Something old: Rom. 9:18 and Isaac Penington

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A thorny issue in Cambridge Botanical Garden

Isaac Penington was mayor of London in the 17th Century. His step daughter married William Penn, founder of Pennsylvania now an American state. He was a great teacher and associate of George Fox, in the Society of Friends and intensely engaged in the study and opening up of the scriptures (http://www.qhpress.org/texts/penington/fox.html ).

He wrote a postscript to an article

AN APPEAL

TO

THE WITNESS OF GOD IN ALL CONSCIENCES

(http://www.qhpress.org/texts/penington/ancient.html#page263 )

He believed his understanding of Romans 9:18 had changed and that what he formerly taught ran counter to God’s nature.

The scripture is, speaking of God,

So then he has mercy on whomever he wills, and he hardens whomever he wills.

(Romans 9:18, English Standard Version Anglicised (ESVUK))

He writes:

Now many apprehend from this scripture, as I also formerly did, that God hath chosen out a certain number of persons on whom he will have mercy, and save by Jesus Christ the Lord; and that he hath passed over the rest, so that they were never intended to have any benefit by Christ’s death as to their eternal salvation. This the wisdom of man, from the letter of the scripture and many other places, may easily apprehend and strongly reason for. But as the Lord openeth the mind, and men come to a sense of his nature and Spirit, and his intent in sending his Son, and receive the key which openeth the truth as it is in Jesus, they will easily see that this is contrary to God’s nature, and his intent in sending his Son, and the universal covenant of light and life, and the manifest testimony of the Scriptures.

His argument that God has not created some to perish runs over four points.

  1. God’s nature is love and he does not need misery to make him happy.
  2. The Father sent the Son to save all mankind.
  3. The covenant of light and life is universal.
  4. Scripture teaches clearly that it is God’s will that none should perish.

Then he develops the argument, at the end of which he writes:

 But that God hath determined to harden any, without giving them a day of mercy; or that it is God’s will and determinate counsel that men should reject the day of his mercy and precious invitation, that they might be hardened by him and perish; this is not God’s truth, but men’s misapprehensions upon true words, gathering meanings therefrom in their own wisdom, and not waiting upon God till he cause the true light to shine in them, and thereby give them the true knowledge and understanding.

He then presents the good news of salvation in Christ.

What I enjoy in this is that here is a puritan thinker who thinks and presents the truth without fear. He was imprisoned for his thoughts and for meeting. He also has the courage to admit in the article that there things he does not understand, that there are other understandings, but he rests on the plain reading of the scripture and the work of the Spirit. He is also prophetic in his assessment that men read the scriptures, gather meanings and miss the true knowledge. Why not read the whole article for yourself…

There is a Scripture now openeth in me, as it hath often done, and it hath been very sweet to my taste; but I have not had freedom to give it forth to others, as at this time it is with me to do: it is that scripture Rom. 9:18. “Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth.”

 

Now many apprehend from this scripture, as I also formerly did, that God hath chosen out a certain number of persons on whom he will have mercy, and save by Jesus Christ the Lord; and that he hath passed over the rest, so that they were never intended to have any benefit by Christ’s death as to their eternal salvation. This the wisdom of man, from the letter of the scripture and many other places, may easily apprehend and strongly reason for. But as the Lord openeth the mind, and men come to a sense of his nature and Spirit, and his intent in sending his Son, and receive the key which openeth the truth as it is in Jesus, they will easily see that this is contrary to God’s nature, and his intent in sending his Son, and the universal covenant of light and life, and the manifest testimony of the Scriptures.

First, As touching the nature of God. His nature is love; love to all his creatures. He would not have it go ill with any of them. He needeth not their misery to make himself happy. His nature is to love, to bless, to save; not to destroy or cut off, nor to afflict or grieve the children of men; not to hurt either the body or soul of any: he preserveth man and beast. Psal. 36:6.

Secondly, As touching his sending his Son. He sent him in his love to mankind, to save mankind. His love was not to a few only; but he loved all his creatures, he loved all lost souls, and he sent his Son to save them all. He gave him light to enlighten them all, and he gave him life to quicken them all; only he dispenseth this in different ways, according to the infinite wisdom and good pleasure of his Father.

So that, Thirdly, The covenant of light and life as universal, and nigh all mankind, by which the darkest parts and corners of the earth are at some times enlightened, and feel somewhat of the quickening life. For the life is the light of men, and the <274> light comes from the life, and is a quick, piercing, quickening light, conveying warmth and life, yea, living virtue into the darkest hearts, as it moves and finds entertainment in them.

