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PRECEDENCY OF GOD’S WILL TO MAN’S WILL—“WHATSOEVER COMES TO PASS” NOT FOREORDAINED—GOD HAS NOT DECREED WICKEDNESS—MAN ALONE RESPONSIBLE FOR HIS SOUL’S SALVATION.
JAMES i. 13.—“Let no man say, when he is tempted, I am tempted of God:: for God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man.”
ACTS ii. 23.—“Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain.”
ACTS iv. 27.—“’Of a truth against thy holy child Jesus, whom thou hast anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles, and the people of Israel, were gathered together, for to do whatsoever thy hand and thy counsel determined before to be done.”
JOHN x. 18.—“No man taketh it [my life] from me, but I lay it down of myself: I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it again.”
“NOTHING in the universe [says Mr. Bonar, in the extracts quoted in our last Lecture] takes place without the will of God. This is admitted. But it is asked, Is this will FIRST IN EVERYTHING? I answer, Yes. The will of God goes before all other wills. It does not depend on them, but they depend on it. Its movements regulate them. The ‘I will’ of Jehovah is that which sets in motion EVERYTHING in heaven and in earth. The ‘I will’ of Jehovah is the SPRING AND ORIGIN OF ALL THAT IS DONE throughout the universe, great or small, among things animate and 121 inanimate. EVERYTHING in this world happens according to God’s eternal arrangements. Nothing takes place except what God causes to be or permits to be; and whatever happens in time is decreed from eternity. EVEN THE WICKED DEED of those who crucified the Lord of Glory is said, by the apostle, to, be determined before by the hand and counsel of God.”
It will be observed, therefore, what the great question before us really is:—“Is the will of God FIRST IN EVERYTHING.” That is the real question, we might almost say the ONLY question, to be disposed of. It is necessary that this point should be well understood and steadily kept in view. This is necessary, because the writer from whom we have now again quoted, in common with all his brethren, is constantly forgetting the question under discussion, and very generally writes and speaks and acts as if the real question were—“Is the will of God first in ANYTHING.” These divines are ever and anon engaged in directing their anathemas against us, as if we denied the precedency of the Divine will in the conversion and ultimate salvation of the sinner. It is, therefore, necessary for you to understand distinctly that there is no question upon this point between us and the brethren whose doctrine we oppose. That the will of God is first in the salvation of every sinner who is saved—that this will goes before every other will, and is the spring or origin of all that is holy or excellent or fair or good in the wide universe—that whatever is good or happy in creation or providence is to be traced to the will of God as its ultimate 122 origin or source—all this we rejoice to admit, and do constantly affirm, and stand prepared, from reason and from Scripture, unanswerably to demonstrate. It will be observed, therefore, that our opponents in argument only manifest the weakness of their cause, and the miserable position of their system of theology, when they indulge in slanderous and false assertions against the truth which they oppose and revile as heresy. It is vain for them to misrepresent and slander the sentiments of their opponents, by asserting, as they do, that our system makes the will of man to be supreme, and undeifies the Deity—that we make the sinner his own Saviour—that we deny the sovereignty and grace of God, and reduce all things to mere chance work. Such assertions as these may indeed deceive the ignorant, and impose upon indolent or prejudiced minds, who will not take the trouble to inquire for themselves; but as the progress of inquiry goes forward, and men begin to THINK and to investigate, such assertions as these will be detected in their true character, and will only expose the falsehood and the delusiveness of that system of theology which NEEDS such crutches in order to prevent its instant prostration. We have once more given prominence to the statements of a Free Church minister, in order to set the question in its true and proper position. We take it as Mr. Bonar has correctly enough stated it. It is not whether the will of God be first in ANYTHING, but, “Is this will first in EVERYTHING?” To this question the theology we oppose answers, “Yes;” while we 123 affirm that the Word of God, and common sense itself, answers, “No.” God’s will is NOT first in everything; it is NOT the spring and origin of wickedness. We affirm that all that is good and excellent and blessed has been originated by God. We affirm that God’s will has already set in motion the entire mechanism of redemption, and has already prepared all things necessary for the present and everlasting happiness of sinners of mankind, and has already moved downwards to earth’s guilty population, and finished the work of atonement for every man’s sins, and has already provided the influence of the Blessed Spirit for every man’s conversion, so that “ALL THINGS ARE NOW READY,” and so that every sinner who voluntarily accepts of the provision thus graciously made, is justified and sanctified and saved solely and exclusively as the result of God’s will taking the precedency of his will, and bringing to his very door a free and unmerited salvation. But we do not affirm, with Mr. Bonar, that the will of God takes the precedency of the wills of devils and of men in the introduction of sin and misery into the universe. The origin of evil is not left by this writer, or by his system of theology, as anything mysterious. It is by him accounted for most fully! It is by him traced back directly to God himself! And every word, therefore, which is uttered from the pulpit, and every sentence that is emitted from the press, by Calvinistic divines, which does not father all iniquity upon a holy God, is neither more nor less nor else than a denial and condemnation of their own unscriptural and false theology—124a theology whose days are numbered, and which ought, long ere now, to have been for ever exploded.
The question, therefore, is, Whether the will of God takes the precedency of created wills in EVERYTHING? and more particularly, Whether the apostle inculcates this doctrine in the Acts of the Apostles, by ascribing even THE WICKEDNESS of those who crucified the Lord of Glory to God’s unalterable decree? This is the question which presents itself for our consideration this evening. In reply to the question, we solicit your patient attention to three observations.
1. We submit, in the first place, that the apostle, in the passage referred to, ascribes to THE FOREKNOWLEDGE of God what has been improperly traced by Calvin and his followers to God’s decree.
