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ELECTION SHORTLY DEFINED—SHOULD BE CANDIDLY EXAMINED—INVOLVES REPROBATION—ULTRA-CALVINISTIC THEORY STATED—QUOTATION FROM JOHN CALVIN—FROM DR. R. CANDLISH-CONSISTENCY OF CANDLISH WITH THE CONFESSION—THIS THEORY THE SOURCE OF A FALSE AND DANGEROUS PEACE—IT CONTRADICTS AND SUBVERTS THE GOSPEL—WHAT IS THE GOSPEL?
ROM. viii. 33.—“Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect?”
EPH. ii. 3.—“In times past, . . . . we were by nature the children of wrath, even as others.”
MARK, xvi. 15.—“Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.”
THE two passages of Scripture which have first been read, refer to the same individuals at different stages of their spiritual history. These individuals are styled “God’s elect”) and they are referred to very frequently in the Word of God, more especially in the New Testament writings. The same idea which is couched under the term “elect,” is more simply expressed by the word “chosen.” Hence we have the statement 16made respecting the individuals referred to, that God the Father “hath chosen” them—a statement which occurs in various passages of the apostolic epistles. The choice referred to in one and all of the passages of Scripture in which the term occurs, is the choice of God, and this choice is called by the name of ELECTION. Election, then, may be shortly defined, as God’s choice, or selection, of certain individuals of the human family, to the possession of eternal life. That God does, in point of fact, exercise such a choice,—that he does make such a selection,—is a plainly revealed, a well accredited doctrine of Scripture: There never did exist, and there does not at the present day exist, any difference of sentiment upon this fundamental point, among those who are agreed in the recognition of the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments, as the infallible word of the infallible Jehovah. About this, there is no debate whatever among professing Christians. And it is well that, in the very outset of our inquiry into this momentous subject, we should be privileged to meet each other upon common ground, and to give each other the right hand of fellowship, over the recognition of the blessed Bible as the Word of God, and the farther recognition of the great fundamental principle, that in the salvation of sinners God does exercise a free and sovereign choice. Here, then, we are all of one mind, and we may here most appropriately breathe forth the united and heartfelt prayer, that we may every one of us be guided in our investigations by the Holy Spirit, so that we may have grace to act consistently with our common profession. 17Let the Word of God be recognised as the sole and exclusive arbiter in every matter of debate. Let the opinions of wise men and good men, which we shall have occasion freely and frequently to examine, be brought to the test of Scripture; and by that only infallible standard of truth, let them be received, or let them be rejected. Let it not be for one moment imagined, that any mere man is entitled to the credit of infallibility; and far less let it be supposed that in freely and strongly disapproving of the sentiments of any man, or any body of men, we are thereby treating them with any measure of disrespect, or cherishing for our fellow Christians from whom we may differ in sentiment, any feeling different from that of Christian affection and esteem. Let it be our aim, my brethren, to carry with us into this investigation which lies before us, the spirit and the bearing of a free and enlightened Christianity; and let me express the hope, that you will, one and all of you, candidly and carefully examine what may be set before you from this place, and compare it with the Word of God, and receive it, or reject it, as you may be satisfied from examination, that it agrees with or differs from that infallible record. Finally, here, let me remind myself, and remind you, of the apostolic and appropriate injunction, “Laying aside all malice, and all guile, and hypocrisies, and envies, and all evil speakings, as new-born babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby” (1 Peter ii. 1, 2).
In examining the doctrine of Election, we shall include, in our investigation, the kindred doctrine of 18Reprobation. It is impossible indeed to look at the one doctrine without at the same time recognising the other. They are not so much different doctrines as two different aspects of one and the same truth. The one involves the other by necessity of nature. The idea of choosing some, implies the idea of rejecting others. And though it be a truth, that some writers upon the doctrine make an attempt to separate and divide, so as to hold the doctrine of election without admitting the opposite doctrine of reprobation, it is most evident that they are here not more opposed to common sense and Scripture declaration, than they are to John Calvin himself. In the twenty-third chapter of the third book of his Institutes, Calvin thus expresses himself upon this subject: “Many indeed, as though they would drive away the malice from God, do so grant election, that they deny that any man is reprobated; but this they do too ignorantly and childishly: forasmuch as election itself could not stand unless it were set contrary to reprobation; therefore whom God passeth over he rejecteth; and for no other cause, but for that he will exclude them from the inheritance which he doth predestinate to be his children’s.” Such is the statement of the great founder of the system which goes by his name. And we do not see how it is possible for any man to admit, that God makes a selection of some men from the corrupt mass of humanity, without implying by this admission, that God rejects, by the same act, the rest of mankind, and thereby consigns them to misery. It is not as if the Deity were possessed of mere finite 19 intelligence. It is not as if his omniscience could not, and did not, take in at a single glance, the entire generations of mankind. It is not as if he were in some danger of overlooking a great proportion of his creatures, so that while he chooses some, he might possibly pass by the others, without any definite or well-ordered design. We submit it as an axiom which may not be disputed, that the great God does nothing ignorantly nor rashly;—that whatever God does in time, he purposed from eternity to do;—and therefore, while we might say of ignorant and short-sighted man, that his choice of any given object does not necessarily involve a deliberate and final rejection of any other object, which may be placed at his disposal, we cannot hazard such an assertion, respecting the omniscient and all-wise Jehovah. Short-sighted and fallible mortals may, and do exercise the power of choice in reference to many things, without any knowledge whatever of, or any mental reference to, other objects which lie before them. They may, in other words, choose or select, most ignorantly and most rashly. But this will not be said of God. And therefore it ought at once to be admitted, that whatever proves and establishes any given theory of election, necessarily proves and establishes the corresponding theory of reprobation, so that the one must, according to the statement of Calvin himself, stand or fall with the other, and so, that unless a man be prepared to face up in the bold defence of reprobation, he ought to give his theory of election to the winds, and turn it adrift as a useless thing.
What then are the conflicting theories or doctrines 20 of election and reprobation which severally claim the reception of men?
