« Prev Lecture Fifth. Next »



ISAIAH v. 3, 4.—”Judge, I pray you, betwixt me and my vineyard. What could have been done more to my vineyard, that I have not done in it?”

EZEKIEL xxxiii. 11.—”As I live, saith the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live: turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die, O house of Israel?”

MATTHEW xxxiii. 37.—”O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!”

WE proceed now to call your attention to the second general theory of election. The theory already examined, claims for the elect a special and exclusive interest in the death of Christ. It affirms that Jesus shed his blood upon the cross for the elect alone. The doctrine now to be examined, claims for the elect a special and exclusive interest in the work of the Spirit. It affirms that the Spirit of God exerts his influence upon the minds of the elect alone, and that the Spirit strives with none of the human race excepting the elect, with the view of bringing them to salvation. This theory has been resorted to with the view of reducing the doctrine of Calvin to a more seeming 164 consistency with the Word of God, and of rendering its dogmas somewhat more palatable to the generality of mankind. The school of theologians by whom this doctrine has been patronized, have been sometimes distinguished by the name of “Moderate Calvinists,” while they who have pled for a limitation of the atonement of Christ, as well as for a limitation of the influence of the Spirit, have been styled, “Ultra-Calvinists.” The great difference between these two parties consists in this—the Moderate Calvinist affirms that Jesus died equally for all men, while the Ultra-Calvinist denies this affirmation, and contends that Jesus died for the elect only. We have, therefore, one set of Calvinists contradicting another set of Calvinists, on what is, beyond all question, the most important doctrine of Christianity—the doctrine of the atonement.

The doctrine, then, which falls now to be considered, proceeds upon the fullest admission of the great truth, that the Son of God shed his blood for every sinner of the human race. This is an admission which the greater proportion of professed Calvinists have latterly felt themselves constrained to make. The men have been latterly shut up to this conclusion by the force of truth, and the rapid advance of Scripture knowledge among the great bulk of professing Christians. There are few men who have given to the all-important inquiry the slightest investigation, without perceiving, at a glance, that since the death of Christ is the only Scriptural and consistent ground of the gospel offer, the atonement must of necessity be as extensive as the 165 offer; and therefore, considering that the offer of pardon and salvation is made to all men, the Saviour of the world must have died for all men. The atonement is the foundation of which the gospel offer is the superstructure; and the great bulk of theologians have been compelled to admit, that the foundation must be as wide as the superstructure; so that already, in the progress of the discussion, the Ultra-Calvinists have been left in a small and humiliating minority. But while this doctrine admits the universality of the death of Christ, it still maintains the limitation of the influence of the Spirit. It has the appearance of greater liberality and freeness, and comes to men with a far more imposing and generous aspect, than the doctrine which we have already discussed. We shall see, however, that all this liberality and all this vaunted consistency with the universal call of the gospel to all men without exception, is more in appearance than reality, and that this half-and-half theory—this measure of a crooked and halting policy—is no less decidedly contradicted by the Word of God, than the theory which the middle men have been constrained to forsake and to condemn.


There can be no doubt that it is a most important truth which is admitted, when it is conceded that Jesus 166 died for all. And there is in the admission of this great truth, a clear way of escape from the unscriptural position, that God, in any case, is bound in justice to justify those sinners for whom the Saviour died. And thus far this theory is free from one fatal objection, to which, as we have seen, the former theory stands exposed.

But, while the doctrine now under consideration adopts and recognises a great and important truth, it retains and embraces a great proportion of the error with which we have already proved the former theory to be burdened. It rejects one part of the error of Calvin, but it retains another part of the same error; and while it leaves men in a position no less hopeless than that in which it found them, this theory wants the consistency of the system which it professes to supplant. It agrees with the former in tracing whatsoever comes to pass to the sovereign pleasure and the unalterable decree of God. It asserts, indeed, that it was the will of God to give his Son to die for all men, and in asserting this it admits a very important truth; but it asserts, at the same time, that God has, in sovereignty, decreed and purposed to withhold his Spirit from all men except the elect, and in asserting this it retains a very important error. This theory does not say that God executes his decree, and carries into effect his determination to condemn all save the elect, by giving up his Son to die for the elect, and the elect alone. It affirms that Christ died for the non-elect as well as for the elect, but that God has unconditionally decreed that 167 the former shall not be saved, and therefore he has purposed to keep back from them the influence of the Spirit. You will notice, therefore, that this doctrine leaves men in exactly the same position in which it found them—under an absolute impossibility of being saved—unless it be true that men can indeed be saved without the influence of the Holy Spirit, and in direct opposition to the sovereign purpose and eternal decree of Jehovah.

