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THE CALVINIAN DOCTRINE OPPOSED TO REASON—SUBVERSIVE OF FREE GRACE IN THE JUSTIFICATION OF THE BELIEVER—QUOTATION FROM DR. PAYNE AND ANDREW FULLER—CALVINISM ALLIED TO SOCINIANISM—CONCLUDING REMARKS.
EPHES. ii. 5:—“By grace ye are saved.”
BEFORE resuming our consideration of the doctrine of election, as that doctrine is exhibited in Calvinistic creeds, we would here solicit your attention to a very plain and a very important distinction. We refer to the distinction which obtains between what is above reason, and what is contrary to reason. There is very much connected with almost every subject of human investigation, which is admittedly beyond the reach of human reason. There are heights which the human imagination in its loftiest soarings cannot reach; there are depths which the soundings of the human intellect cannot fathom; there is a length and a breadth across which the mind of man has never dared to travel—a boundless region, in the immensity which stretches out before the research of the human soul, 57 which it is impossible for man in the present stage of his existence to examine and explore. It is plain, therefore, that “here we see through a glass darkly,” and “know only in part,” so that there are many things we cannot fully understand, which it is our duty nevertheless to believe on the simple authority of God. We may specify, by way of example, the doctrine of the trinity in unity—three persons and yet one God—a plain and manifest truth revealed by God for the belief of man. This is an example of a doctrine which is above reason, but which, when properly explained as it is announced in the Scriptures, is in no way contrary to reason. It involves no contradiction. It lands us in no glaring or palpable absurdity. The reception of it as a truth, forces us to contradict and explain away not one solitary declaration contained within the ample range of the revealed word. Thus it is with many doctrines which we receive without any hesitation. For reason herself chimes in here with the voice of revelation, and it is fully consistent with the dictates of the soundest philosophy, to receive with the docility of a little child whatever is contained in the Word of God, even though the doctrine should be to us enshrouded in a cloud of mystery. The clearly ascertained and well accredited statements of the Word of God are to be received without any debate, as so many facts; And the soundest philosophy and the strongest common sense demand, in behalf of a clearly ascertained fact, the profoundest homage of the soul. A well accredited fact instantly takes the place of an axiom, to dispute 58 which, or to argue inconsistently with which, is to be guilty of a most flagrant sin against the highest reason, and to subvert the foundations of truth. It matters not whether a man can account for it or not,—if it be a thing which is ascertained to be a fact, it must be received. It matters not whether we can explain it or not—there it is, standing out before our eyes an undisputed fact, and by that every theory must be tested, and stand or fall as it agrees with, or differs from, what is thus ascertained to be verily true.
We ought therefore every one of us to understand, that if the theory now under examination were merely above reason, this would not form of itself any just ground for its rejection. If it were a doctrine admittedly and indisputably revealed in the Word of God, that simple circumstance would be itself sufficient to demand and to secure its immediate reception by every man amongst us, however strange or mysterious the doctrine might appear, In this case all that could be said of it would be, that it is above reason, but that would really be saying nothing whatever which would prejudice a single reasonable man against its reception as a doctrine from God, and according to godliness.
The case would be entirely altered if it could be affirmed of any doctrine, that it is contrary to reason. Such, for example, is the Popish doctrine of transubstantiation. It is contrary to reason to dispute the evidence of our senses, and when the Papist informs us that the bread and the wine at the Supper of the Lord are not bread and wine, but form part and parcel 59 of the real body and blood of Christ, it would be absurd to believe it, because our senses inform us of the very reverse. Now, it is no less contrary to reason to admit any theory to be true, which plainly contradicts some of the most obvious truths which the Word of God contains. As we have already noticed, whatever is plainly revealed in the Bible must be received as truth; and should any doctrine be brought before us which is manifestly inconsistent with anything which is thus plainly revealed, that doctrine would thereby stand out detected and exposed as an imposition and a falsehood.