There is, in the first place, that theory which affirms that the whole human race come into existence, some of them necessarily and irreversibly destined to eternal life—and others of them, necessarily and irreversibly bound over to eternal punishment, without any reference whatever to their voluntary reception of salvation on the one hand, or their voluntary rejection of it on the other. Some infants are born into the world without any possibility of coming short of eternal felicity. Other infants come into existence without any possibility of escaping eternal damnation. And so, men and women come into being, and grow up under the government of God, simply and exclusively to meet their separate and their final destinies. The elect are born into the world, possessed of all the privileges, and entitled to all the blessings, of the children of God, seeing that for them only, the Son of God shed his blood upon the cross. The reprobate come into existence under the curse, which cannot possibly be removed, and which has not been removed, seeing that Jesus did not become a curse for them. In reference to the one class, it may be said that their salvation is unalterably certain, and their perdition as impossible as it is to pull down Jesus from his mediatorial throne. In reference to all the rest of the human race, it may be said, that their damnation is certain, so that it is as sure that they shall perish eternally as that the devils are reserved in chains against the judgment of the great day.21
Such is the commonly received doctrine of election on the one hand, and of reprobation on the other. This is called the Calvinistic theory, because its great originator and patron saint is John Calvin of renowned memory; and such is the doctrine which comes first before us for examination. It goes under the general name of predestination, and it is briefly stated by Calvin in the following words, which we quote from section fifth of the twenty-first chapter of the third book of his Institutes:—
“Predestination we call the eternal decree of God, whereby he had it determined with himself what he willed to become of every man. For all men are not created to like estate: but to some eternal life and to some eternal damnation is fore-appointed.”
We crave your especial attention to the emphatic words, “All men are not created to like estate,”—implying, as they do imply, the strange idea, that some are created,—brought into existence,—for the express and definite purpose of damnation, and for no other end whatever. And lest any one should imagine that these words, which we have quoted from Calvin’s writings, embody a sentiment which is now exploded and departed from, permit me here to add a quotation from the celebrated Dr. Robert Candlish of Edinburgh. I quote from page seventh of the doctor’s book upon the Atonement,—a book which is universally commended by Calvinistic divines. Speaking of the work of the Son of God, this writer says—
“In right of his merit, his service, and his sacrifice, all are given into his hands, and all are his. All, 22therefore, may be said to be bought by him, inasmuch as, by his humiliation, obedience, and death, he has obtained, as by purchase, a right over all—he has got all under his power. But it is for very different purposes and ends. The reprobate are his to be judged; the elect are his to be saved. As to the former, it is no ransom, or redemption, fairly so called. He has won them—bought them, if you will—but it is that he may so dispose of them, as to glorify the retributive righteousness of God in their condemnation.”
So you will observe that this eminent and influential writer expresses, most clearly and distinctly, the idea which Calvin brings out in the memorable words already quoted—“All men are not created to like estate.” They are brought into existence “for very different purposes and ends.” The tender-hearted mother, as she nurses the infant at her breast, and meanwhile listens to the innocent prattle of her firstborn as he gambols playfully by her side, is here taught, that in all likelihood, these two children have been brought into being for “very different purposes and ends.” And when she would prayerfully commit them both to Christ, and rejoice in the thought that the precious blood of the Lamb of God was shed for them, as well as for herself, she is told that though it be true that Christ “has bought” them both, it may very possibly be “for very different purposes and ends.” The younger child may, for aught she knows, belong to Christ, only that Jesus may acquire the right over that inoffensive babe to condemn it through eternity; while the elder may, by a possibility, be 23 purchased for a nobler destiny. One thing is certain, that as “all men are not created to like estate,” and as no atonement has been made for any save the elect, should these interesting children not chance to be among the chosen number, the mother must make up her mind to thank God for bringing them into existence, the heirs of eternal damnation, and handing them over to his Son, not that his Son may die for their sins, but that he may consign them to a far more aggravated, and still more tremendous condemnation, than if he never had died at all.
Let no one turn round upon the eminent and distinguished man from whom I have quoted such sentiments, and impute any measure of blame to him, as if he were thereby writing inconsistently with the Confession which the people who support him compel him in honesty to teach. The people of every Calvinistic church, who do not relish such sentiments, have no right or title whatever to complain of their clergy for inculcating them. Every man who throws his influence into the scale of a Calvinistic church, thereby adds his weight and influence in the support and perpetuation of the doctrine I have now stated, be it right, or be it wrong. And God forbid that we should quote such sentiments for the purpose of pandering to, or in any way excusing, the inconsistencies of those who are prepared at once to start back from such sentiments, and who nevertheless support their ministers, for the express purpose of teaching them and perpetuating them, in full force, in the land. The sentiments I have quoted, are the sentiments of an honourable 24 and upright man, who consistently expresses, in the quotation I have made, the doctrine of the Confession of Faith, which the people of Scotland, by their adherence to that Confession, compel their ministers to teach.
That there may exist no mistake upon this subject, let me here quote from that venerable Confession. The third chapter of that document contains the following words:—
“(3.) By the decree of God, for the manifestation of his glory, some men and angels are predestinated unto everlasting life, and others foreordained to everlasting death.
“(4.) These angels and men, thus predestinated and foreordained, are particularly and unchangeably designed; and their number is so certain and definite, that it cannot be either increased or diminished.
“(5.) Those of mankind that are predestinated unto life, God, before the foundation of the world was laid, according to his eternal and immutable purpose, and the secret counsel and good pleasure of his will, hath chosen in Christ unto everlasting glory, out of his mere free grace and love, without any foresight of faith or good works, or perseverance in either of them, or any other thing in the creature, as conditions, or causes moving him thereunto; and all to the praise of his glorious grace.