Now my question is this—Wherein does this theory differ practically and fundamentally from that other theory which we have, in our former Lectures, proved in your hearing to be utterly opposed to the Scriptures of truth? I have already granted that it does differ, in mere theory, from that which has been already shown to be unscriptural, but the question is—Where lies the practical difference? There is, I admit, a greater sound of liberality and Scripture consistency, but my question is—Whether all this apparent and vaunted liberality does not amount to mere empty sound, and nothing more? There is a great admission, I grant you, when the doctrine, that Jesus died for all men, is no longer denied; but the question is—Whether the poison be not mingled with the wine?—whether the great doctrine of Christ’s death for all men be not paralyzed and destroyed, and rendered practically useless to the souls of men, by being associated with the exhibition of a dark decree, whereby all men, except the elect, are shut out and expelled from the very possibility of tasting the benefits of the great atonement? 168 Permit me to read to you one short extract from an eminent living divine—a divine who has written one of the best treatises for the express purpose of establishing the great and glorious doctrine, that Jesus died for all men, without one solitary exception. “The brethren of Joseph spoke truly of themselves [says Dr. Wardlaw] when they whispered one to another, ‘We are verily guilty concerning our brother, in that we saw the anguish of his soul, when he besought us, and we would not hear; therefore is this distress come upon us.’ Conscience was in the right. They were verily guilty. And yet it was the purpose of God, by means of their unbrotherly envy and cruelty, to fulfil his prophetic declarations to Abraham respecting the future history of the nation that was to spring from his loins. It was not the less their duty to be affectionate and kind to their brother, that such affection and kindness would have disarranged and frustrated the whole counsel of God; nor was it the less their sin to violate the claims of fraternal love, that by such violation they fulfilled it.”—Discourses on the Atonement, p. 184.

Be pleased, then, to mark well what is here said. Had the brethren of Joseph not done what was sinful, the divine decree would have been disarranged and frustrated; and in doing what was sinful, these men are said to have been acting in consequence of, and consistently with, the immutable purpose and decree of God!

Now, we have already endeavoured to prove that such a doctrine is opposed to the plainest declarations 169 of Scripture, and cannot possibly be true. It is a libel upon the character of God, and is opposed to the common apprehensions of mankind. The writer from whom I have just quoted says, that the decree and counsel of God would be frustrated if men did not act wickedly. If the murderer did not murder his victim—if the adulterer did not indulge his licentious passion—if the drunkard did not quench his unnatural thirst—if the blasphemer did not utter his horrid blasphemy—if, in a word, all things did not happen exactly as they come to pass, the decree and purpose of God would be frustrated!! And what is this, but just to embrace the most horrible doctrine of Ultra-Calvinism? It is for the express purpose of leaving room for the free and necessary execution of such horrible decrees, that the supporters of this theory find it necessary to limit and circumscribe the Holy Spirit, in his strivings with mankind. They do not like to say that—God actually exerts his power for the purpose of insuring the sin and the damnation of his creatures. To assert this would not be very expedient! They choose rather to present the horrid conception in a milder and more palatable form. He only keeps back his Spirit, and withdraws his grace. He sees that if his Spirit were to plead with men, they would not act wickedly. He determines, however, that the wickedness shall come to pass; and if it were not to come to pass, his purpose and decree would be frustrated. And so, in order to insure the commission of the wickedness, he has resolved, in 170 sovereignty, to leave the men without the Spirit—without which he knows they will be sure to transgress. This is the form in which the decree of God is presented before us by the expediency theory of which we speak. And I now put it to your candid and unprejudiced judgments to say, if there be not here a full development of the most hideous error, I had almost said blasphemy, of the system which we have already proved to be unscriptural. If the murderer shall place his victim in a situation in which he has so arranged that the man shall necessarily die, and from which all that is necessary for the sustenance of existence is withdrawn, he is no less truly a murderer than if, with his own hand, he had plunged the dagger into his bosom. King David did not, with his own hand, murder Uriah the Hittite—he only ordered the man to be placed in the front of the battle, and the necessary assistance to be withheld from him. But the mode in which the murder was committed, did not alter the nature of the deed. And so here, when we are informed that God does not infuse sin into men’s minds by a direct act of his omnipotence, but that he has decreed the wickedness, and only brings it to pass, by withholding the one only influence needful to prevent it—we do not discover any real difference between this doctrine and that other theory which has been formerly examined and condemned by the plainest statements of God’s own Word.

