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Samuel Rutherford on Non-Saving Preparatory Grace

May 6, 2009

Rutherford

1) 1. There be some preparations which go before faith: 1. Faith is a seed of heaven ; it is not sown by the “good husbandman” in unploughed and in fallow ground; Christ sows not amongst thorns. We are “built on the faith;” stones are hewn, rubbish removed, before one stone be laid. 2. Every act of grace in God is an act of Omnipotency, and so requires not time or succession: God might have set up the frame of the world in all its fulness, with less than one thought, or act of his will put forth by Omnipotency. Yet did our Lord subject the acts of creating the first world to the rule of time, and to a circle of evening and morning, nights and days; so doth the Lord set up a new world of faith, in a soul void of faith, by degrees. There is a time, when there is neither perfect night nor perfect day, but the twilight of the morning; and God, notwithstanding, created the morning, no less than the noon-day sun. There is a half summer, and a half spring, in the close of the spring, which God made. The embryo, or birth, not yet animated, is neither seed only, nor a man-child only; so is a convert in his first framing, neither perfectly untamed corruption, because there is a crack and a thaw in the iron-sinew of  the neck; nor is he a thorough child of light ; but as we say, in the dead-throe, “in the place of breaking forth of children,” as Hosea speaks. A child with his head come forth of the womb, and no more, and so half born only; so is the convert, while he is in the making, not taken off’ Christ’s wheels; half in the borders of hell, and looking afar off at the suburbs of heaven, not far from the kingdom of heaven. Samuel Rutherford, The Trial and Triumph of Faith (Keyser West, Virginia: Odom Publications, 1990), 278-279. [Some spelling modernized; underlining mine.]

2) It is true, the new creation and life of God is virtually seminaliter in these preparations, as the seed is a tree in hope, the blossom an apple, the foundation a palace in its beginning: so half a desire in the non-converted, is love-sickness for Christ in the seed; legal humiliation is in hope, evangelical repentance, and mortification. But, as the seed and the growing tree differ not gradually only, but in nature and specifically; as a thing without life, is not of that same nature and essence, with a creature that hath a vegetative life and growth; so the preparatory good affections of desire, hunger, sorrow, humiliation, going before conversion, differ specifically from those renewed affections which follow after; the former being acts of grace, but not of saving grace, which goes along with the decree of the election of grace, and of like latitude with it; the latter being the native and con-natural fruits of the Spirit, of which the apostle speaks, (Gal., v, 22,23). In which regard, no man is morally, and in regard of a divine promise, such as this,–”Do this, and this, and God shall bestow on you, the grace of conversion,”–fitter, and in a nearer disposition to conversion than another: 1. Because we read not of any such promise in the gospel; 2. Because amongst things void of life, all are equally void of life, and here there are no degrees of more or less life, no intention, no remission or slacking of the degrees of life. For even as an ape or a horse are as equally no men, as stones and dead earth are no men; though an ape or a horse have life common to them with men, which stones and earth have not, yet they are equally as destitute of reason and an intellectual life, which is the only life of a man as a man, as stones and earth are; so Saul, only humbled by the terrors of the law, and sick half-raw desires of Christ, is no less yet a creature void of the life of God, than when he was in the highest pitch of obstinacy, spitting out blood and murders on the face of that Lord Jesus whom he persecuted. And in this regard, conversion is no less pure grace, every way gee to Saul humbled, and so, having only half a thirst and desire of Christ, than if he were yet in the fever of his highest blasphemy, thirsting after the blood of the saints. Samuel Rutherford, The Trial and Triumph of Faith (Keyser West, Virginia: Odom Publications, 1990), 280-281. [Some spelling modernized; underlining mine.]

3) Object. 2. But who can act saving grace, without the blowing of saving grace? I can no more do it than I can command the west wind to blow when I list dm. I grant all, nor do I speak this to insinuate, that free-will sits at the helm, or that grace sleeps, and will walks; the contrary is an evident truth, Yet give me leave to say, there is odds between blowing of the wind, and making ready the sails. Though seamen cannot make wind, nor is it their fault to want wind, yet can they prepare the sails, and hoist them up to welcome the wind. We cannot create the breathings of the Spirit; yet are we to miss these breathings? and this is, a fitting of the sails, and we are to join with the Spirit’s breathings. Christ binds up the winds in his garment, so as, if one look of faith, or half a spiritual groan, should ransom me from hell, I have it not in stock; therefore hath God ordered such a dispensation, that in all stirrings of grace, the first spring, the fountain-rise of calling Jesus, Lord, shall be up in heaven at the right hand of the Father; and the far end of any gracious thought, is as far above me, as the heart of Christ, who is in the heaven of heavens, is above the earth, though ye think nothing of it. And better Christ be my steward, and that the gospel be at the end of all acts of grace, as that Christ be freewill’s debtor.–More reason that Christ be creditor, than debtor to his redeemed ones. 2. I know the child of God may be so far forth lazy, as that it is his fault that the wind blow not, if we speak of a moral cause. 3. It is his part to join with the working of assisting grace: “Whereunto I also labor, striving according to his working, which works in me mightily.” (Col., i, 29.) The Lord hath, by free promise, laid holy bands on himself, to give predeterminating grace to his own children to persevere to the end, and to prevent apostacy and heinous sins, inconsistent with saving faith; (1 Cor., i, 8, Jude, 24, Jerem., xxxii, 3941, Is., liv, 10, lix, 21, 22, Luke, xxii, 32, 1 John, ii, 1, 2,) yet so as he hath reserved a liberty to himself, to co-operate with them in particular acts, as it shall be their sin, not his withdrawing of grace that makes them guilty, to the end we know we are in grace’s debt, in all good and supernatural acts. So (2 Chron., xxxii, 31,) Hezekiah was tried of God in the business of the king of Babylon’s ambassadors, that the king might see, that he could not walk to heaven on clay legs, or by his own strength. And the reason is clear: God cannot make a promise of contributing this bowing and predeterminating grace, but in a way suitable to free grace; for God cannot change grace unto natural debt, it remaining grace, for so it should be grace, and no grace, which is a contradiction. 2. The Lord hath reserved liberty to himself in this promise, that in this or that particular act (the omission whereof may consist with perseverance in grace), he may contribute his influence of’ grace, or not contribute it. So David hath not actual grace at his will and nod, to eschew adultery and murder as he pleases; nor Peter to decline an evil hour, when he shall be tempted to forswear his Savior Christ; nor hath Heman in his hand, (Psalm lxxxviii,) nor the deserted church power, (Psalm lxxvii,) to pray, and believe, and rejoice in the salvation of God, at the disposition of free-mill: but the key is up in the hands of the kingly Intercessor, at the right hand of the Father, that must open the heart. It is far to fetch, as far as the heaven of’ heavens, to make wind and sailing to Christ-ward; therefore, 3. Seasons of acts of grace to believe, to walk in any warmness of love to Christ and his members, are fruits of royal liberty and free grace. Samuel Rutherford, The Trial and Triumph of Faith (Keyser West, Virginia: Odom Publications, 1990), 308-310.  [Some spelling modernized; underlining mine.]

to be continued…

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