“(6.) As God hath appointed the elect unto glory, so hath he, by the eternal and most free purpose of his 25 26
I have quoted enough to serve my purpose, in the present discourse. My design is, to set before your minds a clear and distinct statement of the theory which we have engaged to examine. I wish you to know what that doctrine really is, and to satisfy yourselves, not from my statements merely, but from the published statements of Calvinists themselves, of the real merits of the system which is all but universally received,—the system in which the children of our native land are trained up from their infancy, and to oppose or speak against which, is the most outrageous heresy. Do not forget, then, I pray you, what I have now read from the Confession of Faith. We are informed, in the passage last quoted, that every soul of men who is destined to perdition, if God so willed it, might be saved. This is not a mere inference; it is a direct and explicit assertion, for the passage speaks of God withholding his grace, whereby the men, who are destined to hell fire, “might have been enlightened in their understandings, and wrought upon in their hearts.” These words are sufficiently plain and definite. The poor men “might have been enlightened” and “wrought upon”—they might easily have been saved—but they are deprived, by the God who made them, of the very thing which alone was needful to win them over to his service, and place them secure in a position of holiness and happiness for ever. Let this statement of the Confession of Faith be marked down by every man and woman in this assembly. But there is more than this to mark down and to remember. 27 We are informed, that God Almighty exerts his power for the purpose of entrapping the men into positive iniquity. What is it, my friends, that is ascribed to our God? He is said not only to withhold what would make men saints, “but” (it is expressly added) “sometimes” he “withdraweth the gifts which they had, and exposeth them to such objects as their corruption makes occasion of sin; and withal, gives them over to their own lusts, the temptations of the world, and the power of Satan.” This is what our holy heavenly Father is said to do, in order to insure the fulfilment of his purposes and decrees. Again we call upon you to mark, that it is not by a simple negation—a mere refusal to give to the reprobate who perish what it is said would be enough to save them—it is more than this. It is by an actual, a positive, a direct act of his omnipotence, that God is represented as insuring the damnation of his creatures. They had gifts, but these gifts God withdraweth from them, lest they should happily repent, and before they die, use such gifts for their salvation. They were not in the way of sinning with a high hand, but we are told, by this most orthodox Confession, that God takes special care to expose them to such objects as will infallibly awaken their corruption and insure their fall. And, as if it were not enough to give them over to their own lusts, and expose them to such worldly temptations as God knows will infallibly master them, God is exhibited, as handing them over to the power of Satan, in order to make assurance doubly sure, and thereby the more readily secure their ultimate perdition.28
The statements which have been quoted will suffice as an exhibition of the doctrine which we are engaged now in examining. Such quotations might easily be multiplied from the published writings of sound and orthodox Calvinists, some of which, it many not be unnecessary to refer to in the course of farther examination. Meanwhile, it is high time for us to pass from the statement of what the doctrine is, to an examination of the Scriptural grounds upon which we think it ought to be rejected.
I.—WE OBJECT, IN THE FIRST PLACE, THEN, TO THIS THEORY OF ELECTION, BECAUSE IT LEADS UNCONVERTED SINNERS TO SUPPOSE THAT VERY POSSIBLY THEY MAY BE SAFE ENOUGH EVEN IN THEIR UNBELIEF.
The words which are contained in the first of those two texts, to which we have referred you in the outset of this discourse, are very plain and explicit. The challenge is boldly made—“Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect?” And it is, as if the apostle had said, that it is impossible to lay anything to their charge. They are justified by God himself, and no being in the universe of God may venture to condemn them. Such is the entire strain of the apostle’s unanswerable reasoning in the eighth chapter of the Romans, where the passage referred to occurs. It is perfectly plain, therefore, at the very first glance of this text, that the elect of God, whoever they are and wherever they be, are safe. They are secure as in a munition of adamantine rock. “It is God that 29 justifieth; who is he that condemneth?” But the other passage, which we have asked you to turn up in the second chapter of the Epistle to the Ephesians, states most plainly, that the elect of God, to whom the apostle wrote, and among whom Paul included himself, were not always safe. They were not always in a position in which it could be said of them, “Who can lay anything to their charge?” They were once condemned. They were once the children of wrath even as others. They were once in precisely the same position in the sight of God, if not in the sight of men, which is occupied by every one of the rebellious generations of mankind. There was no difference whatever between them and the reprobate, and if they had died while they were yet the children of wrath, they must have endured the wrath of God throughout a long eternity. The phrase which the apostle uses in reference to himself and others of the elect, as descriptive of their state previous to their conversion, can scarcely be mistaken,—“The children of wrath, even as others.” And we appeal to any man, whether this expression does not bear us out in the assertion, that between the elect and the reprobate there really existed no difference whatever, up to the moment when the former believed the gospel, and entered by faith into the full possession of all the privileges of the children of God. It seems plain, then, that viewing men as unbelievers, they all stand upon a common level,—they all occupy the same position,—the position of rebels against God, children of wrath, and heirs of hell.
But the doctrine which we are examining does make 30 a difference among sinners of the human family, not only before their conversion, but previous to their existence in the world. That doctrine informs us, that “all men are not created to like estate.” Some come into the world the elect children of God, chosen into his family and enrolled among the number of his children, ages before they came into being. All the rest come into existence “the children of wrath.” Now if this be really true in reference to the former, the question may be boldly proposed in reference to them at any stage of their spiritual history, and during the entire course of their unbelief and rebellion—“Who shall lay anything to their charge?” The simple question is this—Are they not among the number of God’s elect? Are they not among the number of those for whom alone (it is affirmed) the Saviour shed his blood? On this single ground, may the unconverted sinner boldly and presumptuously take his stand, and fancy himself safe enough in his sins. Here he may, and here, alas! too many actually do lay themselves quietly down to rest, saying peace, peace, unto their souls, while God is saying, there is no peace; and here, in point of fact, are vast multitudes of men and women making shipwreck of their souls, and rushing heedlessly into an undone eternity.
