A very common objection to the doctrine of election is that it leads to licentiousness. Men will not say in so many positive words that all who hold the doctrine of election are loose and licentious characters, for the evidence of facts to the contrary is too strong for this calumny to be proved or believed, and the charge against them usually lies in just the opposite direction, that is, that they are too strict and precise, too rigid and separate from the world, and do not allow themselves to enjoy even the innocent pleasures and harmless amusements of life. But in making the charge they often draw a distinction between the doctrine itself and the people who hold it. Thus they say, "We do not mean that you are licentious, for your life and conduct plainly show the contrary; but there may be special reasons and motives which act upon you which may not influence others who hold the same views. It is not you, therefore, that we condemn, but your doctrine. You may be preserved from its dangerous influence by your education, or your natural conscience, or your high sense of duty and propriety, or even by your fear of the reproach of acting inconsistently with your profession; but if you preach it to others who may not be under the same restraints with yourself, they will most likely use it or abuse it to their own destruction. And, indeed, what can be more natural than that they would do so? If I knew certainly and positively that God had chosen me to eternal life, and that come what may, come what will, I could never perish, then I might lie, and cheat, and steal, wallow in drunkenness and all manner of filth and uncleanness, and yet be sure all the time that I was going to heaven."
Such are some of the objections of the opponents of sovereign grace to the doctrine of election; and as such objectors evidently know nothing of the secret teachings and dealings of God with the soul, and the sweet constraints of the love of Christ, and indeed do not even understand, much less believe, the Scriptures, we need not wonder that they talk so wildly and so inconsistently, not only with the power, but with the very letter of truth itself. To guard, then, against this common objection to the precious truth of election, which, indeed, would be fatal to its claims, for a holy God could never reveal an unholy doctrine, and more especially to instruct his people into the fruits which spring out of a sense of electing love shed abroad in their heart, the Lord the Spirit has written, as with a ray of light in the inspired Scriptures, not only the doctrine itself, but the gracious and spiritual effects connected with and flowing out of it; and has most plainly declared that instead of tending to licentiousness, it leads to holiness of heart and life, and that God has chosen his people in his dear Son—not that they might take advantage of the riches of his grace to sin the more against him, which would be a doctrine of devils—but that it might lay them under the sweetest and most powerful constraints to walk all the more tenderly in his fear, and live all the more worthily to his praise.
The Apostle, therefore, declares that God "has chosen us in Christ before the foundation of the world, that we would be holy and without blame before him in love" (Eph 1:4); and that we are "created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God has before ordained that we would walk in them." (Eph. 2:10.) So our gracious Lord said—"You have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you that you would go and bring forth fruit." (John 15:16.) We see, therefore, that election is not a licentious or dangerous doctrine, but one which leads to holiness, and that so far from being the cause of sin, it is just the contrary, being the true and real cause of holiness; for if there had been no elect people, there would have been no holy people—for the "chosen generation" are "a holy nation" (1 Peter 2:9); and, therefore, if there had been no election, there would have been no holiness. It is true that ungodly men may abuse the doctrine, and hold the truth in unrighteousness, for what is there, however holy and sacred, which the carnal mind will not pervert to its own base purposes? But this is their sin, and will, if grace does not prevent it, end in their damnation.
But it is time to return to our exposition, though our readers will probably trace the connection of these thoughts upon election with the language of Peter—"Elect unto obedience, and the sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ," and will see how the Apostle unites election with obedience and the blood of sprinkling.
At this point, therefore, we now resume the thread of our exposition, and shall, with God's help and blessing, endeavor to open these two points which we termed, at the close of our last paper, the ENDS of election. It will be observed that the one of these ends refers to the heart, and the other to the conscience, those being the two main seats of divine operation.
i. "Elect unto obedience."