We have seen, in our former discourse, that the system of Calvinism does not admit the possibility of God’s foreknowledge of anything which he has not himself previously decreed. It teaches men to believe that nothing which God has not himself fixed by his decree can be certain, and, as a matter of course, that nothing which is uncertain can be foreknown. According to this system, God stands in need of a decree to enlighten his mind as to the events which are hid and concealed in the womb of futurity. Short-sighted men cannot understand how anything can be foreknown as certain, unless the almighty will of God be previously pledged to bring it into existence. And because the proud mortal cannot understand this, he presumes, as we have formerly seen, bluntly to deny the reality, and even the possibility of it.125
We humbly submit, that such a conclusion as this, is dictated by the most unreasonable vanity and pride. It is most unreasonable to deny the reality of a plainly revealed fact, simply because our limited capacities cannot apprehend the how and the wherefore of its existence, Presumption such as this, is happily no longer tolerated in our researches into the philosophy of matter, and the wonder is, that it should be tolerated and patronized, by intelligent men, when we come to investigate the philosophy of mind. And surely when we approach a theme so lofty as the philosophy of the infinite mind of the infinite Jehovah, it becomes us to lie low in the dust, and receive, like little children, the plainest statements of a well-accredited revelation. But this becoming spirit of humility seems to have been entirely cast aside by those who have hazarded the assertion, that the wickedness of our Saviour’s murderers is said, by an inspired apostle, in the verses under consideration, to have been originated and decreed by God. They who discover in these verses any such statement as this, have come to the Bible with their preconceived notions, and, instead of testing their theory by the Word of God, they have interpreted the Word of God so as to suit their theory. They have come to these Scripture passages, not for the purpose of accommodating their system of theology to the Bible, but manifestly for the purpose of squaring and explaining the statements of the Bible so as to tally with their system of theology, and make the Word of God speak the language, and inculcate the most 126 absurd and blasphemous tenets of Calvinism. Have these theologians not laid it down as an indisputable truth, that nothing can be foreseen as certain which does not happen to have been foreordained? Have they not taken it for granted, without any proof, that if anything can be said to depend on the will of man, or any created will, it is impossible even for Omniscience to apprehend its future certainty? Do they not freely speak even of GUESS WORK in connexion with omniscience, unless they are permitted to assume, and take it for granted, that everything which comes to pass has been decreed? This is what we call by the name of presumption. But it forms the source and origin of the false and erroneous interpretation, according to which “even the wicked deed of those who crucified the Lord of Glory” is said to have been “determined before by the hand and counsel of God.” This is indeed the evident import of those two passages in the Acts of the Apostles, provided a man be entitled to take it for granted, that foreknowledge necessarily presupposes the existence of a foregone decree. But let this gratuitous assumption be called in question, and the verses under consideration utter no such response as that which falls upon Calvinistic ears. Deny the assumption, that whatever is foreknown must needs have been decreed, and look at the two passages of Scripture as they stand before you, and you find a very important distinction existing between the foreknowledge of God and the determinate counsel or decree of God; and then the inquiry remains, “WHAT did God 127FOREKNOW?” But this does not exhaust the inquiry, for another question presents itself, and it is this—“WHAT did God DECREE in connexion with the transactions of Calvary?”
There is but one question, indeed, suggested by these verses, if any man may reasonably and justly confound the foreknowledge with the decree of God, and look upon them as embracing the self-same events. But if there exist an important distinction between foreknowledge and foreordination, so that anything may be certainly foreknown without having been absolutely decreed by an infinitely perfect God—if you grant the existence of such an important distinction as this, you must admit that there are two separate and distinct inquiries involved in the texts now under review. That such a distinction exists, is evident from the nature of the two things—the one involving no more than certain and simple apprehension, the other involving absolute and necessary causation; the one pointing to something which God knows, the other pointing to something which God causes and originates; and, as foreknowledge and decree are, in their own nature, separate and distinct, so they are distinctly and separately mentioned in the Scripture passages themselves.
What, then, did God foreknow connected with the death of his only-begotten and well-beloved Son? In reply to this question, we call your attention to two observations.
(1.) God foreknew, from eternity, with infallible 128 certainty, all the wickedness which was exhibited by that ungodly generation.
(2.) God foreknew, from eternity, with infallible certainty, the possibility of the men who acted wickedly refraining from their wickedness, and thinking and speaking and acting otherwise than they actually and certainly did.
He foreknew, for example, that Judas would betray Christ, and that Peter would deny him; but he also foreknew that Judas might not have betrayed his Master, and that Peter might not have denied him. But, on the supposition that the wickedness which was exhibited in connexion with the sufferings and death of Jesus had been decreed or foreordained by God, it would not be true that such wickedness was foreknown otherwise than as absolutely and necessarily certain, and so it would not be true that God could foreknow the possibility of its non-existence. To recur to the familiar examples which we have selected for the sake of illustration, it would not be true that Judas might not have betrayed Christ, or that Peter might not have denied him, if these deeds of wickedness had been unconditionally decreed. It may here be said that God might have decreed otherwise than he did decree, and so that Judas might not have betrayed and that Peter might not have denied the Saviour. But you will not fail to observe, that this assertion is made, by those who make it, for the purpose of leading our minds away from the question which 129 now faces us. That question relates not to the decree, but to the foreknowledge of God. We inquire not, whether it was possible for God to decree otherwise than it is said he did decree; the question is, Did God foreknow the possibility of the non-existence of the wickedness of which we speak? Did he foreknow the possibility of Judas not betraying, and of Peter confessing instead of denying his Lord? To this question, Calvinism has a ready answer. “He did not foreknow any such possibility.” This reply is quite consistent with the theory. It springs necessarily out of the theory. The theory is that the decree is the foundation of the foreknowledge, so that God foreknows a thing because he has decreed it. But we are told that God decreed the wickedness—he fixed, by his decree, that Judas and Peter would certainly act precisely as they did act. But it was not possible for the decree of God to fail, therefore it was not possible for Judas not to betray or for Peter not to deny the Saviour. And if it was not possible for Judas and Peter to act otherwise than they did act, God could not, of course, foreknow it to be possible.
When it is asserted, therefore, that both Judas and Peter might have acted differently, if God had been pleased to decree differently, you will see at once that this is saying nothing to the purpose. This is merely asserting the free agency of God for the purpose of evading the blunt and unequivocal denial of the free agency of man. We beg leave to hold our friends sternly to the point. When a man sins, they say truly 130 that the man is verily blameworthy, because it was possible for him to have acted differently. We want no more of them than this good confession, and we merely insist upon their standing honestly by the obvious meaning of the words. They avow that it was possible for the man to have abstained from sinning. We press the question. What do these theologians mean when they avow the existence of such a possibility? Mark well, my friends, what is the reply which this theology affords to this plain and simple question: “It was quite possible for the man to have refrained from sin, because it is quite conceivable that God, if he had so chosen, might not have decreed that the main should commit iniquity”!! What is this but asserting the free agency of God, and at the same time denying the free agency of man? But the question is not whether God be a free agent;—the question relates to the free agency of men, The question is, “Is it possible for men to act differently than they do act when they choose to act wickedly?” And surely it is only a crafty and cowardly and dishonest evasion of this question to inform us, that “it was possible for God to have decreed differently”! Do we speak uncharitably, or do we speak honestly, when we say that this theology is a deception, and that its doctors and expounders practise a deception upon the minds and consciences of the people who follow in their wake? Speak they not daily as if they believed that man is a free and responsible agent? And, in saying this, do they not speak truly? But, under the guise 131 of truth, do they not conceal a palpable falsehood? What is their meaning? They mean to say what their theology inculcates. They mean to assert the necessary dependence of man’s will upon God’s will “in everything, great or small,” in this wicked world. They say to the sinner, that he might have refrained from sin, and that he ought to have refrained from it, but their meaning is, that, according to God’s eternal arrangements, it was not possible for the man to have acted differently!
