Seeing then that the grace of God in the gospel, is by that to be proffered to sinners, as sinners; as well to the reprobate as the elect; Is it possible for those who indeed are not elect, to receive it, and be saved? To this question I shall answer several things: but first I shall shew you what that grace is, that is tendered in the gospel; and secondly, what it is to receive it and be saved. First then, The grace that is offered to sinners as sinners, without respect to this or that person, it is a sufficiency of righteousness, pardoning grace, and life, laid up in the person of Christ, held forth in the exhortation a nd word of the gospel, and promised to be theirs that receive it; yea, I say, in so universal a tender, that not one is by it excluded or checked in the least, but rather encouraged, if he hath the least desire to life; yea, it is held forth to beget both desires and longings after the life thus laid up in Christ, and held forth by the gospel (John 1:16; Col 1:19,23; 1 John 5:11,12; Acts 13:38,39; Rom 10:12-14, 16:25,26). Secondly, To receive this grace thus tendered by the gospel, it is, 1. To believe it is true. 2. To receive it heartily and unfeignedly through faith. And, 3. To let it have its natural sway, course and authority in the soul, and that in that measure, as to bring forth the fruits of good living in heart, word, and life, both before God and man.
Now then to the question. Is it possible that this tender, thus offered to the reprobate, should by him be thus received and embraced, and he live thereby? To which I answer in the negative. Nor yet for the elect themselves, I mean as considered dead in trespasses and sins, which is the state of all men, elect as well as reprobate. So then, though there be a sufficiency of life and righteousness laid up in Christ for all men, and this tendered by the gospel to them without exception; yet sin coming in between the soul and the tender of this grace, it hath in truth disabled all men, and so, notwithstanding this tender, they continue to be dead. For the gospel, I say, coming in word only, saves no man, because of man’s impediment; wherefore those that indeed are saved by this gospel, the word comes not to them in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost; is mixed with faith even with the faith of the operation of God, by whose exceeding great and mighty power they are raised from this death of sin, and enabled to embrace the gospel. Doubtless, all men being dead in trespasses and sins, and so captivated under the power of the devil, the curse of the law, and shut up in unbelief; it must be the power of God, yea the exceeding greatness of that power that raises the soul from this condition, to receive the holy gospel (Eph 2:1-3; 1 Thess 1:5,6; Col 2:12; Heb 4:1,2; Eph 1:18,19, &c.). For man by nature, (consider him at best), can see no more, nor do no more than what the principles of nature understands and helps to do; which nature being below the discerning of things truly, spiritually, and savingly good, it must needs fall short of receiving, loving and delighting in them. ‘The natural man receives not the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness unto him: neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned’ (1 Cor 2:14). Now I say, if the natural man at best (for the elect before conversion are no more, if quite so much) cannot do this, how shall they attain thereto, being now not only corrupted and infected, but depraved, bewitched and dead; swallowed up of unbelief, ignorance, confusion, hardness of heart, hatred of God, and the like? When a thorn by nature bears grapes, and a thistle bears figs, then may this thing be (Matt 7:16-18). To lay hold of and receive the gospel by a true and saving faith, it is an act of the soul as made a new creature, which is the workmanship of God: ‘Now he that hath wrought us for the self-same thing is God’ (2 Cor 5:5). ‘For a corrupt tree cannot bring forth good fruit’ (Luke 6:43-45). ‘Can the Ethiopian change his skin?’ (Jer 13:23). Bunyan, “Reprobation Asserted,” in The Works of John Bunyan, (Banner of Truth), 2:249-350.
2) SECOND REASON.–God also shows by this, that the reprobate do not perish for want of the offers of salvation, though he hath offended God, and that upon most righteous terms; according to what is written, ‘As I live, saith the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way, and live’ (Eze 33:11, 18:31,32). ‘Turn ye unto me, saith the Lord of Hosts, and I will turn unto you, saith the Lord of Hosts’ (Zech 1:3). So then, here lies the point between God and the reprobate, I mean the reprobate since he hath sinned, God is willing to save him upon reasonable terms, but not upon terms above reason; but not reasonable terms will [go] down with the reprobate, therefore he must perish for his unreasonableness.
