The works of the unregenerate can be pleasing to God, and are (according to Borrius) the occasion, and (according to Arminius) the impulsive cause, by which God will be moved to communicate to them his saving grace.
About two years ago, were circulated Seventeen Articles, which were attributed to me, and of which the fifteenth is thus expressed: |Though the works of the unregenerate cannot possibly be pleasing to God, yet they are the occasion by which God is moved to communicate to them his saving grace.| This difference induces me to suspect that the negative, cannot, has been omitted in this sixteenth article, unless, perhaps, since that time, having proceeded from bad to worse, I now positively affirm this, which, as I was a less audacious and more modest heretic, I then denied. However this may be, I assert that these good men neither comprehend our sentiments, know the phrases which we employ, nor, in order to know them, do they understand the meaning of those phrases. In consequence of this, it is no matter of surprise that they err greatly from the truth when they enunciate our sentiments in their words, or when they affix other (that is, their own) significations to our words. Of this transformation, they afford a manifest specimen in this article.
1. For the word |the unregenerate,| may be understood in two senses, (i.) Either as it denotes those who have felt no motion of the regenerating Spirit, or of its tendency or preparation for regeneration, and who are therefore, destitute of the first principle of regeneration. (ii.) Or it may signify those who are in the process of the new birth, and who feel those motions of the Holy Spirit which belong either to preparation or to the very essence of regeneration, but who are not yet regenerate; that is, they are brought by it to confess their sins, to mourn on account of them, to desire deliverance, and to seek out the Deliverer, who has been pointed out to them; but they are not yet furnished with that power of the Spirit by which the flesh, or the old man, is mortified, and by which a man, being transformed to newness of life, is rendered capable of performing works of righteousness.
2. A thing is pleasing to God, either as an initial act, belonging to the commencement of conversion, or as a work perfect in its own essence, and as performed by a man who is converted and born again. Thus the confession, by which any one acknowledges himself to be |a cold, blind and poor creature,| is pleasing to God; and the man, therefore, flies to Christ to |buy of him eye-salve, white raiment, and gold.| (Rev. iii.15-18.) Works which proceed from fervent love are also pleasing to God. See the distinction which Calvin draws between |initial and filial fear;| and that of Beza, who is of opinion that |sorrow and contrition for sin do not belong to the essential parts of regeneration, but only to those which are preparatory;| but he places |the very essence of regeneration in mortification, and in vivification or quickening.|
3. |The occasion,| and the impulsive cause, by which God is moved,| are understood not always in the same sense, but variously. It will answer our purpose if I produce two passages, from a comparison of which a distinction may be collected, at once convenient and sufficient for our design. The king says, (Matt. xviii.32) |I forgave thee all that debt because thou desiredest me.| And God says to Abraham, (Gen. xxii.16, 17,) |Because thou hast done this thing, and hast not withheld thy son, thine only son, in blessing, I will bless thee.| He who does not perceive, in these passages, a difference in the impelling motives, as well as in the pleasure derived, must be very blind with respect to the Scriptures.
4. |The saving grace of God| may be understood either as primary or secondary, as preceding or subsequent, as operating or cooperating, and as that which knocks or opens or enters in. Unless a man properly distinguishes each of these, and uses such words as correspond with these distinctions, he must of necessity stumble, and make others appear to stumble, whose opinions he does not accurately understand. But if a man will diligently consider these remarks, he will perceive that this article is agreeable to the Scriptures, according to one sense in which it may be taken, but that, according to another, it is very different.
Let the word |unregenerate| be taken for a man who is now in the act of the new birth, though he be not yet actually born again; let |the pleasure| which God feels be taken for an initial act; let the impulsive cause be understood to refer to the final reception of the sinner into favour; and let secondary, subsequent, cooperating and entering grace be substituted for |saving grace;| and it will instantly be manifest, that we speak what is right when we say: |Serious sorrow on account of sin is so far pleasing to God, that by it, according to the multitude of his mercies, he is moved to bestow grace on a man who is a sinner.|
From these observations, I think, it is evident with what caution persons ought to speak on subjects on which the descent into heresy, or into the suspicion of heresy, is so smooth and easy. And our brethren ought in their prudence to have reflected that we are not altogether negligent of this cautiousness, since they cannot be ignorant that we are filly aware how much our words are exposed and obnoxious to injurious interpretations, and even to calumny. But unless they had earnestly searched for a multitude of Articles, they might have embraced this and the preceding, as well as that which succeeds, in the same chapter.