Manual of Theology
by John Dagg, 1857
Section 7. Doctrine Concerning DIVINE GRACE
Duty of Gratitude For Divine Grace. (2 The 2:13; 1 Cor 15:10; 2 Cor 9:15)
As love is the affection which should arise in our hears, from a view of God's character, so gratitude is the affection which should be produced, by a view of the benefits that he confers. The stream of his benefits flows incessantly so that our cup is ever full. To receive the benefits thoughtlessly, like the brutes that perish, and to enjoy them without thanksgiving to him from whom they come, is demonstration complete of human depravity. Such demonstration is given daily and hourly in the conduct of mankind, and by it God is offended and his wrath provoked. The unthankful man is the evil man (Luke 6:35), and the enemy of God. Hence, when we are called on to love our enemies, the example proposed for our initiation is the bestowment of God's providential blessing on the unthankful.
Love your enemies, and do good, and lend, hoping for nothing again, and your reward shall be great, and you shall be the children of the Highest; for He is kind unto the unthankful and to the evil.
We are bound to thank God for the blessings of providence so incessantly and so richly bestowed; but far higher obligations to gratitude, arise from the grace that brings salvation (Tit 2:11). This grace includes God's gift of his Son, a gift so great that no name for it can be found. "God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish, but have everlasting life." (John 3:16) The love of the Son, which demands our gratitude, is not less unmeasured, than the love of the Father: whence Paul labored to explore "the height, the length, the breadth and the depth of the love of Christ, which passes knowledge." (Eph 3:18-19) And our gratitude is not complete until we acknowledge and celebrate also the love of the Spirit (Rom 15:30), by whom believers are fitted for the enjoyment of God, and brought into fellowship with him.
In exercising and cultivating our gratitude for the blessings of salvation, we must distinctly recognize that they come from God, and that they are intentionally bestowed. When we trace them to their source, the infinite love of the triune God; and when we receive them, as conferred according to his eternal counsel, we are prepared while we enjoy the benefit, to return thanks to its Author, and to exclaim with liveliest emotion, "Bless the Lord, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits." (Psa 103:2)
That our gratitude to God may be proportional to the blessing received, we should count his mercies over, and survey their magnitude. Unmeasurable! unspeakable! passing knowledge! - yet we should labor to know them; and as we make progress in this spiritual knowledge, our gratitude should swell and fill the enlarged capacity of the mind.
In order to the full exercise of gratitude to God it is necessary to be thoroughly impressed with the conviction that the blessings received are wholly undeserved, and proceed entirely from the mere mercy and grace of God. When we feel that we are less than the least of all God's mercies, that our only desert is Hell, and that if salvation is bestowed on us, it will be of his own good pleasure; we are prepared to give thanks for the unspeakable gift, and to say, "Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but unto your name give glory." (Psalm 115)
Chapter I. The TRINITY.
THE FATHER, SON, AND HOLY SPIRIT, ARE THREE PERSONS IN ONE DIVINE ESSENCE. (Mat 28:19; 2 Cor 13:14; Rev 1:4; Gen 1:26; 3:22; 11:7; Isa 48:16; John 14:16; Mat 3:16-17)
The unity of God is a fundamental doctrine of religion; and no doctrine can be true which is inconsistent with it. All admit that the Father is God; and we have seen that the Son is God, and the Holy Spirit is God, according to the teachings of the sacred Scriptures. To reconcile the proper deity of these three, with the strict unity of God, is a matter of great difficulty. All admit that they cannot be three and one in the same respect; and divines have usually held that they are three in person, and one in essence.
The doctrine of a three-fold distinction in the Godhead, belongs especially to the economy of grace, and is therefore more clearly revealed in the New Testament than in the Old. Some intimations of it, however, may be found in the Hebrew Scriptures. In the very first verse of the Bible, the name of God is plural, and the verb "created," with which it is construed, is singular. This countenances the opinion, that there is plurality as well as unity in the Godhead. But since words which are plural in form, are sometimes used to denote objects which are singular, this argument for a plurality in the Godhead cannot be regarded as in itself conclusive. It derives strength, however, from two considerations: 1. The Hebrew scriptures guard the doctrine of God's unity with great care; and if all plurality were inconsistent with it, this important purpose of the revelation made to the Hebrews, would have been better subserved if none but singular names for the deity had been admitted, yet plural names are very commonly employed. And in one remarkable case, the Hebrew name Elohim, is used in an express declaration of the divine unity. "Hear, O Israel, Jehovah, our Elohim, is one Jehovah." (Deu 6:4) Why was the plural name here introduced? The declaration of the divine unity would have been complete without it. If it was introduced to guard against an improper inference from the use of plural names, it shows the use of such names to have been dangerous, and therefore difficult to reconcile with the wisdom of revelation. If the name Jehovah be understood to refer to the divine essence; and the name Elohim, to the three divine persons; the passage may be interpreted consistently and beautifully, and it becomes an explicit declaration of the New Testament doctrine. 2. The Hebrew Scriptures contain other intimations of a plurality in the Godhead. Plural pronouns are applied to God, and consultation is attributed to him. "Let us make man." (Gen 1:26) "Let us go down and confound their language." (Gen 11:7) A consultation with created beings cannot here be supposed. The opinion that God spoke in these cases, after the pompous manner of eastern monarchs, besides being, on other accounts, wholly improbable, is completely set aside, by the passage, "Behold, the man is become as one of us." (Gen 3:22) No eastern monarch ever spoke of his individual unity, in this style. No consistent interpretation of this language can be given, without admitting a plurality in the Godhead; and this admission explains the use of plural names for God.
That the plurality in the Godhead is three-fold, has been inferred from the three-fold ascription of holiness (Isa 6:3) to God, and the three-fold blessing of the High Priest (Num 6:24-26). A more satisfactory argument is derived from passages in which the three divine persons are distinctly brought to view (Isa 48:16; 61:1; 63:7-10).
This doctrine is more clearly revealed in the New Testament. In the formula of Christian baptism it is clearly exhibited (Mat 28:19). We are baptized into one name, because God is one; but that is the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, because it belongs alike to each of these divine persons. Here, this doctrine meets us, at our very entrance on the profession of the Christian religion. If Christ was not God, he was justly condemned to death, and his religion is false; and the Holy Spirit, the Comforter whom he promised, is as little entitled to regard as he was. If Christ and the Holy Spirit are not God, the form of baptism should be rejected, as of a piece with the false religion into which it introduces us. No man can consistently receive Christian baptism, without believing the doctrine of the Trinity.
We have spoken of this doctrine as belonging especially to the economy of grace. It is here that it is most clearly unfolded to our view, and without this doctrine, the covenant of grace, and its developments in the great work of salvation, cannot be understood. Yet there are fainter exhibitions of the doctrine in the works of God. This is true of creation. The consultation at the creation of man has already been noticed, as a proof of plurality in the Godhead. Moses says, "The Spirit of God moved on the face of the waters." Job says, "By his Spirit he garnished the heavens." John says, "By him (the Word) all things were made." (Gen 1:2; Job 26:13; John 1:3) All the divine persons, therefore, were concerned in creation: and other passages teach that they are also concerned in providence (Heb 1:3; Isa 34:15-16).
The most sober-minded divines admit that there is incomprehensible mystery in the doctrine of the Trinity. All attempts to explain it have failed. Two methods which have been proposed to bring it within our comprehension, deserve special notice.
Some who are called Sabellians, maintain, that the distinction between the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, is official and not personal. They hold that God is one in person, as well as in essence; but that he manifests himself in three different ways, and that the three different names denote these three modes of manifestation. This simplifies the doctrine; but it does not accord with the Scriptures. According to this view of the doctrine, we might paraphrase the words of Christ, in John, 14. 16, thus: "I who am the same person with the Father, will pray the Father, who is no other than myself, in a different office, or mode of manifestation, and he shall give you another comforter, who is not another, but the same person as my Father and myself." We see, from this specimen, that this explanation of the doctrine is at variance with the word of God.
Others admit the distinction of persons in the Godhead, and explain that the three possess one essence, just as three men, Peter, James, and John, possess one nature. This is Tritheism. It makes the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, three Gods, just as Peter, James, and John, are three men. If we may call the three persons one God, merely because they are alike in their nature; we may, with equal reason, call all mankind one man; and we may maintain that Jupiter, Neptune, Pluto, and all the heathen deities were one God. Paul's distinction, "There are gods many; but to us there is but one God," (1 Cor 8:5-6) is a distinction without a difference; for the many gods are one, in the same sense in which the three divine persons are supposed to be one. This explanation must, therefore, be rejected, as inconsistent with the proper unity of God.
Attempts have frequently been made, to illustrate the mystery of the Trinity, by means of material objects. One of these may be cited as a specimen of the rest. Water, ice, and snow, it is said, are different things, and yet they are but one. For anything that appears, it would have served quite well, to illustrate the mystery, by three separate glasses of water, all in the liquid form. The distinction between them would have been as perfect; and the identity of nature would have been as real, and more apparent. All such illustrations darken counsel with words without knowledge. What shall we liken to the Lord?
These efforts to explain the doctrine, are not simply fruitless, but they lead to error. If the mind receives satisfaction from them, it is by a false view of God's mode of existence, and thinking him such a one as ourselves. It is far wiser to admit, that none by searching can find out God; and to abstain from unavailing efforts to comprehend what is incomprehensible to our finite minds. What God tells us on the subject, we ought to believe; and with this measure of knowledge, we ought to be satisfied; and all beyond this is human speculation, of which it is our duty and interest to beware. Nor are we justly liable to the reproach of believing what we do not understand. The teaching of divine revelation, we may understand, and we should labor to understand; and the mystery which remains unrevealed to our understanding, is not an object of our faith. The proposition, God is incomprehensible, is simple and intelligible, and our faith embraces it. God is the subject of this proposition; and, if a full understanding of the subject were necessary to faith, a belief of this proposition would be impossible. Though we do not comprehend God, we comprehend the meaning of the proposition; and this is what we believe. So the doctrine of the Trinity, as an object of our faith, may be expressed in propositions, each one of which is intelligible, notwithstanding the incomprehensibility of the subject.
The view which has been presented, is important, to strengthen our faith in the doctrine of the Trinity. So long as we imagine that a full comprehension of the subject is necessary to the exercise of faith, we must embrace the truth feebly. But let us examine the propositions, in which the doctrine may be expressed, and we shall find each one of them perfectly intelligible. The Father is God;--the Son is God;--the Holy Spirit is God;--there is but one God. All these propositions, we may understand, and receive with unwavering faith; while we are well assured that our understandings fall infinitely short of comprehending the great subject, and that, in harmonizing the last proposition with the preceding three, there is a difficulty which finite intelligence cannot explain.
In receiving a truth which is attended with difficulty, our faith may be assisted, by noticing that other truths, which we are compelled to admit, are attended with equal difficulty. The Omnipresence of God, may be shown to be as incomprehensible as the Trinity. If, at the same moment, a ball of matter is here, a ball there, and a ball yonder, we know that there are three balls. If, in the illustration, we substitute an angel for the ball, we know that there are three angels in the three places, and not one and the same angel. Yet the doctrine of God's omnipresence teaches, that a whole is here, a whole deity there, and a whole deity yonder; and yet it is one and the same deity which is present at each place. If an entire deity may dwell, at the same time, in three separate places, and yet be but one, why may not an entire deity dwell in the three separate persons, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, and yet be but one God? There is, perhaps no analogy between the two cases, except in this, that they alike confound our arithmetic; but this analogy is sufficient for our present purpose. Were God's mode of existence like that of created things, either material or spiritual, he could not be in several places at the same time, or in three distinct persons; and yet be an undivided unit. We are compelled to admit the omnipresence of God, and we should admit, with equal faith, on the authority of God's word, the doctrine of the Trinity, ascribing the difficulty of the subject to the incomprehensibility of the divine nature.
The doctrine of God's omnipresence has, in one particular, greater difficulty, than that of the Trinity. The latter has a relief not discoverable in the other, arising from the consideration, that God is not three and one in the same respect. God is three in person, one in essence; and, although we may be unable to explain the precise difference between person and essence, the fact that there is a difference, relieves the doctrine from the charge of inconsistency.
We study the human mind in the phenomena which it exhibits. The operations of memory, imagination, reasoning, &c., differ widely from each other; but we refer them all to the one indivisible substance, called mind, of which we have no knowledge, except what we acquire from the phenomena. What we know of God, we learn from the manifestations which he has made of himself, in his works and word. In these manifestations, we discover the personal distinction of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; yet, as taught by the divine word, we refer all the manifestations to the one indivisible essence, in which the unity of God consists. It is not a threefold manifestation of the same person, as the Sabellians hold; but a manifestation of three distinct persons, counseling and covenanting with each other, one sending another, one speaking to another, and of the third, etc. Nothing like this appears in the phenomena of one human mind: but we cannot thence infer, that it cannot be in the manifestations of one divine mind.
The word Trinity is not in the Bible, and objection has therefore been made to its use. As signifying tri-unity, three in one, it is an expressive name for the doctrine. As a convenient word, we are at liberty to use it, as we do many other words not found in the Bible; and the propriety of using it is the greater, because there is no single word in the Bible, which can be substituted for it. But we are under no obligation to contend for the name, which is human, provided we firmly maintain the doctrine, which is divine.
The word person, also which is used in stating this doctrine, is without Scripture precedent. Some have cited, as authority for its use, the passage in Hebrews 1:3: "Who being the brightness of his glory, and the express image of his person." Here, it is alleged, the person of the Father is mentioned; and, as the Son is his express image, we must conclude that he, also, is a person; and, having established the personal distinction between the Father and the Son, no doubt can remain, that the Holy Spirit is a third person. To all this, it may be answered, that the word person is not a good rendering of the Greek word here used, the sense of which would be better expressed by the word substance. The passage properly interpreted, refers to the full display of the Godhead, made through Jesus Christ as mediator, and not to the relation subsisting among the divine persons. But though there is no Scripture precedent for the use of the word, must it therefore be abandoned? A scrupulosity, which should refuse to use any word not found in the Bible, would be unwise, and lead to no good result. No one would refuse to apply the word person to Jesus Christ, and speak of him as a holy and just person, an extraordinary or wonderful person; or to say that his divine and human natures are united in one person: yet it would be difficult to produce Scripture precedent for this application of the term.
Paul does speak, in 2 Corinthians 2:10, of "the person of Christ:" but a better rendering of this passage would be, "in the presence of Christ:" and Pilate's wife said, Matthew 27:19 "Have you nothing to do with this just person:" but the word person is here supplied by our translators, and has no word corresponding to it in the original text. Yet our translators, in applying this word to Christ, have conformed to the common usage of the word, adopted and sustained by the common sense of mankind. Now, if Jesus Christ was a person, in the common acceptance of the term; and if he addressed his Father, and spoke of the Holy Spirit, as one human person would address another, and speak of a third, it must be an excessive scrupulosity, which refuses to apply the term to the Father, and the Holy Spirit, as well as the Son. Some have preferred to substitute the word manifestation; but this is equally without Scripture precedent; and to say, that one manifestation speaks to another, and of a third: would be unintelligible. We may, therefore, defend the use of the term person, provided we remember that it is a human expedient to avoid circumlocution. But if any one proceed to draw from the term, an inference which will affect the doctrine, he must be reminded that the word is human. If any one should infer, when we speak of the three divine persons, that they are as distinct from each other, in every respect, as the three human persons, Peter, James, and John, he is building an inference, on a foundation not authorized by the word of God.
Chapter II. Covenant of Grace
THE THREE DIVINE PERSONS CO-OPERATE IN MAN'S SALVATION ACCORDING TO AN ETERNAL COVENANT. (Psalm 2:8; 40:6-8; 89:3; Isa 49:3-12; John 17:6; Heb 13:20; Tit 1:2)
On a former occasion, it was shown that the Scriptures use the term covenant with great latitude of meaning. The propriety of its use in the present case, cannot well be questioned. We have three divine persons, who are parties in this covenant; and the doctrine of God's unity cannot exclude the notion of a covenant, without, at the same time, excluding the distinction of persons in the Godhead. We are not to imagine, as included in this covenant transaction, a proposal of terms by one party, and a deliberation, followed with an acceptance or rejection of them, by the other parties. These things occur, in the making of human covenants, because of the imperfection of the parties. In condescension to our weakness, the Scriptures use language taken from the affairs of men. They speak as if a formal proposal had been made, at the creation of man, addressed by one of the parties to the others: "Let us make man:" but this is in accommodation to our modes of conception. An agreement and cooperation of the divine persons, in the creation of man, is what is taught in this passage. This agreement and cooperation extend to all the works of God: "Who works all things after the counsel of his will." (Eph 1:11) The idea of counsel in all these works, accords with that of consultation which is presented in the account of man's creation. In every work of God, the divine persons must either agree or disagree. As they alike possess infinite wisdom, disagreement among them is impossible. The salvation of men is a work of God, in which the divine persons concur. It is performed according to an eternal purpose; and in this purpose, as well as in the work, the divine persons concur; and this concurrence is their eternal covenant. The purpose of the one God, is the covenant of the Trinity.
In the work of salvation, the divine persons co-operate in different offices; and these are so clearly revealed, as to render the personal distinction in the Godhead more manifest, than it is in any other of God's works. Beyond doubt, these official relations are severally held, by the perfect agreement of all; and, speaking after the manner of men, the adjustment of these relations, and the assignment of the several parts in the work, are the grand stipulations of the eternal covenant.
