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Ezekiel Culverwell on God’s Conditonal Will in Relation to the Free Offer of the Gospel

November 24, 2008

For the better understanding and practice of this duty, of particular application of God’s promises to our several necessities, that so we may thereby live by Faith, (which is the chief thing by me intended in this Treatise) we are advisedly to consider the nature and kinds of these promises (which be the foundation of our Faith), that so we may more soundly apply them to our several occasions and uses.

By God’s promises, I understand generally all those declarations of God’s will, wherein he offers us to his Word any good thing to enjoy: as on the other side, by threats are meant those declarations of his Will, wherein he denounces any evil against us for sin. Both which he plentifully sets down in the Holy Scriptures to these ends, that by his promises he might allure and draw us to believe and obey his will; and by his threatenings he might scare us from sin: In all which God does declare his will after a double manner, either absolutely, or conditionally. Absolutely, what he will most certainly do, any thing to the contrary notwithstanding. As for example, “That there shall be no more waters of a flood to destroy all flesh.” And, “in this same time I will come, and Sarah shall have a son,” which the Apostle says, is a word of promise: of this sort be all of God’s promises concerning salvation made unto the Elect, which cannot be made void by any means whatsoever.

The other manner whereby God does reveal his will, is not absolute, but (as it is commonly said to be) conditional, which is, when God declares his will, what he will do if we do our part, else not: this conditional promise well understood, may be born; otherwise misunderstood, it destroys the nature of the free and gracious promise of the Gospel, and in this respect confounds the Law and the Gospel, taking away a chief difference between the Covenant of Works (wherein God promised life upon the condition of doing all that was written in the Law, without which condition performed on our parts, God did not covenant to give life): and the Covenant of Grace, wherein God freely promised, not only life, as Jer. 31, from vers. 31. to 35. read the place. The like Ezek. 36.24. &c. “A new heart also I will give you), &c. In which, and the like many, is  no condition expressed on our parts, but God himself makes capable of this grace whom he pleases. How these are by us to be applied, afterwards I will show. But now seeing very many, yea the most of  the free gracious promises of the Gospel, be propounded with some condition, either expressed or necessarily understood, we are wise to consider them; As first in this, and the like many, the condition, or duty required, is expressed, Joh. 3:15, “Whosoever believes in Christ, shall not perish but have everlasting life.”

Secondly, in others the duty is required for the attaining the thing promised, is necessarily understood, “the Son of Man is come to save that which is lost: behold the Lamb of God which takes away the sin of the world”; And the like many. In all which Faith is necessarily understood for the obtaining of the benefit promised. But yet in all these, Faith is no condition moving God to promise life; For first, Faith itself is part of the thing promised, and no man can believe except it be given him, and therefore an impossible condition to be performed of ourselves. And to say as it is, Faith does apply the fruit and benefit of the promise to the believer (who alone shall enjoy the thing promised) & does not restrain the offer of grace: which general offer to all whom the Gospel comes, who as they have no Faith before they hear the promise made to them, so after hearing this promise made to them, if they believe not, they shall be condemned for not believing; as John 3.18.

Thus then I conceive the all conditional promises of the Gospel are to be taken, that God does freely offer mercy in what kind soever, & for the enjoying thereof, requires some duty of obedience at our hands. Now we must first believe, and so obey, and then enjoy the thing promised; so that there is in us no cause of believing, but all is in God’s free promise: and our obedience only is an effect of Faith, and so a proof of Faith, no cause to move us to believe. As for example, “If you forgive you shall be forgiven”: God freely offers pardon to us, and requires that we believing show mercy to others; As we read in the Parable, Mat. 18.32, “I forgave thee all the debt because thou desired me, should not thou also have compassion on thy fellow servant, even as I had pity on thee.” So then he that believes to find mercy, is thereby moved to show mercy, and certainly he that shows no mercy, indeed, receives none.

Besides this, there is another consideration of God’s promises which stands in the divers quality of the things promised, whereof some be wholly necessary for our salvation, and offered without any restraint, & are so to be believed, as faith and repentance. Other things good in themselves, yet are not always good for us, but we may be saved without them and in some case, better want them then have them: as health, wealth, peace & all earthly blessings: yea, many common gifts of the Spirit at least the measure of them; as excellent wit, memory, knowledge of heavenly things, courage, liberality, gentleness, &c. All of these be promised with limitation, so far as they be good for us, and no further and so far only are to be desired and believed.

Another needful consideration of God’s promises, that we may better make our use of them is this, “That God does proclaim in the Gospel his Son Christ, and all his benefits generally to all, and every Soul to whom the Gospel comes: so that everyone who hears the Gospel, ought to believe, which if he do not (which none can without special grace), yet this is his sin, and shall be his condemnation, for willful refusing mercy offered. And therefore every one that will not perish must believe, that there is such mercy in God as he offers, and that he is able, willing, and faithful to perform his promise: that so believing he may enjoy the benefit of which otherwise he deprives himself. This therefore I do before hand make known, that (seeing many worthy promises be thus generally propounded and set out, that we might by believing be made partakers of Christ), therefore none do shut out themselves, and so bring upon themselves more just damnation: as John 3.18 is plainly expressed, “He that believes not is condemned already,” vers. 19, “THis is the condemnation, that light is come into the world,” &c.

Ezekiel Culverwell, A Treatise of Faith. Wherein is declared, how a man may live by Faith, and find relief in all his necessities…, (London: Printed by J.D. for H. Overton, and are to be sold by William Sheares in the Maiden-lain against Gold-smiths-hall, 1648), 147-155.

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