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THE BIBLE DOCTRINE OF ELECTION—ELECTION, THE ACT OF SEPARATION—SEPARATION FROM THE WORLD—SEPARATION BY GOD—ULTIMATE AND SUBORDINATE OBJECTS OF ELECTION—DISTINCTIVE NATURE OF ELECTION—SEPARATION THROUGH MEANS—“MAKE YOUR CALLING AND ELECTION SURE”—IMPORTANCE OF HOLINESS.
EPHES. i. 4.—”According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love.”
2 THESS. ii. 13.—”But we are bound to give thanks alway to God for you, brethren beloved of the Lord, because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit, and belief of the truth.”
1 PETER i. 2.—”Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ.”
2 PETER i. 10.—”Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure; for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall.”
THE question which falls now to be considered, is one of engrossing interest. It is a question which lies at the foundation of all theology, and which is indissolubly connected with the eternal destinies of every soul of the human race. WHAT IS ELECTION? (,) What is the true and proper import of the term? (2,) What is the actual state of things which is necessarily and 247 really presupposed by the electing process? (3,) Who is the sole and exclusive agent by whom the process of election is conducted? (4,) What is the grand ultimate end which God has in view, and what the proximate or subordinate objects which God in election proposes to accomplish? These are four preliminary questions which we wish you this evening to answer preparatory to the great fundamental question—WHAT IS ELECTION? And the solution of each and all of these subordinate points will open up the way for a brief exposition of a doctrine which, to this hour, has not met with that attention, nor occupied that position in the minds of men, which is everywhere assigned to it in the Word of God.
I. WHAT THEN IS THE IMPORT OF THE WORD?
It denotes the act, or process of separation, when one object is selected or set apart from other surrounding objects. Observe what we say. It is the act, or process of selection or separation. This is a remark so very plain and simple, that you are very apt to pass it over and to dismiss it from your minds by a mere cursory glance. But you will see the error of such conduct, when I inform you, that this remark, simple and plain and self-evident as it is, lies at the very foundation of the subject we are now seeking to expound to you. The truth is, that all error is the result of overlooking the most obvious facts. Men suppose that such things are so plain that they cannot possibly be denied, and it is here that the deceiver of souls gets advantage over his votaries. He gets them to forget altogether 248 the plainest axioms. He leads them astray from truth, and astray from God, and astray from everlasting happiness, by making them careless about first principles, which are so obvious and so simple, that even a child may easily apprehend them. The idea of ELECTION is familiar to the mind of the youngest child who practically exemplifies every day its preference of one thing and its aversion to another. The very infant upon the breast knows practically what election is. Let it be surrounded by a number of strange faces, all seeking to engage its attention and to win its preference, and the child will turn away from them all, and hide its little face in the bosom of its mother. The little one chooses or selects, or sets apart for itself, the object to which it instinctively turns from among all the other objects which are set before it. There you see an illustration of the great principle involved in election. The events of every-day life are pregnant with examples. You want a servant to do your work, and many there are who are desirous to serve you; but you select one out of the many, and the act of separation, whereby you choose and separate one from among all the other applicants, is your deed of election. You want a man to represent you in the great council of the nation, and many there are who solicit your vote; but you fix upon one out of the many, and when the day and hour of election comes you hasten to the polling booth, and you practically exemplify the true and proper import of the term election. You separate the man for whom you vote from all the other claimants for 249 your suffrage, and the act of separation is the act of election. The word has the same meaning to whatever subject it may happen. to be wedded, and by whomsoever the right or privilege of election may happen to be exercised. It bears the same meaning in the Bible which is attached to it in the ordinary affairs of men. It implies the right to choose or to select, and it expresses in every instance the act or process of selection.
You cannot fail to notice the important difference between the purpose to select, and the act or process of election. The one exists when you have made up your minds how you are to act; the other has no existence, and cannot possibly have any existence, until the time when you come to carry your purpose into execution. Till then there is not, in point’ of fact, any election. You may speak indeed improperly and loosely, and you may say at the moment your mind is made up how you mean to act, that very moment the election, so far as you are concerned, is virtually decided. But, even when you do thus express yourselves, you do not mean to intimate that the electing process is already past. It is not the act or process of separation, but the purpose or decision of your mind, which, strictly and properly speaking, is the thing referred to when you say, that the election, so far as you are concerned, is decided whenever your mind is made up. In this case it is not election in fact, but election in purpose of which you speak. It is not THE ACT of selection or separation, but THE PURPOSE to elect which is indicated by your words. I have said 250 that this distinction is important, and I now add, that it is a distinction which is paramount in importance. It is so very important, that if you fail to appreciate it and fully to understand it, you disqualify yourselves, in the very outset, for apprehending the great Bible doctrine of election altogether. But surely it is not difficult to understand this simple and important distinction. When a man has made up his mind to do anything whatever, every man can see clearly the difference between this, and the actual performance or execution of the purpose which has thus been formed. Now, it is universally admitted, that the term election means strictly and properly the actual process of separation. But it is universally forgotten that there is a very material difference between the purpose to elect or