John Cotton, 1584-1652

The son of a prosperous lawyer in Derbyshire, Cotton entered Trinity College, Cambridge when he was thirteen and received his B.A. in 1603. He moved to Emmanuel College, Cambridge and received an M.A. in 1606. He was chosen fellow and head lecturer of the College, was ordained in 1610 and became vicar of St. Botolph's, in Boston, Lincolnshire, in 1612, receiving a degree of Bachelor of Divinity in 1613. For twenty years he gained a reputation as a Puritan preacher and theologian. For some time powerful and sympathetic people protected him from the anti-Puritan policies of Archbishop LaudCotton preached the farewell sermon to John Winthrop's fleet in 1630; in 1633 he was at last forced to resign because he would not conform to Laudís policy for the Church of England. He sailed to New England on the same ship with Thomas Hooker, the only other minister in New England who could approach him in reputation and learning. He was immediately chosen teacher of the Boston church. Though coming close to being ruined during the Anne Hutchinson controversy, he recovered himself in time, and remained the dominating figure in the councils of the New England clergy. His many writings on church polity were looked upon both in New England and in England as the standard expositions of the Congregational system, and his more general sermons and writings set the model for New England Puritan theology.

John Cotton: A Treatise of the Covenant of Grace

 . . . It is the spirit . . . that beareth witness unto all things . . . that are needful for us to know in our times. The annointing teacheth you: all things: the comforter shall teach you all things. Great is the power of the spirit to beget and encrease [sic] faith. By the word of God and by the works of his providence, he causeth the soul to trust in God, and to say, He that hath delivered me out of six troubles, will not he deliver me out of the  seventh? Otherwise if the spirit do not set in, though judgment be convinced, yet the heart is not enlarged to believe. David could not gainsay Nathan when he told him from the Lord that God had put away hit sin, he should not die, yet still he prayed for mercy, Psalms 51:1, and for establishment with God's free spirit.' Make me to hear the voice of  joy and gladness. [Nathan prophesies that David, who has married the widow of a slain Hittite, will be spared but first his child will die in recompense for his father's sin (2 Samuel 12:13]  Why? Had he not heard it already? It was a most gracious word that Nathan spake; true, but he is not yet clear in it. It is that Holy Ghost Ghost; that must make him to hear the voice of joy and gladness. Otherwise, though a man hath much experience of God's good≠ness  to him, and sits and talks of the wonderful things that God hath done for him, to the warming of the hearts of all that hear him; yet the soul cannot reach that abundant satisfaction which he doth desire, till at length the Lord comes in some ordinance of his, and beareth witness freely of love bestowed upon us; and such a testimony will marvelously settle and establish  any soul in; the world. So that it is the spirit that beareth witness unto faith, and nothing can do it but the spirit only; and yet if the spirit should breathe out of the word, it were but a delusion . . . and therefore the Lord couples his word and his spirit to≠gether . . .

Thus the spirit of God in the word is mighty to begin, and mighty to carry [to] an end spiritual work in the soul. Now the ordinary manner of the revelation of the spirit is, if he reveal God's free justification of us, it is by revealing his free grace in a promise not made to works, no not to faith itself, but rather as a thing to be created by the word of a free promise unto sanctification. Indeed he doth bear witness in any promise; as, if the question be about Abrahamís sanctification, how the LLord did reveal it? We may see, Genesis 12.: 22,  By this 1know that thou fearest me. Seeing that thou has  withheld thy son, thine only son from me. [Abrahamís obedience in preparing to sacrifice Isaac.] But for his justification, the Lord had revealed that in another promise, Genesis 15:5-6, wherein God brought him forth and bids him, Look now towards heaven, and tell the stars, if thou be able to number them. And he said unto him, so shall thy seed be, and among them he shows him that seed, that shall be a blessing unto all nations. This is a thing beyond his capacity, but this he believed, and it was counted unto him for righteousness. Now in this the Lord reveals nothing but his free grace, without any respect unto any goodness in Abraham: faith was in him before, and had put forth itself; by faith when he was called, he went out, not knowing whither he went, Hebrews 11:8 . . . For it is nothing that God seeth in Abraham, for which he doth reveal his justification to him; but this he doth freely of his grace and so Abraham receives it, Romans 4:5‑6,  etc. . . . So it is free blessedness that the Lord reveals unto the soul, and lest you should think that these things were peculiar to Abraham and David etc., he tells us (verse 23, 24) that it was not written for his sake alone, that it was imputed to him, but for us also, etc. As it was with the father of the faithful, so it is also with all believers, which are his children: that as he considered  not his own body that was dead, nor the deadness of Sarah's womb, so  neither should we consider  this  is or that in our bodies, or soul. For  if we were thus and thus fitted for justification, then the reward would  be of works, and  so a debt unto us: now though works be there, when justification  is again and again revealed, yet it comes not into sight, for a double reason.