And here the question meets us: Is not such conduct as this the result of a most palpable abuse of the doctrine now under examination? If such a conclusion as that now indicated, were indeed the effect of the abuse and perversion of the doctrine of the Calvinist, this simple fact would be enough to turn aside the entire edge of 31 the argument we are now pursuing. But this is far from being the case. We have been stating the natural and necessary result, not of the abuse of this doctrine, but of its use. It needs only to be received into the understanding of any man, and believed in as a truth, and consistently followed out, and reduced to practice, in order to leave its votaries at ease in the midst of their unbelief and their sin. Let any man believe it, and what is his argument? He either is, or he is not, one of the elect. If he is, he is safe; for who can lay anything to the charge of God’s elect? If,. on the other hand, he is not one of the elect, he must needs be among the number of the reprobate, and on this supposition it is vain for him to perplex himself, for who can venture to reverse or to alter the course of God’s unalterable decree? Will any man undertake to find a single flaw in reasoning such as this? It is such reasoning as presents itself to every mind, on the simple announcement of the doctrine now under examination. It amounts to nothing less than a very plain and very simple demonstration. It is a conclusion arising most naturally from the doctrine of which we speak, so that any child can draw it for himself. And so be it, that a man can be induced to believe that “all men are not created to like estate,” but come into existence either the heirs of heaven on the one hand, or destined to endless misery on the other, we do not see that it is possible for the man, consistently with his belief, to give himself any concern whatever about his soul’s salvation. That 32 is a matter settled and arranged, one way or another, long before he came into existence, and why should he presume to usurp the place of God by intermeddling with his most wise and irreversible decree?
It is only when you turn your attention to the text which we have selected from the epistle to the Ephesians, that you will be able to discover wherein the palpable fallacy of all such reasoning really consists. The fallacy is detected in the premises, and not in the conclusion which is deduced therefrom. The foundation is unstable. It is a sandy foundation; and hence the erection which is fairly enough built upon it, totters and falls before the slightest examination. What are the premises from which the false conclusion is legitimately drawn—the foundation on which the tottering fabric is fairly enough built? This is to be seen in the assertion of John Calvin, that “all men are not created to like estate.” Here lies the fundamental error,—the error which the Spirit of God emphatically contradicts, when he informs us that even the elect, before they believe the gospel, are ranged among the children of wrath, even as others. So, then, it is most evident that they are not the elect children of God before they believe. They are the children of wrath, and that is, in other words, asserting that they are not the children of God. They cannot be called the children of God and the children of the devil at one and the same moment of time. They cannot, at one and the same moment, have it truly affirmed concerning them, that they “are condemned 33 already, because they believe not,” and yet that “none can lay anything to their charge,” because they are God’s elected and justified children. The plain and unvarnished truth must come out, and stand forth in broad and palpable opposition to the assertion of Calvin,—the assertion which forms the corner-stone of the entire system which. goes by his name. It must be admitted that all men are born to like estate. They are every one of them by nature the children of wrath. Jew and Gentile alike, are every soul of them concluded under sin and unbelief, and consequent condemnation. In their natural condition, and in their state of unbelief, there is not one elect child of God among them all. In this state, there is no justification to any one soul among them. There is laid, and laid justly, to their charge, the most tremendous crime that can possibly be laid to the charge of any creature. They are not only standing out rebels against God, but they are making God a liar, so long as they believe not the record which God hath given of his Son. (1st John v. 10, 11.)
Such is the estate—the condition, in which all men are, without exception, placed, before they are actually converted to God. Considering them, then, in this condition, what is the estate to which they are every moment exposed? They are the children of wrath, and in this state they are every hour exposed to the wrath of God and the pains of hell for ever. There is but a step between them and death. The brittle thread of life, and that alone, suspends every soul of 34 them over the pit of endless perdition. In this position it is worse than idle—it is false, utterly false, to say that any single sinner differs from any other sinner of the human race, by being embraced in an absolute or unconditional decree, which insures one unbeliever pf heaven, while it destines another unbeliever to hell as his sure and irreversible destiny. Let the words of the Son of God be yet once more sounded in the ears of every unbelieving sinner—“HE THAT BELIEVETH NOT IS CONDEMNED ALREADY.” And before these words let the theory perish for ever, which would lead any man to suppose, that there are some UNBELIEVERS against whom no charge can be justly laid, because they happen to be included among God’s elect.
II.—WE OBJECT TO THAT THEORY OF ELECTION NOW UNDER EXAMINATION, BECAUSE, IN THE SECOND PLACE, IT FLATLY CONTRADICTS THE SCRIPTURE DECLARATION THAT THERE IS IN THE GOSPEL A MESSAGE OF SALVATION TO EVERY CREATURE.
It will surely be admitted that the message of the gospel is addressed to all men on the face of the earth. There is no distinction—no exception here: “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.” “Behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.” These, and such like statements, with which the Word of God abounds, are sufficiently plain and intelligible even to the simplest understanding. By them, the banner of peace 35 is held out to all men. In them, the Holy Spirit is heard addressing the word of salvation to all. And what are these, in point of fact, but the precise tidings referred to so distinctly and so eloquently in the apocalyptic vision, where was seen “another angel flying in the midst of heaven, having the everlasting gospel to preach unto them that dwell on the earth, and to every nation, and kindred, and tongue, and people”? And now, my brethren, will you permit me here to pause in order to ask you one single question, which you are by this time quite prepared to appreciate—What are the good tidings of great joy which the ministers of the gospel have to preach to the reprobate, if the system of Calvinism be true? This is the simple question, which I beg most earnestly to press upon your attention. Does the system now under examination admit of any good tidings whatever to those of the human family whom, it is said, God has determined beforehand eternally to condemn? It is either true, or it is not true, that all men are not created to the like estate, but that to some eternal life, and to others eternal death, is foreappointed by the immutable fiat of the Almighty. If this be true, then let the truth be told, and let it be honestly announced to men, that there is no gospel—no good tidings of great joy—to be preached to any, save only to the elect. If this be true, what is the real state of matters in reference to the great proportion of mankind who do not happen to be elected? God has been pleased to pass them by, and to include them in his reprobating decree, and to 36 bring them into existence for purposes and ends very different (to use the words of Dr. Candlish) from those for which he has created others, inasmuch as he has sold them to his son, in order that his Son may get possession of them, soul and body, for eternal damnation. I wonder