separate, and the actual process itself; which process alone is strictly and properly expressed by the term election. Take an example of election from the Word of God—the election of Aaron to the office of the priesthood. We know that Aaron was in the purpose of God elected from eternity to fill the sacerdotal office; but when we speak of election from eternity, we refer not to the election properly speaking, but to the purpose of God to separate the house of Levi from all the other tribes of Israel, in order to minister at the altar. We prove to you, from God’s own words, that Aaron was not, in point of fact, elected by him to fill the sacerdotal office, until after the earth had opened her mouth and had swallowed up Korah, Dathan, and Abiram, before the eyes of the affrighted multitude, and until after 251 the rod of Aaron “budded and brought forth buds, and bloomed blossoms, and yielded almonds” within the tabernacle of the Lord. You have read the seventeenth chapter of the book of Numbers, where God says to Moses:—(ver. 5,) “And it shall come to pass, that the man’s rod, whom I SHALL choose, shall blossom.” Here then is an example of election on the part of God, and God himself speaks of it not as a past or present, but as a future act. The election of Aaron, on the part of God, did not take place until Aaron was ACTUALLY SET APART to fill the sacerdotal office. In accordance with this example of election, you will understand the strict and proper import of the word. Properly understood, it means, and can mean nothing less and nothing else, than the actual process or deed of separation; and when it is spoken of as eternal, the reference is not to election properly so called, but to election in purpose, which is not the election itself, but the purpose to elect. There are many elections spoken of in the Scriptures of truth. There is angelical election, for we read of “elect angels;” there is a national election, for we read of the election of the Jewish nation, who were separated by God from all the surrounding nations as his peculiar people; there is, as we have seen, a sacerdotal election, as in the case of Aaron and the sons of Levi to the priestly office; there is a regal election, as in the separation of Saul, and after him of David the son of Jesse, to wield the sceptre and sit upon the throne and wear the crown; there is a mediatorial election, for Jesus the Son of God was 252 styled “mine elect, in whom my soul delighteth,” and separated or set aside from all the beings in the universe to stand between an offended God and a rebel world; and there is evangelical election, which consists in the separation of all who believe the gospel from the world around them, and such is that election of which we now speak.
Now what we wish you to notice is, that in all election, whether angelical or national or sacerdotal or regal or mediatorial or evangelical, there is the uniform development of the grand fundamental principle to which we now specially and particularly refer. In every instance, the election is nothing more and nothing less and nothing else than the act or process of separation itself, as distinguished from the purpose so to separate, or choose, or pick out, or select. The purpose is one thing, the election is another and separate thing altogether. The purpose is something in the mind of God; the election is the actual separation, which has no actual existence, and cannot possibly have any actual existence, until the purpose conies to be developed and carried into execution.
II. OUR SECOND INQUIRY NOW RELATES TO THE ACTUAL STATE OF THINGS PRESUPPOSED BY THE VERY EXISTENCE OF ELECTION.
The very idea of angelical election presupposes the existence of other angels from whom the elect angels were separated; and so there could be no such thing as national election, if there had not existed at 253 the period of separation other nations from whom the peculiar people were picked out and set aside. And it would be absurd to speak of an election or choosing of one man and his tribe to the priestly office, without at the same time assuming the existence of other men and other tribes, from among whom the chosen one was separated and set apart. And so, to come at once to the election of which we speak, it would be absurd in the extreme to speak of an actual selection or separation of believing men and women, without supposing the actual existence of a mass of unbelieving persons, from among whom the elect are separated. Is it not manifest at a single glance, that the act or process of separation, implies not only the actual existence of the persons who are separated, or elected, or chosen, but the equally actual existence of the very individual persons from among whom the elect are so separated and chosen? Is it not a monstrous absurdity to speak of AN ACTUAL selection and separation of a multitude of nonentities from among a host of other similar nonentities? It is not thus that the Bible instructs us, and it is not over a universe of mere ideas that Jehovah reigns. There was once an ideal philosophy which has been happily exploded and put to flight by a strong appeal to the common sense and the every-day apprehensions of mankind; and we still live under the reign of an IDEAL THEOLOGY which is already beginning to totter toward its downfall before the common sense of men who are content to make their appeal to, and draw 254 their religion from, the infallible Word of the infallible God. It is not from among a generation of phantoms that the selection of which we speak is made. Jesus said unto some of the separated ones, “I have chosen you out of the world.” It was not out of an ideal world, but out of an existing world—a sinful, Saviour-crucifying and gospel-hating and salvation-despising world, that the elect were actually taken and set apart for God. You cannot suppose the act of separation as eternal save in the sense in which you can suppose the world itself to have existed from eternity. It existed from eternity in the mind and purpose of God. God purposed from eternity to create it. In like manner as you may figuratively and with an exclusive reference to the purpose, speak of the world existing from eternity, even so is it figuratively, and with a reference solely to purpose, said, that they who are united by faith to Christ are in him chosen from eternity. But it is evident to common sense itself, that the actual election or separation of some from the world—the act or process of choosing or picking them out of the world—necessarily presupposes the actual existence, not only of the elect themselves, but also of that identical world out of which they were literally chosen and actually separated for glory.