That the covenant is eternal, may be argued from the eternity, unchangeableness, and omniscience of the parties, and from the declarations of Scripture which directly or indirectly relate to it: "Through the blood of the everlasting covenant." (Heb 13:20) "His eternal purpose in Christ Jesus." (Eph 3:11) "In hope of eternal life promised before the world began." (Tit 1:2) "Grace given in Christ Jesus before the world began." (2 Tim 1:9)
Although God's purpose is one, we are obliged, according to our modes of conception, to view it, and speak of it, as consisting of various parts. So, the eternal covenant is one; but it is revealed to us in a manner adapted to our conceptions and to our spiritual benefit. The work of redemption by Christ is presented in the Gospel as the great object of our faith; and the stipulation for the accomplishment of this work, is the prominent point exhibited in the revelation which is made to us respecting the covenant of grace. The agreement between the Father and the Son is conspicuously brought to view, in various parts of the sacred volume: "Your they were, and you gave them me." (John 17:6) "Ask of me, and I will give you the heathen for your inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for your possession." (Psa 2:8) "Sacrifice and offering you did not desire. Then said I, Lo, I come, in the volume of the book it is written of me, I delight to do your will, O God:" (Psa 40:6-8) and in Isaiah chapter 49, the stipulations between the Father and the Son are presented, almost as if they had been copied from an original record of the transaction.
According to the covenant arrangement, the Son appeared in human nature, in the form of a servant; and, after obeying unto death, was exalted by the Father to supreme dominion. The Holy Spirit also is revealed as acting in a subordinate office; but appears as sustaining the full authority of the Godhead, sending the Son, giving him a people to be redeemed, prescribing the terms, accepting the service, rewarding and glorifying the Son, and sending the Holy Spirit. In all this the Father appears as the representative of the Godhead, in its authority and majesty. The Son also sustains a representative character. The promise of eternal life was made, before the world began, to the people of God, in him as their representative. The reconciliation between God and men is provided for by the covenant engagement between the Father and the Son; the Father acting as the representative of the Godhead, and the Son as the representative and surety of his people. The Holy Spirit concurs in this arrangement, and takes his part in the work, in harmony with the other persons of the Godhead. His peculiar office is necessary to complete the plan, and to reward the obedience of the Son by the salvation of his redeemed people. The promises of the Father to the Son include the gift of the Holy Spirit; and, therefore, the sending of the Spirit is attributed to the Son (John 16:7); and sometimes to the Father at the petition of the Son (John 14:16).
In this order of operation, inferiority of nature is not implied, in the subordination of office to which the Son and the Spirit voluntarily consent. The fullness of the Godhead dwells in each of the divine persons, and renders the fulfillment of the covenant infallibly sure, in all its stipulations. The Holy Spirit, in the execution of his office, dwells in believers; but he brings with him the fullness of the Godhead, so that God is in them, and they are the temple of God, and filled with the fullness of God. The Son or Word, in the execution of his office, becomes the man Jesus Christ; but the fullness of the Godhead dwells in him; so that, in his deepest humiliation he is God manifest in the flesh, God over all, blessed forever.
The order of operation in this mysterious and wonderful economy, can be learned from divine revelation only. Here we should study it with simple faith, relying on the testimony of God. In the representation of it here exhibited, we may discover that the blessings of grace, proceeding from God, appear to originate in the Father, "of whom are all things," to be conferred through the Son, "by whom are all things," and by the Spirit, who is the immediate agent in bestowing them, the last in the order of operation. The approach to God, in acts of devotion, is in the reverse order. The Spirit makes intercession in the saints, moving them, as a spirit of supplication, and assisting their infirmities, when they know not what to pray for. Their prayers are offered through Christ, as the medium of approach; and the Father, as the highest representative of the Godhead, is the ultimate object of the worship. Through him [Christ] we have access by one Spirit to the Father. (Eph 2:18) The Spirit moves us to honor the Son and the Father: and for this purpose takes of the things of Christ and shows them to us, that we may believe in him, and through him approach the Father. In this work he acts for the whole Godhead, and therefore his drawing is ascribed to the Father: "No man can come to me, except the Father, which has sent me, draw him." (John 6:44) When we come to Jesus Christ, the whole Godhead meets us again in the person of the Mediator: for "God is in Christ reconciling the world unto himself." (2 Cor 5:19) And when we address the Father, as the ultimate object of our worship, the whole Godhead is there, and receives our adorations.
In the covenant of grace, the triune God is so presented to the view of the believer, that he may worship without distraction of thought, with full confidence of acceptance, and with clear perception that God is to him all and in all. In the retirement of the closet, the devotional man addresses God as present in the secret place, and holds communion with him, as a friend near at hand. When he comes forth into the busy world, he sees God all around him, in the heavens, and in the earth; and holds converse with him in this different manifestation of himself. When he lifts his thoughts to the high and holy place where God's throne is, and prays, "Our Father which are in Heaven," his mind is directed to the highest and most glorious manifestation of the Deity. In all this he suffers no distraction of thought. The same omnipresent One is addressed, whether conceived to be in the closet, or in the world, or in the highest heavens. With equal freedom from distraction we may worship the Infinite One, whether we approach him as the Holy Spirit, operating on the heart; or as the Son, the Mediator between God and men; or as the Father, representing the full authority and majesty of the Godhead. We worship God, and God alone, whether our devotions are directed to the Father, the Son, or the Holy Spirit; for the divine essence, undivided and indivisible, belongs to each of the three persons.
To guard against mistake, it should be observed, that the covenant which we have been considering is not identical with the new covenant of which Paul speaks in the epistle to the Hebrews. The latter made, according to the prophecy which he quotes, "with the house of Israel and the house of Judah;" (Heb 8:8) whereas the covenant of which we have treated, is not made with man. There is, however, a close connection between them. In the eternal covenant, promises are made to the Son, as the representative of his people: in the new covenant, these promises are made to them personally, and, in part, fulfilled to them. The promises are made to them: "I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people": (Heb 8:10) and they are, in part, fulfilled. "I will put my law in their minds, and write it in their hearts."
Chapter III. Blessings of Grace
THE SALVATION OF MEN IS ENTIRELY OF DIVINE GRACE. (Eph 2:5, 7, 8; 2 Tim 1:9; Rom 3:24; Rom 8:23; Rom 11:5-6; Rom 9:15-16)
Grace is unmerited favor. Paul distinguishes, in Romans 4:4, between the reward of grace and the reward of debt. When good is conferred because it is due, it is not of grace. Whatever may be claimed on the score of justice, cannot be regarded as unmerited favor. Justice gives to every man according to his works; and if salvation were of works, it could not be of grace. Paul has made this matter very plain: "To him that works, is the reward not reckoned of grace, but of debt. If by grace, then it is no more of works; otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then it is no more grace; otherwise work is no more work." (Rom 11:6)
For the same reason that salvation is not of works, it is not of the law. The law is the rule of justice, and takes cognizance of the men's works. If it gave life to men, it could be only on the ground of their obedience to its requirements; for its language is, "the man that does these things shall live by them." (Rom 10:5) Salvation by the law is declared to be impossible: for if there had been a law given which could have given life, truly righteousness should have been by the law (Gal 3:21). The Scriptures represent grace and law as opposed to each other: "The law was given by Moses; but grace and truth came by Jesus Christ." (John 1:17) "Received you the Spirit by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?" (Gal 3:2) "It is of faith, that it might be by grace." (Rom 4:16) Sometimes the term law is used in an extended sense; as when the law of faith is opposed to the law of works (Rom 3:27); and the law of the spirit of life, to the law of sin and death (Rom 8:2). Hence we read of "the perfect law of liberty," (Jam 1:25) which cannot be the rule of justice: that says, "Cursed is every one that continues not in all things which are written in the book of the law to do them." (Gal 3:10) When the term law is used in this extended sense, it denotes the method of salvation by grace through faith, and is carefully distinguished from "the law of works."
The doctrine that salvation is of grace, is taught in the sacred Scriptures with great clearness. In the second chapter of the epistle to the Ephesians, the declaration is twice made, "By grace you are saved." Paul ascribes his own salvation to grace: "By the grace of God, I am what I am." (1 Cor 15:10) He traces the blessing of salvation to "the grace given in Christ Jesus, before the world began:" (2 Tim 1:9) - to "the riches of his grace:" (Eph 1:7) - to "the exceeding riches of his grace." (Eph 2:7)
Salvation is entirely of grace. The passages already quoted show that salvation is not partly of grace and partly of works. Grace and works are so opposed to each other, that, when it is affirmed to be of grace, it is denied to be of works: "Not of works; otherwise grace is no more grace." "Not according to our works; but according to his own purpose and grace." (2 Tim 1:9) The exclusion of all boasting (Rom 3:27), was, that the blessing bestowed is entirely of grace: "Not of works, lest any man should boast." (Eph 2:9) Our works are wholly excluded; because they are all sinful, and can deserve nothing but the wrath of God. Faith renounces all reliance on our own works, all expectation of favor on their account; and asks and receives every blessing as the gift of divine grace through Jesus Christ. When salvation is so received, all boasting is effectually excluded.
That salvation is entirely of divine grace, may be argued from the condition in which the Gospel finds mankind. We are justly condemned, totally depraved, and, in ourselves, perfectly helpless. All this has been fully proved in a former chapter; is verified in the experience of every one who is awakened to a just view of his lost state; and precisely accords with the language of God to his ancient people: "O Israel, you have destroyed yourself, but in me is your help." (Hos 13:9) The second chapter of the epistle to the Ephesians describes the condition of men by nature: "Children of wrath," "dead in trespasses and sins," "without hope and without God;" and it attributes their deliverance from this wretched and hopeless condition, to the grace of God, who is rich in mercy: "But God, in his great love, with which he loved us even when we were dead in sins, has quickened us together with Christ (by grace you are saved), and has raised us up together; and has made us sit together in heavenly places in Christ Jesus. For by grace you are saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God." In the eagerness of his desire to impress the minds of the Ephesian Christians with a sense of their obligation to divine grace, before he reaches the conclusion of his argument, as if impatient to express the thought with which his own mind was so deeply impressed, he introduced it parenthetically, by anticipation, "By grace you are saved." Afterwards, when his argument is completed, he repeats the declaration, and expands it to the utmost fullness of meaning, when he adds that faith itself is the gift of God. If the blessing bestowed is of faith, that it might be by grace, and if faith itself is the gift of God, it must be emphatically true that salvation is of grace.
The blessings which are bestowed in salvation, demonstrate that it is entirely of grace. We shall proceed to a particular consideration of these, in the sections which follow: but we may here, in a general view, comprehend them under two gifts, namely, of Christ, and of the Holy Spirit.
The gift of Christ, to die for us, and to become to us the author of eternal salvation, is entirely of grace: "God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son." (John 3:16) "God commends his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." (Rom 5:8) "He who spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all; how shall he not with him also freely give us all things?" (Rom 8:32) Without the death of Christ, our salvation was impossible: and we had no claim on God to draw forth from him the gift of his well-beloved. He was freely given, of God's great love, with which he loved us: and as he was freely given, so all the blessings which flow through him are freely given also. If any man feels that Christ was under obligation to die for him, or that God was bound to give his Son to make the needed sacrifice for sin, he totally mistakes, on a point of vital importance to the salvation of his soul. The doctrine that salvation is of grace, is not a useless speculation; but it enters into the very heart of Christian experience; and the faith which does not recognize it, does not receive Christ as he is presented in the Gospel. It is, therefore, a matter of unspeakable importance, that our view of this truth should be clear, and that it should be cordially embraced by every power of our minds.
As the Son of God was freely given to effect our salvation by his death; so the Holy Spirit is freely given, to apply the salvation which the Son has wrought out: "The love of God is shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit which is given unto us." (Rom 5:5) We receive the Holy Spirit as a gift of the Father's love, who bestows it, as earthly parents give good things to their children (Luke 11:13). And this gift is not bestowed because of merit in the recipient. Paul asks, "Received you the Spirit, by the works of the law, or by the hearing of faith?" (Gal 3:2) From this inquiry we learn that this gift also is of faith, that it might be by grace (Rom 4:16). The Spirit is given in answer to the prayer of Christ: and being thus bestowed through Christ, it is one of the good things freely given together with Christ. We are encouraged to pray that God would give us his Holy Spirit: but our prayer cannot be acceptable, and will not be heard, if we ask the blessing as one which is justly due, and which we may demand as a right. When our humbled hearts plead that God would, in the exceeding riches of his grace, grant us his Holy Spirit, to renew and sanctify us, and fit us for his service, our petitions rise with acceptance to the ear of the Lord of hosts.
An objection to the views which have been presented, may arise from the fact, that, in the last day, men will be judged according to their works (Rev 20:12). But the good works of the saints are the fruit of grace bestowed; and, although the sentence in the great day will be according to their works, the reward will nevertheless be of grace, and not of debt. Their works will be an evidence of their faith; and Christ, the Judge, will refer to them, as proof of love to him. The kingdom which he will bestow, will be, not a reward for the merit of their works, but an inheritance prepared for them before the foundation of the world (Mat 25:34). It will be as true on that day, as it is now, and it will be felt to be true by all the saints, that eternal life is the gift of God through Jesus Christ (Rom 6:23).
Section I. – Pardon.
ALL WHO REPENT OF SIN OBTAIN FORGIVENESS THROUGH JESUS CHRIST. (Isa 55:7; Jer 3:12; Jer 3:22; Luke 24:46-47; Acts 2:38; Acts 3:19; Acts 13:38)
Forgiveness implies deliverance from the penalty due to sin. The wrath of God is revealed from Heaven against all ungodliness: and when men become sensible to the danger to which they are exposed, deliverance from the impending wrath becomes an object of intense solicitude. Hence arises an anxious desire to obtain forgiveness. To persons in this state of mind, the doctrine that there is forgiveness with God, is most welcome.
All forgiveness is bestowed through Jesus Christ. It is he who delivers from the wrath to come (1 Thess 1:10). In him "we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace." (Eph 1:7) He had power on earth to forgive sins (Mat 9:6); and he is now exalted a Prince and a Savior, to give repentance to Israel, and remission of sins (Acts 5:31). That we might be delivered from the penalty due to our sins, it was necessary that Christ should bear it for us. Hence it is true, that without the shedding of blood, there is no remission (Heb 9:22); and hence, in the teachings of Scripture, the forgiveness of sins stands connected with redemption by the blood of Christ. With this agrees the language of the redeemed: "Unto him that loved us, and washed us from our sins, in his own blood." (Rev 1:5)
The blessing of forgiveness is bestowed on all who truly repent of their sins. This is taught in various passages of Scripture. "Repent you, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out." (Acts 3:19) "If we confess our sins, God is faithful and just to forgive us our sins." (1 John 1:9) Repentance and remission of sins (Luke 24:47) were preached in the name of Christ, and are associated blessings, bestowed by "the exalted Prince and Savior." (Acts 5:31) When Jesus said, "Except you repent, you shall all likewise perish," (Luke 13:3) it was implied that, if they repented, they would escape. God, in the gospel, commands all men everywhere to repent, in view of the approaching judgment (Acts 17:30). The hope of escape in that great day, is clearly held out to those who obey the command, and sincerely repent of their sins.
Forgiveness is sometimes represented in the Scriptures, as received by faith in Christ: "To him give all the prophets witness, that through his name whoever believes in him shall receive remission of sin." (Acts 10:43) Repentance and faith are twin graces, proceeding from the same Holy Spirit, and wrought in the same heart; and, although they may be contemplated separately, they exist together, and the promise of forgiveness belongs to either of them.
In the New Testament, a connection appears, between the remission of sins and the ordinance of baptism. John preached the baptism of repentance for the remission of sins (Mk 1:4); and Ananias commanded Saul, "Arise, and be baptized, and wash away your sins, calling on the name of the Lord." (Acts 22:16) In the Old Testament, a similar connection appears, between remission and the sacrifices of that dispensation. "Almost all things were by the law purged with blood, and without the shedding of blood is no remission." (Heb 9:22) Yet Paul has taught us that the blood of bulls and goats cannot take away sin (Heb 9:13); that these offerings were only figures of things to come; and that the only effectual removal of sin is by the blood of Christ. Baptism under the gospel, is as truly a figure, as the sacrifices were under the law. In the ceremonies instituted by Moses, the death of Christ was prefigured by the death of the slaughtered victims; and in the gospel ceremony, the burial and resurrection of Christ are figured forth in the ordinance of baptism: and in both cases, the remission connected with the ceremony is merely figurative. Our sins are washed away in baptism, in the same sense in which we eat the body and brink the blood of Christ, in the ordinance of the Lord 's Supper (1 Cor 10:16). Baptism and the Lord 's Supper are duties to be performed under the gospel dispensation; as the various ceremonies instituted by Moses, were duties under the former dispensation; but the figures ought not, in either case, to be confounded with the things which they represent. In a figure, baptism washes away sin: in reality, "The blood of Jesus Christ cleanses from all sin." We must be careful not to rely on the figure, instead of the reality which it represents.