It will be readily admitted by you all, that the Bible is not, and cannot be, in one single item really and truly inconsistent with itself. To suppose the reverse of this—to suppose that in any one point there exists any contradiction or inconsistency in the Scriptures, amounts to nothing less than a rejection of them, as the infallible record of the infallible God. But you will remember that, in the outset of this investigation, we stated it distinctly as one of those principles which we take to be admitted on all hands, that the Bible is indeed the book of God. We are not now engaged in a discussion with men who deny this fundamental point. And admitting, as we presume you all do, that this blessed volume is indeed a message from God to man, we now solemnly and affectionately call upon you to act reasonably and consistently with this admission, and to reject, without any hesitation, whatever doctrine is seen by you to be evidently opposed to some of the most obvious statements of divine revelation.60
You will require to keep steadily before your minds what the doctrine is, which we are engaged in examining. As that doctrine is briefly stated by its founder, John Calvin, himself, it asserts that “all men are not created to like estate”—some of the human race, according to this brief and emphatic statement, coming into existence elect infants, unconditionally and irreversibly destined to eternal happiness; all the rest of mankind coming into existence, unconditionally doomed to everlasting damnation. The former class are accordingly represented as being exclusively interested in the death of the Son of God, viewing that sacrifice as a propitiation or atonement for sin. All the rest of mankind, excepting the elect, having no interest whatever in the atonement or death of Christ, are said by this theology to belong to Christ for no other end or purpose than that he may exercise his power in consigning them to damnation. You will remember that we have been careful not to misstate or to exaggerate the doctrine which we have engaged to examine, and therefore we have quoted at some length the very words of the most respectable and distinguished of its supporters, not forgetting to set before you the words of the Confession of Faith, wherein it is found. The words of the most eminent man, perhaps, among the modern advocates of the doctrine, are no less clear and decisive than those of Calvin himself; Dr. Candlish having very lately published the statement, that the reprobate belong to Christ to be judged or condemned, while the elect are his to be saved. The language of this 61 modern Calvinist is, as we have seen at length in the former lecture, very emphatic upon the point. He speaks of the death of Christ, and he declares it to be no atonement, no ransom properly so called for the great majority of mankind, viz., the reprobate. The words of Dr. Candlish, as you will remember, are the following, in reference to all men, women, and children excepting the elect:—“He [Christ] 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 far then as our argument has been laid before you for consideration, we have endeavoured to prove that this doctrine is diametrically opposed to two of the plainest principles of God’s most holy Word.
It is perfectly plain, from the whole tenor of the Word of God, that no man is safe for one moment while he remains in unbelief. This we affirm to be one of the most obvious of all the principles or truths exhibited in the Bible. And inasmuch as the doctrine of election exhibited by Calvin, Candlish, and the Confession seems to be directly opposed to this plainly revealed principle of God’s Word, we have spoken of it as not only false, but ruinous and destructive to the souls of men.
It is still farther evident from the Word of God, that the gospel contains good tidings of great joy to every creature, so that there does not now exist, and there never did exist, and there never can exist, one single sinner on the face of the earth to whom a message of salvation is not therein exhibited. But the doctrine 62 of Calvin directly contradicts this plain and obvious fact, and is once more proved to be unscriptural and false.
III. THE THIRD OBJECTION WHICH I NOW STATE TO THIS DOCTRINE IS, THAT IT IS SUBVERSIVE OF THE BIBLE PRINCIPLE OF SALVATION BY FREE GRACE.
If there be one truth more plainly revealed in the Word of God than another, it is the principle of grace—free grace, in the salvation of all who believe. “By grace ye are saved.” The assertion of this great truth constituted the sum and substance of apostolic preaching. This was the alpha and the omega, the beginning and the ending of all their sermons. This was the great and glorious announcement around which all their arguments and persuasions revolved, as round a centre of light and love. This was the burden of all their inspired epistles to the various churches over which they sedulously and carefully watched, even as they who were to give an account. “By grace ye are saved, through faith; and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God; not of works, lest any man should boast.” This was the truth in which they gloried, and for any man to subvert, or even to depreciate the great doctrine of salvation by free grace, was to aim a deadly thrust at the very heart of the glorious gospel of the grace of God.
And as it was in ancient times, so it is now, and so it will ever be. The grand characteristic of the Bible is, that it is a revelation of grace. This is the most 63 striking feature of the blessed gospel; and it is mainly because the doctrine which we are now examining, is a direct and impious subversion of the grace of God in the salvation of the sinner, that it eats out the very vitals of the gospel in our beloved land.
We are anxious in this place not to be misunderstood. We do not say that this theory of the Calvinist is inconsistent with the grace of God in the provision of the atonement. We affirm its utter inconsistency with the manifestation of grace, in the justification and subsequent salvation of the believer. This circumstance has already induced many distinguished Calvinists to make an attempt so far to modify their system of theology, as to make a voluntary surrender of the main position in defence of which the late work of Dr. Candlish was written and published. Some of the most eminent and pious of the Calvinistic clergy have already very candidly admitted the truth and force of the grave accusation we have now made against the system; and, in consistency with this admission, they have very conclusively argued in favour of the great and glorious truth, that Jesus died for all men, and by his death made satisfaction for the sins of the entire human race without one single exception. We shall, in due time, point out to you the inconsistency of this important admission with those Calvinian tenets which such authors still retain. In the meantime, we make the two following quotations from the published works of avowed Calvinists, in order to show you, that the very grave objection now adduced against the theory we are 64 examining, is candidly admitted even by men of most orthodox repute.
The theory of an atonement for the elect alone has been rejected by Dr. Wardlaw, on account of “ITS EXCLUDING EVERY THING OF THE NATURE OF GRACE from every part of the process of the sinner’s salvation, excepting the original appointment of the surety, whose payment, in each case, of the estimated debt, cancels the bond, and renders the liberation of the debtor not gracious but obligatory.”—Discourses on the Atonement, p. 63.