That God is willing to save even those that perish for ever, is apparent, both from the consideration of the goodness of his nature (Psa 145:9), of man’s being his creature, and indeed in a miserable state (Job 14:15, 3:16). But I say, as I have also said already, there is a great difference between his being willing to save them, through their complying with these his reasonable terms, and his being resolved to save them, whether they, as men, will close therewith, or no; so only he saves the elect themselves, even ‘according to the riches of his grace’ (Eph 1:7). Even ‘according to his riches in glory, by Christ Jesus’ (Phil 4:19). Working effectually in them, what the gospel, as a condition, calls for from them. And hence it is that he is said to give faith (Phil 1:29), yea the most holy faith, for that is the faith of God’s elect, to give repentance (Acts 5:31), to give a new heart, to give his fear, even that fear that may keep them for ever from everlasting ruin (Eph 1:4); still engaging his mercy and goodness to follow them all the days of their lives (Jer 32:40; Eze 36:26,27), that they may dwell in the house of the Lord for ever (Psa 23:6), and as another scripture saith, ‘Now he that hath wrought us for the selfsame thing, is God’ (2 Cor 5:5; Rom 8:26, &c.).
But I say, his denying to do thus for every man in the world, cannot properly be said to be because he is not heartily willing they should close with the tenders of the grace held forth in the gospel, and live. Wherefore you must consider that there is a distinction to be put between God’s denying grace on reasonable terms, and denying it absolutely; and also that there is a difference between his withholding further grace, and of hindering men from closing with the grace at present offered; also that God may withhold much, when he taketh away nothing; yea, take away much, when once abused, and yet be just and righteous still. Further, God may deny to do this or that absolutely, when yet he hath promised to do, not only that, but more, conditionally. Which things considered, you may with ease conclude, that he may be willing to save those not elect, upon reasonable terms, though not without them. Bunyan, “Reprobation Asserted,” in The Works of John Bunyan, (Banner of Truth), 2:353.
3) Thy stubbornness affects, afflicts the heart of thy Saviour. Carest thou not for this? Of old, ‘he beheld the city, and wept over it.’ Canst thou hear this, and not be concerned? (Luk. 19:41, 42). Shall Christ weep to see thy soul going on to destruction, and will though sport thyself in that way? Yea, shall Christ, that can be eternally happy without thee, be more afflicted at the thoughts of the loss of thy soul, than thyself, who art certainly eternally miserable if thou neglectest to come to him. Those things that keep thee and thy Saviour, on thy part, asunder, are but bubbles; the least prick of an affliction will let out, as to thee, what now thou thinkest is worth the venture of heaven to enjoy.
Hast thou not reason? Canst thou not so much as once soberly think of thy dying hour, or of whither thy sinful life will drive thee then? Hast thou no conscience? or having one, is it rocked so fast asleep by sin, or made so weary with an unsuccessful calling upon thee, that it is laid down, and cares for thee no more? Poor man! thy state is to be lamented. Hast no judgment? Art not able to conclude, that to be saved is better than to burn in hell? and that eternal life with God’s favour, is better than a temporal life in God’s displeasure? Hast no affection but what is brutish? what, none at all? No affection for the God that made thee? What! none for his loving Son that has showed his love, and died for thee? Is not heaven worth thy affection? O poor man! which is strongest, thinkest thou, God or thee? If thou art not able to overcome him, thou art a fool for standing out against him (Mat. 5:25, 26). ‘It is a fearful thing to fall into the hand of the living God’ (Heb. 10:29-31). He will gripe hard; his fist is stronger than a lion’s paw; take heed of him, he will be angry if you despise his Son; and will you stand guilty in your trespasses, when he offereth you his grace and favour? (Exo. 34: 6, 7).” Bunyan, “Jerusalem Sinner Saved,” in The Works of John Bunyan, (Banner of Truth), 1:90.