Lastly, As for the testimony of the Scriptures, it is very clear that God would have none to perish. “All souls are mine,” saith the Lord. Ezek. 18:4. “I have no pleasure in the death of him that dieth,” ver. 32. And again, “As I live, saith the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked,” chap. 33:11. I have sent my light to enlighten all men, and turn all men, and I would have all men receive it, and be turned by it. I have showed every man what is good, and what I the Lord require of him; and I would have every man answer the manifestation of my light and Spirit in him. Do ye not read God’s charge against the whole earth, Isai. 24:5. that they had transgressed the law, changed the ordinance, broken the everlasting covenant? Why, then they all had the law, had the ordinance, had the everlasting covenant; and for this cause it is that the curse and judgment comes upon them, ver. 6. So that this was the condemnation from the beginning, and this is the condemnation still, “that light is come into the world, and men love darkness rather than light, because their deeds are evil.” Men are not condemned for want of light from Christ Jesus; but because they do not believe in and obey that light which they have from him; because they believe in the darkness, believe in the dark spirit, believe in the dark power, which riseth up against the ministration of light in the heart, and do not believe in that which is given of God to discover and work it out. What should I multiply scriptures for? That common scripture is absolutely undeniable (as the Lord opens the heart unto the simplicity of truth, and keeps it out of the subtle, enchanting wisdom), John 3:16-17. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. For God sent not his Son into the world, to condemn the world; but that the world, through him, might be saved.” What can be more naked and plain than these words of Christ, who knew the very heart of God in this particular, and plainly declares what it is, even not to condemn, not to destroy, but to save men from condemnation and destruction? And would Christ have so <275> affectionately wept over Jerusalem, had he known it to be his Father’s will and determinate counsel that they should have perished, and not have been gathered and saved by him? I shall add but one place more, where the apostle (who knew God’s counsel, and understood the mystery of election and reprobation, and had the mind of Christ) saith expressly, that “God will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.” 1 Tim. 2:4. What words can be spoken more plain and full? And let people mind that these words are far plainer and easier to be understood than those scriptures which treat of election and reprobation; which is a deep mystery; and men must come to a growth in the truth, before they can receive that capacity which is necessary towards the understanding of them. But to open the thing a little, as it is now in my heart.

There hath been a three-fold dispensation of God to mankind. A dispensation of the law to the Jews; a dispensation of the gospel (or promise, which was as well before the law as after it) to the called Jews and Gentiles; and a secret, hidden dispensation of the mystery of grace, of the mystery of life and salvation, which the apostle calls the mystery hid in the Gentiles. Coloss. 1:27. For somewhat of God, somewhat of the nature and Spirit of Christ, the souls of all mankind have had near them, to enlighten them, and to turn them from Satan’s power to God; though it hath not been a thing known to them, but a mystery hid in them.

Now that God did cast off any Jew under the law, or any whom he visits with the grace and power of the gospel, from a mere absolute will in himself, because he would destroy them and have them perish, to show forth the praise of his justice, and his absolute sovereignty, this the true sense of life in me denies; but all have a visit of that which saves heartily and in true good-will from God; and he that is turned to that which God hath sent to turn him, shall be owned and saved thereby. He that believeth in the truth, in the light, in the Word nigh, even in the very lowest appearance of it (for the lowest appearance is the same thing in nature with the highest, and the grace is saving in its very lowest appearance, as well as in its highest), shall be saved thereby.

Now mark: God’s grace, God’s mercy, God’s love, God’s <276> light, God’s Spirit, God’s power, &c. is his own, and he may do with his own what he pleaseth. Now it being by this that he strives, converts, and saves; and it being in his own will and good pleasure how long he will strive and contend to save; it lieth therefore absolutely in him, even in his own will, what he will do in this kind. He may take advantage against rebellious man, and cut him off when he will; and again, he may strive and raise true sense in a man’s heart, and give repentance, and pardon his transgressions, as long as he pleaseth; yea, he may so change a man’s heart, and so create him anew in Christ Jesus, and so bring him into unity with the pure seed, and to that estate in the seed, as that he may have assurance he shall never be utterly cast off; but that though he should sin, and transgress the holy law of God’s Spirit, his iniquity shall be chastised with stripes, and his soul recovered and brought back thereby, but not utterly rejected by the Lord. Now it being thus, hath not God mercy on whom he will? And doth not he harden as he pleaseth? Did not God give up the Jews to hardness, after much striving with them? Did not God give up the Gentiles to hardness, and to vain imaginations concerning the true God, after they had rejected a measure of the true knowledge? Rom. 1:21. Have not the vessels of wrath, who are fitted to destruction, a day of much longsuffering first? Rom. 9:22. Had not the old world, who were fitted for that destruction of the flood, a long day of patience and forbearance from God, his Spirit reproving of them, and striving with them? To what end did God forbear them, and cause his spirit to strive with them? Was it not to lead them to repentance, that thereby they might have avoided that destruction, which, by their rebellion and stiffness of spirit against God’s good and tender Spirit, they were fitted for, and exposed to? See Rom. 2:4. So for Cain, how tenderly did God deal with him! how uprightly did God seek his good! Would not God have had him come to a true sense and repentance? Would not God have had him believed and offered in the faith, and been accepted as his brother was? And for Pharaoh, God indeed was against that nature and spirit in him which oppressed Israel; but would not the Lord have had him denied and turned from that nature and spirit, and let Israel go? God would have no man do evil, <277> and bring upon himself destruction; though in his just judgment he is many times provoked to give men up to that which leadeth into and hardeneth in evil. So not only Pharaoh, but Israel also, was given up to their own hearts’ lusts, when they would none of the Lord, nor hearken to his counsel. Psa. 81:12. But saith the Lord, oh that it had been otherwise! “Oh! that my people had hearkened unto me!” &c. it should then have been otherwise with them, ver. 13. &c.