When we, therefore, propose the question, “What did God foreknow in accordance with the statement embodied in the Acts of the Apostles?” our friends inform us that God foreknew what he himself decreed; but they tell us farther, that God decreed the wickedness. He could not, therefore, decree the possibility of the non-existence of the wickedness. He could not decree it to be quite possible that his own decree should fail. Surely not. Seeing, therefore, that God foreknew neither more nor less nor else than what he himself decreed, it follows that God, according to this theology, did not and could not possibly foreknow the possibility of the wicked men, who wickedly persecuted and blasphemed and crucified the Lord of Glory, acting differently in one single point, or refraining from one single act of sin. To recur, again, to our illustrations, God decreed that Judas and Peter should act as they did act, and he foreknew that they should so act, through the medium of his decree (which is said to be the foundation of his foreknowledge), and he did not and 132 could not foreknow that Judas or Peter might have acted differently, for differently it was not possible for either of them to act without frustrating God’s decree.
Our appeal is now made to a host of witnesses. We appeal to every man, woman, and child on the face of the earth, not excluding our opponents themselves. We appeal confidently to every man’s own consciousness. We ask every man to say, whether he is not conscious within himself that, when he sins, he might have refrained from sinning. Is it not upon this assumption that laws are framed? Does not the very existence of all law, human as well as divine, proceed upon the assumption, that it is quite possible for the subjects to obey them? And do not the pains and penalties appended to the transgression of every law, assume the existence of the possibility of the transgressor acting differently? Is it not every man’s duty to obey a just and righteous administration, just because it is quite possible for him to obey it?—and is it not for this very reason that the transgression of a just law is justly punishable?
Let the false philosophy which has been engrafted by Calvin upon the Word of God become dominant in society, and where are the safeguards of peace and good order and morality and liberty herself! They are overthrown and demolished by the rude hand of revolutionary ignorance. And who are the men who have trampled upon all law, human and divine, and waded through seas of blood to attain their revolutionary purposes? They have been those who have 133 cast aside the Bible, and bad their minds poisoned and their consciences seared by the philosophy of Calvin. What is Socialism but Calvinism without a Bible? And what is Calvinism? What is it which characterizes this system and marks it out as a theology different from the system which we seek to advance? The Free Church minister, from whom we have quoted, has himself stated the question between this theology and the system which opposes it, by asking, “Is God’s will first in everything?”
But against this system of error we have our appeal. We have our appeal, as we have said, to the unsophisticated consciousness of universal humanity. The most hardened criminal carries along with him to the jail and to the scaffold the consciousness of blameworthiness, and this consciousness is based upon the innate conviction of the fact that HE MIGHT HAVE acted otherwise, and that it was quite POSSIBLE to have refrained from committing the crimes which have hurried him to an ignominious end. And does not the whole Bible, from beginning to end, proceed upon the principle for which we now contend? Does not every command and promise and threatening and blessed invitation of the Word of God proceed upon the great principle which universal consciousness attests, and demonstrate the truthfulness of our position, when we now maintain that every man who acts wickedly MIGHT act in consistency with conscience and the will of God?
It is, therefore, a question which affects every man’s interest for time as well as for eternity. Are you disposed, my friends, to be juggled out of all that is dear 134 to you in time, and precious throughout eternity, by this false and juggling theology? See ye not to what an awful conclusion it conducts you? Perceive ye not the false philosophy on which this system of error is avowedly based? It is based upon the denial of the freedom of man’s will, save in the sense that the will of man is necessarily dependent upon and regulated by the antecedent will of God “in everything.” It informs a wicked and godless generation, as they pursue their downward course to hell, that “everything in this world happens according to God’s eternal arrangements. Nothing takes place except what God causes to be, or permits to be, and whatever happens in time, is decreed from eternity. Even the wicked deed of those who crucified the Lord of Glory is said by the apostle to be determined before by the hand and counsel of God”!!
But we confidently submit that the Apostle says no such thing. And it is, perhaps, necessary that we should in this connexion call your attention to the apparent discrepancy between the two passages in the Acts of the Apostles, on which this assertion is avowedly based. There is no obscurity hanging over the verse which is quoted from the second chapter of the Acts. That verse plainly refers to the foreknowledge, as separate and distinct from the decree of God. But the verse quoted from the fourth chapter refers not to foreknowledge at all, and is said to trace every wickedness to “the hand and the counsel of God.” I need not inform you, however, that the translation of that verse is not inspired—that is to say, the Calvinists 135 who translated the New Testament Greek into the English language, laid no claim to infallibility, even in their translation. The Greek Testament is as patent and open to us as it was to the translators. We therefore state what no man can truthfully deny, when we here affirm, that the verse quoted from the fourth chapter of the Acts is susceptible of a very different rendering, by a very simple and legitimate transposition of the words. We read it as we apprehend it ought to have been translated, when we read as follows:—“Of a truth, against thy holy child Jesus, whom thou hast anointed for to do whatsoever thy hand and thy counsel determined before to be done, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the people of Israel, were gathered together.” The verse, as thus rendered, does not ascribe to God’s decree all that wicked men did, or any wicked thing that was done. It does not ascribe the execution of God’s decree to men, but to the “holy child Jesus.” He it was who was anointed for the express purpose of working out whatsoever the hand and counsel of God had determined before to be done. But should any of you prefer the translation as it stands, we submit that it does not affirm what Mr. Bonar says it affirms, even as it is read in our received translation. It does not say that God decreed “everything” which our Saviour’s murderers chose to do, but it says that those wicked murderers were actually made instrumental in carrying into effect God’s designs. They did not frustrate the great and gracious design of God in one single point, but even their undecreed 136 wickedness was made subservient, not only to the frustration of what they wickedly hoped to effect, but even to the development of God’s most wise and holy purposes. This we shall have occasion afterwards to remark upon more fully. In the mean time we have said enough to make good our position. We have endeavoured to convince you that the wickedness was not decreed, but simply foreknown. And that this wickedness was foreknown, not in the sense in which alone Calvinists admit anything to be foreknown,—not in the sense of having been absolutely and unconditionally decreed, and therefore foreknown. It was foreknown as undecreed and unoriginated and uncaused by a holy God. It was foreknown not only as certain, but as the certain result of free and responsible agents, who were not bound by any foregone decree to enact their wickedness, but who might have refrained their hands from wickedness, and their mouths from speaking guile. Herein, therefore, consists the error of this Free Church interpretation. This interpretation takes for granted what is not merely unproved, but what is actually disproved by every man’s consciousness. It takes for granted that wickedness has been decreed by God, and therefore that its existence is necessary, so that it was not possible that it might not have been committed. And taking this for granted, this false system leads its abettors to pervert the Word of God, by ascribing to his wise and holy decree what the apostle, in the passages referred to, ascribes to his foreknowledge, and his foreknowledge alone.137