not, my friends, that a thrill of horror should pass through your spirits at the bare and simple repetition of that which we are called upon to receive as the truth of God. It is said to be truth; and the question is, whether it be good tidings of great joy. Does it not, on the contrary, exclude the possibility of any good news from God to those who are not elected? It is not like the law, which, though it be not the gospel, is useful as a schoolmaster to lead sinners to Christ, by showing them their need of a Saviour. It is a schoolmaster this, which drives men away from Christ, assuring them, as it does, that there is no atonement for them in his death, but that he has bought them for no other purpose or end, than to exercise his power in tormenting them throughout eternity, unless they are among the number of the elect. But you tell me, that this is not the way in which Calvinistic preachers speak unto sinners; they preach freely and fully, and they assure all men that, whether they be elected or not, they are among those to whom the gospel comes, and to whom its overtures are most earnestly and sincerely made. But what is the sum and substance of all such preaching? What is this but a weekly condemnation of the doctrine which we are now examining—a weekly exposure of it as a forgery and a lie?37
It is not possible for any man to announce, in a single sentence, a more palpable contradiction than what is embodied in the twofold announcement—that there is an offer of salvation honestly made to all the reprobated sons of men, and that God sincerely wills them to be saved, while it is at the same time true that God has created them for the single purpose of damnation, so that they must reverse the purpose, and annihilate the decree of God, before they can be saved. I fearlessly put to you all, whether there be not in such a statement a flat and palpable contradiction. What would you say to the man who should style himself a father, and protest over the dead body of his murdered child, that he desired not and willed not that it should die—and who should, at the same instant, point you to the cup of sweetened poison which he had put in its way, so that the little one might be exposed to a temptation which its corruption was not likely to resist, and which the unnatural wretch knew his child would infallibly partake of, and drinking of which it sickened and died? And what will you say of the system which teaches you and your children to believe, that the God of heaven has made a decree from eternity to destroy many of you, and, in order to carry out his purpose, keeps back and withholds what he knows would save you, and farther, exposes you to such objects as he knows will ruin you, and finally gives you over to the power of the devil?—what do you think of the system which insists upon you swallowing all this as truth, and at the same time turns round upon you with a smile and 38 assures you, that there is a sincere offer of salvation to you in the gospel, and that God does sincerely desire you to be saved? Are we uncharitable when we say, that all this is a mere mockery of human wretchedness? Is it wonderful that the men who tell you all this, should at the same time assure you, that you cannot believe it? The wonder would be if men could believe an announcement which is self-contradictory and absurd; and the most marvellous thing of all is, that men of common sense should not only tolerate, but applaud and support and encourage, by their influence and example, so glaring and so monstrous a mockery of all that is sacred and precious to souls passing onwards to the judgment-seat of God.
But we are told, in reply to all this, that, in the first place, men have nothing to do with election in preaching the gospel to sinners; and, in the second place, that those to whom the gospel comes are not supposed to know whether they are among the elect or among the reprobate. I crave your attention, very briefly, to this specious reply. It is said that they to whom the gospel is preached have nothing to do with the doctrine now under examination. I ask, Why then insist upon men receiving it? If sinners have nothing to do with it, why place it in the forefront of your creed, and compel your very children to imbibe it as with their mother’s milk? But if it be true, it is not right to say that men have nothing to do with it; for if it be true, it manifests to all men the startling fact, that there is no gospel at all to any save the elect; and if 39 there be no gospel to any save the elect, then there should be no preaching to any except the elect, and it would ultimately come to this, that there would be no congregations and no preachers at all. In this way, “this our craft is in danger to be set at nought,” and hence it is necessary and expedient to say to men, that the doctrine of election is a mystery with which they have nothing whatever to do!
And it does not make matters any better to affirm, in the second place, that men cannot say whether they are among the elect or among the reprobate. This state of ignorance does not alter the fact, that, according to this doctrine, there are no good news whatever to those who are not elected. The fact still stands out, that there is no gospel to preach to the reprobate. But while the ignorance of men does not, and cannot, alter this fact, it renders the preaching of the gospel a dead letter even to the elect. For, with the idea in your minds that there are many, for example, in this present audience, who cannot possibly be saved, because Jesus did not make atonement for you all,—and God, for anything you know, has included many of you in the decree of condemnation, and brought many of you into existence for the express purpose of damnation,—with this idea in your minds, and without any means of ascertaining who the persons are who are thus excluded from the very possibility of salvation, every soul of you must either leave this house careless about the matter, or go away anxiously inquiring—“Is it I?—Is it I?”40
In this case, your very ignorance as to whether you are among the elect or the reprobate, must needs prevent even the elect among you from ascertaining and believing that there is really good news this evening announced to you. And hence, alas! it has come to this pass, that under the direful influence of the doctrine we have been examining, it has become a mere matter of course for whole congregations to come and go, week after week and year after year, without any personal appreciation of the great salvation on the one hand, or any anxious inquiry after it on the other. But whenever any season of refreshing does arrive, and the gospel is preached and received with power from on high, sinners are called upon to cast away from their minds the ideas of election which we have been looking at—to treat them as if they had no existence—and simply to believe, each man for himself and each woman for herself, the message of the gospel, as addressed personally to each. All this is a good confession of the truth of what we now assert, when we ask you to reject the doctrine of Calvin and the Confession for this reason, that it most glaringly contradicts the Bible, wherein we are assured that there is a gospel—a true gospel—glad tidings, indeed, to every soul of man, which we are privileged and commanded to preach unto you.
What then shall we say to you, in conclusion, but call upon you to receive, without one moment’s delay, what the Holy Ghost, speaking through his servant Jude, graciously styles “THE COMMON SALVATION.” 41 There is no restriction expressed in the Word of God, and most assuredly there is no restriction implied. The God with whom we have to do is not, like the dark genius of Calvinism, a deceitful and a deceiving spirit. He is a God of truth, and without iniquity; just and right is he. He is not only the just God, but also the Saviour; and in this precise character has he revealed himself unto the guilty sons of men. “Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth, for I am God, and besides me there is none else.” (Isaiah xlv. 21, 22.) There is assuredly a gospel for you all, and this is only another mode of assuring you, that no frowning decree intercepts between any of you and salvation.
