“And thou shalt remember all the way which the LORD thy God led thee these forty years in the wilderness, to humble thee, and to prove thee, to know what was in thine heart, whether thou wouldest keep his commandments, or no.”—Deuteronomy 8:2

It is said,[1] that it is evident from this and other passages of Scripture, that the state of man in this world, is a state of trial or probation. It will be proper therefore to make the following inquiries:

I. What this state of probation is, or what is meant by it.

1. This state of trial is not of men’s graces, as faith, patience, etc., by afflictive dispensations of Providence; for men in general are not in such a state, since all men have not grace to be tried; nor is the state of every man an afflicted one in this life: this is a state peculiar to the people of God, and to them only when converted: for before conversion they have no graces to be tried; and with some of them, this state is very short, and so far from being the state of man whilst in this world; and yet, as will be seen hereafter, the proof of the state of probation pretty much depends on passages of Scripture which relate to the exercise of the graces of the saints by afflictions, temptations, etc.

2. This state of trial, if I understand it right, is of man’s obedience and conduct towards God during his life; according to which conduct and behavior God acts towards him, both in this and the other world; his state, as to happiness or misery, being yet unfixed: so that whilst this state lasts, it is uncertain whether he will be saved or lost.

II. What proof is given of the state of man in this world, being such a one.

1. All those scriptures are urged,[2] which speak of God’s proving the children of Israel when in the wilderness, and in their own land, whether they would walk in his statutes, and keep his commandments, or no; such as Exodus 16:4, Exodus 20:20; Deuteronomy 8:2, and 13:3; Judges 2:2l, 22, and 3:1,4. It ought to be observed, that these people were under a theocracy, or the immediate government of God as their King, who gave them laws, according to which they should act; to which they readily promised a cheerful and universal obedience; on condition of which obedience, they were to enjoy, and continue in their enjoyment of the land of Canaan. Therefore, before they entered into the land, and when in it, God was pleased to try them, sometimes in one way, and sometimes in another, whether they would yield that obedience to his commands which he required, and abide by the promises which they themselves had made, or no; all which he did not for his own sake, who knows all things, but that their obedience or disobedience might be made manifest, and he be justified in all his dealings with them. This trial of their obedience was not in order to their salvation in another world, but to their temporal good in this; for such of them as were saved with an everlasting salvation, were saved not by their obedience to the commands of God, but by the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ. Besides, the scriptures produced, speak only of the people of Israel, and of what was their state and case as a politic body, under the immediate government of God, in a certain period of time; and not of all mankind; and so fall abundantly short of proving that the state of man in this world, is such a state of probation as before described.

2. This is attempted[3] to be proved from all those places in which God is said to try men, their works and graces, by afflictions, persecutions, temptations, and the like; as 1 Corinthians 3:13; 2 Corinthians 3:2; 1 Peter 1:7, and 4:12; James 1:3; Revelation 2:10, and 3:10; Psalm 66:10; Daniel 11:35, and 12:10; Zechariah 13:9. What I have said in answer to the first query, is a sufficient reply to what is alleged from these passages; since these only speak of the saints, and of the trial of their grace, who only have grace to be tried, and that not in order to fix and settle the affair of their salvation; nor are these trials mere experiments of the truth and constancy of their graces: but are also designed for the further exercise and increase of them; the issue of which is their own spiritual good, and God’s glory. Hence it must follow that these scriptures are insufficient proofs of every man’s being in a state of probation, and in order to everlasting happiness or misery.

3. This is said[4] to be evident from all the promises and threats recorded in the Scripture, to engage all men to repent, and turn to God; for it is added, no such thing is or can reasonably be offered to them who are already in a fixed state either of happiness or misery. To which I reply, that the promises and threats recorded in the Scripture, which relate to men’s spiritual and eternal good, may be reduced to and comprehended in these words, He that believeth, and is baptized, shall be saved; he that believeth not, shall be damned; which was the substance of the gospel ministry the apostles had in commission from Christ to fulfill, and which might be exercised fully and thoroughly, supposing a fixed state of happiness or misery; since such a ministry might be, and is used, through the grace of God, to bring those who are designed for happiness, into a state of grace meet for the same; and to leave others inexcusable, to discover the more the corruption and vitiosity of their nature, and so to justify the righteous proceedings of God against them.