III. OUR THIRD QUESTION RELATES TO THE AGENT BY WHOM THE ACT OF SELECTION IS CARRIED INTO EXECUTION.
And here we need not pause nor hesitate even for a 255 moment—it is God alone who elects. But for this, there would be no election—no separation from the world at all. Did God not graciously choose us, we never could, and never would have been chosen. Here is the grace and here the glory of election. It is primarily and exclusively the doing of the Lord, and it is wondrous in our eyes. It is to the praise of the glory of his grace that there are any brands plucked from the burning—it is to the praise of the glory of his grace that there are any sinners united to the Saviour—it is to the praise of the glory of his grace that there are any souls saved from the pit of destruction, and welcomed among the angels of heaven to the regions of immortal blessedness. “Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but unto thy name be all the glory, for thy mercy and thy truth’s sake.”
IV. OUR FOURTH INQUIRY RELATES TO THE GRAND ULTIMATE END WHICH GOD HAS IN VIEW IN ELECTION, IN CONNEXION WITH—THE PROXIMATE OR SUBORDINATE OBJECTS SUBSERVED THEREBY.
And here be it observed, that the grand ultimate end which God proposes here, and in everything that he does, is his own glory. God cannot possibly act save for this one grand ultimate object. He would cease to be God were he to propose to himself any other end than this. This is the highest, the noblest, the most worthy of all possible ends. This, therefore, is the only ultimate object and design worthy of a being of infinite excellence. The very same reason 256 which would, and does render it sinful in any creature to propose to himself his own gratification or glory as the grand aim of all his doings, renders it impossible for God to propose to himself any other end. The creature is finite and dependent and imperfect and fallible; the Creator alone is infinite, independent, and infallible. He alone is infinite in every conceivable perfection; and he only is necessarily and legitimately the ultimate end and origin of all that can be called great or good or wise or holy in the wide universe.
But while the glory of God is the grand ultimate object which he has proposed to himself in election and in all that he does, there are certain subordinate and proximate ends which he proposes to effect in the separation of believers from the world. These proximate and subordinate ends are TWO. The one refers to the state, the other to the character of those who are the subjects of the separating or electing process. In reference to their state, the object which God has in view in their election or separation from the world is, their being placed in a position wherein they may enjoy daily and hourly access to the blood of Christ, and have their consciences sprinkled therewith from their daily and hourly shortcomings. In reference to their character, it is the design of God in their election to lead them on in a course of holy and progressive obedience, and ultimately to bring them forth perfect and without blame before him. Such are the two subordinate objects which God has in view in the separation or selection of sinners out of the world,—the 257 one referring to their state, so that they may be partakers of all possible blessedness which they are capable of enjoying; and the other referring to their character; so that, reflecting the image of God, they may be capable to perform those high and exalted duties, and be made meet for those high and holy exercises in which it is at once their duty and their privilege to engage. We are not left to hesitate or debate for one moment as to these two objects being the secondary and proximate objects which God has in view in election. As to the first, we are informed in 1 Peter i. 2, that we are “elect unto the sprinkling of the blood of Christ.” Here, then, is the most distinct intimation of the state of privilege into which God does in point of fact introduce believers by election. It is unto the daily sprinkling of the blood of Christ. So, then, just as they need pardon every day, they have freedom of access every day by faith into the holiest, having their consciences daily sprinkled with the blood of the atonement. And their state of blessedness is not referred to merely by the Apostle Peter, for Paul adds his testimony to the same effect, in witnessing upon this point. In 2 Thessalonians ii. 13, he reminds believers of the state of exalted blessedness to which they were chosen, saying, “God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation.” Such is the state of blessedness, of present and future blessedness, which it is one design and object of God to confer by election. To this state all who believe are separated. To the enjoyment of the daily sprinkling, and the blessed 258 hope of the glorious kingdom—to the present and everlasting enjoyment of all that is contained in that wondrous word, “SALVATION”—are they separated by—God in the process of election.
But the second proximate object which God has in view, subordinate to his own glory, refers to the characters of those who are chosen. They are accordingly said by Peter, in the passage before referred to, to be elect “unto obedience,” as well as unto the daily sprinkling of the blood of Christ; and Paul says, in Ephesians i. 4, that they are chosen in order that they “should be holy and without blame before him in love.” Here, then, is the second subordinate object of election clearly and distinctly and incontrovertibly announced. It is progressively holy obedience here and perfection hereafter, so that we may be without blame presented to the Father—without spot, or wrinkle, or any such thing. The king’s daughter is thus to be adorned without in a robe of finest needle-work, being clothed in the righteousness of Christ himself; and she is to be all glorious within when, freed from every imperfection which cleaves to her here below, she shall meet her descending Lord in the clouds, and so be for ever with him in glory. Such is the twofold object which God, in election, proposes to accomplish, and does, in every instance, most graciously accomplish; and these two objects are not, in any case, inconsistent with his glory. By them his own glory will be most efficiently promoted and most worthily advanced.259
WE NOW COME TO THE MAIN INQUIRY, WHAT IS THE SPECIFIC OR DISTINCTIVE NATURE OF ELECTION?