The same objection has been urged against the theory by Dr. George Payne of Exeter, in his Ninth Lecture on Sovereignty, &c. At page 148 of his book, this writer observes:—
“1st, That it renders the deliverance of the elect from punishment a matter of justice to them. They may claim it as a right. It is, in this point of view, as if the atonement were the payment of a pecuniary debt, and is not less incompatible with the notion that grace is exercised in the pardon of sin. There may, indeed, consistently with this opinion, have been grace in the acceptance and in the provision of a substitute; but surely, if that substitute endured the precise amount of punishment which the strong arm of the law would have otherwise laid upon those whom he represented, there can be no grace in remitting it afterwards to them.”
In concert with the two distinguished writers from whom we have now quoted, we would raise our 65 testimony against the doctrine of an election of some men only to an exclusive interest in the death of the Son of God; and this we do for the most valid of all reasons,—it is subversive of the grace of God in the justification of believers. What is grace? It is free, unmerited favour; it is unconstrained, voluntary, generous love to those who might justly be condemned. That alone is grace. If it be constrained, it is not grace. If it be merited, it is not grace. If it may not righteously and justly be withheld, it is not grace.
And what is the all but unanimous voice of Calvinistic Scotland? It is that God is bound in justice to save all the elect. Mark it well, my beloved brethren, God is said to be bound in justice to save every soul of man who enters the paradise above. I put it to yourselves if this be not the all but universal shout which proceeds from the hosts of the orthodox when they would act valiantly, and buckle on their armour to do battle against an imaginary heresy. Is not this the universal cry—the watchword of the party:—“Jesus did not, could not, die for all men; for, if he did, then all men would infallibly be saved”? And why? Wherefore is it said to follow, as an obvious conclusion, that all men must be saved if Jesus did (as we say he did) give himself, and shed his precious blood, a ransom for all? The answer is at hand, and it is this: “Because God is bound in justice to save all for whom the Saviour shed his blood, and he would act unjustly if he did not save them.”
Where, then, I ask, is the GRACE of God in their 66 salvation? If God is bound in justice to save those whom he does save, is there a man or woman in this audience who does not see at once the obvious and palpable conclusion? The inevitable conclusion is, that they are indebted not to grace, but to justice, for their salvation. If any one among you is bound in justice to act in a certain way, and if you would be chargeable with injustice were you to refuse so to act, who would think of praising or extolling your generosity when the deed was done? In this case, it is surely evident to you all, that you would be placed under a necessity of acting, so that no thanks to you for granting what you dare not honestly and justly und righteously withhold. Will any man deny that if you were my debtor, and if your debt is paid—if the uttermost farthing has been wrung from you—and if I seek, in the face of this, to lay bold of you, in order to imprison you for the debt, you are in a position to defy me to my face? And what would you think of me, and what would you not say of me, if I were seeking to take credit to myself for most wonderful generosity and grace, simply because I did not throw you into prison? You see at once, from this simple case, that what I am bound in justice to do, so that I would act unjustly if I did not do it, ceases, for that plain and obvious reason, to be an act of grace. The principle is not altered by making the supposition that the debt is paid, not by you but by your cautioner. The simple question between you and me is this: “Is the debt discharged, or is it not?” If it be discharged, then I 67 am bound in justice to set you free from all farther obligation. If the debt be not discharged, and you come to me, saying, “Forgive me my debt,” the fact of your asking a free forgiveness of it is, on your part, an acknowledgment that you are dependent upon my grace, and cannot—dare not—appeal to my justice for the discharge. If you say, “Forgive me my debts,” and I freely forgive you all, though in justice I be not bound to forgive you aught, then, and then only, may I speak of grace.
Let this very obvious principle be applied to the case in hand. We may very easily perceive, from the principles of the false and unscriptural theology of the day, that the grace of God in saving the sinner is thereby denied and subverted. The system of Calvin, Candlish, and the Confession, speaks plainly out upon this head. It says in plain and express and definite words, that God cannot, without. the most glaring injustice, lay a condemning hand upon one soul of the elect. The elect, accordingly, may defy God to condemn them. They are, according to this theory, in a position to march up to the gate of heaven and demand admission. They have no need to say to God, “Father, forgive us our debts;” they have only to remind him that he dare not exact them without acting unjustly, and thereby shaking the pillars of his government and subverting the foundations of his throne. If they were to say, “forgive us our debts,” they would thereby recede from the claim of justice, and fall back upon the acknowledgment of grace. But this they 68 cannot do without casting their doctrine of election to the winds; for that doctrine teaches them, that their sins do not need to be forgiven, seeing that these same sins are imagined to be real, literal debts, which were eighteen hundred years ago most fully discharged; and therefore, as an act of common justice, cannot now be brought up against them!