Reason 1: First, because when the Lord appears as justifying the soul, he sits upon  a throne of justice, and a throne of grace, together, not  accepting any righteousness  but that which is complete and adequate . . .  It is not justice for God to pronounce a man just upon any other righteousness, besides  the righteousness of his son, for if God should mark what we have done, no flesh  living should be justified  in his sight,  Psalms 143:2. But  through the righteousness of Christ, which is perfect, the Lord justifies every one that believeth  in him. And that act of faith whereby  a man taketh  hold on Christ and receiveth Christ, that is it which quieteth the soul. For it is not meet that the Lord should justify any simple work of mine: for if the Lord should  justify  me so, mine own clothes would defile me,[Job 9:31] and if I should come before him with any work, which he hath wrought in me, to be accepted  for it, this would be preposterous and out of place. For he will have a full righteousness to accept me, before he will pronounce me righteous, and therefore I am  first called to his son; for as there is no more required to make me a sinful man, but that I be found in Adam, so there is no more required to my justification but that I should have union with the second Adam.

Reason 2. Secondly, as the Lord doth  sit upon a throne of justice when he justifies a soul, so he doth  also upon a throne of  grace . . . and therefore you shall find it to be true that if the Lord be to declare his acceptance of the sanctification of his people, he will not do it in respect of the worth of their works, but according to the grace of his promise . . . [Job 9:31]

It is usual with the faithful, when the Lord pronounceth any mercy to them, they see no reason in themselves why the Lord should vouchsafe it. As you see when the light of the sun shineth upon a candle, it damps the light thereof, so it is in this case; when the riches of God's mercy shineth upon the soul, he is not so taken up in the consideration of his  own  works and holiness, because his heart is lifted up higher in the consideration of the grace of God . . .

Use 1. Now for the use of this: let me apply it to teach Christians , not to be afraid of the word revelation. You have heard of many that have attended to revelations, that have been deceived. It is true; for the devil himself will transform himself into an angel of light: he will be foisting in delusions, yea, many times when the soul waiteth for the revelation of God's mercy, the devil will be apt to foist in such revelations, from whence many delusions may grow. But yet on the other side, let not men be afraid, and say that we have no revelation but the word; for I do believe, and dare confidently affirm, that if there were no revelation but word, there would be no spiritual grace revealed to the soul. For it is more than the letter of the word that is required to it --- ‑not that I look for any other matter besides the word. But there is need of greater light than the word of itself is able to give; for it is not all the promises in  scripture that have at any time wrought any gracious change in any soul, or are able to beget  the God's elect .  True it is indeed, whether the father, son, or spirit reveal anything , it is in and according to the word, but without the work of the spirit there is no faith begotten by any promise. The word of God, and all his works,  may beget  you some             knowledge, if you  be not mistaken in them, but to beget the faith of God's elect, that may be able to stand against all the powers of darkness,          and to crush all the temptations of that wicked one, it is not all the works of God, nor all the word of God, of itself, that is able to beget such faith. If there he any, it is but an historical faith, a dead faith that is not able to bring the soul nearer to God.

I  beseech you therefore consider of it, as a mystery of God indeed, yet    marvelous plain in scripture, as I conceive: that neither the word of grace, nor all the works of grace are able to clear up the grace of God unto the soul. It is the spirit of God that must do it; he must  reveal the grace of God if ever we see it; otherwise it is not possible that we should believe. For though we should attain unto fullness of knowledge, we shall not attain unto fullness of faith. As for our works in justification, the Lord will dash them to pieces and cast them out of his sight: and though faith comes by hearing, yet it is the spirit in the word that maketh the New  Testament a lively letter . . .