To escape the wrath to come, is the first desire of the awakened sinner; and mercy, mercy, forgive, forgive, are the first words uttered in his earnest prayers. Forgiveness is bestowed on repentance, and repentance is the first duty enjoined in the gospel. It is fit that the first blessing of grace which the sinner anxiously seeks, should be connected with the first duty required of him. It shows, on the one hand, the holiness of God, who will not pardon sin, except on the condition of the sinner's return to obedience; and, on the other, God's readiness to forgive, inasmuch as his wrath is averted at the first step of the sinner's return. He might have required that the sinner should undergo a long discipline of painful penance, and a long course of laborious service, as a condition of release from the indignation and wrath so long provoked. But God's readiness to forgive, is beautifully illustrated in the parable of the prodigal son, by the conduct of the father, who, while his son was yet a great way off, ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him (Luke 15:20), with free and full assurance of pardon and acceptance. Such is the love which God manifests to the returning sinner. It hastens to receive him on the first indication of true penitence. Nor is it a partial forgiveness which is then bestowed. The storm of divine wrath, which had been gathering over the sinner's head, during all his life of impenitence, is at once dispelled, and his sins, as a thick cloud, are at once blotted out (Isa 44:22). To show the completeness of his pardon, his iniquities are represented as buried in the depths of the sea (Mic 7:19); not in some shallow place, where an ebbing tide might leave them uncovered; but in the depths of the ocean, where, if they should be sought for, they could never be found. Such is God's forgiveness. Why are sinners so averse to seek it?
Although, on the first movement of a sinner in his return to God, the first blessing of divine grace is bestowed on him, so full, so freely, so gloriously; it does not follow, that he may safely stop short in his progress. The doctrine of the saints' final perseverance, which we shall hereafter consider, is misunderstood and misapplied; if men take encouragement from it, to relax in their efforts to advance in the way of holiness. The blessing of forgiveness, and the exercise of repentance, are connected with each other, at the beginning of the divine life; and their connection remains throughout its progress. We have occasion to pray for forgiveness, as often as we pray for our daily bread (Mat 6:11, 12), and the prayer cannot be presented with a well grounded hope that it will be heard and answered, unless it proceed from a penitent heart. Penitence is as necessary to pardon, in the saint who is just finishing his warfare, and taking his departure for the other world, as it was in the first moment of his drawing near to God. Christ was exalted "to give repentance and remission of sins:" and if these do not accompany each other, they do not come from Christ. He who believes that all his sins, past and future, were forgiven at his first conversion, in such a sense that he may dispense with all subsequent penitence, and rest satisfied with his first forgiveness, has need to learn again the first principles of the doctrine of Christ.
Section II. – Justification.
ALL WHO BELIEVE IN CHRIST, ARE JUSTIFIED BY HIS RIGHTEOUSNESS IMPUTED TO THEM. (Acts 13:39; Rom 3:21, 22, 25, 26; Rom 10:4; Gal 2:16; Gal 3:22, 24; Philippians 3:8-10)
Justification is the act of a judge acquitting one who is charged with crime. It is the opposite of condemnation. In Deuteronomy 25:1, the judges of Israel were commanded, in the discharge of their official duty, to justify the righteous, and condemn the wicked.
Justification is a higher blessing of grace, than pardon. The latter frees from the penalty due to sin, but it does not fully restore the lost favor of God. A pardoned criminal, and a just man who has committed no crime, stand on different ground. The distinction between pardon and justification may be illustrated by these words of Job, "God forbid that I should justify you." (Job 27:5) If, in this passage, we should substitute the word pardon for justify, every one would perceive an important change in the meaning. This change shows the difference between pardon and justification. Such is the greatness of divine grace to the sinner who returns to God through Jesus Christ, that he is treated as if he had never sinned; and this is imported to the declaration that he is justified. We are, however, not to conceive of these as separate blessings. It is not true that one sinner is justified, and another merely pardoned: but every penitent believer is both pardoned and justified. As repentance and faith are duties mutually implying each other, so pardon and justification are twin blessings of grace, bestowed together through Jesus Christ. All whom Jesus delivers from the wrath to come are freely justified from all things, and presented faultless before the presence of his glory.
Justification is attributed, in the Scriptures, to the blood and the obedience of Christ: "Being justified by his blood, we shall be saved from wrath through him." (Rom 5:9) "By the obedience of one, shall many be made righteous." (Rom 5:19) Both his blood and his obedience were necessary to magnify the law, and make it honorable. His blood signifies the endurance of its penalty; and his obedience, the fulfillment of its precepts. On this endurance of the penalty, our deliverance from wrath is based; and on his fulfillment of the precepts, our complete justification before God. Justification, however, could not be complete, without deliverance from the penalty; and it therefore required both the blood and the obedience of Christ; or, in the language of Scripture, "his obedience unto death."
Justification is by faith. On this point, the Scriptures are explicit. "Being justified by faith, we have peace with God." (Rom 5:1) By him all that believe are justified from all things (Acts 13:39). Faith does not justify, because of its own merit. Other graces co-exist with it in the heart of the believer; as repentance, love, etc. And these have equal claim to merit; and especially love, which is the fulfilling of the law (Rom 13:10), but faith is selected as the justifying grace; and Paul assigns the reason, "It is of faith, that it might be by grace." (Rom 4:16) In the very exercise of faith, merit is renounced, and the sole reliance is placed on the merit of Christ. Hence faith is opposed to works: "To him that works not, but believes on him that justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted for righteousness." (Rom 4:5) In faith, the sinner as ungodly comes to God, who justifies the ungodly (Rom 4:5), through Christ, who died for the ungodly (Rom 5:6). He presents no plea, and entertains no hope, founded on personal merit, but relies wholly on the blood and obedience of Christ. Faith is an exercise of the believer's mind; and as such, it is as much a work as repentance or love, and it produces other works: for, "Faith works by love." (Gal 5:6) But it is not as a work, or as producing other works, that faith justifies; but as renouncing all personal merit and self-reliance, and receiving salvation as a gift of free grace through Jesus Christ.
In justification, righteousness is imputed, accounted, or reckoned. David describes the blessedness of the man unto whom God imputes righteousness (Rom 4:6). Abraham believed God, and it was counted unto him for righteousness (Rom 4:3): "For us, also, to whom it shall be imputed, if we believe." (Rom 4:24)
How God can justly account an ungodly man righteous, is a problem which it required infinite wisdom to solve. How it was solved Paul has informed us. Him has "God set forth to be a atoning sacrifice through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past through the forbearance of God; to declare I say at this time his righteousness, that he might be just, and the justifier of him that believes in Jesus." (Rom 3:25, 26) The propitiatory sacrifice of Christ, and faith is that sacrifice, are the means which God employs for the solution of the difficult problem: and these solve it completely; God himself, the perfectly just one, being judge. We may not be able fully to understand the solution, and perceive all its fitness and beauty; but we may learn much respecting it, from the light which the Scriptures throw on it; and, where we fail to comprehend, we ought patiently to wait for the further light which eternity will disclose.
When the Scriptures speak of justification by the obedience or blood of Christ, faith is supposed; otherwise, those passages which speak of justification by faith, would be without meaning. And in like manner, when they speak of justification by faith, the obedience and blood of Christ are supposed; otherwise, it would be unmeaning to say, "Justified by his blood;" "By his obedience many are made righteous." What Christ did and suffered, and also our faith in Christ, are necessary to effect our justification; and the part which each of these has in the process, is an interesting subject of inquiry.
We have already seen that faith does not justify as a meritorious work. If it justified on the ground of merit, it would need to possess sufficient merit to satisfy all the demands of the law, both perceptive and penal; and in that case the obedience and sufferings of Christ would be unnecessary. It is not jointly meritorious with the obedience and sufferings of Christ; for they are in themselves perfect: and, without addition from the works of the sinner, magnify the law and make it honorable. Christ, and Christ alone, is the end of the law for righteousness, to every one that believes (Rom 10:4). Faith disclaims all merit of its own, but receives Christ as the atoning sacrifice that God has set forth, and, as the end of the law, fully satisfying all its claims. Faith distinguishes those to whom righteousness is imputed: "it is unto all, and upon all them that believe:" (Rom 3:22) but it is not, in itself, either in whole or in part, the meritorious cause of justification.
But merit is ascribed, in the word of God, to the obedience and sufferings of Christ. His blood is represented as a price paid, and a price of such value, that our deliverance from under the law may, on the ground of it, be justly claimed: "You were not redeemed with corruptible things, as silver and gold; but with the precious blood of Christ." (1 Pet 1:18, 19) "He was made under the law, to redeem them that were under the law." (Gal 4:5)
"You are not your own: you are bought with a price." (1 Cor 6:19, 20) As a commodity may be claimed, when its full value has been paid, and the purchase completed; so our deliverance from the condemnation of the law, and our justification before God, may be claimed on the merits of Christ's obedience and sufferings. Avenging justice is satisfied: "He is the atoning sacrifice for our sins." (1 John 2:2) "The Lord is well pleased for his righteousness' sake." (Isa 42:21) He gave himself an offering and a sacrifice to God of sweet smelling savor." (Eph 5:2)
When the Scriptures speak of Christ's blood as the ground of our justification, his obedience is supposed: and, on the other hand, when his obedience is mentioned, his sufferings are supposed. His obedience to the precepts of the law would not have sufficed, if he had not also endured its penalty: and if, while enduring his sufferings, he had not loved God with all his heart, his sacrifice would have been polluted. A lamb without spot was needed; and perfect obedience was therefore necessary to render his offering acceptable. His active and passive obedience are both necessary to make a complete salvation; and when only one is mentioned in the Scriptures, the other is supposed.
In being made under the law, Christ became our substitute; and his obedience and sufferings are placed to our account, as if we had personally obeyed and suffered, to the full satisfaction of the law. We are thus justified by the righteousness of Christ imputed to us: "He who knew no sin, was made sin for us, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him." (2 Cor 5:21) Our sins were imputed to Christ when he died for them; and his righteousness is imputed to us when we receive eternal life through him. He was treated as if he had personally committed the sins which were laid on him: and all who believe in him are treated as if they had personally rendered that satisfaction to the law which was rendered by his obedience and sufferings.
Nothing can be accounted the meritorious cause of justification, but the obedience and sufferings of Christ: yet faith is indispensable: "He who believes not the Son shall not see life; and the wrath of God abides on him." (John 3:36) By him all that believe are justified (Acts 13:39). Faith, then, is the turning point, by which a sinner's condition is determined. In God's method of grace, all the benefits of Christ's satisfaction to the law are made over to the sinner, as soon as he believes: and faith, therefore, serves to him instead of a perfect personal obedience to the law. On his believing in Christ, he is treated as if he had personally rendered a perfect obedience to the law: and this is the import of those Scriptures which say that faith is imputed to him for righteousness. It is not so imputed, because of any merit which it possesses; but because it is that which the Gospel recognizes in the sinner as entitling him to the full satisfaction that Christ has rendered. When faith is said to be imputed for righteousness, the obedience and sufferings of Christ, on which faith lays hold, are viewed as connected with it, and constituting the meritorious ground of its acceptance.
That the sin or righteousness of one should be imputed to another, has been thought by some to be inconsistent with the principles of justice, the province of which is, to give to every man his due. From some cause, the notion of imputation has prevailed in all ages, in the sacrifices which have been offered, both by divine authority and by heathen worshipers. This notion has the full authority of God's word, and evidently lies at the foundation of the salvation which infinite wisdom and goodness have provided for guilty men. It would, therefore, be extreme folly in us to reject this salvation because of an objection which may arise to our erring reason in determining the abstract principles of justice. There is no higher rule of justice than God himself; and what the Judge of all does, must be right.
In explaining the imputation of Adam's sin, we showed that there is a threefold union between Adam and his posterity, rendering the imputation of his sin to them as an act of justice. There is, in like manner, a threefold union between Christ and his people, rendering the imputation of their sin to him, and of his righteousness to them, consistent with justice.
1. There is a union of consent. Christ consented to the righteousness of the law, in its condemnation of his people, and to the necessity of satisfaction: and they do the same. He consented to become a substitute for them, and render the required satisfaction in their behalf: and they joyfully accept the favor. While in impenitence and unbelief, they do not approve the law, or its sentence, and do not acknowledge the obligation to make satisfaction. When they become sensible of this obligation, the first effort is to make satisfaction in their own persons. In this state of mind their consent with Christ is only partial; and the Gospel does not pronounce them justified. But when they become convinced of their utter inability to render satisfaction in their own persons, they give themselves up to Christ, and not only consent, but pray to be found in him, not having their own righteousness, but the righteousness which is of God by faith.
How the union of Christ and his people rendered it just in God to inflict the penalty of their sins on him, and to justify them, we cannot claim fully to understand. God knows well what his moral government requires; and as he has approved the arrangement, we may be sure it must be right. We may hope to obtain further knowledge of this glorious mystery when the counsels of infinite wisdom are unfolded to our view in the future world.
But even here we may see, in part, a fitness in the procedure. Without the consent of Christ, we cannot suppose that justice would have laid our iniquities on him: and, without the consent to be saved by him, which faith yields, we cannot understand how justice would have been honored in our being justified. As the consent of Adam's descendants to the deed of their father, in rebelling against the law of his Sovereign, justifies the imputation of his sin to them; so the consent of Christ and his people to the divine scheme of grace, justifies what is done to them both in the execution of the scheme.
2. There is a spiritual union. As Adam was the natural head of his posterity, so Christ is the spiritual head of his people. Adam's descendants are born from him according to the flesh, and possess the nature which existed in him as its beginning or fountain. Christ's people are born of the Spirit, and possess the spirit which was in Christ without measure; so that, "If any man have not the spirit of Christ, he is none of his." (Rom 8:9) This union is like that of the head and members of the human body: and by one spirit believers are all baptized into this one body (1 Cor 12:13). It is like the union of the vine and its branches; through all which the same vitalizing and fructifying sap circulates. This union secures the perfect consent, which has already been notice, between Christ and his people; and further illustrates the fitness of that arrangement by which they are regarded as one in the administration of God's moral government.
3. There is a federal union. As Adam was the federal head and representative of his descendants; so Christ stood, in the covenant of grace, as the federal head and representative of all whom the Father gave to him. For their sakes he undertook the work of mediation; and for their sakes he did and suffered all that was necessary to the full execution of the work. Justice, and every other attribute of the divine nature, concurred in the arrangement, by which he was to see of the travail of his soul and be satisfied; and by the knowledge of him to justify many (Isa 53:11). And now, justice, and every other attribute of the divine nature, fully sanction the arrangement, by which his righteousness is imputed to all his elect people, on their believing in him. "Who shall lay anything to the charge of God's elect? It is God that justifies. Who is he who condemns? It is Christ that died." (Rom 8:33, 34)
The imputation of Adam's sin to his posterity, is an act of justice; the imputation of Christ's righteousness to believers, is an act of grace. The former is on the proper level of justice; but the latter rises above it. Justice has nothing to say against it, but, on the contrary, is fully satisfied and abundantly honored by it; yet the plan did not originate in the justice, but in the love, of God, which provided the needed sacrifice. This distinction ought never to be forgotten. If our condemnation, is our natural state, is not just, our deliverance from it is of debt, and not of grace. When we feel, in every power of our minds, that we are justly condemned before God, and that his wrath is our righteous due; we can then receive Christ and salvation by him, as the gift of God, the free gift, the unspeakable gift, of his grace.
The Apostle James says: "A man is justified by works, and not by faith only." (Jam 2:24) In this he appears, at first view, to contradict the words of Paul: "A man is justified by faith, without deeds of the law." (Rom 3:28) James has assigned a reason, which furnishes a clue that leads to a perfect reconciliation of this apparent contradiction: "For," says he, "faith without works is dead." (Jam 2:17) Faith alone, is dead faith; and dead faith, according to his teaching, does not justify; and this doctrine, Paul does not contradict. The justifying faith of Paul, is living, working faith. He says expressly; "Faith works by love." (Gal 5:6) James does not exclude faith from justification; but, on the contrary, introduces works, not as excluding faith, but as making it perfect: "By works was faith made perfect." (Jam 2:22) As thus perfected, faith justifies, according to his teaching: and this is precisely what Paul teaches. The works which Paul excludes are not works of faith, but works of law--not works, evidencing the genuineness and vitality of faith; but works, claiming to be, in whole, or in part, the meritorious cause of justification. Such works are excluded, because they would imply an imperfection in Christ's work, and give the sinner a ground of glorying. It is manifest that James insists on works, merely as evidences of faith: "Show me your faith without your works, and I will show you my faith by my works." (Jam 2:18) Even words, as well as works, are necessary, to give evidence of faith: "With the heart, man believes unto righteousness; and with the mouth, confession is made unto salvation." (Rom 10:10) So far as words prove the presence or absence of faith, it is true, that, "By your words you shall be justified; and by your words you shall be condemned." (Mat 12:37) But words without works, avail nothing; for Christ teaches that, "Not every one that says Lord, Lord, shall enter into the kingdom of Heaven: but he who does the will of my Father who is in Heaven." (Mat 7:21) And words and works together, avail nothing, without faith; for, whatever a man may say or do, if he believe not, he "shall be damned."