We need only further to remind you now, that foreknowledge, like afterknowledge, does not cause the existence of the object apprehended by the mind. It apprehends the certainty of the object, but it does not originate the certainty. You perceive the absurdity of imagining that your knowledge of the existence of the flood, or of the destruction of the cities of the plain, or of any other ascertained event which might be taken as a specimen, could possibly exercise any influence in bringing these events into existence. From the very Nature of the case, whatever is the object of knowledge, becomes known because it is certain. It is not rendered certain because it is known. You do not say, “I know it, and therefore it exists.” You rather say, “It exists, and therefore I know it.” But if you had the power and the will to bring anything into existence, and forthwith were to decree it—on this supposition you would say, “I decreed it, and therefore it came to pass.” In this case, your decree would be the cause of its existence. It is evident, therefore, that whatever is known is no less certain than if it were decreed. But it is plain, for this very reason, that a thing does not need to be decreed in order to be certain. And if a thing may be certain without being decreed, the simple question remains—“Was it not possible for the divine mind to apprehend beforehand the free and independent and undecreed volitions of all his intelligent and responsible creatures?”
There exists an important distinction between human 138 actions simply foreknown, and the same actions apprehended after they have come to pass, which will, perhaps, serve to illustrate and confirm the position in support of which we have been arguing. The wickedness which is already past is apprehended, not merely as certain, but as something whose existence is now unavoidable, and, in that sense, necessary. But every past sin is known by the sinner himself to have been undecreed, because the sinner says truly in reference to his sin, “I might have avoided it.” This is attested by every man’s consciousness. He knows that he has sinned, but he knows too that he might have resisted the temptation whereby he was seduced. The sins, however, which are past and gone, possess a positive necessary being. It is not possible for Omnipotence itself to blot out the fact of their actual and ascertained existence. They are in this sense necessary or unavoidable, inasmuch as after they are committed, they cannot possibly be recalled. But it is not more easy for you to certify this fact, than it is to certify the other fact to which we have adverted—the fact that such sins might have been avoided. If the sinner could only know assuredly that he was necessarily and unavoidably impelled forward to the commission of sin, he could not possibly be the subject of remorse. Would not such a plea, if well substantiated, relieve him also from punishment? But what forms the gall and bitterness of the sinner’s reflection upon his folly, is the consciousness that he might have acted otherwise. Will any sophistry erase from any 139 man’s mind the consciousness of the truth which I now state? It is impossible. Here, then, is certainty—infallible certainty; no “’mere guesswork,” but absolute certainty—certainty converted into a positive necessity, by the actual existence of the object which is known. But here is something which might have been avoided, and which, therefore, was not necessary before it came into existence. It could not, therefore, be absolutely or unconditionally and eternally necessary; it could not be unconditionally and eternally decreed or foreordained.
If, then, we speak of the actions of free and responsible agents before they come into actual existence, we must say of them that they may not come to pass, or, in other words, that their future existence is not necessary or unavoidable. But when we say this, we do not contradict the fact of their future certainty. They are certain, whether we suppose them to be known as past, or whether we foreknow them as future. The question which, on either supposition, remains to be solved, is—What is the cause or foundation of their certainty? Is this cause to be discovered in the decree of God, or is it to be sought for in man’s free agency? This is the sole question which presents itself for solution; for there is no doubt about the certainty of whatever is apprehended or known, whether the objects known are past or future. If, then, the decree of God is the cause or foundation of the certainty, it is evident, that the objects apprehended beforehand as certain, must come to pass. They cannot 140 possibly be avoided, for it will not be imagined that the decree of God can possibly fail. But sinful actions (of which we speak) are admitted to be among those things which might have. been avoided, even when they are contemplated as now and for ever necessary in point of actual existence—i. e., when contemplated as past and gone. If, then, they might have been avoided, they could not possibly be decreed by God. Their cause or origin must, therefore, be traced to the perverted and abused free agency of men, seeing that it cannot be traced to the decree of God, in which case their existence would from eternity have been necessary or unavoidable. It follows, therefore, that the foreknown volitions and actions of free agents are in no sense necessary or unavoidable, but that they may or may not take place, although they be from eternity apprehended as certain.
You will observe from what has been now advanced, that strong and incontrovertible evidence of our present position lies within yourselves. You have the same evidence in support of what we have stated to you, which you have for your own existence; and it is just as easy for any man to convince himself that he does not exist, as it is to argue himself into the notion, that when he determines to walk in one direction, he cannot possibly determine to move in a different course. The consciousness of his own existence, which every man possesses, is one infallible witness to which now we make our appeal. And unless a man can honestly say, that whenever he 141 sins against the dictates of conscience, he has only yielded to the force of a necessity which he could not possibly resist, we have that man’s verdict decidedly in favour of what we now advance. The whole question resolves itself into this single point—“Was it not in my power to have determined differently?—Is there not something within me whose testimony no sophistry can contradict, which assures me that I might, and that I ought to have decided in a direction the very opposite?” When any man repents of his evil deeds, or even when he does not repent, but merely experiences internal remorse on account of his waywardness, does not that man confirm and substantiate, beyond the possibility of doubt, every statement which we make against the theory which falsely ascribes “everything” to God’s unalterable decree?