May I not here, my friends, most earnestly and solemnly press upon your attention the simple but very striking fact, that our blessed Saviour has taught all who will take HIM as their teacher, daily and hourly to pray, “Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors”? Are you taught by Jesus himself to suppose that sin is a literal debt, so that God is by his death bound in justice to forgive you? Does HE teach you that your heavenly Father would act unjustly by you if he did not pardon your iniquities? No verily. The forgiveness which, for Christ’s sake, is free to all—proclaimed in the gospel to all—pressed most earnestly and sincerely upon the acceptance of all—is not an act of justice but an act of grace. And when our Saviour taught and encouraged his disciples daily to pray for it, and daily to appropriate the blessing as their own he sent them, not to a throne of justice, but to the throne of grace. And, in this very prayer, the greatest and best of teachers most emphatically contradicts and condemns the theory, that God would act unjustly if he did not justify every sinner for whom he died.
There is one other consideration, which I beg, in 69 this connexion, to submit to your attention. If it would be unjust in God to condemn any (for whom Jesus died) in eternity, it would be no less unjust to condemn them in time. If the death of his Son has secured immunity for all for whom he died, in a future world, so that it would be unjust in God to condemn them there, it must have secured the same thing for them in this present world, so that it is no less unjust for him to condemn them here, while they are yet upon the earth. You will notice, what we are called upon to believe, by this doctrine which we are examining. We are called upon to believe, that it would be unjust in God to condemn the elect, simply and exclusively because Jesus bore the condemnation in their room and stead. Now, the simple question to be solved, is a question relating to a matter of fact. Does God not, in point of fact, condemn those for whom the Saviour died? If it would be unjust in God to condemn them because Jesus died for them, we may rest assured that they would never be condemned during any single stage or period of their existence. But it is a fact which cannot be denied, that even the elect are condemned before they believe. It cannot, therefore, be inconsistent with the justice of God to condemn sinners even though Christ has borne the punishment of their sins. If it would be unjust in God to condemn those for whom Christ died, how comes it to pass that in the face of the death of their substitute, they are at any time the children of wrath even as others? It will not be asserted that the mere circumstance of time or 70 place can alter the nature of justice. Neither will it be asserted, that the mere circumstance of a sinner believing or not believing, can make that act of God an act of justice to-day which to-morrow would be most glaringly unjust. Take the case of a debtor and his creditor, as an illustration of this principle to which we now advert. If the creditor is satisfied by having received ample payment, it would be unjust in him to imprison his debtor during the whole period of his natural life. This would be an act of the most palpable injustice. But would the act of imprisonment become an act of justice if the debtor were, in the face of the payment, sent to prison even for a single hour? You can, every one of you, understand this, so as to affirm, without hesitation, that the circumstance of time does not change the moral character of the act. If it is right to condemn and imprison the man for one hour, it is not wrong, in the face of the payment, to condemn and imprison him for life; and, contrariwise, if it be wrong, in the face of the payment of the debt, to condemn and imprison him during life, it does not become right when the period of condemnation is indefinitely shortened. The injustice consists in the act of condemnation and imprisonment in the face of the payment, and not in the time during which the man has been sent to prison, or the place where he has been confined.
Let this illustration be applied to the case before us. It is said that God is bound in justice to justify all those for whom Christ died, and that he would act 71 unjustly if he were to condemn them. The question is, Does he never condemn them? The question is not, Where does he condemn? or, How long does he condemn? The simple question which I press upon your notice is, Does God never at any time condemn them, in the face of the fact, that his Son has met the condemnation in their room and stead? Listen to what Jesus says, “He that believeth not is condemned already.” It cannot, therefore, be unjust in God to condemn those for whom Christ has died. And hence it follows, as an inevitable conclusion, that their justification is not an act of justice but an act of grace.
What then becomes of John Calvin’s doctrine of election? That doctrine, as we have seen, is based upon the assumption, that it is unjust in God, under any circumstances, to condemn any for whom the Saviour died. I appeal from Calvin and Candlish and the Confession of Faith, to the Word of God; and I ask you, with your Bibles, and the judgment-seat of God before you, solemnly to say, whether the doctrine, now under review, be not opposed to the word of truth and totally subversive of the grace of God in the salvation of the sinner.
But this is not all the mischief which results from the error now under consideration. That theory of election not only subverts the doctrine of free grace, it makes Jesus Christ himself the great agent in the overthrow. By this, the death of the Son of God is represented as instrumental in robbing the Father of his glory in the salvation of man. It is said that the 72 sacrifice of his Son has rendered it imperative upon the Father to save certain sinners of the human race. This is an obligation binding upon God, in consequence of the atonement. Had Jesus not shed his blood for them, God would not have been bound in justice to save those sinners for whom he died. But now that his Son has died, it would be unjust in God to condemn them. This is what many people are taught to believe. Let us see to what an awful conclusion this statement conducts us.