So that God of himself doth not desire the destruction of his creature; nor doth he desire to harden them, or to give them up to a deluding spirit, that they might be damned; but men first refuse the truth, and turn from it, or let it go; not receiving it in the love of it, or not liking to retain the knowledge of it (which is death to the man’s corrupt nature, spirit, will, and wisdom, and such a cross and yoke as he is in no wise willing to bear); and then the Lord, in his just judgment, gives them up to the deceitfulness of sin, to be hardened by it. Now this liveth in God’s own breast when and to whom to do it, according to his own will, and according to his own wisdom and counsel; so that it may be truly and properly said, “he hath mercy and compassion on whom he will, and whom he will he hardeneth.” But that God hath determined to harden any, without giving them a day of mercy; or that it is God’s will and determinate counsel that men should reject the day of his mercy and precious invitation, that they might be hardened by him and perish; this is not God’s truth, but men’s misapprehensions upon true words, gathering meanings therefrom in their own wisdom, and not waiting upon God till he cause the true light to shine in them, and thereby give them the true knowledge and understanding.

Therefore, since there is such mercy in God towards all, and he hath given all men a day of visitation, greater or lesser; yea, since of late he hath caused his light to shine forth, and given this age such a visitation as many ages have not had, oh! let men take heed how they close their eyes, stop their ears, and harden their hearts against it, lest they provoke God to give them up to their own imaginary, conceited, fleshly comprehensive knowledge of the letter, and so seal them up in that hardness of heart and deadness of spirit which they first gave themselves up to. <278> For the letter, without the Spirit, killeth; and so doth all literal knowledge: and there needs no greater curse from God (it will sufficiently avenge the cause of his reproached light, and holy covenant of life in Christ Jesus, now abundantly revealed and made manifest) than to close men’s eyes, and stop their ears, and harden their hearts (in their literal knowledge and practices) from beholding and partaking of the precious life and virtue of the holy and living ministration in Christ Jesus the Lord, wherewith God visiteth and redeemeth his people.

Indeed the physician is come inwardly and spiritually, and he inwardly heals and restoreth his people, faithfully seeking after the sick, the distressed, the broken, the wounded; pouring oil into their wounds, and healing them. But there are some who are so sound and whole in their notional apprehensions and practices, that they have no need of the physician, and them the physician passeth by, as unworthy of him, and whom he intendeth shall have no share with him. “Ephraim is joined to idols” (he is well, he hath enough, he hath no need of me) “let him alone,” saith the Lord. I will pour out the choice virtue of my spiritual life and redeeming power among my gathered sheep and lambs, who have need thereof, and will rejoice therein. These will know my voice; these will justify the appearance of my Spirit and power; these love the savor of my anointing and precious ointment, which runs down from the head upon all the living body, and these shall have it. These understand how I have mercy on whom I will, and whom I will I harden; and it is my will to have mercy on these my once greatly distressed ones, and to destroy (inwardly to destroy, oh, who knows what that means!) the fat and the strong, and to feed them with judgment. Oh that men did know to whom the mercy and to whom the judgment belongs! To the wisdom of the flesh, to the wise comprehenders of the things of God after the flesh, is the judgment: to the poor, to the distressed, to the broken in spirit (not to them that are at ease in the literal knowledge, but to the mourners in Zion after the holy God, and his living power and righteousness), is the everlasting gospel, the mercy, the love, the peace, the binding up, the redemption which is by Christ Jesus, the living Minister in the holy sanctuary of our God.

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