What is it which God does when he elects, or chooses, or separates believers from the world? The twofold object which God has in view in separating believers from the world cannot be mistaken, and will not here be overlooked. Permit me, therefore, to propose to you the simple question, What is it which, in any case, stands out as the hindrance towards the effecting of these two subordinate objects whereby, in every instance, the glory of God is most effectually advanced? This is the great problem to be solved; for it cannot be doubted that God is, in no case, uninterested or careless in reference to the advancement of his own glory. If you do not doubt this (and it is impossible for any man to doubt or question it for an instant), you will surely admit that God cannot possibly remain uninterested or careless in reference to the salvation of any sinner by whose salvation his glory would undoubtedly be advanced. If His glory would be advanced by one sinner being separated or elected out of the world, and set apart to the daily sprinkling of the blood of Christ, and to obedience, it follows, as a necessary consequence, that his glory would be much more illustriously manifested by every sinner on the face of the earth being so separated to the enjoyment of daily sprinkling and the following of all holiness. It is on this ground chiefly that there is joy among the angels over every sinner who repenteth. Where, then, lies the hindrance, in: any instance, to the advancement 260 of God’s glory by the accomplishment of this twofold object of election? What is the hindrance, in the first place, to any sinner’s enjoyment of the daily sprinkling of the blood of Christ? It lies in the state of condemnation in which, by his unbelief, the man is placed. And where, again, lies the hindrance to any sinner’s voluntary obedience to God’s commandments? It lies in that unregenerated heart and nature in which, by his unbelief, the man voluntarily remains. Here, then, is the twofold hindrance whereby the twofold object which God has in view in election is alone prevented. This is the only hindrance which prevents the separation of any, and every sinner, on the face of the earth, to the enjoyment of present and eternal happiness. Do you ask me then to say what is the distinctive nature of election? My reply is, election consists in the removal of this twofold hindrance. It does not consist in the removal of the condemnation alone—that is an act of God which is called by the name of justification;—it does not consist in the removal of the enmity of the unregenerated soul alone—that, too, is an act of God, and it is called by the name of regeneration;—but let the two be looked at in their combined state—look at the removal of the condemnation from the sinner’s soul in connexion with the removal of the enmity from the sinner’s heart, and you have a distinct idea of that process of separation whereby the sinner is separated “unto obedience and the daily sprinkling of the blood of Christ.” It is here that you will get your minds cleared up so as to have a distinct and definite conception 261 before you of the nature of that act of separation which is called by the name of election. It is the separation of a condemned and trembling spirit to the enjoyment of the daily sprinkling of Christ’s blood; and so far as this object is to be effected, it cannot be effected save by an act of God, who alone can justify. But justification alone is not election. It is the process of separation whereby an unregenerated soul is brought into a condition of progressive obedience, which shall issue in being presented without blame before God at last; and, so far as this object is to be effected, it can only be effected by being born again, or regenerated by the Spirit of God. But regeneration alone is not election. This process of separation, on the part of God, is a process whereby (the Word of God distinctly informs us) the twofold object of obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Christ is brought about; and, therefore it must, as a matter of necessary consequence, consist in the justification and regeneration of the sinner, viewed, not separately, but in harmonious combination. We have before told you that there is a common principle which all election claims, whether it be angelic or national or sacerdotal or regal or mediatorial or evangelical. The principle which is common to all is that which distinguishes election itself from the purpose to elect; but just as there is a principle of agreement which is common to them all, so there must be something in each which distinguishes it from all the rest. And here we have, accordingly, discovered wherein the distinguishing feature of evangelical election consists. 262 It is the process whereby God separates a sinner of the human race from other sinners round about him, and it consists in the twofold act and process of justification and regeneration combined. Both are essential towards the removal of the only hindrances which intercept between any sinner and the subordinate and ultimate objects of election; and, therefore, evangelical election, viewed distinctively from every other election whatever, can consist in nothing more, nothing less, nothing else, than the conjunct removal of the condemnation and the enmity which are peculiar to the unbelieving souls of men.
The conclusion at which we have thus arrived, is confirmed and established from the plainly revealed fact, that the election of which we speak is brought about in every instance THROUGH THE INSTRUMENTALITY OF MEANS.
This is an important truth, which is very clearly revealed to us in the Word of God. In that passage from the second chapter of second Thessalonians, already referred to, the inspired apostle says distinctly, that the elect are chosen to salvation “through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth.” What can be more distinct than this? It is not to sanctification of the Spirit, but through sanctification of the Spirit that the process of election is carried on by God. It is not to the belief of the truth, but through the belief of the truth that we are chosen to salvation. Such a distinct revelation as this is decisive of the whole question, by which the minds of men have 263 been agitated and convulsed upon the subject of elec. tion. The dominant and prevailing theories, the fallacy of which has been already very fully pointed out in previous lectures, are every one of them based upon the erroneous assumption, that the elect have been chosen from eternity to the sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth. Take away the word “to” which is expressive of an end or object to be attained, and substitute in its place the word “through,” which is expressive not of the end to be attained, but of the means whereby any object or end is brought about, and you change entirely the whole aspect of the doctrine now under consideration. But who has a right to take away what God himself has introduced, and in its stead to substitute an expression which alters entirely the whole aspect of theology! Who has a right to say that the elect are chosen to, when God himself informs us that they are chosen not to but through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth? There may be a question started as to the import of the expression, “from the beginning” God hath chosen you, but there cannot be any debate about the import of the statement, that it is “through the sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth” the elect are chosen. Some may argue that the expression “from the beginning” refers us back to eternity, while others may contend that the apostle refers to the beginning of their Christian life—the time when they first believed. We are not careful to interfere at all with this question, seeing that whatever view you take 264 of the expression “from the beginning,” the great truth developed in the text remains the same. If you shall decide that the phrase “from the beginning” is expressive of that eternity which preceded all time, you cannot deny the fact that it is plainly declared, that they who are chosen are chosen through means of the sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the, truth. And you will not affirm that the elect were actually sanctified by the Spirit, and did actually believe the truth before they came into existence. But you will admit that they could not be actually chosen before it was possible for them to become the subjects of the sanctification of the Spirit and the belief of the truth, for this very obvious reason, that it was through means of these that they were chosen, and their separation or election actually effected. Should you therefore be of opinion that the phrase “from the beginning” is expressive of eternity, you are thereby shut up to the admission that the phrase “’chosen to salvation” is expressive not of actual election from eternity, but of election in purpose, or God’s eternal purpose to elect. But the moment that you are shut up to this admission, you are shut up thereby to an admission of the great truth for which we contend. We contend earnestly for the truth, that whatever God does in time he purposed from eternity to do. But we contend with equal earnestness for the other truth, that election is in no instance a transaction of a bygone eternity, but a transaction of God effected in time; and that it is a transaction effected in time only, 265 after a sinner believes the gospel, is demonstrated by the fact, that it is through the means of the sanctification of the Spirit, and the belief of the truth, that any sinner is actually, in point of fact, chosen by God.