It lands us at once in the conclusion, that by his atoning sacrifice, Jesus Christ has rendered it impossible for God to exercise grace in the justification of the sinner who believes. You will observe again, that we restrict our observation to the act of God in justifying the ungodly. We are not speaking of the previous act of God in giving up his Son to die, for it is but justice to those from whom we differ again to remind you, that their doctrine is free from the charge now advanced against it, if we confine ourselves merely to the act of the Father in giving up his Son to die for sinners. Our friends, from whom we differ, do not deny the grace of God in the primary act, of giving up his Son even to the death—the cursed death of the cross. They admit, and constantly do they affirm, that there is here the most wonderful manifestation of free grace the universe ever witnessed. And they are ever forward to make this most important and truthful concession. But you are not to permit your minds to be led off from the point now before us, by this 73 admission on the part of Calvinists, important as it is. There is a difference between the act of God in sending his Son, and the act of God in justifying the ungodly who believe. The two acts of God are separate and distinct. The Son was sent into the world eighteen hundred years ago. The sinner who trusts to the sacrifice of the Son is not justified until he believes. You will observe, therefore, what is the precise charge which we adduce against that theory of election which restricts the death of Christ to the elect and to them alone. We affirm, that while it does not fail to exhibit the grace of God in the gift of his Son, it destroys the grace of God in the justification and salvation of the sinner; and, more especially, it exhibits the very sacrifice of the Son of God as that which renders it utterly impossible for God to exercise grace in the act of justification. If justification be of debt, it is no more of grace, otherwise debt is no more debt,—and if it be of grace, it is no more of debt, otherwise grace is no more grace. It matters not to whom it is affirmed, that God is bound, or to whom he is so indebted as to be compelled, in justice, to justify any sinner, be that sinner who he may. It matters not, though it should be said, as said it is, that God is bound or indebted, not as an act of justice to the sinner, but as an act of justice to his Son, to justify every sinner for whom he died. The merest child will perceive that this attempt to escape the dreadful conclusion is a mere evasion. For the question before us is not—to whom is God the Father bound. The simple 74 query before us relates to the plain matter of fact—Is God bound, or is he free, to justify? If he be bound so that it would be unjust in him to condemn the sinner, it does not meet, but rather evades and jinks the difficulty, to turn our attention to the statement, that it is to his own Son that God is bound. Nothing can be more evident than this, that whether it be the sinner himself who has brought God under a debt of justice, or whether it be the sinner’s substitute who has brought God under a debt of justice to justify the ungodly, the matter of fact is not thereby altered, but remains unchangeably the same, that on either supposition it is not justification by free grace, but justification as an act of common and ordinary justice which this notion of election ascribes to God the Father. What would you do, if any of you were owing me a debt of one thousand pounds, in order to destroy the possibility of any exercise of grace on my part? You would pay down the money. You would count it over to the uttermost farthing, and you would thereby evince your determination to put it out of my power to show you any favour—to exercise toward you any grace. And if you could not pay me yourself, in what other way could I be prevented from exercising toward you the slightest particle of grace? Your cautioner would pay down the money and forthwith demand your discharge. In this case, indeed, I would be shut up to the exercise of justice, but just for that, reason would I be shut out from the barest possibility of exercising the prerogative 75 of grace. The man would rob me of the honour or the glory of free grace by the self-same act, whereby he should constrain me to give you a discharge as an act of common honesty and ordinary justice.
Now it is precisely in this way that the Calvinian theory of election represents the Son of God as, by his very death, robbing his Father of the glory of his grace in the act of justifying the sinner who believes. It represents the Son as placing God under an obligation of strict justice thus to act. According to this, Jesus by his death left no room or scope whatever for the exercise of grace in the matter of justification. He thereby rendered the exercise of grace a natural and total impossibility. Such a representation, or rather misrepresentation, of the death of the Son of God, ought to be rejected, therefore, on account of “its excluding”—to quote again the well chosen words of the venerable Dr. Wardlaw—“everything of the nature of grace from every part of the process of the sinner’s salvation excepting the original appointment of the surety, whose payment in each case of the estimated debt cancels the bond, and renders the liberation of the debtor not gracious but obligatory.” Such is our deliberate assertion in reference to the scheme of doctrine now under examination. It is a tremendous charge which id substantiated against it, that it excludes everything of the nature of grace, and renders the justification of the sinner not gracious but obligatory.