A difference of opinion has existed as to the proper date of justification. Some have regarded the day of judgment as its proper date. It is an act of God, as Judge; and, in the judgment of the great day, the Judge will publicly pronounce, on every individual, the sentence which will determine his condition through eternity. Then God's judgments will be fully revealed; but a partial revelation of them is made in the present life: "Even now, the wrath of God is revealed from Heaven against all ungodliness, and unrighteousness of men, who hold the truth in unrighteousness." (Rom 1:18) It is true, "He who believes not, shall be damned (Mk 16:16); but it is also true, "He who believes not, is condemned already." (John 3:18) In like manner, it is true that Christ will publicly own his people in the great day, and pronounce the final sentence in their favor; but it is also true, that they are justified in the present life. Hence Paul says: "You are justified in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ." (1 Cor 6:11) "All that believe are justified from all things." (Acts 13:39) The same rule by which the eternal state of men will be determined in the great day, is now made known on the authority of him who will sit on the throne of judgment then, and who is now the Judge of all the earth. By this revelation, men are already condemned or justified, according to their character. That character is often secret here. In the great day, God will judge the secrets of all hearts; but he will not establish a new rule of judgment: so far as that rule has been correctly applied here, its decision will be confirmed in the last day by the final sentence.
Some have dated justification in eternity past, regarding it as grace given in Christ Jesus before the world began. Justification is not a secret purpose in the bosom of God, but a revelation from him, and therefore it cannot be eternal. It implies, not only the accounting of the sinner righteous, but the declaring of him righteous; other wise, it would not be the opposite of condemnation; and neither justification nor condemnation can be from eternity. God's purpose to justify is eternal, and so is his purpose to glorify; but it is improper to say that believers are justified from eternity, as to say that they are glorified from eternity. It is clearly the doctrine of Scripture, that, on believing in Christ, men pass from a state of condemnation into a state of justification.
Section III. – Adoption.
GOD ADOPTS, AS SONS, ALL WHO BELIEVE IN JESUS CHRIST. (John 1:12; Rom 8:17; Gal 3:26; 1 John 3:1, 2)
In adoption, as practiced among men, an individual receives the son of another into his family, and confers on him the same privileges and advantages, as if he were his own son. In this sense, God adopts all who believe in Jesus Christ: "We are all the children of God by faith in Jesus Christ." (Gal 3:26) "Behold what manner of love the Father has bestowed on us, that we should be called the sons of God." (1 John 3:1) This blessing of grace rises higher than justification. Though a judge may fully acquit one who is arraigned before him on a charge of crime, he does not confer, on the man so acquitted, any of the privileges or advantages which belong to a son. But the believer in Jesus is permitted to regard God, not only as a justifying Judge, but as a reconciled and affectionate Father. The problem, how he can be put among the children (Jer 3:19), has been solved. Though once afar off, he has been brought near by the blood of Christ, and made of the household of God (Eph 2:13, Eph 2:19).
Among the privileges and advantages which adoption secures, we may enumerate the following:
1. The love of God, as a kind Father, is secured to believers. The Scriptures frequently exhibit the love of God to his people, under the figure of a Father's love to his children: "As a Father pities his children, so the Lord pities them that fear him." (Psalm 103:13) "If you, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more shall your heavenly Father give good things to them that ask him." (Mat 7:11) "Your Father knows that you have need of these things." (Mat 6:32) Corresponding with this encouraging and delightful exhibition of God's love, is the confidence with which the believer in Christ is inspired to approach his heavenly Father: "Because you are sons, God has sent forth the Spirit of his Son into yours hearts, crying Abba, Father." (Rom 8:15) Hence Christ habitually spoke to his disciples of God as their Father, and, before he left them, said, in language full of endearment and encouragement: "I ascend to my Father and your Father:" (John 20:17) and hence he taught them to say, in their daily prayers: "Our Father, who are in Heaven." (Mat 6:9)
2. The discipline of God, as a kind and wise Father, is secured to all who believe in Jesus: "Whom the Lord loves, he chastens and scourges every son whom he receives." (Heb 12:6) "We have had fathers of our flesh which corrected us, and we gave them reverence. Shall we not much rather be in subjection to the Father of Spirits and live?" (Heb 12:9) "For they truly for a few days chastened us after their own pleasure; but he for our profit, that we might be partakers of his holiness." (Heb 12:10) Inestimably rich is this blessing of divine discipline. Let the wealthy and noble of the earth rejoice in the advantages which give them distinction among men, and supply them with the means of carnal enjoyment; but let the afflicted believer in Jesus, rejoice in the lot which God has assigned him, because it has been chosen for him by a Father who knows what is best for him, and who loves him so tenderly as to withhold from him no good thing. Having all good in Heaven and earth at his disposal, he has selected that portion for each of his children on earth, which will best promote their highest interest.
3. Believers in Christ are made heirs of God: "If children, then heirs of God, and joint heirs with Jesus Christ." (Rom 8:17) God, the creator of all things, is the proprietor of all things, and his adopted children are made heirs to this vast estate. "He who overcomes, shall inherit all things." (Rev 21:7) "All things are yours, and Christ is appointed heir of all things; and believers are co-heirs with him." (1 Cor 3:22)
The inheritance of God's children, is frequently represented as a kingdom: "Fear not, little flock, it is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom." (Luke 12:32) "Come, you blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom." (Mat 25:34) The adoption of believers does not take full effect in the present life: "We are waiting for the adoption, the redemption of the body;' "waiting for the manifestation of the sons of God." (Rom 8:19) Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom; and, therefore, this vile body must be changed, and fashioned like the glorious body of Christ, before we can receive the glory and joy which God has prepared for us. Yet the title to the inheritance is made sure, since we are co-heirs with Christ; and the promise and oath of God, two immutable things in which it is impossible for God to lie (Heb 6:18), give to the heirs of promise, the strongest possible assurance, that they shall receive the inheritance: "Beloved, now are we the sons of God; and it does not yet appear what we shall be; but we know, that when he shall appear, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is." (1 John 3:2) Though now in exile, and pilgrims and strangers in the earth, perhaps despised and forsaken, we are the children of God, and heirs of an inheritance which is incorruptible, undefiled, and fades not away. Even now, whatever may be our poverty, affliction, or reproach, we are the objects of our Father's care, and he gives us, as an earnest of the future inheritance, so much of it in present enjoyment, as he sees to be best for us. All things within the boundless dominion of Jehovah, work together for good, to them that love God (Rom 8:28).
Section IV. – Regeneration.
IN ALL WHO ARE FINALLY SAVED, THE HOLY SPIRIT PRODUCES A GREAT MORAL CHANGE, BY WHICH THEY BECOME INCLINED TO HOLINESS. (John 3:5, 6; Ezekiel 11:19; Ezekiel 36:26, 27; Ezekiel 37:14; Tit 3:5; Jam 1:18; 2 Cor 5:17; 1 John 4:8)
In our natural state we are totally depraved. No inclination to holiness exists in the carnal heart; and no holy act can be performed, or service to God rendered, until the heart is changed. This change, it is the office of the Holy Spirit to effect. Pardon, justification, and adoption, are changes in a man's condition; but if no other change were wrought, the man would remain a slave to sin, and unfit for the service and enjoyment of God. Grace, therefore, does not stop with a mere change of condition, but it effects also that change in the character, without which the individual could not participate in the holy enjoyments of Heaven, or be fitted for the society of the blessed.
Various forms of expression are employed in the Scriptures, to denote the change of heart; and they signify it with various shades of meaning…It is taking away the heart of stone, and giving a heart of flesh (Ezekiel 36:26); giving a new heart (Ezekiel 18:31); putting the law in the heart (Heb 8:10); quickening or making alive (John 6:63; Eph 2:1; Rom 6:11; Rom 6:13); a resurrection from the dead; an illumination (Heb 10:32); a conversion, or turning back to God (Psa 51:13; Mat 18:3; Psalm 25:16; Isa 59:20). So great is the change produced, that the subject of it is called a new creature (2 Cor 5:17), as if proceeding, like Adam, directly from the creating hand of God; and he is said to be renewed (Col 3:10; Rom 12:2; Tit 3:5), as being restored to the image of God, in which man was originally formed. With reference to the mode in which the descendants of Adam come into the world, the change is denominated regeneration (Tit 3:5); and the subjects of it are said to be born again (John 3:3; John 3:7; 1 Pet 1:23).
The change is moral. The body is unchanged; and the identity of the mind is not destroyed. The individual is conscious of being the same person that he was before; but a new direction is given to the active powers of the mind, and new affections are brought into exercise. The love of God is shed abroad in the heart by the Holy Spirit (Rom 5:5). No love to God had previously existed there; for the carnal heart is enmity against God. Love is the fulfilling of the law, the principle of all holy obedience; and when love is produced in the heart, the law of God is written there. As a new principle of action, inciting to a new mode of life, it renders the man a new creature. The production of love in the heart by the Holy Spirit, is the regeneration, or the new birth; for "he who loves, is born of God." (1 John 4:7)
The mode in which the Holy Spirit effects this change, is beyond our investigation. All God's ways are unsearchable; and we might as well attempt to explain how he created the world, as how he new-creates the soul. With reference to this subject, the Savior said, "The wind blows where it wills, and you hear the sound thereof, but can not tell whence it comes, or where it goes; so is every one that is born of the Spirit." (John 3:8)
We know, from the Holy Scriptures, that God employs his truth in the regeneration of the soul. "Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth." (Jam 1:18) Love to God necessarily implies knowledge of God, and this knowledge it is the province of truth to impart. But knowledge is not always connected with love. The devils know, but do not love; and wicked men delight not to retain the knowledge of God (Rom 1:28), because their knowledge of him is not connected with love. The mere presentation of the truth to the mind, is not all that is needed, in producing love to God in the heart. What accompanying influence the Holy Spirit uses, to render the word effectual, we cannot explain: but Paul refers to it, when he says, "Our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Spirit." (1 Thess 1:5) - "but in the demonstration of the Spirit, and with power." (1 Cor 2:4)
The term regeneration is sometimes used in a comprehensive sense, as including the whole formation of the Christian character. At other times it is used for the first production of divine love in the heart. In the latter sense, the work is instantaneous. There is a moment known only to God, when the first holy affection exists in the soul. Truth may enter gradually, and may excite strong affections in the mind, and may for a time increase the hatred of God which naturally reigns in the heart. So Paul says, "Sin, taking occasion by the commandment, wrought in me all manner of concupiscence." (Rom 7:8) But, in his own time and manner, God, the Holy Spirit, makes the word effectual in producing a new affection in the soul: and, when the first movement of love to God exists, the first throb of spiritual life commences.
Faith is necessary to the Christian character; and must therefore precede regeneration, when this is understood in its widest sense. Even in the restricted sense, in which it denotes the beginning of the spiritual life, faith, in the sense in which James (Jam 2:17) uses the term, may precede. But a faith which exists before the beginning of spiritual life, cannot be a living faith. Yet some have maintained that faith produces love. This opinion is of sufficient importance to demand a careful consideration.
The power of faith over the actions, the conscience, and the affections of the heart, every one must admit. Confidence place in a treacherous man, has often led to a course of action ruinous in its effects on the condition and character. A belief in false principles of morality blinds the conscience, and causes it to approve the wrong, and condemn the right. We may love or hate an individual, under a mistaken view of his character; and our affection towards him may be completely changed, by a better acquaintance with him. Now, it may be asked, does not dislike of God proceed from a wrong view of his character, and will not a true knowledge of him infallibly produce love?
That hatred of God, and a wrong view of his character, accompany each other, no one can deny; but which of these produces the other, ought not to be assumed without investigation. We readily judge well concerning those whom we love, and ill concerning those whom we dislike. Men's interests pervert their judgments. In a deliberative assembly, parties are formed, according to the interests of individuals; and man take sides according to the circumstances which influence the heart. In these cases, the affections control the faith. The affections and faith mutually influence each other, and if either be wrong, the other cannot be perfectly right. The enmity to God which rules in the hearts of unregenerate men, renders their view of this character incorrect. A perfectly correct view cannot co-exist with enmity to him: and yet it does not follow that love to him may be produced, by giving right views of his character.
Some have maintained the opinion that a revelation of God's love to us is sufficient to produce love to him. That it ought to do so, cannot be denied; and in a heart under no evil bias, it would produce this effect. We may rather say, that a heart in which no evil bias exists, will love God, on receiving a revelation of his general character, without waiting for evidence of special favor. If our love to God proceeds from a belief that he loves us in particular, it is merely a modification of self-love. Such love has no moral excellence in it; for "sinners love those that love them." (Luke 6:32) Some have supposed, that the faith of devils differs from the faith of Christians in the circumstance, that it sees in God no manifestation of love towards them, and therefore can produce no love in their hearts towards God. But this opinion regards the faith which distinguishes the people of God, and purifies their hearts, as possessing no moral excellence in its nature. The circumstances in which it is exercised, do not make its nature better. If it may consist with perfect hatred to God, it cannot have moral excellence in itself, or tend to produce moral purity.
An inspired writer has said, "We love him, because he first loved us:" (1 John 4:19) but these words do not teach, that our love to God originates in the conviction that we are the favorites of his love. The love of God towards us, operates both as an efficient, and as a motive. 1. As an efficient cause. "For his great love where with he loved us (Eph 2:4, 5), when we were dead in sin, has quickened us together with Christ." Here is an operation entirely distinct from that of mere motive. The dead body of Christ in the grave, was quickened by the Spirit; and a like power quickens the dead soul. "We believe according to the working of his mighty power, which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead." (Eph 1:19, 20) Here faith itself is ascribed to this divine operation. All this operation proceeds from God's great love with which he has loved us. It is plain, therefore, that this love operates as an efficient cause, before it operates as a motive to holiness. It cannot operate as a motive without faith; and faith is produced by its efficient power. After this efficiency has quickened the dead soul, the love of God towards us then operates. 2. As a motive. The goodness of God leads to repentance, and every attribute and act of God has a tendency to call forth the love of the heart, when in the right state. Nothing so effectually melts the heart, as a view of God's great love towards us, while we were yet sinners: and of Christ's love in giving himself for us: but many a heart has felt this melting influence, without having in view the personal benefit to be received from this love. Our love to God does not produce a disregard to our own happiness, but it rises above the consideration of it. It is, therefore, not a modification of self-love.
This divine operation, which is additional to the motive power of truth, proceeds from what has been called the direct influence of the Spirit. Truth, as contained in the Holy Scriptures, is a revelation from the Holy Spirit; and as men's words, whether spoken or written, have an influence on the minds of other men, so the words of the Holy Spirit have an influence on the minds of all who read the Bible, or hear the gospel preached. In this indirect way, the Holy Spirit operates on men's minds, as the author of a book operates on all who read his work. But this indirect influence is by means of truth as a motive power; and no mere motive, operating on the sinner's heart, can induce him to love God for his own sake. While self-love rules in the mind, all motives derive their power from their relation to the ruling principle; and cannot, therefore, establish a higher principle of action. This change, by which true love to God is produced, results from the direct influence of the Holy Spirit, accompanying his word, and making it effectual. It was this direct influence which rendered the word so effectual on the day of Pentecost (Acts 2), which opened Lydia's heart (Acts 16), so that she attended to the things that were spoken by Paul; - which gave the increase when Paul planted, and Apollos watered (1 Cor 3), - and which has ever brought the word to the heart, in demonstration of the Spirit, and with power (1 Cor 2:4).
The doctrine of the Holy Spirit's direct influence, is a fundamental truth of the gospel dispensation. That Jesus Christ has come in the flesh, and completed the great work for which he assumed our nature, is a truth that lies at the foundation of Christianity. The gospel reveals to us the Spirit as well as the Son. When about to leave the world, Jesus promised another comforter, who should dwell with his disciples forever. The Holy Spirit, as God, had always been in the world: but he was now to be present by a peculiar manifestation and operation. This manifestation and operation attended the ministry of the Word on the day of Pentecost, and the gospel has always been the sword of the Spirit (Eph 6:17), the instrument with which he operates in the fulfillment of his office for which he has come into the world, in answer to the prayer of Christ.
The experience of mankind, before the coming of Christ, prepared the way for the introduction of his religion. The wise men of the world had sought to know God, but their laborious research had been ineffectual. Some other means of knowledge was, by their failure, proved to be necessary: "After that in the wisdom of God, the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe." (1 Cor 1:21) While an experiment was made in the heathen world, demonstrating the necessity of revelation, another was in progress among the people of Israel, under the Mosaic dispensation, demonstrating the inefficiency of revelation, unless accompanied by direct influence of the Holy Spirit. The Israelites had this great advantage over the heathen world, that to them were committed the oracles of God (Rom 3:2). The Scriptures, given by inspiration from God, were in their possession: and God spoke to them at sundry times and in divers manners, by prophets whom he raised up among them, and inspired to declare his will. That these prophets, with their burdens of divine messages, might arrive in due time, God represents himself as rising up early and sending them (Jer 32:33). So abundant were the means of religious knowledge granted them, that God said, "What could have been done more to my vineyard, that I have not done in it?" (Isa 5:4) Yet, with all this advantage, they turned away from the God of Israel, and provoked him to anger. Another influence was needed, to produce love and obedience to God. Hence it was said, by the prophet Jeremiah, "Behold, the days come, says the Lord, that I will perform that good thing which I have promised unto the house of Israel, and to the house of Judah." (Jer 33:14) This new covenant is explained in the Epistle to the Hebrews (Heb 8), to be the spiritual dispensation of the gospel. Its grand peculiarity is, that the law of God is written in the heart. The Israelites had the revelation from God written on stone and parchment, but it was not in their hearts; and an new divine influence was promised by the prophet, and the promise has been fulfilled in the direct influence of the Holy Spirit, the gift of which characterizes the gospel dispensation as the ministration of the Spirit (2 Cor 3:8). The saints of God, under the former dispensation, received this influence of the Holy Spirit, and to them also was the gospel preached (Heb 4:2; Gal 3:8). The privileges and blessings of the future dispensation, were, by anticipation, bestowed on them; and the Christ to come was made their Savior, as if he had already appeared and fulfilled his work. But the abundant influence of the Holy Spirit was reserved for the times following the ascension of Christ, and from that day he dwells in the Church, and makes the bodies of believers his temple. This peculiar presence implies the peculiar influence by which the truth is put into the heart; that is, by which men are made to love the truth. The whole Mosaic dispensation was an experiment, demonstrating the necessity of this peculiar influence. That covenant did not promise this blessing, and God found fault with it, because it did not secure the obedience of his people. The experiment was made, in his wisdom, not for his information, but for our benefit; and, by the failure of that covenant, we are enabled better to estimate the value of the blessing that distinguished the covenant founded on better promises.