But while there exists no real difference between this middle theory and that extreme doctrine formerly considered, I do most earnestly entreat you, my 171 beloved friends, to compare them both with the strong and emphatic declarations embodied in the two passages of Scripture to which your attention has been directed. Does God himself not appeal to men, and ask them there what more he could do for his vineyard which he hath not done? What, then, is the reply which this theory makes to this important question? It says that God could have done far more for sinners who perish than what he has done or purposed to do. It informs us most distinctly that God could, if he had so chosen, have given to his vineyard the dews of the Divine influence, but this he has, in sovereignty, purposed to withhold. He knew well that if the influence of the Spirit had been given to his vineyard it would bring forth grapes in rich abundance. He knew well that if the influence of the Spirit was withheld and kept back from his vineyard, it would bring forth wild grapes. He purposed from eternity that it should bring forth wild grapes and thorns and briars, and every noxious weed; but to bestow the influence of the Spirit—to cause the dew to descend upon it from on high, would be most effectually to frustrate and disarrange his high counsel, and therefore we are informed he withholds the special influence. I appeal to those plain texts of Scripture, which I have read in the outset, against such an exhibition as this gives us of the character of our God. I do not deny God’s right and title to keep back and withhold from men the influence of his Spirit. I do not deny that God, if he were treating us as we deserve, would never approach us more 172 with the gentle drawings or the earnest strivings of his grace. O who can deny all this, or presume to say that we have any claim, in justice, to one single manifestation of the Holy Spirit to our souls! But all this does not render the doctrine we are now considering one shade the brighter. This admission only manifests more clearly and decidedly its dark and odious features, and brings it out more prominently in all its dreadful and hideous deformity. We can lay no claim whatever to the influence of the Holy Spirit, for God might in perfect equity most justly withhold it from us all. Let this be most readily granted, for verily this is most true; and yet the question still remains, does God condescend to treat men as they have no right to be treated as respects the influence of the Spirit—that blessed influence, without which no fruit of holiness can possibly take root and flourish within the human soul? If God does not keep back his Spirit, but if that Spirit does, in point of fact, strive with wicked and ungodly men—although we do admit that men have no claim to his influence—is it not for this very reason all the more sinful, and all the more cruel, and all the more blasphemous in the Church to deny and hide from the eyes of perishing men this most wonderful act of Sovereign Grace? The very circumstance that men do not deserve the influence of the Spirit, and that God would do them no injustice were he to withhold it, renders the enormity of the crime a thousand-fold more glaring, on the part of men, when they presume to say that this needful influence is withheld. 173 Now, if it had been kept back from wicked men God could not have been blamed; but this we do most unhesitatingly affirm, God could not appeal to men as he does, and ask themselves to say what more it was possible for him to do for them which he hath not done, in order to bring them to repentance. This God could not, and would not say, if he did, in point of fact, withhold from them the very influence needful for their return to himself. Would it in this case be presumption in men to reply, in answer to this earnest and touching appeal, “True, O God, thou hast given thy Son to die for us, thy vineyard—true, thou hast most graciously addressed to us thy blessed gospel call—true, thou art under no obligation to thy vineyard to visit it with the dew of thy influence—but, O Lord, thou knowest that without this we cannot bring forth fruit unto thy glory, and thou canst do something more for thy vineyard which thou hast not yet done—thou canst impart the influence of the Spirit; and now, seeing that thou hast most graciously appealed to thy vineyard itself, and called upon men to say what more thou canst do that thou hast not done, grant but this one farther influence, and we shall instantly flourish and bring forth fruit, and appear fair and lovely as the garden of the Lord.” I ask any man to say if this is not the precise reply which wicked men would be in a position to give to the question which our God has most graciously condescended to propose. But what is the rejoinder which the doctrine we are now considering puts into the lips of God? It makes God say that all this is very 174 true, but nevertheless he has made a decree whereby These wicked men must necessarily and inevitably sin against him and be damned, and this decree would be frustrated and disarranged (to use the words of the writer already quoted) if the needful influence was not kept back; and therefore, while it is most true that he could do something more to his vineyard, he has determined, in sovereignty, that the one thing needful shall not be done! I now most solemnly appeal to you, men and brethren, in vindication of the injured and maligned character of our God; and I call upon you to decide in the face of God’s own word, and this evening to say whether such a doctrine as this be not utterly inconsistent with its plainest, and most obvious, and most impressive announcements. I add to this appeal to his own vineyard the oath of God himself, wherein he most emphatically contradicts the doctrine which has been palmed upon his Church—“As I live, saith the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but rather that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways; for why will ye die, O house of Israel?”