The glorious gospel which we announce to you, does not indeed say to you that you are pardoned and saved, but it comes with such a message as this to no single individual on the face of the earth. It does not tell any man that he is already pardoned and saved. It proceeds upon an assumption the very reverse of all this. It assumes truly that the sinners to whom it comes, are already condemned and ruined; and assuredly there is nothing indicated thereby, which is either fitted or intended to leave any soul among you all, even for a single moment, at peace in your sins; but you are thereby assured, that now your sins form no reason why any sinner among you should, even for a single moment, remain without peace with your God. “Behold the Lamb of God.” “Behold the Lamb of God bearing away the sin of the world.” (John i. 29, 36.) “He is the propitiation for our sins, and not -for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world.” (1 John ii. 2.) This is the gospel message to every creature, and it forms the sum and substance of the gospel message to you.
That such is the gospel message, addressed by the Holy Spirit to condemned and ruined sinners, and to every sinner condemned and ruined on the face of the earth, is abundantly manifest from the Word of God. Take one single example from among the multitude of instances which the Bible contains. It is written in 1 Cor. xv. 1-4: “Moreover, brethren, I declare unto you THE GOSPEL which I preached unto you, which also ye have received, and wherein ye stand; by which also ye are saved, if ye keep in memory what I preached unto you, unless ye have believed in vain: for I delivered unto you first of all that which I also received, how that CHRIST DIED FOR OUR SINS according to the Scriptures; and that HE WAS BURIED, AND THAT HE ROSE AGAIN the third day according to the Scriptures.” Here, then, we have the testimony of Inspiration upon this most momentous of all questions. Here we are informed, by the inspired apostle himself, what he preached to the heathen Corinthians—“first of all,” before they believed—when first he made his appearance among them as an ambassador of Christ. It was not that Christ died for the sins of the elect, or for the sins of believers only. This would have been sad news indeed to those poor heathens who were at the time unsaved—who were at the time unbelievers—and who 43 must have concluded infallibly, from such a message, that seeing they were unbelievers, Christ did not shed his blood for them. If Jesus died for believers only, and if this was the gospel which Paul preached unto a company of heathen unbelievers, when first of all he went among them, you will see at once, that such a gospel as this was anything but good news TO THEM. It was tantamount to a message of exclusion to every unbeliever in whose hearing it was announced—exclusion from the very possibility of salvation; for if Jesus did not die for their sins, how could any soul among them possibly be saved? They were unbelievers—and to say to them first of all, that Christ died for believers, was just to announce the very reverse of gospel-it was just to assure them that for their sins no atonement had been made, and consequently that for them there existed no possibility of escape from the wrath to come. To tell a company of unbelievers that Christ died for believers, is assuredly the most effectual of all possible devices whereby the poor souls may be shut up in their unbelief—shut out from the very possibility of believing. It is just another mode of saying to them—“Christ DID NOT die for you.” But this is “ANOTHER GOSPEL.” This is not the gospel which Paul declares he was privileged and commanded to preach. His first message to those heathen men and heathen women was—“Christ died for our sins, and was buried, and rose again the third day, according to the Scriptures.” This was the gospel which he preached. This was the gospel which they received 44 after it was first of all preached unto them, and by the faith of which they were saved. “Christ died for our sins,” said the inspired preacher, and by this saying he assured every one of those to whom he spoke, that the blood of the Son of God was shed for their sins as well as for the sins qf the man who addressed them. There was SOMETHING here for every one of them to believe, and that something was—“the gospel”—“good tidings of great joy” to every sinner among them. Christ died for you and also for me. “The Son of God loved me, and gave himself for me;” but his love encircled you as well as me, and he died for your sins as well as for mine. He died for the sins of every one of us. “He died FOR OUR SINS, according to the Scriptures,” and his death has been accepted and acknowledged by God as a complete satisfaction for all our guilt. In testimony of this, God has raised him from the grave, for “he was buried, and rose again the third day according to the Scriptures.” Do you not behold here, my fellow-sinners, something very different from that undefined and indefinable system of mysticism and delusion under which the souls of our countrymen have been bound down and shackled, and before which, thousands and tens of thousands are daily and hourly perishing? Do you not apprehend, in this inspired narrative of what the gospel message is, something very plain and very simple and very cheering for you and me to believe? It is not that Jesus, when he died, did everything for the elect and nothing at all for the reprobate—everything for 45 believers and nothing at all for unbelievers—everything for some favoured individuals and perhaps nothing for you. That is not what you are called upon to believe, for all that is a delusion and a lie. Neither is it, that there is in the death of Christ a “special and exclusive reference” to the elect, and a more “general reference” to the world. This is only another and more specious aspect of the same delusion, whereby the credit of a tottering system of theology is sought to be upheld at the expense of the souls of men. This is that delusion whereby men are instructed to admit, that Jesus died for all, and therefore for each, while a bare PERADVENTURE is left behind and beneath this gospel-like admission, and whereby no man is informed whether the Son of God, by his death upon the cross, made a true and proper satisfaction for his sins. In the face of this device, whereby every sinner is taught that, in a certain sense, Jesus died for all, and therefore for him, the man is still left to doubt and hesitate and conjecture and inquire whether he be among the number of those who are “specially interested” in the death of the Son of God. You are not, therefore, called upon by God to believe that Jesus did something for the world and another thing for the elect when he shed his blood upon the cross. This general and special-reference device is really a far more dangerous, because a far more subtle delusion, than is the barefaced falsehood against which we have already guarded you. The truth of the gospel is, that Jesus died EQUALLY for all men. He satisfied God for the sins of every man as 46 truly and properly as for the sins of any man. His love was equal love to all. His death was a complete and perfect satisfaction to the law and justice of God for the sins of all men, without distinction and without exception. Rejoice, O sinner, in the gladsome intelligence, that NOTHING WHATEVER EXCLUSIVE OF YOU was done upon the cross when the Saviour of the world exclaimed, “IT IS FINISHED, and bowed his head and gave up the ghost!” The non-elect as well as the elect-unbelievers as well as believers—have an equal interest in the great propitiation. Does this announcement startle you?