And what renders the blasphemy more striking is the fact to which we now particularly advert. It 76 represents the blessed atonement as putting an extinguisher upon the most glorious manifestation of the divine character. It exhibits the Son of God as playing the part of an unnatural Absalom, and tearing rudely from his father’s crown the brightest gem which sparkles there. How widely different from all this is the real state of matters as exhibited in the Bible! Here we learn, that it was to honour his Father that the Son of God came down to earth upon his bloody and merciful errand. He came—not to destroy the possibility of his Father exercising the glorious prerogative of grace, but to open up a way for its wide and consistent manifestation. He came—not to shroud the free grace of God in everlasting gloom (a gloom illumined by no other manifestation save the fiery flash of justice), but to take away the covering which, but for his death, must ever have intervened between the grace of God and sinful man. He came—not to force a God of justice to save, but to leave God at liberty to save, without the slightest violation of one solitary principle of his righteous and just administration. He came—not for the purpose of fixing down upon his Father’s character the charge of injustice, should his Father not extend to sinners the sceptre of mercy, and hold out the olive branch of peace—but to clear at once and for ever the injured and maligned reputation of God, by causing grace to walk forth over the sinful world (which the foul calumniator of God had said God did not love) in glorious harmony with justice and righteousness and truth. He came—not to make God 77 out to be an unjust God if he should in any case not be received as a Saviour, but to exhibit God as a just God and yet a Saviour. He came—not to exhibit truth at the expense of mercy, nor righteousness at the expense of peace, but at his coming, and around his cross, “Mercy and truth met together, righteousness and peace embraced each other.” In one single word, the death of Jesus did not render it imperative on God to save one sinner of the race. What then did it do? It rendered it consistent with the justice of God to save all who believe. In this way the blessed atonement did not destroy grace, but on the contrary it opened up a channel for its consistent exercise, so that now the whole world is under its benignant reign. And thus it is abundantly manifest, that while the coffin and the funeral and the grave-yard proclaim through all the earth, in the ears of all earth’s generations, that “sin hath reigned unto death”—the rain and the sunlight and the healthful breeze, and above all, the lively hope of a blissful immortality, proclaim aloud to all, that “grace hath reigned through righteousness, unto eternal life, by Jesus Christ our Lord.”
“Sin is frequently described as a debt (remarks Dr. Payne), and the atonement as the payment of this debt; and if we were careful to recollect that these are symbolical or figurative terms, we should not be misled by the phraseology. But the misfortune is, that words which are really figurative, and which are employed for the sole purpose of illustration, have been understood and explained literally. Sin has been represented 78 as a real debt, and the atonement as a real payment of that debt; and the unhappy result is, that darkness of the densest kind has been made to envelope the whole subject. There are individuals who imagine that Christ rescues his people from the claims of divine justice in precisely the same way in which a generous friend delivers a debtor from captivity, by advancing the necessary sum in his behalf. Now I would not affirm that it is impossible for such persons to be saved by an humble hope in the mercy of God through Jesus Christ; but I can have no hesitation in expressing the opinion, that they do not understand the atonement.22 Dr. Payne does not surely suppose that any man can be saved who does not BELIEVE in the atonement. But Dr. P. has unanswerably proved that “faith cannot exist where the meaning of the atonement is not understood.”—Lec. 17, pp. 273, 274. How then CAN the persons referred to above be saved? A pecuniary satisfaction, and a moral satisfaction differ essentially in their nature, and proceed on radically different principles. Perhaps no man has set this difference in a clearer light than the late Mr. Fuller, whose words I quote:—‘I apprehend,’ says this excellent writer, ’that very important mistakes have arisen from considering the interposition of Christ under the notion of paying a debt. The blood of Christ is, indeed, the price of our redemption, or that for the sake of which we are delivered from the curse of the law; but this metaphorical language, as well as that of head and members, may be carried too far, and may lead us into many errors. In cases of debt and credit 79 among men, when a surety undertakes to represent the debtor, from the moment his undertaking is accepted, the debtor is free, and may obtain his liberty, not as a matter of favour, at least on the part of the creditor, but of strict justice.’ ‘But who in his sober senses will imagine this to be analogous to the redemption of sinners by Jesus Christ? Sin is a debt only in a metaphorical sense; properly speaking, it is a crime, and satisfaction for it requires to be made, not on pecuniary, but on moral principles. If Philemon had accepted of that part of Paul’s offer which respected property, and had placed so much of it to his account as he considered Onesimus to have owed him, he could not have been said to have remitted his debt, nor would Onesimus have had to thank him for remitting it. But it is supposed of Onesimus, that he might not only be in debt to his master, but have wronged him. Perhaps he had embezzled his goods, corrupted his children, or injured his character. Now, for Philemon to accept that part of the offer were very different from the other. In the one case, he would have accepted of a pecuniary representative; in the other, of a moral one; i. e., of a mediator. The satisfaction, in the one case, would annihilate the very idea of remission; but not in the other. Whatever satisfaction Paul might give to Philemon respecting the wound inflicted upon his character and honour, as the head of a family, it would not supersede the necessity of pardon being sought by the offender, and freely bestowed by the offended.