That philosophy which shuts God out of his creation, and substitutes laws of nature for his ever-present influence and operation, stands ready to deny the doctrine of the Holy Spirit's direct influence. It admits not the possibility of any influence, but that which the means employed naturally tend to produce. But means have not natural efficiency apart from the will of God. By the will of God, the truth has its regenerating and sanctifying power; for he works in us to will and to do, according to his pleasure (Philippians 2:13). It belongs to the Holy Spirit, in the economy of grace, to produce divine life in the soul, as he brooded over the face of the waters, at creation, reducing the chaotic mass to order, and filling it with life. He is pleased to work with means; and he employs the truth as his instrument of operation. This instrument he wields at his pleasure, and he renders it effectual by his divine power: "My word shall not return unto me void, but it shall accomplish that which I please, and it shall prosper in the thing whereto I sent it." (Isa 55:11) By the ordinary providence of God, the Bible operates in the world, and influences the minds of men: but this providence equally existed in the former dispensation, in which the oracles of God were possessed by the Israelites, but held by them in unrighteousness. An influence above the ordinary providence of God is needed, to the regeneration of the soul. The coming of Christ into the world, and the coming and abiding of the Holy Spirit, belong to a dispensation which is above the ordinary providence of God. Into this new economy we are ushered, when we are translated into the kingdom of God's dear Son. Here we recognize both the Son and the Spirit, as specially given of God. It is contrary to the faith of the gospel to regard Christ and his redeeming work, as things of God's ordinary providence; and it is equally contrary to faith to consider the Spirit and his work in the heart as merely natural influence of the truth on the heart.
Section V. – Sanctification.
THE HOLY SPIRIT CONTINUES TO SANCTIFY THOSE WHOM HE HAS REGENERATED, AND FINALLY PREPARES THEM FULLY FOR THE HOLY SERVICE AND ENJOYMENT OF HEAVEN. (2 Thess 2:13; 1 Pet 1:2; 1 Cor 6:11; 2 Cor 3:18; Mal 3:3; Eph 5:26; Tit 2:14; Prov 4:18; Philippians 1:6; 1 John 3:2)
Regeneration is the beginning of sanctification, but the work is not completed at the outset. A new affection is produced in the heart, but it does not govern without opposition. The love of the world, the love of self, and all the carnal appetites and passions, have reigned in the heart; and the power of habit gives them a controlling influence, which is not readily yielded. Hence arises the warfare of which every regenerate man is conscious: the flesh lusting against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh (Gal 5:17). In this struggle, the carnal propensities often threaten to prevail, and they would prevail, if God did not give a supply of the Spirit of Jesus Christ. "Without me," said Jesus, "you can do nothing." (John 15:5) If severed from the living vine, the branches are sapless, fruitless, dead. But "he who is joined to the Lord is one Spirit;" (1 Cor 6:17) and the Spirit of life from Christ, the head, flows through all the members of his body, and gives and preserves their vitality. This Spirit in them lusts against the flesh, and enables them to carry on their warfare, and gives them final victory: "He who has begun a good work in you, will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ." (Philippians 1:6)
As in the beginning, so in the progress of the work, the Holy Spirit operates by direct and by indirect influence. The indirect influence is by means of the truth. With reference to this, the Savior prayed: "Sanctify them through your truth;" (John 17:17) and, with reference to it, the Scriptures connect "belief of the truth," with "sanctification of the Spirit;" (2 Thess 2:13) and speak of the heart being purified by faith (Acts 15:9). The direct influence fixes the affections on the truth; or, in the language of Scripture, "writes the law in the heart." (Heb 10:16) The mode in which this direct influence is exerted, we cannot explain; but the result is, that the truth produces its proper effect, which otherwise it would fail to accomplish, through the depravity of the heart. Our carnal affections tend to shut out the truth from the heart; hence Christ said; "How can you believe, which receive honor one of another, and seek not the honor that comes from God only?" (John 5:44) While carnal affections tend to prevent the proper influence of the truth, the Spirit exercises an opposite influence, and "lusts against the flesh." As this influence gives the word an efficacy which it would not otherwise possess, it is something superadded to the intrinsic power of the word. For this direct influence, the Psalmist prays: "Open you mine eyes, that I may behold wondrous things out of your law;" (Psa 119:18) and for this, the prayers recorded in the New Testament were offered: "Lord, increase our faith." (Luke 17:5) "Lord, I believe; help you mine unbelief." (Mk 9:24) This influence operated on the two disciples, when their understandings were opened, that they understood the Scriptures (Luke 24:45). This influence is prayed for by every child of God, when, as he opens the Bible, he prays that what he is about to read, may be blessed to the good of his soul. And it is prayed for by the faithful minister of the gospel, and by every devout hearer, when at the beginning of a sermon, they ask God to make his truth effectual.
Besides the word of truth, the dispensations of Providence are used by the Holy Spirit, as means of sanctification. Afflictions are often blessed to the spiritual good of God's people. David says: "Before I was afflicted, I went astray; but now have I kept your word." (Psa 119:67) These afflictions are chastisements which our heavenly Father employs, to make us partakers of his holiness." (Heb 12:10) In themselves, afflictions have no sanctifying efficacy, and many who are tried by them, are incited to greater hatred of God; but the Holy Spirit accompanies them to the believer with a sanctifying power, and uses them to wean his affections from the world, and fix them on God. When outward things either cease to give him enjoyment, or produce positive grief and pain, he finds within him a source of happiness, in the exercise of faith and hope in God. Hence, in his darkest hours, as to worldly prosperity, the believer sometimes finds his prospects of Heaven most clear, and his foretaste of future blessedness most delightful.
Section VI. – Final Perseverance.
We have said, that the Holy Spirit continues to sanctify those whom he has regenerated. In consequence of this, they persevere in a course of holy obedience to the end of life. Whatever struggles it may cost, and whatever temporary departures from the straight line of duty may mark their course, they are graciously preserved from total and final apostasy. This truth may be proved by the following arguments:
1. By the will of God, as revealed in the Holy Scriptures, that which is produced in regeneration, is immortal. This is signified by the language of the Scriptures: "The hidden man of the heart, in that which is not corruptible." (1 Pet 3:4) "Being born of the incorruptible." (1 Pet 1:23) "Whoever is born of God, does not commit sin, for his seed remains in him." (1 John 3:9) Grace in the heart is here represented as incorruptible and abiding, and as securing its possessor from sin, that is, from a life of sin, such as unregenerate men pursue. The same truth is taught in these words of Christ: "He who believes, has everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation, but is passed from death unto life." (John 5:24) The new life which grace produces, is in the present possession of the believer, and is here called everlasting. Its perpetuity is asserted in another form, in the words "Neither shall he come into condemnation." If one who has been made a new creature, and justified by faith, can return to the state from which divine grace has rescued him, he will come again into condemnation; but this is declared in these words of the infallible teacher, to be impossible: "If they who have passed from death to life, may return again to death, their present life is not everlasting;" and the assurance, neither shall come into condemnation, is groundless. The same truth is exhibited in another light, in these words of Paul: "Knowing that Christ, being raised from the dead, dies no more, death has no dominion over him; likewise reckon you yourselves to be dead indeed unto sin, but alive unto God, through Jesus Christ, our Lord." (Rom 6:9, 11) Here believers are taught to account the new life which they have received, to be like the life of Christ, raised from the dead. As death has no more dominion over him, the resemblance would fail in a most important particular, if their spiritual life were not immortal. As death can have no more dominion over the risen Savior, so, death can have no more dominion over those who, in regeneration, have passed from death to life, and have been raised up together with Christ.
2. The union of believers with Christ is indissoluble. His love holds them fast. "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ," etc. (Rom 8:35-39) "Having loved his own, he loved them to the end." (John 13:1) "His power holds them fast; neither shall any pluck them out of my hand." (John 10:28) Such is their union to him, that their life is said to be in him, and he is called their life (Col 3:3, 4). The life of the risen Jesus, is the life of his people, and such is their union with him, as to render this life operative in them.: "If when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life." (Rom 5:10) As his death was efficacious to bring us into a state of reconciliation with God, his life, now that he has been raised from the dead, and is ever living to make intercession for us, and is the source of our life, hid in the Godhead, will much more preserve us in this state of reconciliation, and secure our final and complete salvation.
3. The promises of God secure our preservation in Christ. When the new covenant is made with believers, by writing the law in their hearts, the accompanying promise is: "I will be to them a God, and they shall be to me a people." (Heb 8:10) It is true that the Israelites were once accounted the people of God; and that they departed from God, and were rejected by him; and the same departure and rejection might happen to believers in Christ, if they were under the same covenant. But God found fault with the old covenant precisely on this ground, that it did not secure his people from disobedience and rejection: "Because they continued not in my covenant, and I regarded them not." (Heb 8:9) Having found fault with this covenant, which did not put the law in their hearts, and secure them from rejection, he abolishes that covenant, and makes a new one, founded on better promises: "I will put my fear in their hearts, that they shall not depart from me." (Jer 32:40) "Believers are kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation;" (1 Pet 1:5) and the power which keeps them through faith, keeps that faith in existence and exercise, or it would fail to preserve them. This preservation of their faith, follows from the intercession of Christ (Luke 22:32), who prayed for Peter, that his faith should not fail; and as he ever lives to make intercession (Heb 7:25), the preservation of faith is secured by the continued supplies of his grace, which otherwise would not be sufficient for his people. It is manifest that Paul entertained these views, when he wrote to the Philippians: "Being confident of this very thing, that he which has begun a good work in you, will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ." (Philippians 1:6)
4. Final apostasy, when it does occur, is accounted for, in the Scriptures, on the ground that there was an absence of true religion. This is clearly expressed by John: "They went out from us, but they were not of us; for if they had been of us, they would no doubt have continued with us; but they went out, that they might be made manifest that they were not all of us." (1 John 2:19) With this agrees the teaching of Christ, in the parable of the seed sown in different kinds of ground, and explained by him of the word in its effect on different classes of hearers. The stony ground hearers "in time of temptation fell away," (Luke 8:13) because the seed had not much depth of earth. There may be much appearance of religion where it does not really exist. Some, the Savior has informed us, will seek to enter in, saying: "Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in your name, and in your name have cast out devils? and in your name have done many wonderful works?" These applicants are rejected, not on the ground that their plea was false. Their profession of Christ, and their prophesying, and working of miracles, in his name, are not denied: but the ground of this rejection is stated in these words: "Depart from me, you that work iniquity. I never knew you." (Mat 7:23) Now, if any of them had ever been true followers of Christ, he must have known them as such, and therefore he could not say: "I never knew you."
The text last considered, may assist us in explaining a passage in which many have found difficulty: "It is impossible for those who were one enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted the good word of God, and the power of the world to come, if they shall fall away, to renew them again unto repentance." (Heb 6) Apostasy, after great attainments in religion, is here supposed; but these apostates had never been true disciples of Christ, distinguished by love to him, and works of holy obedience. In immediate connection with this account of them, Paul addresses true Christians thus: "Beloved, we are persuaded better things of you, and things which accompany salvation, though we thus speak, for God is not unrighteous to forget your work and labor of love." (Heb 6:9) The work and labor of love will be acknowledged by him in the great day, when the workers of iniquity will be rejected, whatever knowledge of divine things they may have possessed, and whatever miraculous gifts they may have been endowed with. The superiority of love to all knowledge, miraculous gifts, and all outward works, however costly and self-denying, is clearly taught in 1 Corinthians 13, and we are assured that all these, where love is wanting, will avail nothing. Hence all these, if without love, will not preserve from apostasy in this life, nor from rejection in the last day.
In a practical use of this and some other passages, the minds of many have been distressed with the apprehension that they had committed the unpardonable sin. For their relief, it is important to observe, that the difficulty in the way of the salvation of the apostates here described, consists in the impossibility of renewing them again to repentance. No humble penitent, therefore, has any ground to fear. Whatever his backslidings may have been, if he now truly repents of his sin, and implores pardon through the blood of the cross, he may feel assured that the way of salvation is open to him. The renewal to repentance has, in his case, been accomplished; and he may therefore know that he is not in the number of those, to whom this renewal is impossible.
The confessions of men eminent for piety, prove that they are not free from sin; and the cases of David, who committed adultery, and Peter, who denied his master, prove that true saints have sometimes fallen into gross sins. But David was renewed to repentance, and the record of his penitential acknowledgments has been transmitted to us in the 51st Psalm. A look of Jesus melted Peter's heart, and he went out, and wept bitterly. But the apostates, who are described in the passage which we have been considering, are given over to hardness of heart: "It is impossible to renew them again to repentance." The difficulty is, not that the blood of Christ is insufficient to atone for sins so atrocious, but that it is impossible to renew them again to repentance. God never bestows the grace of repentance on such characters. But when one who has been born of God, falls into sin, this impossibility of renewing of repentance does not exist; but his seed remains in him; and divine grace brings him back form his wanderings, and restores him to the paths of righteousness. The fire of divine love in the heart, though its flame may be smothered for a time, is more easily rekindled than when first produced; and it is never true of him, as it is of an unregenerate man who falls away, that the last state is worse than the first.
Several other passages of Scripture, which have been understood to imply the apostasy of true believers, require consideration.
"Every branch in me that bears not fruit, he takes away." (John 15:2) This figurative representation, which the Savior has employed, teaches that there is a sense, in which persons are "in" him, who do not bring forth the fruits of holiness. Such persons do not abide in him (John 15:6). Their connection is not vital, but professional. They are among his disciples, but not of them; for if they had been of them, they would no doubt have continued with them. The process of separating them, described by the words, "he takes away," corresponds well with the removing of a branch which has been grafted into a stalk, but has failed to become vitally connected with it. The perseverance of true saints is taught in the remaining part of the verse: "Every branch that bears fruit, he purges it, that it may bring forth more fruit."
"If we sin willfully after that we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remains no more sacrifice for sins; but a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation which shall devour the adversaries." (Heb 10:26, 27) This passage has sometimes severely tried the faith of weak believers. When conscious of having committed sins to which their will has consented, these words present themselves in dreadful array, and seem to deter them from all further approach to the atoning sacrifice of Jesus, from which they once obtained peace. In such times of trial, the language of faith is, "Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him." (Job 13:15) While this awful text fills with terror, the existence of a humble abiding trust in God is thus demonstrated, and, in view of it, other texts authorize encouragement and hope. With these encouraging and consolatory texts, the passage now under consideration, if properly understood, cannot be inconsistent. It describes the sin of those Hebrews who, after embracing the gospel of Christ, forsook the assembly of Christians (Heb 10:25), and turned back to Judaism. To them no efficacious sacrifice for sin remained, in the abolished ceremonies of the Mosaic dispensation; and if that of Christ were renounced, no other could be found. But these words were never designed to deter any humble penitent from free approach to the atoning sacrifice of Christ, whatever sins he may have committed. The assurance that Jesus has given, "Him that comes to me, I will in no wise cast out," (John 6:37) is sufficient to banish all fear from those who put their trust in him. The same invitation which first made them welcome, and the same assurance which first gave them peace, remain to encourage their continued confidence in this power and grace.
"Of how much sorer punishment suppose you shall he be thought worthy, who has trodden under foot the Son of God, and has counted the blood of the covenant with which he was sanctified, an unholy thing; and has done despite to the spirit of grace?" (Heb 10:29) The difficulty in this passage is found in the phrase "with which he was sanctified." Do these words teach that persons who have been sanctified may apostatize? Let it be observed that the word sanctify, among the Hebrews, was used to denote external consecration to God (Exo 13:2; 19:10, 22, 23). This consecration, under the former dispensation, to which the Hebrews had been accustomed, was by the blood of animals. In professing Christianity, they had turned from the blood of animals to the blood of Christ; and their consecration to the service of Christ was by professed faith in his blood. In returning to Judaism, they rejected this precious blood, and accounted it an unholy thing, as if it had been the blood of a vile impostor. But it is better to interpret the phrase by referring the pronoun "he" to the last antecedent, "the Son of God." The Son of God was sanctified and sent into the world (John 10:36); and as the priests of the law were consecrated with blood, Jesus, as our great High Priest, may be said to have been consecrated with the blood of the new covenant.