Brethren, the question is a solemn one—and it is a question which will meet you at the judgment-seat. Will ye any longer set aside the oath of Jehovah himself, by lending your ears or your influence to perpetuate and uphold the mere traditions of fallible men?


According to this doctrine, we are informed that God the Father so loved the whole world, without exception, as to give up his own Son to die in its stead. We are farther informed, that God the Son regarded from eternity the whole human race with an equal regard, so that He, in the fulness of the time, came, and voluntarily offered up himself the propitiation, not for the sins of the elect only, but also for the sins of the whole world. All this is most fully admitted by the brethren who adhere to, and support the theory of election now under consideration. This they have found it impossible to deny. The storm of controversy within their own church55   Reference is here made to the United Secession, now merged into THE UNITED PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH. has literally driven them to the admission of this much of the great and glorious truth. But, in place of sailing into the safe and peaceful haven which was open for their reception, they have been drifted upon the rocks and the sand-banks of error, by turning round in order to embrace the great fundamental delusion now before us. Their position is no better than it was before; nay more, it is, if possible, still worse, and must inevitably prove still more disastrous. For what does this theory involve? It involves the denial of the same mind in God the Spirit, which they are compelled to look upon as dwelling in God, the Father and God the Son. The love of the Father and 176the work of the Son they now see to be universal—wide as the world—embracing in its ample bosom the entire family of man, without distinction and without exception. But their Confession of Faith informs them that God has determined to send down to destruction the greater portion of the human family, and that from all those whom he has created and brought into the world for damnation, God withholdeth his grace, and exposeth them to such objects as their corruption makes occasion of sin; and farther, gives them up to their own lusts, to the temptations of the world, and to the power of the devil—all in order to prevent the possible frustration, and the sure and certain execution of his own decree. And so, in order to preserve the credit of a man-made creed, the third person in the blessed Godhead is arrayed against the other two; and while the love of the Father and the love of the Son embraces the whole world, the love of the Holy Spirit is restricted and confined solely and exclusively to the elect! The wishes, and the desires, and the gracious efforts of the Holy Spirit, are not by any means co-extensive with the wishes, and desires, and amazing efforts of the Father and the Son for the salvation of mankind! That God the Father earnestly and sincerely desires, or wills that all men should be saved, is unanswerably argued by the upholders of this doctrine from the Word of God. They argue, with the inspired apostle, that God has proved that—he wills all men to be saved, by the fact that he has given his Son a ransom for all men. They point to the death of Jesus for every sinner of the 177human race, and they do most triumphantly conclude therefrom, that God the Father and God the Son do most earnestly and sincerely desire every sinner on the face of the earth to be saved. But when they come to the work of the Holy Spirit they say, that this great work is limited and circumscribed. And just as from the work of the Son they argue out the desire, the earnest desire of God, that all for whom his Son was given to die should believe and live, even so are we taught to measure the desire and the wish of the Spirit. The Spirit, accordingly, does not wish all men to be saved! The Spirit’s work and effort is the measure of his love. And since his work and his effort to save does not extend beyond the number of the elect, we have the Holy Spirit represented as not willing that any one single soul, beyond the number of the elect, should come to the knowledge of the truth and be saved from impending ruin. Here, then, is the desire and the wish of both the Father and the Son opposed and counteracted by the desire of the Spirit!