“‘The reason of this difference is easily perceived. 80 Debts are transferable, but crimes are not. A third person may cancel the one, but he can only obliterate the effects of the other; the desert of the criminal remains. The debtor is accountable to his creditor as a private individual, who has power to accept of a surety, or, if he please, to remit the whole without any satisfaction. In the one case he would be just, in the other merciful; but no place is afforded by either of them for the combination of justice and mercy in the same proceeding. The criminal, on the other hand, is amenable to the magistrate, or to the head of a family, as a public person; and who, especially if the offence be capital, cannot remit the punishment without invading law and justice; nor in the ordinary discharge of his office, admit of a third person to stand in his place. In extraordinary cases, however, extraordinary expedients are resorted to. A satisfaction may be made to law and justice, as to the spirit of them, while the letter is dispensed with. The well-known story of Zaleuchus, the Grecian lawgiver, who consented to lose one of his own eyes, to save one of his son’s eyes—who, by transgressing the law, had subjected himself to the loss of both—is an example. Here, as far as it went, justice and mercy were combined in the same act; and had the satisfaction been much fuller than it was—so full that the authority of the law, instead of being weakened, should have been abundantly magnified and honoured, still it had been perfectly consistent with free forgiveness. Finally, in the case of the debtor, satisfaction being once accepted, 81justice requires his complete discharge; but m that of the criminal, where satisfaction is made to the wounded honour of the law and the authority of the lawgiver, justice, though it admits of his discharge, yet no otherwise requires it, than as it may have been matter of promise to the substitute.’”—Payne on Sovereignty, pp. 142-5.
This concluding observation, quoted by Dr. Payne from Andrew Fuller, unhappily clouds and obscures the whole of the valuable remarks which we have quoted in illustration of the point we have throughout been considering. It seems to indicate that the pardon of the sinner may, in one sense, be regarded as founded on a claim of justice, on the ground of a promise to the, substitute. What is the promise, on the ground of which pardon is here supposed to be, in any sense, a matter of justice? and where is it to be found? Can any man point to a single promise made to our glorious substitute, wherein God binds himself to pardon any sinner as a matter of right? Where or when did the Father stipulate with the Son to dispense forgiveness to the believer on the presentation of a claim of justice? This is what the theory we are now considering, and the mistake against which Fuller was writing, most erroneously assumes. It assumes that the death of Jesus was of the nature of a pecuniary transaction—a pounds-shillings-and-pence satisfaction—on the ground of which, God could not fail to pardon all for whom it was offered, without being unjust. If this be a. true representation of the death of the Son of God, the promise 82 to dispense pardon, on the ground of it, could not be anything more or less than a promise to dispense a pardon which it would be unjust to withhold. But the extract just quoted points out the radical error which leads to such a view of the atonement; and our previous observations point out the fact, that the theory of election, which is based upon it, involves the subversion of free and sovereign grace. Now every blessing included in the promises of God to believers, God has pledged himself to communicate, not as an act of justice, but an act of grace. If then the promise itself involve a pledge to communicate blessings to the believing sinner, under the distinct provision that they might, every one of them, be righteously and justly withheld, it seems strange that any man should dream of founding upon such a promise a claim of justice and of right. We humbly submit, in opposition to the exceptionable statement on which we now remark, that even in the view of the promise, justice cannot require the release of the sinner who believeth in Jesus. This fact is certified by the very nature of the promise itself. It is the promise of pardon from a God, who, while he promises to pardon, promises also to retain and assert his right to condemn. It is a promise to dispense grace-free grace; and should any sinner lay hold of the promise, and seek to convert it into a claim of right, he thereby forfeits and rejects the very blessing which the Faithful and True Witness has pledged himself graciously to communicate. In the view of the promises, the sinner may, indeed, plead the FAITHFULNESS 83 of a promise-loving and a promise-keeping God; but woe be to the man who perverts the grace of God, and the gracious promises of God, so as to imagine that, in any case, strict JUSTICE demands his release.
It is worthy of passing observation, that the doctrine we are engaged in examining is, in its bearing upon the grace of God, the twin sister of Socinianism. The Socinian denies altogether the necessity of a satisfaction for sin in order to warrant God to show mercy and extend his grace to the sinner. He leaves no room for the exercise of grace, because he points the sinner to no atonement for the satisfaction of the justice and the vindication of the righteousness of Jehovah. He thereby renders the exercise of grace an utter impossibility. But extremes meet. And so the system of Calvin and Candlish, by pursuing a different route around the circle of error, lands men in the self-same unscriptural and false conclusion. The latter system destroys grace by ascribing to justice the justification of the sinner; while the former system destroys grace by leaving no room for its consistent development. The Calvinist exclaims, that God would act unjustly if he did not justify. The Socinian rejoins, that no satisfaction has ever been made at all to divine justice. The one sets aside grace by ascribing the result to justice; the other sets aside grace, by leaving the sword of justice still unsheathed, so as still to guard and barup the way against the possibility of a free—a gracious salvation. Both systems agree in denying the free 84 grace of God, and, therefore, both are proved to be utterly at variance with the Scriptures of truth.