All true obedience is from the heart. "You have obeyed from the heart that form (or, as the word means literally, "type" or "mold") of doctrine which was delivered you," or "whereto you were delivered" (margin); the figure being taken from that of a stamp or signet where the impression coincides perfectly with the seal, or from that of a mold where the object cast corresponds exactly with the model from which it is taken. Thus, as divine truth is stamped upon the heart by the power of God, it obeys that truth in every line and lineament, and copies it into the life, in the same way as the cast obeys and copies the lines and features of the mold. This is being "like wax to the seal," or clay to the potter. (Job 38:14; Isa. 64:8.) And as "with the heart man believes unto righteousness" (Rom. 10:10), this obedience is called "the obedience of faith" (Rom. 16:26), and to yield it is to obey the gospel. (Rom. 10:16.) But the question may arise, How is this obedience of faith produced? It is by the voice of the Lord speaking with power to the soul. The promise given to our gracious Lord when he was made a priest forever after the order of Melchisedek was—"Your people shall be willing in the day of your power, in the beauties of holiness." (Psalm 110:3.) David, therefore, personating the Lord, says, "As soon as they hear of me they shall obey me." (Psalm 18:44.) It is, then, the hearing of the Lord's voice ("My sheep hear my voice"), which raises up faith in the soul; and with faith comes the obedience of faith; for faith and the obedience of faith are so closely and intimately connected that that faith which is not obedient is not the faith of God's elect. We see this very plainly and clearly in Paul's case. The moment that the Lord spoke to him at Damascus gate, faith was raised up in his heart, and with faith immediately came the obedience of faith, "Lord, what will you have me to do?" (Acts 9:6.) The neck of unbelief was in a moment broken, and with it the neck of disobedience, and the faith which made him say, "Lord," made him also say, "What will you have me to do?" "Why do you call me, Lord, Lord, and don't do the things which I say?" Our own experience also proves this. God spoke to us in various ways before he called us effectually by his grace. How often, for instance, did he speak to us in his providence—sometimes to warn, sometimes to admonish us—if we had had but ears to hear. What narrow escapes sometimes with life; what severe strokes of illness, and yet what raising up from the very gates of death! What unexpected turns at other times in our favor, as if the very goodness of God were calling us unto himself from paths of sin and disobedience! How often, too, he spoke to us by secret warnings and admonitions of conscience, telling us what the end would be of walking after our own crooked ways! How he spoke to us sometimes also by the words and example of godly men and women, the truth and sincerity of whose religion we were compelled to acknowledge! And how he spoke to us, it may be, for many have not this, in and by the ministry of the word, so that, in spite of ourselves, a ray of unwelcome light darted into our conscience to produce a momentary pang of guilt and uneasiness, with some desires to be different from what we were. But how ineffectual was all this; and how the power of sin, the love of the world, the fear of man, the pleasures and pursuits of life, and above all, the strong cords of unbelief, impenitence, and hardness of heart hold us fast bound; so that in us there was neither faith, nor the obedience of faith.
And so we would have lived and so we would have died, had not the Lord put forth another power, and spoken to us by another voice than that of providence, or natural conscience, or the outward ministration of the word, and done that for us, and in us, by the power of his grace, which has made us what we are as new creatures in Christ Jesus.
We thus see the special blessedness of being "elect unto obedience," and that God secures it by as fixed and firm a decree as salvation itself; and, indeed, it is a part of salvation; for as by grace we are saved through faith, it is by the obedience of faith that we become manifestly interested in God's great salvation. We can, therefore, no more be saved without obedience than we can be saved without faith; for the wrath of God is upon all the children of disobedience (Eph. 5:6); and as to believe the gospel is to obey the gospel (Rom. 10:16), so disobedience of the gospel is of the nature, and will have the punishment of unbelief of the gospel.
ii. The other end to which the people of God are elect is "the sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ." This deals with their conscience as obedience deals with their heart. Wherever there is a work of grace in the soul, it makes the conscience alive and tender in the fear of God; and the application of the law to this living and tender conscience lays upon it a heavy load of guilt, under which it cries and groans being burdened. In this sore and guilty conscience the law of God and his wrath meet together, and down goes the soul, more or less, into those depths of which the Psalmist says, "Out of the depths have I cried unto you, O Lord."
Now, nothing but the blood of Christ revealed unto and sprinkled upon this guilty conscience can remove from it this heavy load of guilt. Sin after sin, crime after crime, iniquity upon iniquity, in thought, word, or deed, press the soul at times almost down into despair. But God will never allow his elect people to sink, that is, wholly and finally, into this horrible pit, for they are elect unto the sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ. Not only, therefore, has he chosen them in Christ that they would be holy and without blame before him in love, made them accepted in the Beloved, and forgiven them all their sins, but he has determined, in the riches of his grace, that the atoning blood which was shed for them upon the cross, and by which they were redeemed from death and hell, would be sprinkled upon their conscience, so as to cleanse and purge it from this load of guilt, that they might draw near to him with a true heart, in full assurance of faith, as having their heart sprinkled from this evil conscience. (Heb. 10:22.)
