of your souls, in a solemn manner, as in the presence of God; you may discern that you have no grace, and that you are lost and undone without it, and you may cry to God for it.

    These things are within the compass of natural abilities, and may be practised where there is no grace. It must aggravate your guilt, that you will not be at so much pains about the state and case of your precious souls. If you do not do what you can, you will be condemned, not only for your lack of grace, but for your despising it.

Thomas Boston, Human Nature in its Fourfold State, last few pages of section 2.3. First published 1720; my 1989 Banner of Truth reprint has a picture of a double rainbow on the front cover, the token of the covenant.


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