"The just shall live by faith; but if any man draw back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him." (Heb 10:38) In this verse our translators have supplied the words, "any man," which have no corresponding word in the Greek. The regular translation would be, "If he draw back," etc. Thus rendered, the pronoun "he" naturally refers to the just man, mentioned in the preceding clause; and the words seem to imply that a just man may draw back, so that God will have no pleasure in him. An argument for supplying the words "any man," may be drawn from the fact that these words are quoted from the Septuagint version of Hab 2:6, in which the last clause occurs first; and the man who draws back is manifestly distinguished from the just man. The same distinction is made by Paul in the words which immediately follow: "We are not of them who draw back to perdition, but of them who believe to the saving of the soul." The introduction of the words "any man," may therefore give a correct exposition of Paul's words: still, they are an exposition, and not a translation. Paul has inverted the order of the two clauses written by the prophet: and, in so doing, he was doubtless guided by the Holy Spirit, for some wise purpose; and it becomes us to learn from his words, as they have been given by the Spirit for our instruction and admonition. The prophet's warning was, "If any man draw back, my soul shall have no pleasure in him." This warning Paul places in such order, as to make it apply to the just man. What is true of any man, must be true of the just man; and Paul will not deny to the just man the benefit of this admonition. Such admonition, in the apostle's view, was not inconsistent with the doctrine of the saints' final perseverance.
"When a righteous man turns away from his righteousness, and commits iniquity, and dies in them; for his iniquity that he has done, shall he die." (Ezekiel 18:26) These words are to be understood in the same manner as the words of Paul which have just been considered. The terms "just" and "righteous" are of like import, and are descriptive of those who obey God's commands, and enjoy his favor. Such persons need the admonitions contained in these passages; and they are given in language precisely adapted to the case. To all, except the Searcher of hearts, there is an uncertainty respecting man's character in his sight; and, on the ground of this uncertainty, opportunity is given for the needed admonition. Paul spoke with confidence, that the Hebrews whom he addressed were "of those who believe to the saving of the soul:" yet, without relying on his own estimate of their character, or deriving from it an assurance of their perseverance, he warned them earnestly against apostasy.
"If, after they have escaped the pollutions of the world, through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ, they are again entangled therein, and overcome, the latter end is worse with them than the beginning." (2 Pet 2:20) These words describe men who have been reformed in their conduct by the influence of the gospel, but without a thorough change of heart. This appears from the proverb applied to them: "The dog has returned to his vomit, and the sow that was washed, to her wallowing in the mire." (2 Pet 2:22) As the temporary change of the dog and the sow had not altered their natural propensities, so it was with these men. Their change, though a reform, had not made them new creatures.
"Whoever of you are justified by the law, you are fallen from grace." (Gal 5:4) These words describe a change in their doctrinal views as to the method of salvation. They had turned from salvation by grace to salvation by the law. But how far the state of their hearts was influenced by their doctrinal creed, either before or after the change here described, the passage does not inform us.
"Concerning faith having made shipwreck." (1 Tim 1:19) "Overthrow the faith of some." (2 Tim 2:18) Wrong views had been inculcated by these men respecting the resurrection of the dead. It may be that neither they, nor those who were misled by them, had ever received the love of the truth. On this point the passage says nothing.
"Through your knowledge shall the weak brother perish for whom Christ died?" (1 Cor 8:11) When the stronger Christian will not, for the sake of a weak brother, deny himself a carnal indulgence, he exhibits a criminal disregard of his weak brother's interest. The tendency of this conduct is the ruin of his weak brother; and the criminality is to be judged by its tendency; and is the same, whether the tendency goes into effect, or is prevented by the interposition of divine grace. The question propounded does not affirm what the result will be; but impressively exhibits the guilt of the offender by contrasting his conduct with that of Christ. Christ died for the weak brother; and would you cause him to perish, rather then deny yourself a trifling gratification?
"I keep under my body and bring it into subjection, lest that by any means when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway." (1 Cor 9:27) These words contain a manifest reference to the Grecian games, in which the herald, who announced them, took no part in the contest, or the previous preparation for it; and therefore did not receive the crown Paul was not only a herald, making the gospel proclamation, but he entered the lists as a combatant, and made diligent preparation for the conflict, by keeping under his body. He did this, knowing that his preaching, or acting the herald, to others, would not secure a crown to himself. He prepared diligently for the combat, that he might receive the crown, and not be a castaway, or one rejected by the Judge.
The explanation which has been given to this passage, removes all appearance of inconsistency between it and the doctrine of the saints' final perseverance; yet it admits that Paul was stimulated to activity and perseverance in the Christian conflict, by the belief that his obtaining of the crown depended on his perseverance and success in the struggle. They who understand the doctrine of perseverance to imply that God's people will obtain the crown without the struggle, totally mistake the matter. The doctrine is, that God's people will persevere in the struggle; and to suppose that they will obtain the crown without doing so, is to contradict the doctrine. It is a wretched and fatal perversion of the doctrine, if men conclude that, having been once converted, they will be saved, whatever may be their course of life. God's work plainly declares, that "he who sows to the flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption:" and every man who does not keep under his body, and bring it into subjection, and who does not endure to the end, in this spiritual conflict, will assuredly fail to receive the crown. Without this, no conversion which he may have undergone, and not even a call to apostleship, will secure the approbation of the final Judge.
We have said that the new creature produced in regeneration, is immortal; but this immortality is dependent on the will of God, and is secured by means which God has provided. Adam, in his primeval innocence, was immortal; but his life was sustained, under God, by the fruits of the garden which had been assigned to his use. So God has appointed necessary means for preserving the divine life in the soul, and the use of these means is as indispensable to the accomplishment of the purpose, in this, as in all other cases in which he has chosen to work by means. The doctrine of final perseverance, when properly understood, does not teach that God's people are in no sense in danger of final apostasy. Paul tells us that he had often been in perils of waters (2 Cor 11:26). One of these times of danger was the shipwreck which he experienced in his voyage to Rome. He, and all his companions in the vessel, were in great danger; and they could not have been saved, if the necessary means for their preservation had not been used. Yet God had both purposed and promised their deliverance. The righteous, notwithstanding the purpose and promise of God, are scarcely saved (1 Pet 4:18). They succeed at last, as by a narrow escape. Through danger, imminent danger, they are at last delivered: and, in order to that deliverance, the use of the appointed means is as necessary as the appointment itself;--as necessary as the purpose of God.
The warning which the Scriptures give to the people of God, constitute an important part of the means which God has appointed for their perseverance in holiness to eternal life. As the rock in the mariner's chart guards him from being dashed to pieces, so these warnings preserve the spiritual mariner from destruction. The awful warnings given by Paul to the Hebrews, were designed to guard them against final apostasy. They therefore imply that there was danger of such apostasy. The heirs of promise might have strong consolation, in the hope founded on the oath and promise of God, that they would be brought safely through the danger. In the wisdom of God, the warnings are so given, as to secure their proper effect, without destroying that confidence in God, which is the Christian's hope and joy. To make this clear, and to derive the proper benefit from these warnings, let us briefly review them.
The warning given in Hebrews 6:4-7, was designed for real Christians. Every clause in the description of the persons, whose apostasy is declared to be fatal, would in other connections be understood to denote true Christians. The Hebrew Christians are elsewhere described as persons "illuminated." (Heb 10:32) The first particular in the description here, is, "who were once enlightened." Other particulars are added, agreeing with well known peculiarities, which distinguished the followers of Christ. These words, therefore, contain a general description of Christians; and the warning which they contain was applicable to Christians, and designed for their benefit. With these features of the Christian character, which are so vividly portrayed, and which were so well known in the days of primitive Christianity, there was generally connected a love to the truth, which was necessary to the full and proper effect of divine instruction. When this operated, the warning here proposed had its proper effect. These persons were like the fruitful ground, which received blessing from God (Heb 6:7); and this love the apostle believed to exist in those to whom his epistle was directed (Heb 6:9, 10). They who possessed this love were moved by his warning, to make advance in spiritual attainments, according to his exhortation in the beginnings of the chapter. But this result did not invariably follow the instructions and warning, which were given to those who possessed the general features of the Christian character. Apostasy sometimes occurred; and apostasy which was final and hopeless. This fact gave just occasion for the warning. Similar remarks may be made on the passages in the 10th chapter of Hebrews. That they were designed as warnings to true Christians, may be seen in the fact that Paul includes himself in the number. "If we sin willfully," (Heb 10:26) &c., and in the further fact that the just "are warned against drawing back." (Heb 10:38) All these consequences were set before the Christians, who are addressed, and the apostle again expresses his confidence, that they, with himself, will, in the belief and love of the truth, receive the warning and be saved.
The warning against apostasy, and the exhortations to perseverance, were not addressed to false professors, as such. The apostle was not solicitous that these should persevere in their false profession. They to whom his epistle was directed, were all exhorted to hold fast their profession, on the supposition that it had been honestly made. All had exhibited the appearances of true religion, and were treated accordingly. The plant which springs from seed sown in stony places, does not differ from that which is sown in good ground, except in not having much depth of earth; and this defect becomes manifest, when it withers under the beams of the sun. So those who afterwards apostatize, agree in the profession which they make, and all the appearances of religion which they exhibit, with those who endure to the end. The difference is, that the word has not a deep place in their hearts; and this is discovered only by their apostasy. "They went out from us, that they might be made manifest, that they are not all of us." (1 John 2:19) Hence, until their apostasy occurs, the same means of spiritual cultivation are employed for their benefit, as for others; the same hopes are entertained for them; and the same language is used in describing them. The tendency of this spiritual cultivation is to render them fruitful, like the rest; but it fails to produce this effect, because they have no sincere and abiding love of the truth.
The doctrine of final perseverance, properly understood, gives no encouragement to sluggishness or negligence in duty; much less does it lead to licentiousness. He who takes occasion from it to sin against God, or to be indolent in his service, not only misunderstands, and misapplies the doctrine, but has reason to fear that his heart is not right before God. Perseverance in holiness is the only infallible proof that the heart is right; and he who ceases to persevere, on the presumption that his heart is right, believes without the proper evidence, and is woefully hazarding his eternal interests on his presumption. The doctrine is, that grace in the heart will produce perseverance to the end; and where the effect is not produced, the cause does not exist. Every man, therefore, whatever his past professions and attainments may have been, has reason to take alarm, if he finds his heart inclined to depart from Christ: and the greater his past attainments may have been, the greater is the occasion for alarm; because his case, if he falls away, will so much the more resemble that in which renewal to repentance is impossible.
To reject the doctrine of final perseverance, tends to fix the hope of salvation on human effort, and not on the purpose and grace of God. If, in God's method of salvation, no provision has been made, which secures the safe keeping of the regenerate, and their perseverance in holiness, their salvation is left dependent on their own efforts, and their trust must be in that which success depends. All that God has done for them, will fail to bring them through, if this effort, originating in themselves, be not superadded; and the eye of hope is necessarily directed to this human effort, as that on which the momentous issue depends. Thus the denial of the doctrine draws off the heart from simple trust in God, and therefore tends to produce apostasy. The just shall live by faith (Heb 10:38). Simple trust in God, is necessary to preserve the spiritual life; and to trust in man, and make flesh our arm (Jer 17:5), is to fall under the curse, and draw back to perdition. In our first coming to Christ, we renounce all confidence in self, and put our entire trust in the mercy and power of God: and in the same faith with which we began, we must persevere to the end of our course. Worldly wisdom may encourage self-reliance, and regard it as necessary to success: but the wisdom that is from above teaches us to renounce and avoid it as ruinous to the soul.
Convinced of his weakness and helplessness, the believer learns more and more in this life of faith to trust God, and to have no confidence in himself. He learns, by daily experience, the treachery of his own heart, and is increasingly weaned from the folly of trusting in it. It becomes his more earnest prayer, as he makes greater progress in the knowledge of himself and the way of salvation. "Hold you me up." (Psa 119:117) He looks forward to the temptations and trials through which he has to pass; and, unwilling to trust himself in the least degree, asks God, earnestly and importunately to keep him to the end. This prayer he may hope that God will answer, if the doctrine of final perseverance be true. If the grace to persevere is a gift of God, it is a proper subject of prayer; and that doctrine best accords with God's method of salvation, which teaches us to come boldly to the throne of grace, for the mercy and grace to help in every time of need. We cannot now ask with confidence, for grace to help us through all future times of need, and to incline and strengthen us to persevere to the end, if the bestowment of such persevering grace is not within God's plan of salvation.
The doctrine of final perseverance is full of consolation to the believer, when ready to faint in his spiritual warfare. So far as he finds, in a careful examination of his heart, evidence that the love of God has been shed abroad there by the Holy Spirit, he is enabled to regard this grace as an earnest of the future inheritance, and to rejoice in hope of obtaining that inheritance in full possession, at the time appointed of his heavenly Father. If doubts arise, they spring not from a view of incompleteness in God's method of salvation, but they refer exclusively to the question whether his heart has been brought to put simple and exclusive trust in that divine method, and the provision of mercy which it includes. As the best termination of these doubts, he views the way open for him to come now, if never before, and cast himself on this mercy, so richly provided, and so gloriously adapted to his necessities.
Section VII. – Perfection in Glory.
The process of sanctification, which is continued during the present life, is completed when the subjects of it are perfectly fitted for the service and enjoyments of Heaven. In this work of the Spirit, the resurrection of the body is included, and the fashioning of it like the glorious body of Christ. Having been predestined to be conformed to the image of God's dear Son (Rom 8:29), the purposed work of grace is not completed until we appear in glory, with our bodies like the glorious body of the Redeemer. For this perfect conformity, the saints on earth long, and to it they look as the consummation of their wishes and hopes: "then shall I be satisfied, when I awake with your likeness." (Psa 17:15) This was the object of Paul's earnest desire, the prize for which he put forth every effort. He refers to it in these words: "If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead: not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect; but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus. I press toward the mark, for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus." (Philippians 3:11-13)
The work of grace will not be completed until the second coming of Christ: "He which has begun a good work in you, will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ." (Philippians 1:6) Then the last change will be made, which will fit us for the eternal service and enjoyment of God, in his high and holy place. "Then we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is." "Now we know in part; but then we shall know even as also we are known." "Then that which is perfect will have come;" and until then every saint must say with Paul: "Not as though I had already attained, or were already perfect."
Besides this final perfection, to which the saints are taught to aspire, there are stages in their progress to which the name perfection is, in a subordinate sense, applied in the Holy Scriptures. The disembodied saints, now in the presence of God, though they have not attained to the resurrection of the body, are nevertheless called "just men made perfect." (Heb 12:23) They are free from the body of death, free from sin, free from all the tribulations and sorrows of this world, and are present with the Lord, and in the enjoyment of his love.
Even in the present life there are stages in the Christian's progress to which the term perfection is applied. When they have attained to an enlarged knowledge of divine truth, they are said to be perfect, or of full age, to distinguish them from those who have learned only the first principles of the doctrine of Christ (Heb 6:1; 6:14). Men who make a full and consistent exhibition of the religious character, by a godly life, are called perfect. So Job was "perfect and upright, fearing God and eschewing evil." (Job 1:1) To Christians generally the term "perfect" appears to be applied, in the exhortation of Paul: "Let us, as many as be perfect, be thus minded." (Philippians 3:15) He here includes himself among the perfect; and yet, in the same chapter (Philippians 3:12), he affirms that he was not already perfect. It is clear, therefore, that the words are used in different senses in the two places.
No perfection to which the people of God attain in the present life, includes perfect freedom from sin. Job, though a perfect man, said, "If I justify myself, mine own mouth shall condemn me. If I say, I am perfect, it also shall prove me perverse." (Job 9:20) Paul, though numbering himself among the perfect, said, "When I would do good, evil is present with me." (Rom 7:21) "I am carnal, sold under sin." (Rom 7:14) John says, "If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves:" (1 John 1:8) and Solomon, "There is not a just man upon earth that does good and sins not." (Ecc 7:20) With these declarations of God's word, the experience of Christians in all ages has agreed; and they have found need for daily prayer, "Forgive us our trespasses."
In the precept, "Be you perfect, even as your Father in Heaven is perfect," (Mat 5:48) we may take the term in its highest sense. As we are commanded to love God with all the heart--to be holy because he is holy; it is our duty to be perfectly free from sin; and to come up to this standard, should be our constant aim and effort. We cannot attain to a perfect knowledge of God in the present life; but we may follow on to know him (Hos 6:3). So we cannot attain to a perfect likeness in holiness, yet we may be "changed into the same image from glory to glory." (2 Cor 3:18) Progress in the divine life is full of reward, and full of encouragement, even while we are fighting the good fight of faith, and before we obtain the victor's crown. The promise of grace to help in every struggle, of continued success in every conflict, and of final victory, is sufficient encouragement to put forth every effort. We should ever press toward the mark, ever keep the high standard of perfection in view, and aim to reach it. "Having these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God." (2 Cor 7:1)
The indication is fearful when a man excuses sin in himself, on the ground that perfection is not attainable in the present life. A true Christian may have a besetting sin; but any one who has an indulged, allowed, or excused sin, has reason to fear that the love of sin has never been crucified in his heart. And he who satisfies himself with any standard below absolute perfection in holiness, is so far allowing sin in himself, and giving the indication which ought to alarm him.
In the spiritual warfare, of which every believer is conscious, the love of God in the heart is in conflict with other affections which are not duly subordinated to it. Growth in grace implies an ascendancy of the holy affection over those with which it contends. That gains strength, and those grow weaker, as the house of David waxed stronger, and house of Saul weaker (2 Sam 3:1), in their struggle for dominion over Israel. It is therefore our duty, that we may grow in grace, to cherish the holy affections, which rise heavenward, and to mortify the carnal affections, which are earthward in their tendency. No man on earth can justly claim that the affections of his heart are perfectly regulated according to the high standard of God's law. The internal conflict between the law in the members and the law in the mind, does not cease until God calls away the spirit from its union with the mortal body. The phrase "law in our members," (Rom 7:23) does not imply that our sin belongs properly to our material bodies; but it nevertheless apparently suggests that the conflict between the law in the members and the law in the mind, may be expected to continue as long as the members and the mind have their present relation to each other. Just men are made perfect (Heb 12:23) when they become disembodied spirits. When absent from the body, they are present with the Lord (2 Cor 5:8); and they are then holy; for without holiness no man shall see the Lord (Heb 12:14).