The entire Bible confirms and strengthens the testimony of universal consciousness. Men are there addressed and treated, throughout, as possessed of that entire freedom of will, the existence of which is denied by the theology now under review. They are commanded both to will and to do in a manner the very reverse of that which they generally, we might say, universally, choose to act. And all this clearly implies the possibility of men both determining and acting in a manner very differently, and pursuing a course the very opposite of that which is too generally followed. In reference to the future, the Word of God informs men that they may determine on a different course from that 142 which is certainly foreknown, and we are thereby furnished with infallible proof to convince us that wickedness which is certainly foreknown, may not, after all, take place, but may be avoided, and is therefore undecreed of God. If it were decreed, it must of necessity happen, and the simple question is, whether the entire volume of revelation does not confirm the testimony of every man’s consciousness, and exhibit the fact that men may not, and therefore should not, act wickedly. In reference to the past, the infallible Word bears the same infallible testimony. It condemns the sinful deeds of men, and its testimony finds an honest response in the sinner’s bosom, when he is assured that he might and should have willed and acted, consistently with the will of God.
But all such incontrovertible evidence is treated with contempt by the Calvinistic theology. This theology introduces a false and unscriptural theory among the soul-saving and soul-sanctifying truths of Scripture. It is taken for granted that “the will of God is first in everything, and that by God’s immutable decree everything has been, from eternity, unchangeably and unconditionally fixed.” And this false theory being assumed, and forced into unnatural connexion with the Word of God, the plainest truths in all the Bible are racked and tortured and mangled and destroyed, in order to make room for this monstrous and infernal conception of depraved imaginations. It is by elevating this hideous theory into the position of a first principle in theology, and twisting and perverting such texts as 143 those now under consideration, so as to make them correspond exactly with this false principle, that our Free Church expositor falls into mistake, and blunders so egregiously, as to assert, that “even the wicked deed of those who crucified the Lord of Glory is said, by the apostle, to have been determined before by the hand and counsel of God.” We hope we have said enough to convince you, that the wickedness referred to was not decreed, but was simply foreknown by God, and that foreknowledge embraced no antecedent decree, whereby the wickedness which comes to pass was unconditionally and divinely “fixed;” but, on the contrary, that the divine foreknowledge embraced the fact that this, and every other act of wickedness which disfigures the handiwork of God, it was, and is, and ever shall be, quite possible to avoid, up to the very moment when sin was, is, or shall be, brought into actual existence, by the undecreed and independent volitions of fallible and sinning creatures.
II. Our second general observation is, that in the interpretation of the verses now under consideration, the followers of Calvin ascribe to the wickedness of men, what the apostle of Christ traces directly to God’s decree.
It is a remarkable fact that, like the Pharisees of old, our Free Church expositor and his friends turn the Bible upside down by their Calvinian traditions. They ascribe to God’s decree what the Bible ascribes to the wicke4ness of men and devils, and they ascribe to the wickedness of men and devils what the Bible traces 144 to God’s unalterable and most holy decree. They thereby turn the entire Word of God upside down, and reduce its most blessed contents to one mass of inextricable confusion, and make it utter the most absurd and palpable contradictions. We have seen that those theologians ascribe all the wickedness of our Saviour’s murderers to the decree of God, and we now remark, that they falsely ascribe the entire execution of God’s decree to the wickedness of the men who reviled and persecuted and condemned and crucified the Lord of Glory. We say falsely, because it seems evident, from the word of God, that whatever God himself decreed, he himself carried into execution. What, then, did God decree? He decreed that Jesus should be, by himself, voluntarily delivered up into the hands of his enemies—that the wickedness of men should be signally defeated and frustrated, and that the men themselves should be made subservient to the working out of his most wise and holy and merciful designs.
The question suggested by this observation is very simple—Did these murderers obtain possession of the person of Jesus Christ by their own power, or did they not? Was the act whereby he was led bound to Pilate’s judgment-seat the act of men, or was it the act of God? Such is the question now before us. The question is not whether the wickedness which prompted the men to seek the Saviour’s life was the act of God; the question is, whether the actual delivering up of Christ, as a prisoner, into their hands was the result of all this wickedness, or whether it was 145 not the direct result of God’s immutable decree. In order to help you to an answer, we may refer you to the first six verses of the eighteenth chapter of John’s Gospel, where we are informed that—
“When Jesus had spoken these words, he went forth with his disciples over the brook Cedron, where was a garden, into which he entered, and his disciples. And Judas also, which betrayed him, knew the place; for Jesus oft-times resorted thither with his disciples. Judas then, having received a band of men and officers from the chief priests and Pharisees, cometh thither with lanterns, and torches, and weapons. Jesus therefore, knowing all things that should come upon him, went forth, and said unto them, Whom seek ye? They answered him, Jesus of Nazareth. Jesus saith unto them, I am he. And Judas also, which betrayed him, stood with them. As soon then as he had said unto them, I am he, they went backward, and fell to the ground.”
Here, then, is the most distinct answer to the question which I have now proposed. There was here a direct and miraculous interposition of Divine power, not to destroy the men, but to demonstrate to the universe the utter and the total powerlessness of all their wicked and malicious schemes. They had no power whatever to touch a hair of the Saviour’s head. God could not, by an act of omnipotence, destroy their malice, or pluck out from their souls the rooted wickedness which was there. This, by an act of omnipotence, 146 God could not do, but he could destroy their power to hurt, by laying them prostrate on the earth. And this he, for an instant, actually did, and he thereby proved that it was not their wickedness which triumphed over him, but his matchless love which triumphed over all their malice, and which prompted him voluntarily to deliver himself into their hands, in order that he might die a ransom for their sins. In the delivering up of the Son of God into the hands of his enemies, we do not therefore behold the result or even the forth-putting of human power, but we see the direct and voluntary act of God himself in the carrying into execution his own decree. True, indeed, the wickedness of the men was not arrested in its outrageous manifestation—true, indeed, their wickedness seemed to triumph—but the question is, Did it triumph? So far from this, the humanity was for a moment eclipsed amid the splendour of the divinity, and God himself appeared, before the eyes of angels, of devils, and of men, to do what the whole of them together had no power to carry into execution. And what was this, but voluntarily and directly himself to execute, by his own act of holy love, what he had from eternity purposed to, do, when he purposed to give his Son a ransom for all? It was not the act of the men, for “they went backward and fell to the ground.” Here we behold the sole and exclusive act of God, when instantly, instead of being struck down into perdition, the men were enabled again to stand upon their feet, and received Christ a voluntary 147 captive into their hands. Such, then, was emphatically the act of God himself, in the execution of his own decree.
And so, when Jesus was before the judgment-seat of Pilate, what did he say? “Thou couldst have no power at all against me, except it were given thee from above.” Thus again did Jesus enforce the principle, that he was delivered up, and went as a lamb to the slaughter, not in consequence of the rage and malice of devils and wicked men, but as the direct and exclusive result of his Father’s immutable and eternal decree. “No man [said he] taketh my life from me. I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again.”