—does it dispose you to inquire, “Has Jesus shed his blood in vain”?—or, does it incline you to rush on to the conclusion that, on this supposition, all men must needs be pardoned and justified and redeemed and saved? Be pleased, then, to mark well the error which lies at the foundation of this very prevalent misconception. The error lies in confounding the atonement of the Son of God with its saving and sanctifying results. The atonement is one thing—the result of the atonement is another and a different thing altogether. When the Saviour shed his blood upon the cross, the work of atonement was finished—ample satisfaction was there and then made for the sins of every sinner in whose room and stead the Saviour died—but it is a mistake to imagine that there and then every sinner for whom the Saviour died was actually pardoned and justified and redeemed and sanctified and saved. The death of the Son of God ought not thus to be confounded with its multiform and 47 glorious results. This death was the propitiation or atonement for sin. But the atonement is not pardon nor justification nor redemption nor sanctification nor complete and ultimate salvation. The atonement, or the death of Christ, forms THE GROUND of pardon and justification and redemption, and all the kindred blessings enjoyed by believers; but every man can easily distinguish between the ground upon which any blessing is bestowed and the blessing itself, even as it is no difficult task for any one of you to see the distinction between the foundation and the building which is thereon erected. No man doubts that Jesus, by his death, made atonement, for example, for the sins of Saul of Tarsus, but few men will affirm, in so many words, that Saul of Tarsus was justified and sanctified and saved when the Saviour died.11 It is remarkable that even Dr. A. MARSHALL, of Kirkintilloch, should affirm the death of Christ to be, in itself, “THE REDEMPTION of his people.” But here lies the fundamental error of the Calvinistic system. But all that Jesus did and suffered—all that Jesus by his death actually accomplished for Saul of Tarsus, was completely finished upon the cross. The matter of fact is therefore easily enough ascertained. The man of whom we speak was neither justified nor sanctified till, on his road to Damascus, he was graciously brought to believe in Him whom he had, up till that moment, so madly persecuted. This simple statement involves no difficult or thorny controversy. It is a statement of a fact, which the plainest mind can easily substantiate. The man was condemned 48 UNTIL he believed. But Jesus died for his sins BEFORE he believed. The atonement was finished for him; but still, in the face of that atonement, he was for many a long year and day under condemnation,—a child of wrath, even as others. Although his sins were atoned for by the death of Christ, Saul of Tarsus remained unjustified, unsanctified, unsaved. It is surely evident, from this simple fact, that there is a mighty difference between the atonement and justification, or sanctification, or redemption. But if the death of Christ had indeed been the justification of his people—or if it had been the sanctification of his people—or, yet once more, if this death had in itself been the redemption of his people—it would have followed from all this, that Saul of Tarsus would have been justified and sanctified and redeemed from the moment that Jesus expired upon the cross. He would have been justified and sanctified and redeemed at the very time when he himself informs us that he was a child of wrath and an heir of hell. And so there would have been no need of the Holy Spirit to lead him to believe, and there would be no need of faith as the instrumental cause of justification or sanctification or redemption in the case of any sinner for whom the Saviour died. It is most evident, from such considerations as these, that Christ did not intend, by the act of dying alone, to justify or sanctify or redeem one single sinner for whom he died. But he did all that he intended to do. He did not die in vain. He finished the work given him to do. He made an atonement for sin, and thereby he opened up 49 the way through which any, and every sinner, might be pardoned, justified, sanctified, redeemed, and glorified through the faith of the truth. It is for this reason that every blessing is traced to the death of Jesus, as when it is said, for example, in Rom. v. 9, that we are “JUSTIFIED BY HIS BLOOD.” This statement does not contradict the statement in the first verse of the same chapter, wherein we are said to be “JUSTIFIED BY FAITH,” and we are not to infer therefrom that the shedding of the blood of Jesus was the actual justification of his people, or that any man among them is actually justified before he believes the gospel. And so for the same reason Christ is said by his death to have redeemed us from the curse of the law, not as if any man is actually redeemed from the curse any more than he is actually justified while he remains in unbelief, but that the ground, the all-sufficient ground, the only meritorious and God-glorifying and law-magnifying ground of our redemption has been laid in the obedience unto the death of the Son of God. What then does the Holy Spirit do when he would impart saving faith to you, by holding up before you the death of Jesus as the propitiation for your sins? Does he ask you to believe that you are pardoned already, or that you are already justified? His testimony to you implies the very reverse. You stand out condemned and lost—on the very brink of eternal destruction. This is the faithful testimony of Him who earnestly desires you to flee from the wrath to come. But this is only one-half of his testimony. He tells 50 you that the great atoning sacrifice, on the ground of which you may, this very hour, be pardoned and justified and saved, was eighteen hundred years ago offered up for your sins, and not only offered up, but accepted by God himself as a complete answer for every one of your transgressions. He points you to God, not relentless but propitiated, and ready freely to justify you for the sake of what his dear Son did and suffered in your room and stead. Think, then, my unconverted hearers, of the awful position which YOU DO OCCUPY. You are on the brink of hell every moment you remain without a personal appreciation of the Saviour as all your own. Think again of the position YOU MAY occupy, even in the twinkling of an eye. There is not one hair’s-breadth between any of you and salvation. The Son of God has shed his blood for your every sin, and it needs but THE TURNING OF YOUR MIND—the turning of your mind, which, like the lightning’s rapid glance, can speed in an instant from hell to heaven,—to flee from impending wrath, and hide your guilty souls under the covert of your Saviour’s righteousness. “Repent ye, therefore, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord.” How long will any of you remain careless and at your ease, as if the thunderbolt of impending wrath were not hanging over your faithless and Saviour-despising souls! How long will others of you labour in vain, to justify yourselves in the sight of your God by your unbelieving efforts, as if an ample ground for your immediate pardon 51 and justification had not been already furnished by the death of Jesus! To