We should not attribute to death the efficiency of our final deliverance from sin. It is only an instrument which the Holy Spirit uses in his work, just as he has used the many afflictions which have preceded death, and of which death is the termination. As this is the last suffering which the righteous will endure, the last enemy which remains to be destroyed, it is appropriately used as the last instrumentality which the Holy Spirit will employ in his work. And it is a most suitable instrumentality. Death introduces us into the full knowledge of God, which is necessary to the perfect love of him. It opens to our view the unseen things of the eternal world, that they may have their full and proper influence on our minds. It separates us forever from the things of earth, to which our affections have been so strongly inclined to cleave. The death of a beloved friend has often been blessed as a means of our sanctification: but when we die, all our surviving friends die to us at once. The loss of property has weaned us from the world: but at death we lose all our earthly possessions at a single stroke. God may have burned down our dwellings and consumed in the flames the coffers which contained our gold, when he graciously designed to direct our thoughts to the house not made with hands, and to the treasure which cannot be consumed. What, then, when the earth itself, which he has given for the habitation of men, and all therein which he has given them to enjoy, shall be burned up in the last conflagration; or shall be shown to us as prepared to be cast into that funeral fire? This is well adapted to eradicate from the heart the love of the things that perish. This fit instrumentality the Spirit employs in completing his work of sanctification. Yet, as in all our afflictions, the efficiency is not in the means employed, but in the divine power which employs them to fulfill his gracious purpose.
Chapter 4. Sovereignty of Grace
GOD BESTOWS THE BLESSINGS OF HIS GRACE, NOT ACCORDING TO THE WORKS OF THE RECIPIENT, BUT ACCORDING TO HIS OWN SOVEREIGN PLEASURE. (2 Tim 1:9; Rom 9:16; Philippians 2:13; Mat 11:25; Luke 10:21; Eph 2:4-9)
God is sovereign in doing what he pleases, uncontrolled by any other being. "He does according to his will, in the armies of Heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth, and none may stay his hand, or say unto him: ‘What do you?'" (Dan 4:35) No superior being exists, who can dictate to Jehovah what he should do, or hinder him from the execution of his pleasure, or call him to account for anything that he has done.
Sovereignty is to be distinguished from arbitrariness. In the latter, the will of the agent directs the action, without reference to a wise or good purpose to be accomplished. When God acts, it is according to his good pleasure. His pleasure is good, because it is always directed to a good end. He is sovereign in his acts, because his acts are determined by his own perfections. He has a rule for what he does; but this rule is not prescribed to him by any other being, nor does it exist independently of himself. It is found in his own nature. In his acts, his nature is unfolded and displayed.
In some respects the divine nature is so far made known to us, that we are able to understand the rule to which his acts conform. We so far understand his justice, that the distribution of rewards and punishments according to the works of men, is a process for which we can account, and the result of which we can in part foretell. But there are mysteries in the divine nature which are too deep for us to fathom: and hence we are unable to assign a rule for the divine proceedings. These are the cases which we specially refer to the sovereignty of God. He is not less sovereign in his justice, than in the dispensations for which he has given us no reason. But we bow before his sovereignty, in the best exercise of simple confidence in him, when we are least able to account for his doings; and it has been his pleasure, to leave much of his proceedings involved in mystery, that we may have occasion for the exercise of this confidence, which is pleasing to him, and profitable to ourselves.
We are prone to demand the reason or rule of God's acts, and to prescribe rules according to which God should act; but the Scriptures teach us to restrain this propensity. "Shall the thing formed, say to him that formed it: ‘Why have you made me thus?'" (Rom 9:20) "He gives not account of any of his matters." (Job 33:13) But though the Scriptures do not explain those dispensations of God which we are compelled to refer to his inscrutable sovereignty, they teach us that God is not governed by such rules as human wisdom would prescribe. His ways are above our ways, and his thoughts above our thoughts, as high as the heavens are above the earth. (Isa 55:9)
Men often complain that God's ways are not equal, and charge him with partiality in his dealings with his creatures. When this charge is brought against him, in such a manner as to imply injustice in anything which he does, he repels the charge: "Are not my ways equal? Are not your ways unequal?" (Ezekiel 18:29) But in bestowing the blessings of his grace, God claims the right to do what he will with his own (Mat 20:15). He is not bound to give to every one an equal measure of undeserved favor; or to measure his freely bestowed blessings, according to the works of those on whom they are bestowed. This is clearly taught in the inspired word: "He has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began." (2 Tim 1:9) "Not of works, but of him that calls." (Rom 9:11) "Not of him that wills, nor of him that runs, but of God that shows mercy." (Rom 9:16)
In the condition of the creatures that God has made, we observe a diversity to which we can assign no limits. In the vegetable kingdom, we find productions varying from the cedar of Lebanon to the minute blade of grass, some beautiful and fragrant, or adapted to great utility, and others without any quality in which we can perceive a reason for their having been made. Among animals, a boundless variety appears, in their size, modes of life, and capacity for enjoyment. In the condition of human beings, the system of diversity continues. As the human species differs from every other species, so the condition of each individual man differs from that of every other individual belonging to the species. One man passes his days in affluence and ease, and another drags out his miserable existence in poverty and toil. One enjoys almost uninterrupted health, while another, from the beginning to the end of his life, is oppressed with disease and pain. One possesses intellect susceptible of the highest cultivation, and is favored with all the necessary means of cultivation; while another gropes his way in mental darkness, either from the natural imbecility of his mind, or from the disadvantageous circumstances in which his lot of life is cast. Why is all this diversity? We must answer in the words of Christ: "Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in your sight." (Mat 11:26)
To some extent the sufferings and enjoyments of men in the present life are attributable to their personal conduct; and so far the reason for the divine dispensation towards them is apparent; but, to a far greater extent, no cause can be assigned by human reason; and we are compelled to ascribe the mysterious arrangement to the sovereignty of God. As he is sovereign in creation and providence, so he is sovereign in the dispensations of his grace. "He divides to every man severally as he will." (1 Cor 12:11) He withholds from the wise and prudent, and reveals unto babes, as it seems good in his sight (Mat 11:25). When the question arises: "Who made you to differ from another?" the proper answer is: "It is not of him that wills, nor of him that runs, but of God that shows mercy;" (Rom 9:16) and "By the grace of God, I am what I am." (1 Cor 15:10) In the dispensations of grace, full regard is had to justice, and nothing unjust is done to any one; but grace rises high above justice, and gives ample room for the display of the divine sovereignty, in the distribution of blessings to which no individual has the slightest claim.
Among the rules which human officiousness prescribes to God for the regulation of his conduct, we are prone to insist that the blessings of his grace should be distributed according to men's works. We do not presume to say, that they should be given for men's works, for this would render them rewards of debt, and not of grace. Scripture and reason unite in checking the presumption which would claim all that God bestows, as due on the ground of merit: but, while we relinquish the claim on the ground of positive merit, we are yet prone to conceive that there is a fitness in conferring the blessings of grace on those who have the negative merit of being less wicked than others. In this method of dispensation, which human wisdom would recommend, the blessings are conferred, not for men's works, but according to their works: but the wisdom of God rejects the counsel of human wisdom in this particular. A Saul of Tarsus, though chief of sinners, is made a happy recipient of divine grace, while an amiable young ruler, who had kept the law from his youth up, is left to perish in his self-righteousness. Publicans and harlots enter the kingdom of Heaven; while multitudes, less wicked than they, are left to the course to which natural depravity inclines them. These cases exemplify the explicit declarations of Scripture, which teach, that "we are saved and called, not according to our works."
It is true, that in the last day, men will be judged according to the deeds done in the body. But it must be remembered that salvation begins in the present life. To the present life the calling of men from darkness to light is limited; and the salvation and calling of the present life, are not according to men's works. As men are called "to be holy," the holiness which they exhibit as a consequence of the salvation and calling which they receive from the grace of God, distinguishes them from other men, and becomes a proper rule for the decisions of the last day. We see, therefore, that the last judgment will be according to the deeds done in the body; while it nevertheless remains, that we are saved and called, not according to our works, but according to the purpose and grace of God.
Section I. – Election.
ALL WHO WILL FINALLY BE SAVED, WERE CHOSEN TO SALVATION BY GOD THE FATHER, BEFORE THE FOUNDATION OF THE WORLD, AND GIVEN TO JESUS CHRIST IN THE COVENANT OF GRACE. (Eph 1:4, 5; 2 The 2:13; 1 Pet 1:2; 2:9; John 6:37; Rom 8:33; John 10:27-29)
The doctrine of election encounters strong opposition in the hearts of men, and it is therefore necessary to examine thoroughly its claim to our belief. As it relates to an act of the divine mind, no proof of its truth can be equal to the testimony of the Scriptures. Let us receive their teachings on the subject without hesitation or distrust; and let us require every preconceived opinion of ours, and all our carnal reasonings, to bow before the authority of God's holy word.
The Scriptures clearly teach, that God has an elect or chosen people. "Who shall lay anything to the charge of God's elect." (Romans 8:33) Elect according to the foreknowledge of God (1 Pet 1:2). "Shall not God avenge his own elect." (Luke 18:7) "You are a chosen generation." (1 Pet 2:9) "God has chosen you to salvation." (2 The 2:13) "According as he has chosen us in Christ." (Eph 1:4) Whatever may have been our prejudices against the doctrine of election as held and taught by some ministers of religion, it is undeniable, that, in some sense, the doctrine is found in the Bible; and we cannot reject it, without rejecting that inspired book. We are bound by the authority of God, to receive the doctrine; and nothing remains, but that we should make an honest effort to understand it, just as it is taught in the sacred volume.
The Scriptures teach expressly, that God's people are chosen to salvation. "Beloved, we are bound to give thanks always to God for you, because he has from the beginning chosen you to salvation." (2 The 2:13) Some have been chosen by God (Acts 9:15) to peculiar offices; as Paul was a chosen vessel, to bear the name of Christ to the Gentiles, and David was chosen to be the King of Israel. The whole nation of Israel was chosen out of all nations to be a peculiar people to the Lord: but it is very clear that the eternal salvation of every Israelite was not secured by this national election; for to some of them Christ said, "You shall die in your sins; and where I go you cannot come." (John 8:22, 24) The election to salvation is shown by the words of Paul in Romans 9:6, to be different from this national election: "They are not all Israel that are of Israel." "There is a remnant according to the election of grace." (Rom 11:5) The national election comprehended all Israel, according to the flesh: but the election of grace included those only who will finally be saved. It is not a choice merely to the means of salvation, for these were granted to all the nation of Israel: but it was a choice to salvation itself, and therefore respected the "remnant," and not the whole nation.
The Scriptures plainly teach that the election of grace is from eternity. "God has, from the beginning, chosen you to salvation." (2 Thess 2:13) "According as he has chosen us in him from the foundation of the world." (Eph 1:4) "According to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began." (2 Tim 1:9) Election is a part of God's eternal purpose. Had it been his purpose to save all the human race, there would have been no elect from among men; no peculiar people, no redeemed out of every nation. But his purpose to save did not include all the race; and therefore, on some principle yet to be inquired into, some of the race have been selected, who will receive the kingdom prepared for them from the foundation of the world. The eternity of God's election ought not to excite in our hearts any objection against it. If, in the final judgment, God will distinguish between the righteous and the wicked, whatever he will then do in righteousness, it was right for him to purpose to do from all eternity. In his final sentence, all his preceding dispensations toward the children of men, and all their actions under these dispensations, will be carefully reviewed, and the final doom of every one will be pronounced in righteousness. All that will then be present to the divine mind, was before it from all eternity; and what God will then do, he purposed to do from the beginning; and the reasons for which he will do it, are the reasons for which he purposed to do it. There can be no wrong in the purpose, if it does not exist in the execution. If God can fully justify at the last day, before the assembled universe, all his dispensations toward the children of men; all these dispensations must be right, and the purpose of them from eternity must have been right: and if a division of the human race can then be righteously made, that division was righteously made in the purpose of God; and consequently God's election was made in righteousness.
The Scriptures teach that election is of grace, and not of works. "Not of works, lest any man should boast;" (Eph 2:9) and if it be of works, then grace is no more grace (Rom 11:6). The subject is illustrated by the case of Jacob and Esau, of whom Jacob was chosen before the children had done either good or evil; and in applying this illustration, Paul says: "That the purpose of God according to election might stand; not of works, but of him that calls." (Rom 9:11) In the last day, God will discriminate between the righteous and the wicked, according to their works: and it was the eternal purpose of God, that this discrimination should then be made on that ground; but the purpose of God includes an earlier discrimination made in effectual calling; whence we read of those who are "the called according to his purpose." (Rom 8:28) This discrimination, made at the time of calling, is not according to men's works, for it is expressly said, "who has saved us and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus, before the world began;" (2 Tim 1:9) Calling is a blessing of grace, not conferred for previous works, nor according to previous works. Why is this benefit bestowed? The answer is, "not of works, but of him that calls." (Rom 9:11) "Not of him that wills, or of him that runs, but of God that shows mercy." (Rom 9:16) "It is God that works in us to will and to do, of his good pleasure." (Philippians 2:13)
The first actual separation of God's people from the rest of mankind, is made when they are called out of darkness into his marvelous light; and this calling is not according to men's works, but according to the good pleasure of God. A discrimination is then made, for reasons wholly unknown to mortals; not according to the works of men, but on a ground which infinite wisdom approves. The reason of the procedure is laid deep in the counsels of the divine mind; and we are compelled to say respecting it, "How unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!" (Rom 11:33) This actual separation of God's people from the rest of mankind, made in their effectual calling, is like everything which he does, the fulfillment of his eternal purpose. "He works all things after the counsel of his will;" (Eph 1:11) and "known unto him are all his works from the beginning." (Acts 15:18) The purpose to effect this first actual discrimination, is God's election; and the ground of the discrimination when it actually takes place, is nothing different from that of the purpose to discriminate; that is, it is the ground of election. The discrimination, when actually made, is approved by the wisdom of God; and all the consequences of it will be approved in the last day, and throughout all coming eternity; and therefore the election, or purpose to discriminate, was approved by infinite wisdom, in the counsels of eternity past. When we object to the act, or the purpose, we presume to be wiser than God.
From the views which have been presented, it necessarily follows, that election is not on the ground of foreseen faith or obedience. On this point, the teachings of Scripture are clear. They are chosen not because of their holiness, but that they may be holy (Eph 1:4); not because of their obedience, but unto obedience (1 Pet 1:2). As the discrimination made in effectual calling is God's work, the antecedent to all holiness, faith, or acceptable obedience; the purpose to discriminate could not be on the ground of acts foreseen, which do not exist as a consideration for the execution of the purpose. The discriminating grace which God bestows, is not on the ground of faith and obedience previously existing, but for a reason known only to God himself. This unrevealed reason, and not foreseen faith and obedience, is the ground of election.
The Scriptures teach that election is according to the foreknowledge of God (1 Pet 1:2). We are, however, not to understand the foreknowledge here mentioned, to be foreknowledge of faith or good works. Faith and good works do not exist, before the grace consequent on election begins to be bestowed; and therefore a foresight of them is impossible. Moreover, the objects of this divine foreknowledge are the persons of the elect, and not their faith or good works. "Whom he foreknow, them he also did predestine." (Rom 8:29) In this foreknowledge of persons, according to the Scripture use of terms, a peculiar regard to them is implied. It is said, "Has God cast away his people, whom he foreknew." (Rom 11:1, 2) If simple knowledge, without any peculiar regard, were all that is here implied, it would be equally true that God foreknew the heathen nations, as well as the nation of Israel.
This case of national election may serve also to illustrate the ground of election to salvation. God's choice of the Hebrew nation arose from a peculiar regard to them, not founded on their superiority to other nations (Deu 7:7), but on his own sovereign pleasure. He loved them, because he would love them. So the election of grace is according to God's foreknowledge of his people; a foreknowledge implying a peculiar regard not founded on any superiority in the objects of it, but arising from the sovereign pleasure of God.
Election is ascribed to God the Father, redemption to God the Son, and sanctification to God the Holy spirit: "Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience, and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ." (1 Pet 1:2) The Father, as sustaining the authority of the Godhead, is represented as giving the elect to Christ in the covenant of grace: "Your they were, and you gave them to me." (John 17:6)
The choice of them was with reference to Christ, and that they might be given to him, and rendered accepted in him. Hence they are said to be "chosen in Christ." (Eph 1:4) The election, or setting of them apart to salvation, is, in Jude, attributed to God the Father, by the use of the word sanctify, which signifies to set apart: "Sanctified by God the Father." The next clause of this verse, "preserved in Christ Jesus," may denote that a special divine care is exercised over the elect, because of their covenant relation to Christ, even before their being called by the Holy Spirit. "Preserved in Christ Jesus, and called."