Then, indeed, did “the heathen rage, and the people imagine a vain thing.” What did they vainly imagine? They imagined that they were possessed of power enough to carry into execution their own diabolical purposes against the incarnate Son of God. They gathered themselves together in order to accomplish their own wicked ends, but all in vain. “He that sits in heaven” laughed them to scorn. The Lord did hold them in derision. See Psalm ii. He proved the utter impotence of all their rage—the total powerlessness of all their mighty and apparently formidable combinations; and this he did, even at the very moment when they seemed to triumph over him and his Anointed. On the one side, there were the devil and his angels—Judas and the Jewish people—Pilate and Herod and the Roman legions—and on what were they bent? 148 They were bent upon the destruction of Jesus. They were leagued together in order to frustrate and overthrow the decree of God, the purport of which decree was, that his own Son should offer himself up a voluntary sacrifice, and lay down his life—not as a felon who is condemned to die—but as a conqueror, voluntarily flinging himself into the hottest of the strife, and breathing his last amid the shouts of victory,—a conqueror who, after entering into the dark abodes of death for a season, should grapple with the grim king of terrors himself, within his grim domain, and on the morning of the third day emerge triumphant from amid the gloom, crowned with the laurels of success,—a conqueror who should eventually ascend upwards, to take possession of the mediatorial throne, and wear the crown, and wield the sceptre, for evermore!
Such was the decree of God. This was what “the hand and counsel of God determined before to be done.” But Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the people of Israel, had no such ends or purposes in contemplation. The very reverse of all this was their unholy and malignant intent. But they were defeated—manifestly defeated—inasmuch as, in the first place, God did, in point of fact, himself accomplish what he decreed from eternity to do. This God himself did, in spite of all the rage of his enemies against him and his Anointed One. And, in the second place, God executed his own decree, and did his own work, in such a way—at such a time—and amid such a combination of circumstances, that it really seemed as if his 149 enemies had been intentionally gathered together to do his work, which work they unwittingly and unintentionally forwarded and advanced. And thus it was that, at that very moment when they were raging and foaming and battling against him, they were made instrumental in forwarding and advancing “whatsoever the hand and counsel of God determined before to be done.”
But it was not the wickedness of those who crucified the Lord of Glory, whereby the eternal purpose of God was fulfilled even unintentionally on the part of those ungodly men. The wickedness was never decreed by God, and even in the hour of its apparent triumph, whatever was wicked and unholy, was most effectually and gloriously frustrated and overthrown. All that was sinful and malicious was traceable to the willing and the doing—the designing and the determining of the men, and all this was triumphantly defeated, even when it seemed to have effected its designs. All that was good and gracious, was but the development in time, of God’s decree formed from eternity, and all this was most gloriously accomplished by God himself; so that while their wickedness was defeated, the very men who were fighting against God with all their might, were made subservient to the execution of his purposes.
We have already hinted, that the verse which is erroneously supposed to father the wickedness of our Saviour’s persecutors on the decree of God, and to teach that such wickedness was the actual fulfilment of that decree, is susceptible of a very different interpretation, by a legitimate alteration in the collocation of 150 the words. But we intimated, at the same time, that even as the verse stands in the received translation, it does not inculcate the doctrine which has been erroneously founded upon it.44 On Acts iv. 27, 28, Dr. Payne observes—“This is a case, as it is said, in which sinful actions are spoken of as the consequence of a Divine decree. Now, I do not avail myself of a different collocation of the words, proposed by some eminent scholars, which bring out the statement, not that Herod and Pontius Pilate, &c., were gathered together to do what the counsel of the Lord had determined, but that Christ was anointed to accomplish all this. I do not avail myself of this, both because it is unnecessary to resort to this altered collocation of the words, and because there can be no doubt that the salvation of men, by the crucifixion of the Son of God, was a Divinely appointed event. . . . . . In this case, the Divine decree extended to the giving up of the Saviour into the hands of his enemies, but not to the treatment which, when thus given up, he received from them. Known unto God are all his works, and all the power, the thoughts, the feelings of men, from eternity. He knew the precise state of mind of Herod and Pontius Pilate, &c. . . . . And yet, knowing all this, he sent, his Son into the world; he determined to send him into the world—determined to surrender him to the malice of his enemies. . . . . Though HE DID NOT DECREE that Herod and Pontius Pilate, &c., should bind and bruise and crucify the Saviour, he did decree that the Saviour should be given up to their cruelty and vengeance. His decree, in short, extended to what he did in this transaction, but NOT TO WHAT MEN DID. . . . . Jehovah perceives how that principle, which is the prolific source of all evil, will develop itself in every conceivable variety of circumstances. And it is perfectly easy for him so to arrange his providential dispensations, as that the ungodly passions of men shall prove the instruments of accomplishing his merciful purposes, without decreeing that these men shall be the subjects of this depravity, or that their unholy passions shall develop themselves in that particular manner; or, I add, without DECREEING TO PERMIT either the one or the other. All that God does in the business, is the subject of decree; all that man does is not the subject of decree.”—Lecture VI., on Sovereignty, pp. 125-127. This will appear evident from 151 the observations which have latterly been submitted for your consideration. It seems quite evident that Herod and Pontius Pilate and the Gentiles did most unintentionally do what God intended to be done. But in doing this, they did the very reverse of what they had wickedly determined. Their wicked designs were the very opposite of what God did not only decree, but carry into execution, in actual opposition to the determinations of wicked men. Granting, therefore, that the common rendering ought rather to be preferred, the verse which says to us that those wicked men did whatever God purposed, assures us by that very statement, that God did not decree any portion of their wickedness, seeing that such wickedness was frustrated and overthrown.
So far, then, from informing us that “God foreordained whatsoever comes to pass,” or hinting that “the will of God is first in everything,” or announcing that “even the wicked deed of those who crucified the Lord of Glory was determined before by the hand and counsel of God,”—the inspired apostle intimates exactly the reverse, and that, too, in the verses which have been selected as the stronghold of Calvinism!
It is evident, therefore, from the Word of God, as 152well as from the nature of the case, that the system of theology which is based upon an assumption such as that under examination, stands upon a sandy foundation. The storm of controversy which has happily begun to beat against the baseless tenement, and the tide of discussion which has already begun to rise upwards around its walls, must very speedily insure its downfall. It is not founded upon the Rock of Ages, and the sooner it is laid prostrate on the earth, and swept away for ever, so much the better for the interests of truth and the well-being of immortal souls.