4. This is argued for[5] from all the exhortations of the holy Scripture to men to watch and pray, that they enter not and are not led into temptation, and from such scriptures which suppose men to be in danger by temptation; the passages referred to are, Matthew 6:13, and Matthew 26:41; Luke 8:13; 1 Thessalonians 3:5; which only regard the saints, or such who profess to be so, and not all mankind. Besides, if God has put all men into a state of probation, and this designed by temptation, how should any watch and pray not to enter or be led into it? Moreover, this state of probation, is either a good one, or a bad one; if a good one, why should men watch and pray against it? if a bad one, can it be reasonably supposed, that God has put men into it, in order to their everlasting good? and why then should it be contended for?

5. This is said to be evident[6] from the temptations of Satan, who goes about continually seeking whom he may devour;and it is added, to what end should he tempt, or endeavor to destroy the elect, or strive to hinder the progress of the gospel, or the conversion of any man; when supposing a fixed state by the decrees of God, and a divine unfrustrable operation on the hearts of men, he must know that his labor will certainly be in vain? To which I answer, that Satan has not the book of life in his keeping; nor does he know who are and who are not the elect of God, until this appears by the unfrustrable operation of God’s grace on their hearts, and it may be, not even then: so that it is no wonder that he tempts, strives, and endeavors to hinder the success of the gospel in their conversion, and to destroy them; and when he does know who they are, endeavors to distress them by his temptations, though he cannot destroy; and in ten thousand instances will show his malice, when he cannot show his power. Besides, the text referred to in 1 Peter 5:8, carries in the sense of it the doctrine of a fixed state; when it supposes that there are some whom Satan may devour, and leaves a plain intimation that there are others whom he may not and cannot devour; who are the sheep of Christ, and being in his hands, neither man nor devil will ever be able to pluck from thence. This is the sum of the proof offered in favor of this notion, by a celebrated writer, which how pertinent it is, must be left to the consideration of others.

III. What reason there is to conclude that the state of man in this world is not such a state.

1. Angels and man both, have been in a state of probation already, in which their free-will, and power to obey the commands of God, have been sufficiently tried; which trial has issued in the fall and ruin of a large number of angels, and of the whole race of mankind: and therefore it is not reasonable to suppose that God would put man into such a state again; but rather provide in another way for the good of those he designed to bring to everlasting happiness.

2. If men were in a state of probation, they ought to be on equal ground, enjoying equal privileges and advantages; whereas this is not the case; some have only the dim light and weak law of nature, whilst others enjoy the gospel revelation; and of these some have larger, and others lesser, means of grace, light, and knowledge; some have the grace of God itself bestowed upon them, others have it not. Now were all men in such a state of probation as is pleaded for, is it reasonable to suppose that there would be such an inequality among them?

3. This state of probation, which renders salvation precarious and uncertain, is contrary to God’s foreknowledge and decree of election; for God, according to his foreknowledge, has chosen and predestinated a certain number of men to eternal life and salvation, by which their state is fixed, and their salvation sure, for the purpose of God according to election shall stand. Whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate; whom he did predestinate, them he also called; and whom he called, them he also justified; and whom he justified, them he also glorified (Rom. 9:11; 8:29,30).

4. This notion puts man’s salvation on the foot of his obedience and works, contrary to the Scriptures, to the merits of Christ, and to the grace of God; it ascribes more to the free-will of man than to the free grace of God, and lays a foundation for boasting in the creature.

5. Such a state of probation is contrary to all those scriptures which represent the saints to be now in a saved state, and as having everlasting life; such as Ephesians 2:8, John 5:24, and John 6:47. In a word, it destroys the doctrine of assurance, and leaves the saints themselves in a most uncomfortable condition, because it leaves them in a most precarious, unsettled, yea, dangerous one.

[1] Whitby p. 305, 314; ed. 2. 297, 306.
[2] Whitby, p. 305, 314; ed. 2. 297, 306.
[3] Ibid. p. 306; ed. 2. 298.
[4] Ibid. p. 306; ed. 2. 298.
[5] Whitby, p. 306; ed. 2. 298.
[6] Ibid. p. 307; ed. 2. 299.


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