You have the same truth brought out by Peter in the verse, from the first chapter of his first epistle, which we have also referred to before. We have already seen from the examination of that verse that the two proximate and subordinate ends which God accomplishes in the election of the sinner, are “obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ.” It is TO these ends that sinners are elected. But the verse refers also to the means through which these ends are attained. It is expressly said, “through sanctification of the Spirit.” We cannot conceive of any truth more plainly revealed than this, so that if any man shall still deny that election is something which God, in every instance, effects through means, we have a right to hold up these plain statements of Scripture before him, and to charge him with a presumptuous denial of the Word of God. Unless, therefore, a man be prepared to rush heedlessly against the thick bosses of the Almighty’s buckler, and to court the awful “WOE” which rests upon “him who striveth with his Maker,” and to make the God of truth a liar to his face, we cannot conceive how in the face of these plain Bible announcements, he can persist in holding by the flagrant absurdity of an eternal election, or refuse candidly and honestly to confess that election is a transaction of time, effected by God through means of 266 the sanctification of the Spirit, and the belief of the truth.
It is only upon this principle that it is possible for any man satisfactorily to explain such a passage as the following:—It is written in 2 Peter i. 10, “Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure; for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall.” Now, on the supposition that election is an act or purpose of the Divine mind formed from eternity, we defy any man to furnish a satisfactory explanation of this verse. On this supposition it would amount to little short of blasphemy to call upon men to make their election sure or firm. How should any creature be called upon to make a decree or act or purpose of the Divine mind sure or firm or steadfast? The conception is blasphemous, and it is nowhere suggested or countenanced in the Scriptures of truth. We are not ignorant of the bungling attempt which is made to explain Away this text, and to shade its meaning and eclipse its glory. We are informed, for example, that Peter wanted those Christians to whom he wrote to make themselves sure of the reality of their calling and election, and that there was no uncertainty or doubt hanging over the matter save only in their own minds. This explanation is consistent enough with the system of error which it is framed to support, but we appeal to every unprejudiced and honest man if such an explanation be not a barefaced explaining away, an evident perversion, of the inspired words. There is no shade of doubt hanging over the translation of the 267 original Greek. No scholar has ever ventured to propose, and no man can possibly propose a different collocation of the words. The simple term translated sure, means nothing else than sure or firm; and Christians are therefore called upon to make their calling and election sure. Now, you will notice that the Calvinist does not propose a simple explanation of the words,—he proposes a complete alteration of their evident meaning and import. He denies what the words affirm, and he affirms what other passages of Scripture plainly contradict. The words affirm the possibility and the duty of Christians to make their calling and election firm and sure; but the Calvinist finds it necessary to deny the possibility of any man making his calling and election sure, in order to maintain the credit of his soul-deluding divinity. Other passages of Scripture plainly declare, that the believer in Christ, when he is believing, possesses the assurance of his salvation. But the Calvinist chooses to write down a contradiction of this truth, and to insert his falsehood in place of the other truth which the text we are examining evidently contains. This text says nothing at all about assurance of salvation as possessed by believers,—it speaks of the calling and the election of believers, and it contains an exhortation to believers to make their calling and election firm and sure, thereby implying, that it is through the instrumentality of means placed by God at the Christian’s disposal, that their calling and election are in point of fact carried into sure and certain execution.268
Look at this text in the clear sunlight of revealed truth, and all is beautiful and consistent. Remember that the process of election, or separation of believers unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ, is carried on by God through means of the sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth; and in the light of this plainly revealed fact, you will at once perceive how believers are called upon most consistently to make their calling and election sure. Let it be remembered that the calling spoken of here, is the calling to glory—that calling which is almost exclusively spoken of in the New Testament epistles—that calling which is addressed exclusively to believers. Let it be farther remembered, that this high calling to the future possession of eternal glory, goes hand in hand, and side by side, with the election or separation of the souls of believers from the world around them. The call to eternal glory is ever addressed to them by God while he carries on the process of election or separation of the soul, in all its powers and affections and desires and aspirations, from a wicked and ungodly world. The prize of this high calling is held out to them at the distance, even while God selects or separates them for himself. Now, observe, that the means through which this call to glory is addressed to them, are the same as those whereby they are chosen or elected or separated in their thoughts and feelings and desires and hopes from the vanities of time. It is through sanctification of the Spirit and the belief of the truth that they are both called to glory, and separated unto obedience and 269 the daily sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ. Here is their calling and election, which they are exhorted to make firm and sure. Now, how could they do this but by co-operation with God? God it was who addressed to them the call to glory, and sought more and more to elect or separate them from the world through the sanctification of the Spirit and the belief of the truth. But it was their duty to be fellow-workers with God—it was their duty to “work out their sanctification with fear and trembling,” not the less diligently that “God wrought in them both to will and to do of his good pleasure.” The means whereby God elects or separates were all provided and plied by God. The means for the removal of that condemnation which stood out as the gigantic hindrance to the daily sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ—this