III. We submit, in the third place, that the interpretation which has been given of these two verses in the Acts, by the supporters of Calvinism, CANNOT POSSIBLY be correct.
There are some statements which are so evidently inconsistent with truth, that every honest man is able to detect their falsehood the moment they are uttered. It needs little or no examination in order to pronounce them to be false and unfounded. And so there are some interpretations of the Word of God which are so manifestly inconsistent with the whole tenor and import of Scripture declaration, that every man who is in the slightest degree acquainted with his Bible, feels constrained, at the very first glance, to reject them and trample them under his feet, as perversions of the Word of God. As if the atheist should say to you that it is written in the first verse of the fourteenth psalm, that “there is no God”—appealing to the very Bible, which in such an event would be divested of all authority—in proof of his blasphemous assertion. On such 153 a supposition as this, your reply would be instantaneous and unhesitating—“The fool hath said in his heart, there is no God;” but that there is a God all Nature speaks aloud through all her works, and to the voice of universal Nature, the entire volume of Scripture adds its unanswerable response. It is plain, at first sight, that whatever is evidently opposed to the universal testimony of Scripture and of conscience, cannot possibly be true. Of this nature is the interpretation of the two passages which we are now examining. According to this, we are called upon to believe that all the wickedness which takes place among men has its origin in the heart of God, and its original embodiment in the purpose of God, and is neither more nor less than the execution in time, of what God has purposed from eternity to bring to pass. This is what we are informed the Bible declares. And when any man startles at such an announcement, just as he shrinks from the reception of the statement—there is no God, he is informed, with a grave countenance and a pious whine, that God is sovereign, and it is his duty to receive as a truth the blasphemous declaration. But most certain it is, that every man who will listen to the voice of his own conscience (not to speak of the Word of God at all), must shrink back instinctively from the assertion, that God has himself originated every abomination which we call by the name of sin, by first decreeing its existence from eternity, and then himself executing his decree in the works of creation and providence, and thus by his omnipotence bringing 154 it to pass in time. If there be any meaning in language, what is this but to assert that God himself is the active agent in the commission of all iniquity, and that he has deliberately purposed from eternity to bring it to pass! What are men but the passive instruments in his hand, to carry into execution whatever enormity his hand and counsel hath determined to do! What are the circumstances of time and the events of Providence amid which men are placed, but the means which God uses for the one purpose of hemming up their path and constraining them to perpetrate the innumerable acts of wickedness which he hath decreed to bring to pass! This is what we are called upon to believe; and not only so, but we are gravely informed that this is precisely what the Bible teaches us. Now I most unhesitatingly affirm, that it is as easy for any man so far to stifle his conscience, as to believe that there is no God at all, as to believe that there is such a God as Calvinism has set up. I put it fearlessly to your own consciences, and I ask you to say if you do not find it impossible to believe that God is not only the originator of all evil, but at the same time the great executioner of it—himself executing certain decrees which necessitate sin, in the works of creation and providence! But here is the fearful picture which you have set up before you, and which the writer, from whom I have quoted, calls a representation of God, and which he commands you to fall down and worship. He directs you to Pilate’s judgment-seat, and to the blood-thirsty rabble who 155 crowded around it. He points you to the innocent Jesus arraigned before that judgment-seat, and cruelly and unjustly charged with crimes of which he was guiltless as a lamb. He calls upon you to mark the deliberate villany of the men who knew that their victim was innocent, but who suborned false witnesses, and brought them forward to substantiate, by what they knew to be lies, their malignant charge. And what does this writer say to you, and what does he ask you to believe? He admits that all this is very wicked, and he asks you to condemn and execrate the atrocious deed. And so far it is well. But he instantly changes the scene. The curtain which concealed something else from your gaze is drawn aside. And what do you see? It is the image of a Being who has been behind the scenes, managing and ordering and arranging the dreadful tragedy. Here is the originator of the entire plot exhibited before you. The affair was all of his planning. He it was who originally decreed, and finally executed the whole. There stands the image of the Being who suggested and manufactured the false and infamous charge. He had power and resources enough at his disposal to shut up those ruffians falsely to prefer it, and he resolved to exert his ingenuity and power to that effect, He it was who hatched and ordained the infernal falsehoods whereby that unjust charge should be substantiated, and he took care so to order all events that those false witnesses should have their consciences seared, so as to stand prepared to swear to what they knew to be a lie. 156 There, then, is the prime mover, and the secret executioner, of the whole behind the scenes. But what comes next before you? Who is this who seems ready to relent and set the victim of injustice free? It is Pontius Pilate himself. There is tenderness in his eye—there is compassion in his heart—there is a tremulous, hesitating sound proceeding from his lips. Ah he seems reluctant to condemn. What is that which fell from his lips? Surely—surely the innocent is acquitted, for PILATE has said, “I find no fault in him.” He thinks of the fearful dream which, but the night before, had startled from her slumbers the wife of his bosom. He looks on that majestic countenance—calm and commanding in its consciousness of innocence,—he trembles to condemn, and, under the impulse of his better nature, Pilate exclaims, “I find no fault in him.”
But here, again, the scene is changed. Again the mysterious curtain is withdrawn by this modern teacher of modern Christianity. Again does this Free Church teacher point you to the Being who has decreed the whole, and who is secretly but infallibly directing the infernal plot. The heart even of Pontius Pilate relents, and fain would he set free the innocent. But this Being, whose image is held up before you, has bound down Pilate, by an iron decree, to dash the tear of pity from his eye, and stifle the sentiment of justice within his soul, and drown the voice of faithful conscience, as she urges him to let the victim go. And, in the execution of this decree, instantly, as if to drown 157 the voice of imploring conscience, is Pontius Pilate forced to listen to ten thousand voices exclaiming, “Crucify him, crucify him! If thou let this man go, thou art not Caesar’s friend.” It is as if the bottomless pit were opened up, and all the fiends of hell let loose upon him, in order to force him to spill the blood of the innocent; and—there stands the originator of the whole!—the Being who has decreed all this!—the Being who has shut up Pilate to the necessity of doing what it is most evident he would not otherwise have done! And who is this Being who has urged on all this wickedness? What is his name? Alas! alas! that so many should call him GOD!!! SATAN is his proper name.
I ask you to look at the text from the epistle of James, and see whether you have not there a very different picture of the Deity from that which is set before you by this most blasphemous interpretation of the two statements embodied in the Acts. The Holy Spirit says expressly, that God cannot so much as tempt any man to sin. But this disciple of Calvin declares that God does more than tempt—he shuts up men to the necessity of sinning, by an unalterable decree, even as his decree originated, and his omnipotence insured, the perpetration of all the wickedness of the men who shed the Saviour’s blood!!
