“Not willing that any should perish.” There is no man that hates the effect of his own worth. If the painter have drawn a counterfeit, or limned the resemblance of a creature, lie regards it as the effect of his own curious art. If a man begets a son, he is tied in affection to him by the bond of nature. If a preacher convert a profligate, and beget a soul unto Christ, he loves him in a higher degree of relation than those of art or nature, even of grace. And will the most wise and good Creator of all things hate the workmanship of his own hands? No, the Lord hates nothing that, he hath made. There is something in the creatures he hath made, which he hates; but the creature itself, as it is a creature, he loves. Our weakness doth often fail to distinguish between a man and his fault; so we hate the man together with his vice, whereas we should hate the vice and love the man. But God can distinguish betwixt the metal which is his and the dross of the metal which is not his: he rejects the dross, but he wishes well to the metal. If a man’s wife be an adulteress, he puts her away, because she then ceases to be a wife ; but if she repent, God doth not put her away, because she does not cease to he a woman. Adultery may make her no wife, death itself cannot make her no creature. Both God and her husband detest her sin; yet God doth, and her husband should, love her soul.
But if God be not willing that any should perish, how then do any come to perish? Can they perish against his will? Shall any be lost whom he will save? I might answer this objection, that the question here is not concerning God’s secret will; But so much of it as is revealed to us in his holy word, whereby he affords means of salvation to all, declaring himself not willing that any should perish. But let us soberly examine this point; for Scripture seems to contradict Scripture. “God will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth,” 1 Tim. ii.4: and here, he is “not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” On the contrary, “Whom he will he hardens,” Rom. ix.18: and, “I will harden the heart of Pharaoh,” Exod. vii.3. Is the Spirit divided? If truth be against truth, how can it stand? Who will harden? That God which is rich in goodness, whose mercy is above all his works, will he? He which is grieved for our offenses, and wills not the death of a sinner, will he harden? And of all places, the temple for his Holy Spirit to repose in, the exchequer and storehouse for all his graces, will he harden the heart? He says, he will: yet dares the blasphemous sinner rub his filthiness on that immaculate purity of his Maker? Does he live by his mercy, and yet charge him of injustice, making it the midwife of so foul a progeny? Evil could never be the child of goodness, nor can sin (so basely descended) lay claim to omnipotency. Doth pure water and puddle flow immediately from the self-same spring? or light and darkness from the same sun? How then comes it to pass? Consider with me these positions.
1. The devil was the first sinner, and sinned from the beginning, John viii.44. From him, sin first boiled up, as out of the main sea; being thence derived to Adam, it arises as out of a spring; from the spring, it is reserved in nature, as in a conduit; from nature, it is conveyed to concupiscence, as by a pipe.; and from thence doth flow all the mischief and wickedness that is in the life of man. Thy destruction is of thyself.
2. The eternal decree of God is unsearchable: to love his children and neglect his enemies, can neither impair his mercy nor impeach his justice. But why he should love this as his child, and neglect that as his enemy, is beyond the lawfulness of inquiry and possibility of apprehension. That is a saucy and curious eye, which will be too nicely prying into the closet of God’s secrets. These should rather bring us on our knees, in the humble acknowledgment of his infinite wisdom and power, than prompt us to ransack his bosom, for the revealing of his intents. It is blessedness enough to be made God’s stewards, though we be none of his secretaries. Will no mansion In heaven content us, but that which is the throne and chair for Omnipotence to sit in? no cabinet, put that which is the treasury and storehouse of his own counsels? If angels fell for and emulation, what place can be low enough for such busy inquisitors? Though God from all eternity knew how to reward every man, either with bliss or pain; yet he never imposed upon any man either a necessity or a will to sin. Far be it from us, to lay the burden of our sins on the shoulder of predestination, and to make that the womb of our foul enormities.
3. God is the cause of good, bat in no respect of evil. By his grace, as Augustine saith, Multi ne laberentur, retenti; nulli, ut laberentur impulsi; i.e., He upholds many, he pushes none down. He is said indeed to harden, but it is because he does not soften. Impios cum non retrahit a malo culpae, dicitur dimittere, When he does not restrain the wicked from evil, he is said to let them alone; so the schoolman. As the conferring of grace is the effect of his election, so the withholding of his grace is the effect of reprobation. For one and the same goodness to be the rise and fall of the same sins, is impossible. Says Gregory, Dei claudere, est clausis non aperire, God is then said to shut, when he does not open. It is from him that we stand, it is not by him that we fall. Our pravity is the reed that deceives us; God’s providence is the staff that supports us. If he hardens any, it is not by causing us to commit sin, but by not granting us the grace to overcome sin. In a word, God never hates, but where he is first hated. No man can take Christ from thee, unless thou first take thyself from Christ. We cannot lose him, but by putting him away, say the fathers.