consisted in the death of Jesus for their sins, and this was provided by God. The means for the removal of that unregenerated mind which stood out as the gigantic barrier to a course of progressively holy obedience—this consisted in the influence of the Holy Spirit, and this also was provided by God. The faith of the truth whereby alone the sinner can possibly enter into union, and retain increased communion with Jesus, and thereby rise from a state of condemnation to a state of justification;—the faith of the same truth whereby alone the sinner can possibly receive the influence of the Spirit, and thereby become the subject of regeneration;—here is another Divinely accredited means whereby the calling and election of any man is exhibited and carried out into 270 practical execution. Here is the connecting medium between the soul of the sinner and the power of God,—the connecting medium between the soul of the sinner and that calling and election of which Peter speaks, and of which the Bible is full. How then is the believer to make his calling and election firm and sure? Clearly by persevering steadfastness in the faith of the truth—by holding fast the beginning of his confidence steadfast unto the end—by a simple, childlike, vigorous reliance on the truth of God, so that faith might grow and flourish and expand and produce fruit in abundance, to the praise and glory of God.
You will see, therefore, how it comes to pass that believers are called upon to make their calling and election firm and sure. They are required to do this because the prize of the high calling at last, and their actual separation unto obedience and the daily sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ—their actual separation to progressive holiness here and ultimate glory hereafter, is a process which is carried into effect by God through the instrumentality of means; and the means, so far as man is concerned, is the faith and obedience of the truth. The other means essential to the carrying out of election, or separation from the world, were provided by God independently of, and entirely without the co-operation or consent of men. The sacrifice of Christ has been provided, and the Holy Spirit, is provided, and the truth to be believed is provided by God, and placed freely at every sinner’s door. All 271 things are ready for the immediate election of the sinner. But inasmuch as man is a free agent, and is graciously furnished with everything necessary to the faith of the truth, it is at this point that he is called upon to act his part, and to give credit to the testimony of the Spirit who speaks to him of Jesus. Inasmuch, therefore, as the faith of the truth is one indispensable means of election, the sinner prevents God from electing or separating him from the world while he refuses to believe. There is no election out of Christ. It is in Christ, as the apostle, to the Ephesians, declares, that God hath chosen any sinner, or ever will or ever can choose any sinner on the face of the earth. But while the sinner remains unconverted—while he remains an unbeliever, he remains out of Christ, even as the uningrafted branch: has no connexion with the vine. But while you admit that the apostle says that believers are chosen in Christ, do you ask what is meant by being chosen in Christ from the foundation of the world? In this case, I refer you, in one word, to what has been already said. It is election in purpose, or the purpose to elect, which was formed from eternity. This purpose was based upon God’s infallible foreknowledge of the undecreed faith of men. Hence Peter says that we are “elect according to the foreknowledge of God.” But, as we have already said in previous lectures, foreknowledge fixes nothing—foreknowledge decrees nothing—foreknowledge leaves the sinner as free to act as if nothing were foreknown. But God purposed from eternity to give unto you the power to believe, and he 272 purposed graciously and earnestly to call upon every one of you to believe, and he foreknew with unerring certainty every sinner who will listen to his voice, and believe in his Son; and he purposed whenever the sinner believes and is united by faith to Christ to elect or separate that sinner unto obedience, and the daily sprinkling of the blood of Christ on earth, and perfect glory in heaven. The phrase—“chosen in him before the foundation of the world,” is exactly parallel to the kindred phrase—“the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world.” In both instances, the phrase refers to the purpose of God, and the sinner is not thereby said to have been actually elected before the foundation of the world, any more than Jesus is said to have been actually slain from the foundation of the world. You will observe, therefore, that the great Bible doctrine of election is uniformly consistent with the entire gospel scheme. It hinders no man from salvation. It is the sinner’s own unbelief which stands out as the only hindrance. The doctrine of election invites and entreats and opens up the way, so to speak, to every sinner. The means whereby every soul of you may be separated, or chosen, or elected by God, are already provided. The Son of God has died for your sins. Here, then, is the only ground of immediate acceptance—the immediate removal of condemnation. Here is the ground on which pardon is freely proclaimed to you all, and on which you may instantly be justified. The Holy Spirit is present in his blessed influence, and he knocks at the door of every sinner’s heart, 273 seeking this very night admission into the soul. Here is the agent—the blessed agent in regeneration, by whose influence every soul of you may this very evening be regenerated. The truth of God respecting Jesus as your Saviour—that truth is before you in the inspired volume, the letter of love from God to man. Here, then, is the means whereby the work of Jesus justifies the soul,—here the means by which the Holy Spirit sanctifies. But if you will not credit it when your Bible tells you that “God is love,” and love to you—if you will still hesitate and doubt, and treat God as if he had written down a lie, and sent it down to you in the shape of truth—if you will not believe that God is satisfied by what his Son did for you on the cross, and fancy yourselves not good enough yet to be saved—if you will still persist in seeking some qualification within yourselves, as if God were inviting the righteous and not sinners to repentance—or if ye will remain careless about the revelation of God’s love, and count it a small thing to be assured that, for Jesus’ sake, every sinner in this house is this moment as welcome to enjoy his Maker’s friendship, as if he never had sinned—in one word, if ye will not believe God’s truth, but will persist in unbelief, you cannot possibly be elected by God. But the damnation of your souls will lie for ever at your own doors, and your blood will rest eternally and exclusively and justly upon your own heads.