remain in your present state of mind is to lull yourselves to repose on the brink of a tremendous precipice, over which, if once you fall, you shall rise no more for ever. To summon up your most serious and devoted efforts to extricate your souls from the position which you occupy, is but to insure your destruction. Your safety lies not in remaining where you are, and far less does it lie in summoning up your energies to move. You are stretched upon the very brink of destruction, and the arm of Another alone can save you. Already, O sinner, is that arm outstretched. It is the right arm of Him who is “MIGHTY TO SAVE.” Why, then, should you hesitate to trust implicitly in your Saviour’s love, or question for a moment the perfection or the efficacy of his finished atonement? Why should you, on the one hand, endeavour to lull your souls into a fatal repose, by greedily imbibing a false and delusive opiate; or vainly struggle, on the other hand, to move from your present perilous position, by summoning yourselves to some effort of your own? Why not at once awake, and open your eyes to a full perception of the awful position in which you are actually remaining, and, at the same time, behold the gracious Saviour who has stretched out his arm to save you, and forthwith intrust your souls implicitly to his hand? I have spoken to you of an opiate, the tendency whereof is only to lull your spirits into a dangerous repose. That opiate is neither more nor less than the fatal error which I have 52 been endeavouring to expose. Let any man imagine that when the Saviour died, he actually pardoned, justified, or redeemed all for whom he shed his blood, and his every effort will be to get himself to believe that he is already pardoned, justified, and redeemed, unless, indeed, he can succeed in banishing the subject entirely from his mind. I have also spoken to you of an effort to move the soul from the perilous position in which every unbeliever is placed—an effort which, if successful, is successful only for destruction. That effort is also the result of fundamental error on the nature of the atonement. Let any man imagine that, though Jesus died for his sins, he nevertheless left the man something or other himself to do, before he can consistently be pardoned or justified or saved, and he will assuredly be induced to pray in unbelief, or to labour in unbelief, or to wait on in unbelief, most earnestly desiring to perceive some tokens for THE BETTER within his soul or about his life, before he will. venture to trust for eternity in the glorious efficacy of the great propitiation. On either supposition the soul is lost—lost for ever, solely as the result of culpably misunderstanding the gospel and “neglecting the great salvation.” There exists but one only safeguard against such prevalent, and all but universal delusion. That safeguard is to be discovered in the Word of God alone, as opposed to the erroneous systems of fallible men. In that only infallible record, every soul of man is faithfully warned of the awful position in which he is positively placed up to the moment of conversion. And in that 53 blessed Bible every sinner of the human race is earnestly and compassionately directed at once to the converting truth. This is all expressed in the simple announcement, “Christ died for our sins, and was buried, and rose again the third day.” The moment any sinner apprehends the true meaning of this one truthful and glorious announcement, in its gracious bearing towards his guilty and condemned and ruined soul, that moment is he saved. Yet once more then do we urge, and entreat, and implore you to “Behold the Lamb of God.” He has taken away the sin of the world, and assuredly, my dear friends, your sins have not been left behind, as an insuperable barrier to your immediate escape. They are every one of them away—for ever away. They formed part and parcel of that tremendous burden, which pressed down the Lord of Glory to the dust of death. For all our sins, and for the sins of all amongst us, did the Saviour die, according to the Scriptures. But he is no longer in the grave: “He is risen as he said.” He rose again on the morning of the third day, according to the Scriptures; but when he rose again, O sinner, thy sins did not rise along with him, to scare thee, even for an instant, from the bosom of thy God. O no! Blessed—for ever blessed be his gracious and glorious name, that bosom of infinite compassion, even while I speak, upheaves with tender emotion, and swells well-nigh to bursting, in the full view of thy wretchedness and thy danger. The heart of thy God is filled width earnest and sincere longings after thy immediate salvation. Can it be, O sinner, that in the full 54 view of all this, you yourself have no pity upon your own immortal soul? Or can it be that, in the view of all this, you will still hesitate, and doubt, and suspect your Saviour’s love, as if he were frowning you away from him even now, and commanding you with a stern voice to make yourself somewhat more comely, before he can receive you? You would “wait till you are better!” You would be somewhat more righteous, at least in thine own eyes, and then you will venture to assure yourself of acceptance. And thus it is, vain man, that thou answerest thy Saviour’s tender entreaty; and thus it is that thou dost venture to give the lie to his gracious declaration, wherein he says, “I came not to call the RIGHTEOUS, but SINNERS, to repentance.” But thus it is, that you are up to this very hour afraid to meet thy God, because, in point of fact, thy sinful, unbelieving, doubting soul is unprepared to face him at the bar of judgment. Well mayest thou tremble at the thought of death, judgment, and eternity, seeing that thou wilt not tremble at the thought of casting behind thee this thy day of gracious, merciful visitation; trampling under foot thy Saviour’s blood; wasting thy hour of grace in thoughtless carelessness, or laborious self-righteousness, or damning doubts. Would to God, sinner, that those salutary fears of thine would rise into a hurricane of anxiety and alarm, and, ere it be too late, shiver into atoms that false refuge under which you actually manage to lull your soul to temporary repose. Would to God that you were driven from every lying refuge, under which 55 thousands of sober, serious professors are saying, “Peace, peace,” and were led to betake thyself at once to the only refuge which can shield thee from the coming storm, the only covert which can shelter thee from the approaching tempest. Abandon, then, we earnestly beseech you, the false and unscriptural theology—the thing which men call gospel—all of which any man may believe, and yet have no solid peace in the prospect of meeting God,—all of which a man may believe, and yet doubt his soul’s salvation,—all of which a man may believe, and yet remain unsaved. Bring this soul-destroying delusion to the touchstone of the Bible. Compare it with the glorious gospel which Paul preached, and behold the contrast!
“O! how unlike the complex works of man,
Heaven’s easy, artless, unencumber’d plan;
No meretricious graces to beguile,
No clustering ornaments to clog the pile;
From ostentation as from weakness free,
It stands, like the cerulean arch we see,
Majestic in its own simplicity.
Inscribed above the portal from afar,
Conspicuous as the brightness of a star,
Legible only by the light they give,
Stand the soul-quickening words—BELIEVE AND LIVE.”
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