4. God affords the means of salvation to all, therefore he would have none to perish. He offers his gospel, his gospel offers Christ, Christ offers his merits, his merits offer justification. If we bring willingness, his gospel is ours; if we bring faith, Christ is ours ; if we join with it repentance, his mercy and merits are ours; if we add to all new obedience, salvation is ours. Why else are those affections attributed to God, which are properly and formally found in us, not in him? Sometimes he will not be hindered from punishing: Let me alone, that I may destroy them, Exod. xxxii.10. Why, what can hinder him? At another time, he desires to be hindered, and would have some stand in the gap, to save his people from his wrath, Ezek. xiii.: as a kind father, being ready to correct his child, beckons to some neighbour to take him off. Other times he complains of his lost endeavours to bring them to repentance: “I have laboured in vain,” Isa. xlix.4. What do all these signify, but his unwillingness to have any perish? Why then does he punish with perdition? No otherwise than as some just judge, that would have all men live regularly, and free from disorders; but having transgressed the laws, justice compels him, and that by a good and rectified will, to punish them. Some would have this will of God to be velleitatem rather than voluntatem: not so much an absolute will and resolution, as a willingness and desire: not unlike a merchant’s casting his freight overboard in a dangerous tempest. He would willingly save them, and yet he is willingly content to lose them, says one.
But if God be willing that none should perish, why then are not some made partakers of his grace, as well as others? St. Augustine answers, Some men therefore want grace, not because God does not proffer it, but because they will not receive it. Peter walking on the sea, and beginning to sink, cries out to his Master; and he took him by the hand, and saved him, Matt. xiv.29-31. This world wherein we walk is a sea, storms arise, and we are ready to perish; while we do not cry unto Christ for help, is it his fault if we be drowned? Thou lie sick, an excellent physician comes to thy door with a sovereign remedy, and knocks for admission; if neither thy will nor ability can let him in, blame thyself, not him, for thy perishing. We are all mortally sick of sin; Christ our saving Physician proffers his help; but if either we want will to admit his presence, or power to take his medicines, or skill to follow his direction, we may die with the means of our salvation by us. Merito perit aegrotus qui medicurn non vocat, sed ultro qui venientem respuit; (Muscul.) The patient is worthy to die, that will not invite the physician to come ; but more worthy he, that will not accept of his .help when he is come.
5. The willingness of God that none should perish, is proved by innumerable evidences. He made us once; certainly he did not make us because he would damn us. Yea, he hath often made us: when he redeemed us, that was a second making; when he renews us by his grace, that is another making: every one of his deliverances is a kind of “Let us make man.” If our sins have made us our Maker’s offenders, have they also made us that we are not his creatures? If the devil hath bereaved us of our purity, hath he also bereaved God of his pity? Though justice might rightly condemn us, cannot mercy possibly save us? If the Lord reject a sinner that cries to him for mercy, where is his willingness to have none perish? His word is a will, and his will is a power : he promises nothing but what he purposes, and he purposes nothing but what he performs. If he would have none perish, what necessity is there of our being lost? If he desire that a sinner should live, what difficulty is there of our being saved? What power of enemies, or number of sins, can either hinder what he would, or constrain what he would not? He will not so look upon us sinful wretches, as not to see himself; nor so regard our wickedness, as not to behold his own goodness; nor so remember the sins that we have done, as to forget the creatures that he hath made.
He that lends the sun of light to all, would have none perish in darkness ; and he that sends the Son of his love unto all, intends the redemption of as man as will receive him, John i.12. Why doth he not deny the knowledge of Christ ? Why did he not hedge up that flower in some private garden? Why not lock up that jewel in one principal treasury? Certainly he would never have communicated it, if he did not purpose a universal benefit by it. Why is the gospel forbidden to none, if any he debarred from the comforts of it? To whom doth not the bosom of the church lie open? To what convert is the baptismal water denied? To what confirmed Christian is the sacramental communication of the body and blood of Christ not offered? We are not only admitted, but even invited to that blessed table. To what end are those gracious invitations, Come, ye that thirst, and drink; Come, ye that are heavy laden, and have ease? Is any guest excepted? He that bids all, forbids none. When a prince proclaims free audience to all sorts of clients, who can complain that his cause may not be heard? Those that seem such terrifying speeches, as, The gate is narrow, Few are saved, be rather meant for spurs to our devotion, than bars to God’s compassion: they do not contract his mercy, which is so infinite, but they would enlarge our hearts, which are so contracted. His nature is now as apt to forgive, as his power will be seen hereafter able to punish. When did the distribution of his treasure cease? When was the door shut to his faithful clients? when we did sin, he did spare; when we did defer, he-did expect; when we shall return, he will meet and embrace. He that doth all this, is not willing that any should perish.