Here is the Father parting with his only-begotten and well-beloved Son, just because he desires to save a world from perdition; and here is the Son parting with his glory for a season, and hum. bling himself even to the death of the cross, and doing enough by his death for the salvation of the whole race; but here is the Spirit of truth refusing to work and to put forth his influence upon the Souls of multitudes for whom the Saviour died! Behold, my friends, the horrible representation! Transport yourselves, in imagination, 178 to the ancient city, which was crowded with the murderers of our Lord, and see the Saviour weeping over the guilty crowd of infatuated men and women who were madly rushing onwards to an undone eternity. Hear the Saviour uttering, from his inmost soul, the plaintive cry—“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets, and stonest them which are sent unto thee, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, and ye would not!” Mark the emphatic words, “ye would not.” It is not, “My Father would not”—it is not, “I would not.” I say more—it is not, “The Holy Spirit would not impart to you the needful influence.” The sentiment of Jesus is, “I would, and God the Father and God the Spirit would, but you have yourselves alone to blame for the rejection of salvation: ye would not—ye will not—come to me that ye might have life.” But fancy to yourselves one of our modern theologians, who have mixed up with the water of life the poison of a false and unscriptural fatalism—who have set the writings of Plato, or the ravings of Aristotle side by side with the Word of God, and have learned to say, that “whatsoever comes to pass” must necessarily happen, otherwise men would be far stronger than God, and overthrow the irreversible decree!—fancy to yourselves some of these men side by side with the weeping Saviour, when his heart was bursting and breaking over the wickedness and infatuation of the men and women whom he tend to save;—would they not have counselled him to 179 dry up his tears? Would they not have enlightened his mind upon the philosophy of the whole plan? Would they not have asked him to tell them, whether his tears and lamentations could alter or turn back the Divine decree? Would they not have corrected his mistake when he exclaimed, in tenderest and most earnest accents, “Ye would not”? And would they not have directed him to the Great Spirit, who sits behind the entire machinery of nature, and whose influence alone was awanting in order to fill the entire city with his followers—whose influence alone was needed in order to transform every blaspheming Jew into a genuine convert, and fill the atmosphere around with the most rapturous hallelujahs and sounds of praise? would they not have exclaimed, “Say not to those Jews,’ YE would not.’ Point them to the Holy Ghost, and say,’ HE would not,’ because if He would, the decree which binds you down to the necessity of playing your part in this dreadful tragedy would be frustrated and overthrown!

“Men and Brethren, I do this night appeal to you in the name of God, and I ask you to say, whether will you give credit to the weeping Jesus, or will you still abide by the blasphemous dogma of an infidel philosophy which has been artfully engrafted upon the pure and unadulterated Word of God? It is the fatalism of the ancient heathen philosophers, which has been imported into the Christian Church during a dark and backsliding age. The dogma of fatalism was introduced by Satan into the schools of theology, and by mixing 180 up the doctrine of necessity or fatalism with the Word of the living God, the great deceiver of souls has forged a strong and a heavy chain, whereby he leads thousands to destruction. And what has the Church done? She has imported her creed, to a great extent, from the dark bosom of the papacy. Who was Calvin? and who were the Reformers? They were mighty men, it is true, but still they were only men. And what had these men not to do? They had to battle against ten thousand deadly errors. And is it any wonder that they were not a match for every one of them? Consider the dark atmosphere amid which they lived and moved, and the wonder is, not that these mighty men of God brought out of the papacy so much of deadly error; the wonder is that they were the means of exhibiting, in their day and generation, so great a proportion of precious truth. And what, I ask, have the churches of the reformation done since the days of these mighty men? Have they followed up the movement which these reformers began?—have they subjected every doctrine to the scrutiny of the Word of God?—have they put their human creeds into the fining pot, and separated the dross from the pure gold? No. We have verily proved ourselves a race of weak and degenerate men. The children of the reformation have not followed the footsteps of their nobler fathers. We have taken their creeds, and we have set them up as if they were the infallible word of God. And if ever any spark of life has been manifested since the days of the fathers of the reformation, it has been the 181 life which is only the manifestation of spiritual death—the life and the activity of men who arouse themselves to exertion only when it is necessary to expel from their churches those who would presume to question the infallibility of the Confession of Faith!—who would dare to “try all things by the Word of God, and hold fast only that which is good”! There are many of the doctrines in these Confessions which are precious; but who could expect that there should be nothing that is wrong? And I, therefore, earnestly and affectionately call upon you to say, whether you will abide by the words of God himself, and take his assurance and oath, that he withholds nothing from you that is necessary for your salvation; or whether you will take the word of men, when they tell you, that except ye happen to be included in the decree, which the imaginations of infidel philosophers hath conjured into being, the Holy Spirit withholds from you that influence which is indispensable to salvation. Choose ye this day whom ye will believe. If the Lord Jehovah be true, when he swears by himself that he desires your life, believe him; but if fallible men be true when they hold out a dogma which contradicts the oath of Jehovah, believe them.

« Prev Lecture Fifth. Next »
Please login or register to save highlights and make annotations
Corrections disabled for this book
Proofing disabled for this book
Printer-friendly version


| Define | Popups: Login | Register | Prev Next | Help |