The practical question, after all, resolves itself into 274 this—Will ye submit your wills unto God’s will so as to become partakers of this most blissful and most holy election? There are many who have no objections to be elected to safety and to happiness apart from a life of active, and laborious, and world-forsaking, and self-denying consecration to the service of God and of holiness. Such an election has no existence, save in the depraved imaginations of deluded Antinomians. “Be not deceived, God is not mocked. Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap. He that soweth to the flesh, shall of the flesh reap corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit, shall of the Spirit reap life everlasting.” “Without holiness, no man shall see the Lord.” The choice, then, is before you. We dare not bribe you into the church of the living God, by concealing from you the fact, that there is no salvation for any man disconnected from holiness of heart and holiness of life. Be it known unto you, men and brethren, that holiness of heart and holiness of life, is itself salvation. It is not the ground of salvation. No. The finished work of Jesus for your sins; that is the only foundation or ground of any solid hope for time or for eternity. It is not even the means of salvation. No.—Simple faith in Christ as your Saviour; that is the one only means whereby any soul can possibly come into the possession of the great salvation. But since holiness is not the ground or foundation on which a man may stand and apprehend salvation as all his own; and since it is not even the means through which a man may ultimately reach it, does any man inquire—275What is the use for holiness? Our answer to such an inquirer is—“Holiness is salvation.” We do not say, indeed, that holiness is the first or preliminary stage, so to speak, of any man’s salvation. We say the very reverse, when we contend earnestly against the universally prevalent delusion, that the sinner must needs be holy first, or that the sinner can possibly be holy first, before he is in a pardoned state, and in a position to know that he is pardoned and justified and saved from impending wrath. No sinner can possibly enter upon the path of holy obedience, until he knows assuredly that his sins are freely pardoned. Holiness, therefore, is not needed, either to render it consistent with God to pardon your sins, or to assure any sinner that his sins are pardoned. The assurance of pardon must needs precede and anticipate any and every holy emotion within the soul, and any and every holy action in the life so that if you have never known the blessedness of “the man whose iniquities are pardoned, whose sins are covered, and to whom the Lord imputeth not iniquity,”—which blessedness arises from a conscious sense or assurance of forgiving mercy;—if you are still the subjects of doubts and fears upon this great preliminary step in the experience of every child of God, you need no other or stronger evidence to convince you that you are “still in the gall of bitterness and in the bond of iniquity.” But it is equally true, my brother, that if you are assuring your soul of a free forgiveness, and talking of “peace with God,” and entertaining the hope of future blessedness, while you still retain the consciousness 276 within your bosom, that (though men who see not into the heart, treat you as one of God’s children), you are not loving Jesus Christ because he has already saved you from condemnation, and because you know, and rejoice in knowing, that he saves his people, not only from condemnation, but “from their sins;”—if having the consciousness of an imaginary justification through his blood, you lack the consciousness of a sincere desire and earnest readiness to sacrifice all that is dear to flesh and blood, in order to be assimilated to his blessed image;—Wif there is one solitary object on earth, or one solitary lust of the flesh, which you are not ready to sacrifice at the bidding of Jesus Christ;—you may, indeed, pass current among men for a child of God, but in the eye of God, and in the light of God’s truth, you stand out a self-convicted hypocrite. The sooner you flee to Christ, the better for your poor soul. You are deceiving yourself, if you think you are safe for eternity. You are wilfully shutting your eyes against the salvation of the gospel. You are assuredly turning the grace of God into licentiousness, and making Christ the minister of sin. “If any man come after me, and hate not father and mother, and houses and lands, yea and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple.” You must make an absolute and unconditional surrender of your own depraved will to God’s will, before you are even in a position to apprehend clearly the blessed message which brings to your door a free salvation. You have not yet apprehended the light—the true 277 light shining around you. What is the reason? Why do you not receive Christ’s salvation, but choose rather to soothe your soul by a false and presumptuous assurance of safety? Yours is not the assurance which the people of God, in every age, have every one of them possessed. Yours is the assurance of presumption. It has not led you to surrender all to the disposal of your God. There is some favourite idol still within your soul. You may be looking with pity upon those around you who make an idol of a minister, or a church, or a man-made creed, whereby they are prevented from opening their eyes upon the glorious gospel; but “why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother’s eye, and seest not the beam that is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam that is in thine own eye, and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote that is in thy brother’s eye.” Thou speakest truly enough when thou sayest that an unscriptural creed prevents many from looking at the truth; but this is only one form of the delusion whereby Satan deceives and retains within his grasp the souls of men. What if thy neighbour loves his creed, or his religious sect, or party orthodoxy, more than Christ, while you love some other object more than Christ? What that object is, I know not; but God knoweth, and thine own conscience will reveal it unto thee, if thou wilt but listen to her faithful