Permit me, in conclusion, earnestly and affectionately to remind every one of my hearers, that there devolves upon each one of us a solemn and a tremendous responsibility, which, in the midst of this exciting 158 controversy, we are too prone to forget. We are, each man and woman present, responsible to God for our own personal and individual salvation. This is what Calvinism teaches us to forget. It devolves the entire responsibility upon God, and takes it away from the consciences of men; and herein it appeals to the innate depravity and spiritual slothfulness of humanity, and to this circumstance alone it owes its popularity and its success. It feeds and it fattens upon the depravity of human nature, and to this alone does it owe its existence at the present hour. There is, my dear friends, a fatal tendency in human nature universally, to roll upon God the entire responsibility of everything that happens among men. There is a tendency, in our depraved and corrupted minds, to rid themselves of the burden of personal responsibility, and to sit or recline at ease under a gospel despised, and an atonement rejected, and a Holy Spirit resisted, and a sin-laden condemned soul still unconverted, and every moment exposed to eternal woe. There is a fatal tendency in every mind to shield itself from the stings and reproaches of a faithful conscience, under the hypocritical pretence of guarding the sovereignty, and intermeddling not with the province of God. You are, it may be, yet unconverted—yet unsaved—yet without “peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.” And when conscience, faithful to her trust, would arouse you from your slumbers; and while the Holy Spirit says to you, “Behold I stand at the door and knock;” and while God himself is even beseeching you to be reconciled; 159 what are you about? You are probably soothing your consciences by the hypocritical pretence of “WAITING GOD’S TIMES OR DAY OF POWER.” See ye not that ye are thereby casting upon God the entire responsibility of your present unconverted—unsaved—God-dishonouring and Saviour-despising position? O my fellow-sinner, why wilt thou not open thine eye upon the great reality, and behold the God who loves your soul waiting—already waiting—compassionately waiting—WAITING FOR THEE? You do not need to wait another moment for thy God. He has waited long, and he is infinitely desirous even now for thy conversion, but we cannot say to any one among you, that he will wait another week or day or hour. “Behold, NOW is the accepted time; behold, NOW is the day of salvation.” The entire responsibility of your present unsaved state rests entirely upon your own heads, and if you perish eternally, that system of error, whereby you are now deluded, will not come to your rescue in the place of woe, but you shall sink down to hell under the awful burden which now you seek in vain to shift entirely upon the decree of an Almighty God. On your own heads will rest your own soul’s blood; and it will be too late to lament the day when you yielded up your souls to the influence of a false philosophy—a man-made creed—and wasted away your day of grace under the specious and hypocritical pretext of waiting upon that God who in reality is waiting for you. The man who tells you that it is not the sinner who moves first in the matter of conversion, tells you what is truth. But that man 160 who says to you that God has not ALREADY moved forward, and has not ALREADY taken his place, and is not ALREADY propitiated and satisfied for your sins, and is not ALREADY waiting to receive you even now into the bosom of his love—that man, whoever he be, is a deceiver of your souls. THE FIRST STEP HAS ALREADY BEEN TAKEN by your God, and on yourselves alone now rests the tremendous responsibility of your soul’s conversion. Ah! it will serve you nothing—if you continue determined in your present course, and rush onward to perdition—to say to your souls that you were not so presumptuous as to take the matter out of the hand of a sovereign God, nor so unorthodox in your creed as to be beforehand with God in your salvation. If you will not look at, this hypocritical pretext, this cunning slander against God’s truth, in the light of the gospel revelation, you will see it clearly enough exposed and burned up by the flames of hell. You will see, when it shall be too late, that it was a mere device of Calvinism, to lull your conscience asleep for time, and pander to your innate depravity, and leave you at your ease without “PEACE WITH GOD.” You will see that it was a foul slander against the truth of God to insinuate, that should you venture even now to believe in Christ as your atoning sacrifice, who died for your sins, you would be beforehand with God, and become your own Saviour, and anticipate and forestal the grace of the Spirit of God, without which, no sinner can indeed be saved. You will see that God was always beforehand with you, and anticipated your every want; and sent 161 his Son to bear the punishment of your sins, that you might not yourselves be punished, but go free; and sent the Holy Spirit to point you to the finished work of Jesus, as the glorious and exclusive ground of your salvation. And you will see that all things being thus ready for your immediate conversion, you were yourselves responsible for doubting the truth of God, and hesitating and slumbering and perishing on the very threshold of salvation. If you will not open your eyes and look upon the delusions of a false theology now, and see it now exposed by the light of the gospel, you shall ere long see its falsehood exposed in the fires of perdition. Depend upon it, my friends, that ON YOUR OWN PRESENT CHOICE, and that alone, does your present and eternal well-being Now depend. “All things are ready.” “Choose ye this day whom ye will serve.” GOD THE FATHER is willing, GOD THE SON is willing, GOD THE SPIRIT is willing. On your OWN WILL, therefore, hangs Now your everlasting destiny. And the theology which would teach you to wait or hesitate or procrastinate, as if either the Father or the Son or the Spirit needed to be waited upon, in order to be made willing to save you, or as if all that is needful for your immediate pardon were not, on the part of God, ALREADY FINISHED, or as if the will of God had not ALREADY ANTICIPATED your will, and is not ALREADY MOVING for your rescue,—the theology which blasphemously assumes that all things ARE NOT READY for your immediate acceptance, and for the immediate acceptance of every sinner on this side of hell, and which would scare you away from 162 salvation by the pharisaical pretence, the hypocritical whine, about the imaginary sin and danger of YOUR WILL going before, and moving heavenward, independently of THE WILL OF GOD—such a theology is the most successful instrument whereby Satan deceives and ruins precious and immortal souls. Depend upon it, that if you are still doubting, and without peace in the prospect of meeting God, the fault is ALL YOUR OWN. The cause in not with God, but with yourselves. You have the power to will this moment your own salvation. And it will be said to you, when it is too late, if you shall live and die unsaved, not that God was ever unwilling, but
“THE CHOICE YOU MADE has fixed your doom;
For this is Heaven’s decree,
That with the fruits of what he sow’d
The sinner fill’d shall be.”
—Par. X., on Prov. i. 20-31.
Already has God come down to you, and even now he waits and entreats and strives most earnestly for your salvation. THE DECISION NOW RESTS ENTIRELY WITH YOURSELVES.163
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