Pristine Grace

My Quarrel
by Robert Sandeman
My Quarrel

    My quarrel with the Archbishop, whom I formerly quoted on this subject, is very moderate.  He was a moral philosopher and it would seem that it was chiefly in compliance with the rites of his country that he gave any place to the name of Jesus Christ in his scheme of religion.  For his scheme would suffer no great loss by the want of that name.  The like may be said of Mr Locke and many other philosophical Christians.  

    My principle quarrel is with those who give out themselves for preachers of Christ and of salvation.  How often do they tell us that we have but one instance of a hardened sinner finding mercy at the close of life, and they insist upon it in such a manner as if they deeply grudged mankind the benefit of that one instance?  But happy is it for mankind that the one instance cannot be overthrown, but will stand unshaken to the eternal confusion of all who bear any grudge against it.  Might they not also tell us that we have but one instance of Christ’s dying for the sins of men that the day is past long ago, and that the like will never happen again? Perhaps it would surprise us to hear of any preacher talking at this rate; but how great must our surprise be if Mr Flavel were that person.  

    Mr Flavel, who has long been considered as an eminent master in what is called our Israel, in a treatease called The Fountain of Life, Sermon 32, on Luke xxiii, 43, amidst a great deal of the same purpose, has the following words:  

“And there is this one instance in the text, and no more, that gives an account of a person so called.  Such a conversion as this may not be ordinarily expected by any man, because such a time as that will never come again; it is possible if Christ were to die again, and thou to be crucified with him, thou mightest receive thy conversion in such a miraculous and extraordinary way; but Christ dies no more; such a day as that will never come again.” 

    The preacher leaves no room for any such sinner as the thief on the cross to hope for salvation unless Christ were to die again, which is acknowledged to be impossible.    But stay, let us see what he is afraid of.  He is afraid lest men delay their conversion at present, in the hope of being converted at last.  For all men are supposed to be desirous of being converted some time or other before they die.  

    But wait, what then shall we understand by conversion here?  If by conversion faith be meant, shall we say that men harden themselves at present, in judging any testimony to be false by living in the comfortable hope of holding it true at last?  This will never do.   No, by conversion we must here understand the changing of a sinner’s heart to love righteousness and hate iniquity even that change with which the promise of life is connected in Ezek. xxxiii.   This change, or some pretense to it, is the same thing with what is called repentance by all those who declaim largely on the inefficacy of a death bed repentance. 

    Now, seeing the hope of the guilty is made to take its rise from the consciousness of this change, the preachers certainly do well to warn their hearers by all means to take special care that this change be as early and as sincerely as possible; “For alas, how little is it that a sick and dying man can do in such a strait of time?”  whereas a healthy young man may easily be persuaded that he can do a great deal in this matter; and more, that he had no such occasion to blush before his Maker, or question his friendly occurrence, as an old sinner who has delayed his efforts to the last.

    However, it is granted that the happy change, which is supposed to be the source of a good hope, was wrought in the heart of one dying thief in a miraculous and extraordinary way.  And while this is granted, we are warned not to imagine that in an ordinary way any ground of hope remains for dying criminals now, seeing that it’s not every day that the Savior dies.  We are left to conclude then that he ordinary way of attaining good hope is by endeavoring to make our hearts beat time to the moving addresses of a fervent preacher.  To quote the sentiments of a noted preacher whom I formerly quoted near the end of my third letter, we must reasons thus:  “If Christ was anciently found of them that sought him not, even of them that followed not after righteousness, how much more will he now be found of them that seek him according to the directions given in sermons?”  

    It gives me some satisfaction to perceive that these gentlemen are themselves conscious that there is a real difference betwixt the ancient and the modern, or betwixt the extraordinary and the ordinary; though I have not the satisfaction of finding that their knowledge of this does them any good while I see them making use of the Divine conduct of old as a prop to support their modern inventions.   

    To have a proper view of this matter, we must conceive it thus:  God brought sinful men into favor with Himself of old in a miraculous and extraordinary way.  He acted beyond and above the course of nature, raising the dead and calling into being things that were not; choosing the naughty, the weak, and base things of the world, leaving the mighty to glory in their abilities.  But now all things move in their natural channel.  Now men are justified in a plain, ordinary and natural way.  It was indeed, extraordinary and miraculous to see men who had no righteousness of their own made happy by the knowldge of the Divine righteousness revealed to them, but it is quite ordinary and natural to see men glorying in a conceit of their own.  

Robert Sandeman, “Letters to Theron and Aspasio: Addressed to the Author”, pgs 266-269