Here, again, therefore, you perceive the application of the great principle exhibited at the outset of this discourse. And remembering the important distinction between what is above reason, and what is contrary to reason, you will be able, each one of you, freely to investigate, and candidly to decide. You will see that it is not with something plainly and distinctly revealed, but which is mysterious and concealed in its nature and bearings, that you have here to do. It is not with something above and beyond the reach of human reason to comprehend. We have here to do with a doctrine which is evidently absurd and false, because it is at once self-contradictory, and opposed to, and condemned by, the plainest doctrines of God’s Word. It is utterly impossible for any man to believe two opposing statements at one and the same instant of time. He must cease to exercise his reason, and his common sense, if he can possibly be prevailed upon so to do. He must become a Papist, and hand over his conscience and his right of private judgment to the infallible Church, before he can possibly receive two contradictory statements as truth. The question, therefore, is level to the meanest capacity, and it is right that I should press it: Are you, my brethren, prepared to deny, and to cast aside, and to trample under foot, the free grace of God, and to perpetuate, as far as in you lies, the reign of error in our land, rather than cast 85 away the doctrine which we have proved to be totally subversive of free grace? This is the simple question which we leave you to answer, every one of you, according to your responsibility to God, and not to man.
But ere I close my present address, suffer me, beloved friends, to approach a little more closely to the personal experience of each individual sinner in this assembly. May I not speak to each man amongst you, even as one friend addresses another, in sweet and familiar intercourse, and inquire of each of you, personally and individually—Hast thou tasted that the Lord is gracious? Canst thou not, my brother, honestly trust the heart of thy God? Wouldst thou bind HIM down with covenants and bonds, so that thou canst not feel thyself safe in his hands, unless thou canst defy him to hurt a hair of thine head by a desperate appeal to iron-handed justice? Wilt thou not trust his grace? Is it not enough, that the justice of God is fully and for ever satisfied for all thy sins, so that justice no longer bars the door against thy speedy, instant return to thy forsaken home of everlasting safety, and thy Father’s bosom of infinite compassion? Wilt thou not think thyself safe enough in His presence, unless thou art assured that his hand is bound down by justice, so that he dare not smite thee for thy sins? Whence arises all this doubt? Whence all this fearful suspicion and trembling dread? Whence the anxious surmise that thy guilty soul is Lost for ever, unless the God against whom thou hast 86 rebelled, be bound in justice and in equity to save thee? Ah, my brother, seest thou not that all this is the work of the slanderer of thy God? “He loves thee not. He is a stern, relentless, heartless spirit. And withal he is omnipotent, and it is not safe for thee to trust him, unless thou seest him bound and shackled so that he cannot, dare not strike thee down.” These are the suggestions of Satan, wherewith he would fill thy soul, O sinner, with unbelieving doubts and dark suspicions. “Behold the Lamb of God.” Why did God give up his Son to die for all the world, and for thee? It was because he “so loved the world.” His love, then, was not won or purchased by the wondrous sacrifice. His love to thy soul procured the sacrifice, and did not grudge the mighty cost whereby the flaming sword of angry justice might be averted from the gate which leads back to life and happiness for ever. Canst thou not, then, in the view of all this, trust the grace—the heart of thy God? Canst thou not trust that heart which loved thee so as to spare not his own Son? Canst thou not trust that heart which was pierced for thy sins upon the cross? Thy sins are all atoned for now. They form no reason why thou shouldst perish for ever. Thy Saviour’s blood has washed them all away. But if in the face of all this, thou wilt still nourish thy damning unbelief, and hug to thy bosom a dark suspicion of thy God,—if thou wilt not cast aside thy doubts and fears until thou canst prevail upon thy trembling soul to think that thy God is bound, by an invincible necessity of justice and 87 rectitude, to save thee,—if thou wilt not enter into heaven itself until thou canst read thy warrant, inscribed by the hand of justice over its shining portals—never—never—never canst thou enter in.
“Man, on the dubious waves of error toss’d,
His ship half-founder’d and his compass lost,
Sees, far as human optics may command,
A sleeping fog, and fancies it dry land;
Spreads all his canvas, every sinew plies;
Pants for’t, aims at it, enters it, and dies!
Then farewell all self-satisfying schemes,
His well-built systems, philosophic dreams;
Deceitful views of future bliss, farewell!—
He reads his sentence at the flames of hell.
Hard lot of man-to toil for the reward
Of virtue, and yet lose it! Wherefore hard?
He that would win the race must guide his horse
Obedient to the customs of the course;
Else, though unequall’d to the goal he flies,
A meaner than himself shall gain the prize.
GRACE LEADS THE RIGHT WAY: if you choose the wrong,
Take it and perish; but restrain your tongue;
Charge not, with light sufficient and LEFT FREE,
Your wilful suicide on GOD’S DECREE.”
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