We now see the connection between obedience and the blood of sprinkling, and how and why the elect are chosen unto both. By the special gift and power of God they believe with the heart unto righteousness, and thus render the obedience of faith; and by the blood of sprinkling obtain a manifestation of the forgiveness of their sins, and thus serve God with an obedient, loving heart, in newness of spirit, and not in the oldness of the letter, and with a conscience purged from guilt, filth, and dead works. And though there are many of the dear family of God who have not yet attained to an experimental knowledge of the blood of sprinkling revealed and applied to their conscience, yet being elect unto it, and already favored with the first blessing of obedience to the gospel, this second blessing will in due time also be revealed unto them.
We need hardly remark that the expression, "the sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ," has reference to the practice of the ceremonial law in which the blood of the victim was first shed and then sprinkled. It was so in Egypt at the institution of the Passover, when the blood of the paschal lamb was first shed when the animal was killed, and then struck or sprinkled on the lintel and the two side-posts of the houses. (Exod. 12:7, 22.) So it was when Moses sprinkled the blood on the altar, on the book, and on the people. (Exod. 24:6-8; Heb. 9:19.) So also he first shed and then sprinkled with blood both the tabernacle and all the vessels of the ministry. (Heb. 9:21.) And we may here observe that the blood was always sprinkled while warm, when, so to speak, the life was still in it, for it was never allowed to become cold or clotted; and thus was a lively type of the life that is in the blood of Christ when it is sprinkled on the conscience.
But more especially was this the case on the great day of atonement, when Aaron took the blood of the bullock and of the goat and sprinkled it upon and before the mercy seat. (Lev. 16:14, 15.) We thus see that, according to the ceremonial law, the blood was first shed and then sprinkled. In a similar way, in the antitype, it was through the blood shedding and death of the gracious Lord that sin was atoned for, put away, and blotted out. This was the shedding of the blood, and accomplished our redemption. In this redemption by blood all the elect of God are interested, and therefore by virtue of this redemption all their sins are forgiven them. (Eph. 1:7; Col. 1:14.)
But in order to enjoy the manifestation of this forgiveness, the atoning blood of the Lord Jesus Christ must be sprinkled upon their consciences, that they may have a knowledge of salvation by the remission of sins. And as doubtless there were many to whom Peter wrote, who "as new-born babes had tasted that the Lord was gracious," but had not yet attained unto a personal, experimental knowledge of pardoned sin, he encourages them to hope and patiently wait for the promised blessing, by assuring them that they were elect unto it, and that, therefore, they could not fail of obtaining it at God's appointed season.
The Apostle also opens the instrument through whom these blessings are communicated, and thus instructs us into the means as well as the ends. If we are elect unto obedience and the sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ as ends, we are put into personal possession of them by the Holy Spirit as the means. He, therefore, says, "through sanctification of the Spirit." It is desirable to observe how we have here in the compass of one verse the three Persons of the blessed Trinity brought before us, that is, God the Father, his Son the Lord Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit the Sanctifier; and mark also the three blessings ascribed to these three distinct Persons—that the Father elects, the Son atones, and the Holy Spirit sanctifies. Observe also from it how we are brought into the personal, experimental possession of these blessings, and how we are made to know our election, our redemption, and our sanctification; and that it is the Holy Spirit moving in sweet accordance with the electing love of God, and the atoning blood of Jesus Christ, who sanctifies the soul by leading the heart into the obedience of faith, and applying to the conscience the blood of sprinkling. We thus see that election is a holy doctrine, because it moves in accordance with the sanctification of the Spirit, and that redemption by blood is a holy doctrine, because attended by the Spirit's sanctifying grace; that the obedience of faith is a holy obedience, as produced by the power and operation of the Holy Spirit, and that the blood of Jesus Christ sprinkled upon the conscience both cleanses and sanctifies it, by not only revealing pardoning mercy, but by making sin exceedingly sinful, and holiness the very element of the renewed soul.
We shall not dwell upon the apostolic prayer which closes what we may call the address of this epistle—"Grace unto you and peace be multiplied," as we endeavored to open the words in our Meditations upon the first chapter of the Epistle to the Ephesians, and shall, therefore, pass on to what may, in fact, be considered the real commencement of the epistle—"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who according to his abundant mercy has begotten us again unto a living hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead." (1 Peter 1:3.)
We may call this, then, the true commencement of the epistle, and it is remarkable how Paul and Peter, though writing to different persons, and most probably without any communication with each other at the time, both begin their letters in almost the same way. Thus Paul, writing to the Ephesians, begins with blessing God as the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ for the manifested riches of his grace—"Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ." (Eph. 1:3.) So similarly Peter blesses the God and Father of the Lord Jesus Christ for the display of his mercy and love. The blessings for which Paul praised him were all those spiritual blessings with which he had blessed the Church in heavenly places in Christ Jesus; but the blessing for which Peter here thanks and adores his divine Majesty is for having begotten them again unto a living hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. This, then, is the first feature which we shall now have to consider.
