The proof he [a Baxterian] brings from the general exhortations to repentance, delivered to the people of the Jews in the writings of Moses and the Prophets, is altogether impertinent in my opinion. This is to be observed, that the Jews were a people separated from all others, they dwelt alone and were not reckoned among the nations, and God became their God providentially, to confer temporal favors upon them, to protect them; he entered into a covenant with them, as a nation, and required on their part, that they should worship him only, observe his laws, exercise justice show benevolence and kindness one to another; on his part, he promised them a peaceable possession of the good land, plenty, victory over their enemies, and their multiplication in that land, and long life, on condition of their observance of his statutes and judgments, which they on their part promised; God threatened them with evils of the forest nature if they did not, viz. the sword, famine, noisome beasts and pestilence, and with captivity; but at the same time assured them, that if they humbled themselves under these judgments, and turned to him, he would remove those evils, and restore to them peace, plenty, and security from their enemies, and that he would not totally destroy them, (Lev. 26; Deut. 4. chap. 28 and 29). Agreeable to the plan of this covenant, the prophets treat with that people, remonstrate against their national crimes, exhort to national repentance, humiliation and reformation, denounce temporal evils, promise temporal blessings, in case of amendment, as may be abundantly seen in their writings, (Isa. 1:19,20; Ezek. 18; Amos 2:3,4,5,6). But it is not to be proved, that spiritual and eternal blessings were promised in that covenant, nor, that evangelical repentance and special faith were therein required, it will as soon be made evident, that when the land of Canaan, and affluence and plenty therein are promised, that heaven is intended or included in those promises, as that, when the people of the Jews are exhorted to repentance and turning to the Lord, evangelical repentance is designed and implied in those exhortations. That covenant contained not spiritual blessings, neither did it oblige to any spiritual acts, such as evangelical repentance, and special faith are. It will as soon be proved, that earth is heaven, as that the repentance required and enjoined by virtue of that covenant, was of a heavenly kind. This writer, Sir, sometimes makes a great difficulty of admitting the distinction of natural and evangelical repentance, of historical and special faith; but here he is obliged, to allow of it, though he pleads that natural repentance and historical faith, were not the whole of the duty required and enjoined by the law of sacrifices, on the nation of the Jews; this he argues from God being represented as their redeemer in Christ. When he is able to prove this fine point, I shall freely grant his work is done. This contains, if I mistake not, a tacit acknowledgment, that evangelical repentance and special faith, are the duties only of such persons, to whom God reveals himself in his Word, as their Redeemer through Christ he seems to suppose, that God so revealed himself [to] the body of the Jewish nation, than which nothing is more false in fact; and therefore all his reasoning on this head is impertinent, groundless, and inconclusive. There is not anything advanced from the Old Testament, which amounts to the proof of the point.
Let me now observe to you, what he brings from the New Testament. He begins with the preaching of John the Baptist, who exhorted to repentance, repent ye for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.
1. Repentance was required of the Jews, as a nation, for all the blood of the Prophets which had been shed amongst them, and for that opposition they made to the true interest and spiritual kingdom of the promised Messiah; the want of that repentance proved their destruction, which soon followed the introduction of the New Testament state.
2. Evangelical repentance was the duty of particular persons, which he also preached, and showed the necessity of, but it can’t, I think, Sir, be proved, that he ever asserted it to be the duty of unregenerate persons, to exercise that grace. This becomes the duty of men, when they have warrant from the divine Word, to consider God as their Redeemer in Christ, which no unregenerate men have any warrant to do. It is not questioned, but he also preached faith in the promised Messiah, but what proof does this afford, that faith is the duty of such persons, as have not at present warrant to consider God, as their Redeemer through Christ? None at all. Christ in his ministry also preached repentance.
1. A general and national repentance.
2. Evangelical, as did also his Apostles; but pray, Sir, do you think, that there is no preaching of repentance evangelical, and special faith in Christ, without allowing that men unregenerate stand obliged to exercise that repentance and faith? To me it seems very evident there may. This writer produces a multitude of texts to prove the point he contends for, but in many of them repentance and faith are not so much as mentioned; it will be sufficient to refer you to those scriptures in the margin, (Acts 4:10,11,12; 5:42; 13:46,47; 18:5,6; 20:26,27; 28:24,31). In others, where repentance and faith are exhorted to, it evidently appears, that the persons addressed were the happy subjects of a conviction of their misery by nature, and therefore not to be considered in a state of unregeneracy; to these places I will also refer you in the margin, (Acts 2:37; 13:26). He farther observes, that men will be condemned for the want of faith in Christ, and brings several texts in confirmation of this observation; which are also referred to in the margin, (John 3:18,19,36; 2 Thess. 1:7,8; Heb. 10:28,29). But because he who believes not is condemned now by the law, under which he is, as a covenant of works, and not under grace; it follows not, that his want of faith is the cause of that condemnation. With respect, Sir, to what the author [Isaac Watts; Ed.] observes of all men being commanded to repent, it intends a forsaking of idolatry, and embracing the worship of the true God alone, (Acts 17:30,31). The distinction of natural and evangelical repentance, of common and special faith, which he before allowed, he now denies, and demands proof that John the Baptist uses the distinction, when he preached repentance; I think, Sir, I may demand of him to prove that this distinction, cannot take place in his discourses, since it is evidently found in Scripture; and if he is not able to give proof that his scope and design, will not admit of this distinction, however positive he may be, of being in the right, at least, it is possible he may be in the wrong. I beg leave to observe to you, Sir, that our Saviour manifestly speaks of repentance, when evangelical repentance is not intended. The place I now refer to is Matthew11:21, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes. Upon no scheme can repentance here mean evangelical; it cannot upon the Calvinistic scheme is certain, this is so evident that nothing is required to evince it. Nor can it intend such repentance upon the Arminian and Baxterian schemes, for if God foresaw that they would have repented, in case such works had been done among them, he would have wrought those works in their view to bring them to repentance; upon the foresight of which, he decreed the happiness of men, according to these schemes, and therefore this writer, who is no Calvinist, but a Baxterian, I should think must grant that evangelical repentance, is not there intended; for this is strange to suppose God to decree the happiness of men, upon condition of repentance and faith, and yet determine to withhold those means from them, which he foresees would bring them to repentance and faith.
[Quoted from "A refutation of Arminian Principles by John Brine]