Sufficient grace of the Holy Spirit is bestowed on those to whom the gospel is preached, whosoever they may be; so that, if they will, they may believe: otherwise, God would only be mocking mankind.
At no time, either in public or in private, have I delivered this proposition in these words, or in any expressions that were of equivalent force, or that conveyed a similar meaning. This assertion I confidently make, even though a great number of persons might bear a contrary testimony. Because, unless this Article received a modified explanation, I neither approve of it at present, nor has it at any time obtained any portion of my approval. Of this fact it is in my power to afford evidence, from written conferences which I have had with other people on the same subject.
In this Article there are three topics concerning which I am desirous of giving a suitable explanation.
FIRST. Concerning the difference which subsists among the persons to whom the gospel is preached. Frequent mention of this difference is made in the scriptures, and particularly in the following passages. |I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes.| (Matt. xi.25.) The explanation of these words may be discovered in 1 Corinthians 1 and 2. |Into whatsoever city or town ye shall enter, inquire who in it is worthy; and there abide till ye go thence. And when ye come into a house, salute it. And if the house be worthy, let your peace come upon it; but. if it be not worthy, let your peace return to you.| (Matt. x.11-13.) The Jews of Berea |were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind,| &c. (Acts xvii.11.) |Pray for us, that the word of the Lord may have free course, and be glorified, even as it is with you; and that we may be delivered from unreasonable and wicked men. For all men have not faith. But the Lord is faithful,| &c. (2 Thess. iii.1, 2.)
SECONDLY. Concerning the bestowing of sufficient grace what is to be understood by such a gift? It is well known, that there is habitual grace, and [the grace of] assistance. Now the phraseology of the article might be understood according to this acceptation, as though some kind of habitual grace were infused into all those to whom the gospel is preached, which would render them apt or inclined to give it credence, or believe the gospel. But this interpretation of the. phrase is one of which I do not approve. But this SUFFICIENCY, after all that is said about it, must, in my opinion, be ascribed to the assistance of the Holy Spirit, by which he assists the preaching of the gospel, as the organ, or instrument, by which He, the Holy Spirit, is accustomed to be efficacious in the hearts of the hearers. But it is possible to explain this operation of the assistance of the Holy Spirit, in a manner so modified and appropriate, and such sufficiency may be ascribed to it, as to keep at the greatest possible distance from Pelagianism.
THIRDLY. Concerning the expression, |By this grace they may believe, if they will.| These words, when delivered in such a crude and undigested form, are capable of being brought to bear a very bad interpretation, and a meaning not at all agreeable to the scriptures, as though, after that power had been bestowed, the Holy Spirit and Divine Grace remain entirely quiescent, waiting to see whether the man will properly use the power which he has received, and will believe the gospel. When, on the contrary, he who wishes to entertain and to utter correct sentiments on this subject, will account it necessary to ascribe to Grace its own province, which, indeed, is the principal one, in persuading the human will that it may be inclined to yield assent to those truths which are preached.
This exposition completely frees me from the slightest suspicion of heresy on the point here mentioned; and proves it to be a report not entitled to the least credit, that I have employed such expressions, as I am unwilling to admit, except with the addition of a sound and proper explanation.
In reference to the REASON which is appended to this proposition, that, otherwise, God would only be mocking mankind, I confess it to be a remark which several adversaries employ against the opinion entertained by many of our divines, to convict it of absurdity. And it is not used without just cause, which might easily have been demonstrated, had it pleased the inventors of these Articles, (instead of ascribing them to me,) to occupy themselves in openly declaring on this subject their own sentiments, which they keep carefully concealed within their own bosoms.