Three things are observable in it—1, the blessing of being "begotten again;" 2, the fruit and result of this new birth, which is "a lively," or as the word means, a living "hope;" and 3, the cause of this new birth, which is "the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead."
1. The epistle was written to those who were partakers of a new and heavenly birth. They are, therefore, said to be "born again" (1:23), and are addressed as "new-born babes." (2:2.) For this act of his grace the Apostle blesses and praises God on their behalf. And well may this unspeakable blessing call forth every power and faculty of the soul in praise and thanksgiving, whether of an apostle, or of the lowest believer; for it is the introduction into, as well as the sure pledge of every other spiritual blessing for time and eternity. To possess divine life, to be born of God, is to have him for our Father, and thus have every blessing which a Father's heart can conceive, and a Father's hand bestow. It is to be delivered from death, and made partaker of a life which can never die. It is to live through every storm; to be brought through every trial, temptation, sorrow, and affliction; to obtain victory over sin, Satan, death, and hell, and to reign with Christ in the light and blessedness of one eternal and glorious day. On this point, however, we need not dwell, as it is one which, however sweet, does not require any special opening.
2. Let us pass on, therefore, to see the fruit and effect of this new and heavenly birth—a living hope. There are other fruits of the new birth, but that which the Apostle has brought forward here is one eminently sweet and suitable to the new-born family of God. One peculiar feature in this epistle seems to be that it does not, so to speak, take very high ground; that is, it does not address itself to very advanced believers. If, for instance, we compare it with the epistle to the Ephesians, we shall see that though both are equally inspired by the Holy Spirit, yet that a higher, fuller, and more exalted strain animates, as it were, the epistle of Paul. It was written to a deeply-taught, highly favored, and well-established Church, and, therefore, able fully to receive, and experimentally enter into, the grand and glorious truths unfolded to them. But Peter's epistle was not written to any particular Church, much less to one so far advanced in the divine life. It is, therefore, styled a "general epistle," as being addressed to the people of God generally, and was sent not to a specially-favored, long-established Church, but to "strangers scattered" here and there, and therefore widely differing in experience, both from one another and from a Church which, like that at Ephesus, had been for three years specially favored with the benefit and blessing of Paul's personal ministry.
Peter's epistle, therefore, takes what we may perhaps call a lower tone of experience. The doctrine preached in both is the same, the grand truths of the gospel, such as election, redemption, regeneration, are just the same; but the people to whom it is written not being, for the most part, so far advanced in the things of God as the Ephesians, Colossians, and the churches generally to which Paul wrote, milk, rather than strong meat, is set before them.
This may explain why Peter blesses God for begetting them again unto a living hope. He does not tell them that God had begotten them unto the full assurance of faith, or unto the clear enjoyment of manifested pardon, or to the shedding abroad of the love of God in the heart by the Holy Spirit, but unto a living hope by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead. There is much wisdom, mercy, and condescension in this.
Now, there are very many of the family of God who cannot rise much beyond a living hope. It is called a living hope to distinguish it from a dead and carnal hope, such as the hope of the hypocrite, which shall perish (Job 8:13); or of the wicked, which shall be as the giving up of the spirit (Job 11:20); or of the Pharisee who is under the curse of God, as trusting in himself and making flesh his arm (Jer. 17:5); or of that numerous throng, dead in sin or dead in a profession, who hope in God's mercy because they have never experimentally felt or feared his wrath. The living hope to which God begets his dear children by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead is very different from any such dead hopes as these. It is raised up in the soul by the power of God—the same power by which he raised the Lord Jesus Christ from the dead. It has, therefore, life in it, which makes it always living and sometimes lively.
It may, indeed, sink very low, and seem at times almost if not wholly gone, as one complained of old, "My strength and my hope is perished from the Lord" (Lam. 3:18); and another cried out, "My hope has he removed like a tree" (Job 19:10); and yet the one could say as soon as it was revived, "The Lord is my portion, says my soul; therefore will I hope in him" (Lam. 3:24); and the other could declare, "I know that my Redeemer lives." But however low it may sink through temptation, darkness, bondage, and guilty fear, yet it can never wholly perish, fail, or be disappointed, for it is "in hope of eternal life which God, that cannot lie, promised before the world began," and is built upon two immutable things, God's promise and God's oath, in which it was impossible for him to lie.