6. There is no necessity that any man, any this or that man, should perish. Some think they have gone far enough in the clearing of this point, to say, that God is no cause of our perishing, though we must perish: they determine it in this; It is true, your condemnation is unavoidable, but you must blame yourselves. Others more fairly and comfortably carry it thus much further, and conclude out of this text, that there is no such unavoidableness, no such necessity of your damnation at all. The former only teach, that how desperate soever our case be, how irremediable soever our state, we ourselves, and not God, are the cause of this desperate irremediableness, The other say better; There is no such peremptory sentence, there is no such desperate irremediableness, declared to any particular conscience; but whensoever we repent, the Lord will receive us. Once hath the Lord spoken, and twice do we hear him, Psal. lxii.11. We hear him once speaking for his own honour; he does not condemn us, if we be condemned. And we hear him speaking a second time for our comfort; we need not be condemned at all. “Thy ways and thy doings have procured these things unto thee,” Jer. iv. 18; and destruction is of thyself: this fully discharges God from being the author of our ruin. But howsoever God be thus discharged, He does not kill me if I die; yet it is but poor comfort to me, if I must die, to be told that I have killed myself: therefore he gives us here a stronger consolation, by telling us, there is no such necessity, we need not die at all. What can make our case so desperate, that he hath not left us ways of returning to him? What can make our state so irrecoverable, that he hath not left himself ways of redeeming us? It is not for us to dispute, what God of his absolute owner may do, nor what by his unrevealed decree he hath done; but this we gather here, that he hath not allowed me, nor thee, nor any to conclude against ourselves, a necessity of perishing. “Zion said, The Lord hath forsaken me, and my Lord hath forgotten me,” Isa. xlix.14. But why will Zion say so? My Lord, and hath forgotten me? Can she remember that God is hers, and not think that she is his? Can she remember him, and think that he hath forgotten her? What contradictions are these!
If he have forgotten her, how is he then her Lord? If he be her Lord, how hath he then forgotten her? Can Zion retain her bowels of pity, and think that God has lost his? Every where in the Scriptures we meet with God’s Come ye; both the Testaments are full of invitations to come unto God. There is a Come, without having; Come and buy, though you have no money, Isa. lv.1, no merits of your own: yet come, and dilate your measures, and according to that dilatation, fill them with the merits of Christ. There is a Come and return; Come, though your coming be but a returning Hos. vi.1: be not ashamed of your returning, though it be a confession of your former running away: come in repentance, though you cannot come in innocency. There is a Come and consult: if you find it hard to come, or though you know not the way to come, yet come, that you may know the way: consult with God how you may come, and how you may stay when you are come. There is a Come and reason, argue, plead, dispute, expostulate. Come, though you come to reason with God, Isa. i.18; come u on any conditions. There is a Come labouring; how heavy soever the burden of your sins, or the pressure of God’s judgments, lie upon you, yet come for your own ease: “Come, ye that labour, and I will give you rest,” Matt. xi.28. There is a Come thirsting: Come, you that thirst for my righteousness, and be satisfied with it, be justified by it. There is a Come, ye poor; let the lame and the blind come, that my louse map be filled: “I have room enough for them all ; “compel them to come,” Luke xiv.23. “The Spirit and the bride say, Come. And let him that hears say, Come. And let him that is athirst come,” Rev. xxii.17. There is a world of Come ye’s, and the gospel abounds with infinite invitations to come. And there is a Come ye that close up all the rest; “Come, ye blessed of my Father,” Matt. xxv.34: you have obeyed my first, in coming to my kingdom of grace; you are now blessed with my last, come into my kingdom of glory. But there is but one Depart ye: that same, Go, ye cursed, is but once heard from the mouth of God; and that not in this world neither; as long as we are in this world, we are safe from rejection; God doth not cast us off, for he is not willing that any should perish. But if thy tender conscience, and thy startling soul, should misimagine the hearing of such a voice, or in thy melancholy distemper dream of such a sound from God’s lips, as, Depart, thou sinner; a voice of separation, a voice that bids thee go: say thou with Peter, to his and thy Saviour, Lord, whither shall I go? thou hast the words of eternal life. And I believe and am sure that thou art that Christ, the Son of the living God, John vi.68; Matt. xvi.16. And that Christ, the Son of the living God, will call thee back, and call back his own word, and entertain thee with mercy and peace. Thomas Adams, An Exposition upon the Second Epistle General of St. Peter, by Rev. Thomas Adams, Rector of St.Gregory’s, (London, 1633, revised by James Sherman, reprinted: Soli Deo Gloria, 1990), 693-695.