voice. I again press the question, Why do you not receive Christ’s salvation? What is the reason of your remaining unbelief as to this, while it may be you are 278 consoling yourself under the assurance of a pardon which God has nowhere revealed, and which it is impossible for God to grant to any being in the wide universe—a pardon disconnected from holiness? Hear our Saviour’s infallible reply: “This is the condemnation, that light has come into the world, and men love the darkness rather than the light because their deeds are evil.” John iii. 19. “Their deeds are evil.” Such is the reason why they love the darkness and will not open their eyes upon “the true light”—the light which unfolds the salvation of the gospel—the light which shows all who will look upon it, that the salvation of the gospel is a salvation from all sin as well as from merited punishment. “Their deeds are evil.” Some men see at a glance that if they were to be at peace with God, they would need to part with some questionable or, it may be, positively sinful occupation—others suspect at once that if they were to be friends with God and to enjoy assurance of salvation, they would incur the displeasure and be made the laughing-stock of their unconverted friends. They want a religion which will keep their consciences at ease, while they retain their sinful occupation, or keep up their intercourse with their most agreeable companions, and so they love the darkness—they choose rather to retain a human error which instructs them to suspend assurance upon future procrastinated amendment, and to shut their eyes against the light of gospel truth, which would bring them to immediate and perfect peace, but which would also dissociate them from what they love. 279 But many more there are whose “deeds are evil,” and they would retain their sins and be excused from “denying themselves and taking up their cross;” and so they separate in their minds between safety and holy living, and they shut their eyes against the light which reveals the only pardon of the gospel—the pardon with self-denial, and active, laborious, flesh-crucifying, and world-sacrificing holiness, beneath and behind it. And so they learn to speak of peace with God and assurance of a possessed and enjoyed salvation—deceiving and being deceived! The last error is worse—infinitely worse, because. more dangerous, than the first. We would not therefore deceive you. We would rather inform you plainly, that unless you have made up your minds to sacrifice whatever you may discover to be inconsistent with the will of God, and to do whatever God shall require you to do, though it should be at much painful cost and sacrifice to flesh and blood, you cannot possibly be Christ’s disciples. There is a free pardon for every soul of you in Christ, and that even now. But the enjoyment of this gracious forgiveness is only preliminary to a life of progressive holiness on earth, and an eternity of holiness beyond the grave. It is for you, beloved friends, to make your choice. I know full well that, at this moment, every feeling of your souls, and every association of your thoughts, and every habit of your lives, and every impulse of your desires, and, it may be, every apparent temporal interest with which you are bound up, chime in with the syren song of a false and destructive orthodoxy, 280 which bears onward impetuously against the truth of God, inducing you to close your eyes against the light of life, and your understandings against the candid and serious examination of the gospel of salvation. Of this I am not ignorant; but you are not left without an opposing influence which would lead you to Jesus, and to true and lasting happiness. And with this better influence bearing upon your minds, and soliciting your instant decision on the side of God, you have the power to resist all that infernal influence whereby you are led astray, and this instant to choose “the good part which shall never be taken from you.” God the Father pleads with you; God the Son pleads with you; God the Spirit pleads with you. The interests of eternity are set against the selfish and mistaken interests of time; and you are asked by God himself to say, “What is a man profited, though he gain the whole world and lose his own soul?” And you have the power to decide for God and for happiness in opposition to every allurement which seeks to enchant you, and which beckons you downward to destruction. You have the power to will or to choose the good rather than the evil, even now while the current of evil is bearing you impetuously along on its dark and troubled bosom. You have not yet reached the farthest verge over which many a deluded soul is carried, and plunged into the deep unfathomable abyss beneath, from which there is no escape. You have the power to choose, as we have endeavoured in former addresses to demonstrate in your hearing. It is for 281 you to consider the freeness of that salvation which is announced to you, and to look well at its nature as a salvation from condemnation this very moment, in order to subsequent and entire consecration of all that you are, and all that you have, to the service of your God. You have the power to make it this very moment entirely and everlastingly your own, in fullest and most blissful possession; but you have the power to decide against it and to rush upon perdition. There cannot be any other alternative; FOR it or AGAINST it, you must this night, every soul of you decide. Hesitancy and doubt, and procrastination till some more convenient season—these are present determinations of your will against salvation. Before you is the blessing and the curse!—both are before you. The claims of God and the sinful allurements of the flesh!—both are before you. An open heaven and a gaping hell!—both are before you. Heavenly truth exhibited by the Holy Spirit as the guide-mark to glory, and hellish error exhibited by Satan, in the shape of an angel of light, to allure you to everlasting woe—both are before you. No power in the universe can constrain your choice. God himself cannot FORCE you to choose—the decision is in your own hands. “Choose ye this day whom ye will serve. If Jehovah be God, serve him; but if Baal be God, serve him.”282283
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