It is also a fruit of the Spirit in union with faith and love, and, therefore, like them, abides in the Church and in the soul when all gifts, such as of prophecy, of tongues, and of knowledge, fail, cease, and vanish away. (1 Cor. 13:8, 13.) It has salvation in it, for by it we are saved (Rom. 8:24); is the gift of God's free grace (2 Thess. 2:16); and, therefore, must reign through righteousness unto eternal life. (Rom. 5:21.) It is an anchor of the soul both sure and steadfast, and is firmly fixed within the veil, where the forerunner has entered for us, and hopes to the end for the grace that is to be brought at the revelation of Jesus Christ. It is, therefore, a precious grace; and though it may not have the sweet enjoyments of the assurance of faith, or the casting out of all fear which has torment, which is the special blessing and high privilege of love, yet it equally secures the soul in the firm possession of the grace of the gospel and the gift of eternal life.
3. Now, it is by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead that God begets us again unto this living hope. We showed in our Meditations upon Eph. 2:5, 6, that the resurrection of Christ was not only the pledge; but the initial cause of our regeneration. When Christ rose from the dead all his elect rose virtually in and with him. It is impossible, therefore, that their souls would always continue dead in sin, and so pass out of life unregenerate; for as none can enter the kingdom of God but those who are born again, they would be excluded from eternal life if they departed in their unregeneracy. But it may be desirable to trace out this connection a little more plainly and fully.
The resurrection of Jesus Christ was God's grand attestation to the truth of his divine mission and Sonship, for by it he was "declared to be the Son of God with power." It therefore set a divine stamp upon his sacrifice, blood shedding, and death, showed God's acceptance of his offering, and that sin was thus forever put away. Now, just think what would have been the dreadful consequences if Christ had not been raised from the dead, or if we had no infallible proofs (Acts 1:3) of his resurrection. There would have been, there could have been no forgiveness of sin (1 Cor. 15:17); and, therefore, when the conscience became awakened to a sense of guilt and condemnation, there could have been nothing before it but black and gloomy despair. But Christ being raised from the dead and having gone up on high to be the High Priest over the house of God, and the Holy Spirit bearing witness of this both in the word and through the word to the soul, a door of hope is opened even in the very valley of Achor. The Holy Spirit, who would not have been given had not Christ risen from the dead and gone to the Father, now comes and testifies of him to the soul, takes of the things which are his, reveals them to the heart, and raises up faith to look unto and believe in him as the Son of God, and thus, according to the measure of the revelation, it abounds in hope through the power of the Holy Spirit. (Rom. 15:13.)
If you will look back to the time and way in which God was pleased to beget you again unto a living hope, you will clearly see that it sprang out of some discovery of Christ, some view by faith of his Person and work, some dropping in of a promise or of a word that testified of him, and through which he was presented to your faith as the Object in whom every hope of salvation centered, and round whom it closely entwined. It was because you saw his suitability, blessedness, blood, and righteousness, what he is in himself, and what he had done and suffered as the Son, the Christ, and the Lamb of God, that you were lifted up out of guilt, bondage, and condemnation, so as to feel a sweet persuasion that what the Lord had done and suffered, he had done and suffered for you. This hope admitted your faith and affections within the veil where this risen and exalted Christ sits in his grace and in his glory. You saw that he was a Mediator between God and men, an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous, an Intercessor able to save to the uttermost all who come unto God by him. And as this hope waxed stronger and stronger and became more and more lively, it took a firmer hold of the Lord of life and glory. Nor did he reject, discourage, or frown upon it, but rather fed it with promise after promise, until it rose almost, if not wholly, to "the full assurance of hope" (Heb. 6:11); and though there were many things which seemed to damp it, yet, like Abraham, you could and did against hope believe in hope. Nor have you ever sunk so low since, for this experience of the mercy of God in Christ has wrought a hope which makes not ashamed, and, therefore, abides steadfast, and is ever looking out for better things; for it is of the very nature of hope to wait with patience for that we see not, that is, in present possession. (Rom. 8:25.)
And we may observe also that as the life of God is in it, it will have its revivals and its renewals, and these will be very sweet and precious, for they are always attended with faith and love, and enable the soul to rise up out of its troubles and sorrows, its trials and temptations, and to say with the Psalmist—"Why are you cast down, O my soul? and why are you disturbed within me? Hope in God; for I shall yet praise him, who is the health of my countenance, and my God." (Psalm 42:11.)
But we have said enough for the present on this living hope, and must defer to our next paper the blessed end which lies before it, and unto which it looks, that is, "an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fades not away."