Those who are not included in the election of grace, are called, in Scripture, "the rest," (Rom 11:7) and vessels of wrath." (Rom 9:22) Why they are not included, we are as unable to explain as why the others are included; and we are therefore compelled to refer the matter to the sovereignty of God, who, beyond all doubt, acts herein most wisely and righteously, though he has not explained to us the reasons of his procedure. His absolute sovereignty, is the discrimination which he makes, is expressed by Paul in these words: "He has mercy on whom he will have mercy; and whom he will he hardens." (Rom 9:18) The natural tendency of human depravity is such, that the heart grows harder under the general mercies which God bestows, unless he superadds to all the other benefits which he confers, the renewing grace of the Holy Spirit, by which the heart is changed. This renewing grace he gives or withholds at his sovereign pleasure. This sovereignty, in so bestowing mercy as to soften the hard heart, is unquestionably taught by the words just quoted, however we may interpret the phrase "he hardens." It is not necessary to understand these words as implying a positive act of God, exerted for the purpose of producing hardness of heart, and directed to this end. When Paul speaks of the vessels of mercy, he says that God has "afore prepared" them for glory; but when he speaks of the vessels of wrath, as fitted for destruction, he does not say that God has fitted them for this end (Rom 9:22, 23). As the potter, out of the same mass, makes one vessel to honor and another to dishonor (Rom 9:21); so God, out of the same mass of mankind, prepares some for glory, as vessels of mercy; while others, whatever benefits abuse the mercies which he bestows, and, growing harder by the influence of their natural depravity, are vessels of wrath fitted for destruction.
Divines have used the term "reprobate" as equivalent to "non-elect;" but this is not the Scripture use of the term. Paul says, "Examine yourselves whether you be in the faith, prove your own selves. Know you not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except you be reprobates (2 Cor 13:5)? Here all are regarded as reprobates in whom Christ does not dwell by faith; and, of consequence, the elect themselves are reprobates so long as they remain in unbelief. Reprobation, as a positive act of God, is no other than the condemnation under which all unbelievers lie. From a state of condemnation, God, according to his purpose in election, delivers some by his renewing grace, and this is no injury or disadvantage done to the rest.
The doctrine of election is generally opposed by unrenewed men: and even in the minds of those whose hearts have been renewed by grace, such objections to it often arise as to prevent the cordial reception of it. The most common of these objections is would be proper here to consider.
Objection 1. The doctrine of election offers no inducement to human effort. Under the belief of it men conclude that, if elected, they will be saved, do what they will; and if not elected, they will be damned, do what they can. Hence they decide that all effort on their part is useless, and that it will be as well to live as they please, and dismiss all concern about their destiny, over which they can have no control.
That some men, who profess to believe the doctrine of election, make a bad use of it, cannot be denied; but it cannot be affirmed that all who receive the doctrine reason or act in the manner stated in the objection. On the contrary, multitudes, eminent for holiness of life and self-denying labors in the cause of Christ, not only cordially receive the doctrine, but ascribe all their holiness and self-denying labors to that grace which they have received from God's electing love. Many who reject and hate the doctrine, determine to live as they please, and to give themselves no concern for the things of God and religion: and the same cause will produce the same effect, in unregenerate men who admit the doctrine, and pervert it by their carnal reasonings to a use to which is has no legitimate tendency.
This objection to election applies equally to every part of the divine purpose, and proceeds on the supposition that God has predetermined the end without reference to the means by which it is to be accomplished. God has his purpose in providence, as well as in grace; and works all things in each department of his operations, after the counsel of his own will: but no wise man will say, "If I am to have a crop, I shall have it, whether I plough and sow, or not; and therefore I need not labor, or give myself concern to obtain bread to eat." The purpose of God leaves men at equal liberty, and gives them equal encouragement to labor for the meat that perishes not, as for that which perishes. God's purpose does not sever the connection between the means and the end, but establishes it; and there is nothing, in a proper view of God's sovereignty, whether in providence or in grace, to induce the belief that the end may be obtained without the use of the appropriate means; or that the end need be despaired of if the appropriate means be used. The word of God assures us, that "he who believes in Christ shall be saved, and he who believes not shall be damned;" and there is nothing in God's purpose, or in a proper view of his purpose, to annul these declarations of his word. The purpose of God determines his own action; but his revealed word is the rule of ours; and if we so act as to have his promise on our side, we may be sure that is purpose also will be on our side: but his purpose cannot secure the salvation of any who remain in impenitence and unbelief, and under the condemnation of his revealed word.
It is true, however, that election discourages such human effort as is made in a wrong direction. It prostrates all human hope at the feet of a Sovereign God, and teaches the prayer, "Lord, if you will, you can make me clean." It discountenances all effort to save ourselves by our own works of righteousness; but brings the sinner to commit himself at once to the sovereign mercy of God. He who, knowing himself to be condemned and helpless, gives himself, from the heart, into the hands of God as a sovereign, and trusts entirely to his grace for salvation, will find no reason to prefer that this grace should be conferred according to some present determination of the divine mind, rather than according to the counsel of eternal wisdom. The objection to the latter, if thoroughly analyzed, will be found to contain in it some lurking idea that it is safer to trust in something else than in God's absolute mercy. As such lurking trust is dangerous to the soul, the doctrine of election has a beneficial tendency to deliver us from it. It tends to produce precisely that trust in God, that complete surrender of ourselves to him, to which alone the promise of eternal life is made; and if we reject the doctrine, we ought to consider whether we do not, at the same time, reject our only hope of life everlasting.
Objection 2. The doctrine of election is unfavorable to the interest of morality. If men believe that God has appointed them to salvation or damnation, at his own pleasure, without regard to their works, the motive to good works which is drawn from the expectation of future reward or punishment, will cease to influence them.
At the last day men will be judged according to their works. God's choice of men to holiness and obedience, and the grace bestowed on them to render them holy and obedient, do not change the rule by which the final judgment will be pronounced: they, therefore, leave the expectation of future retribution to have its full effect on the minds of men. No one will be condemned at the mere pleasure of God; but every sentence of condemnation will be for sins committed. Hence the fear of future punishment ought to deter men from the commission of sin. None have a right to expect acceptance in the great day who do not, in the present life, serve God in sincerity and with persevering constancy. A belief that God, by his grace, inclines some men to serve him, and that he determined, from eternity, to bestow this grace upon them, cannot diminish, in any well-disposed mind, the proper influence arising from the expectation of future retribution, or produce indifference to the claims of morality. In electing men to salvation, God has devised no method of accomplishing his gracious purpose respecting them, but by rendering them holy and obedient; and therefore the doctrine of election teaches the indispensable necessity of holiness and obedience, in order to salvation. The doctrine is perverted and abused when men take occasion from it to indulge in sin.
Objection 3. The doctrine of election represents God as partial, and is, therefore, inconsistent with Scripture, which teaches that "The wisdom which is from above, is without partiality." (Jam 3:17)
The wisdom from above, which James declares to be without partiality, dwells in the minds of Christian men, and is exercised in their fellowship with mankind. It does not incline or require them to feel equal affection toward all, or to do good equally to all. Within the limits of justice, it requires that every man shall have his due; and here, all partiality is injustice. In the department of benevolence, the Christian man is not bound to bestow his favors with equality, on all his fellow creatures. The wisdom from above guides him, in the distribution of his favors, by other rules. So God, the source of this wisdom, is without partiality in the dispensation of his justice; but, in bestowing his grace, he acts as a sovereign, and claims and exercises the right to do what he will with his own. Partiality in a judge, when professing to administer justice, is a great wrong; but the same judge may bestow special favor on his children, or near friends, or on chosen objects of charity, without any just imputation of wrong; and to charge God with partiality, because he bestows his favors as he pleases, is to pour contempt on his sovereignty, and covertly to deny his right to do what he will with his own. He may well say to man who makes this charge: "Is your eye evil, because I am good?"
Objection 4. The doctrine of election represents God as a respecter of persons; but Peter affirmed that "God is not a respecter of persons." (Acts 10:34)
The same phrase has different significations, according to the connection in which it is used. We may affirm that God is, in one sense of the phrase, a respecter of persons, for his word states, that "he had respect unto Abel and his offering." (Gen 4:4) The first Christians were taught, not to have respect of persons, by giving superior places, in their religious assemblies, to those who were rich, and wore mirthful clothing (Jam 2:3). The Hebrew judges were required not to have respect of persons, by favoring any one in his cause (Lev 19:15). In this objectionable sense, God is not a respecter of persons. Before him, the rich and great of the earth are as nothing: yet he has respect to his saints, however humble and despised among men. When Peter affirmed that God is not a respecter of persons, he was addressing the first company of uncircumcised persons to whom the Gospel was preached; and his words manifestly imported the equal admission of Gentiles with Jews, to the privileges and blessings of the Gospel. "God is not a respecter of persons; but in every nation, he that fears God, and works righteousness, is accepted with him." (Acts 10:34, 35) The words express nothing contrary to what Peter elsewhere says: "You are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a peculiar people, that you should show forth the praises of him who has called you out of darkness into his marvelous light." (1 Pet 2:9)
Objection 5. The doctrine of election represents God as insincere. He invites all man to participate in the blessings of the gospel; and yet, if this doctrine is true, the blessings of the gospel are not designed for all.
If God's word teaches the doctrine of election, and if it contains commands or invitations to all men to seek salvation through Christ, it is highly presumptuous in us to charge God with insincerity, because we cannot reconcile the two things with each other. We ought to remember that we are worms of the dust, and that it is criminal arrogance in us to judge and condemn the infinite God. But, in truth, there is no ground whatever for this charge of insincerity. God requires all men to believe in Christ; and this is their duty, however unwilling they may be to perform it. The fact that they are unwilling, and that God knows they will remain unwilling, unless he change their hearts, abates nothing from the sincerity of the requirement. God proves his sincerity, by holding them to the obligation, and condemning their unbelief. He promises salvation to all who believe in Christ; and he proves his sincerity, by fulfilling his promise in every instance. The bestowment of special grace, changing the hearts of men, and bringing them to believe in Christ, is, in no respect, inconsistent with any requirement or promise that God has made. While men regard the call of the gospel as an invitation which they may receive or reject at pleasure, it accords with their state of mind to institute the inquiry, whether God is sincere in offering this invitation: but when they regard it as a solemn requirement of duty, for which God will certainly hold them accountable, they will find no occasion for calling his sincerity in question.
Objection 6. The doctrine of election confines the benevolence of God to a part of the human race; but the Scriptures teach, that "the Lord is good to all, and his tender mercies are over all his works." (Psa 145:9)
God is kind to the unthankful and evil, and bestows blessings on the just and the unjust; but his benevolence, though infinite, does not produce in every one of his creatures the highest degree of happiness. The world which we inhabit abounds with misery, and the Scriptures have warned us, that there is a world of unmitigated torment, into which wicked men will be driven, to be punished for their sins, with the devil and his angels. The justice of God limits the exercise of his benevolence; and, if we deny the doctrine of election, it still remains true, that the benevolence of God will effect the salvation of a part only of the human race. Now, unless it can be shown that the election of grace lessens the number of the saved, no objection can lie against it, on the ground of its relation to God's benevolence. Paul did not regard it as lessening the divine benevolence. According to his view of the subject, all Israel would have been cast away, had not God reserved a remnant according to the election of grace (Rom 11:2-5). What was true of this nation, is true of all other nations. There are causes, apart from election, which intercept the flow of God's benevolence to sinful men: and election, instead of increasing the obstacles, opens the channel in which the mercy of God can flow, to bless and save the lost.
Objection 7. The doctrine of election, by teaching that God has reprobated a part of the human race to hopeless misery, represents him as an unamiable being.
Sinful men are indeed reprobated, not by the election of grace, but by the justice of God; but their reprobation is not hopeless, so long as the gospel of salvation sounds in their ears. But the only hope on which they are authorized to lay hold, springs from the electing love of God. Instead of covering men's prospects with the blackness of darkness, the doctrine of election sends a ray of hope, the only possible ray, to enlighten the gloom.
The justice of God will hereafter doom the finally impenitent, as it has already doomed the fallen angels, to hopeless misery. The unamiable feature, which the objection we are considering finds in the divine character, is the justice so horrible to the workers of iniquity. The election of grace, if it wholly annihilated the justice of God, would receive the praises of unconverted men; but it cannot do this. The infinite benevolence of God cannot do this. If men will pronounce the character of God unamiable, because he is just, and dooms sinful beings to hopeless misery, they prove thereby that they do not love the God whom the Scriptures reveal, and by whom they are to be judged. Their quarrel with the doctrine of election is, in truth, a quarrel with the justice of God, from which that election has not delivered them.
Of the laborers in the vineyard, who received every man his penny, they who had borne the heat and burden of the day, complained that those who had labored but one hour, received equal wages with them. The occasion for this complaint would not have existed, if no one had received more than was due to him, in strict justice, according to the amount of service rendered. So, if all grace were withheld from the human race, and every one received from God what his deeds in strict justice deserve, no occasion would exist for the objection which is urged against God's election. But, would men be better off? Or would God be more amiable? The lord in the parable met the objection thus: "Friend, I do you no wrong. Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own? Is your eye evil, because I am good?" (Mat 20:13, 15) We are taught hereby how to silence objections to the sovereignty of divine grace. While God does wrong to no man, though he does as he will with his own, it becomes us to bow to his sovereignty, and acknowledge him infinitely amiable in all his perfections.
Not content with the God whom the Bible reveals, and who does according to his pleasure in the army of Heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth, we carve out to ourselves a deity more amiable, in our view, than he. If we dare not strip him of his justice, and secure thereby the salvation of all men, we endeavor to devise for him a method of salvation less exposed to human cavil. We aim to free him from the responsibility of determining who shall be saved; and we form the plan, and fix the terms of salvation, with the design of rendering the result contingent on the actions of men. Our method of grace, we admit, will not secure the salvation of all men. If the infinitely wise God should adopt it, he would foreknow all its results, and precisely how many persons, and what persons, would finally be save by it. Now, if he should make our plan his own, with this foreknowledge of its results, it would then be his plan, fixing as definitely the salvation of those who will be saved, as the plan on which he at present proceeds, and equally leaving the residue of mankind to the awful doom to which his justice will consign them. Our preferred plan may accord better with the views of finite worms, like ourselves, who know not the end from the beginning; but if God would adopt it, he would be responsible for it, in all its workings, to the final issue: responsible, though not to any other being, yet to himself; for his acts must accord with his perfections, and must receive his own approbation. In selecting his present plan, he has chosen it with a full knowledge of all its results. As the plan is his chosen plan, so the people whom it will save are his chosen people. We must prove that our plan would be better, before we can maintain that the deity of our imagination would be more amiable than the God of the Bible.
Every proposed method of salvation that leaves the issue dependent on human volition, is defective. It has been always found, that men will not come to Christ for life. The gospel is preached to every creature; but all, with one consent, ask to be excused. The will of men must be changed; and this change the will itself cannot effect. Divine grace must here interpose. Unless God work in the sinner to will and to do, salvation is impossible. God knows the force of opposition which his grace will encounter in each heart, and the amount of spiritual influence necessary to overcome it. He gives or withholds that influence at his pleasure. He has his own rule of acting in this matter--a rule infinitely wise and good. With full knowledge how his rule will affect every particular case, he perseveres in acting according to it, however men may cavil: and the rule which infinite wisdom adopts must be the best; nor can it be any objection to it, that infinite wisdom knows perfectly its final result.
Objection 8. The doctrine of election does not recommend itself to the general acceptance of mankind; but is received only by those who believe themselves to be in the number of the elect; and who are therefore interested judges.
The truth or falsehood of a religious doctrine cannot be determined by the acceptance which is obtains among men. What God says, is true, whether men receive or reject it. The gospel, which is preached on the authority of God's truth, is rejected by a large part of mankind; and those who do receive it are exposed to the charge of being interested judges, because they expect God's blessing through their belief of it. All that the objection says of election is true of the gospel. It does not prove the gospel untrue; and it ought not, in the least degree, to impair and weaken our faith in the doctrine of election.
According to God's method of grace, as revealed in this holy word, the salvation of men is made dependent on their belief of the gospel. It is a test of genuine faith, that it cordially receives those parts of divine truth which are least acceptable to the carnal heart. Hence it arises, that the doctrine of election, or, which is the same thing, of God's sovereignty is the bestowment of his grace, often becomes the point at which a sinner's submission to God is tested. When this doctrine is cordially received, the sinner's rebellion against God ceases. When he yields to the sovereignty of God in bestowing eternal life at his pleasure, he admits that sovereignty in everything else. How much soever he may permit the monarch of the universe to do what he pleases in smaller matters, if he refuses to yield to his sovereignty in the matter of highest importance, his submission to God is partial, and the spirit of rebellion has not departed.
Many examples of Christian experience might be adduced, in which a submission to God's sovereignty in bestowing the blessings of grace, became the deciding point of a sinner's acceptance of Christ.
Though the objection which we have considered contains no valid argument against the doctrine of election, it may suggest an important lesson to those who admit this doctrine into their creed. If men, as interested judges, decide in favor of the doctrine, and regard it with pleasure merely because they suppose themselves to be among the favorites of Heaven, their faith will be unavailing. No submission to God is implied in our approving of his supposed favoritism toward us. The gospel calls on every sinner to give himself up, through Christ, into the hands of his offended sovereign; and to do this as a guilty creature, and not as a supposed favorite of Heaven. In this complete surrender, the heart becomes fully reconciled to the doctrine of election.
Section II. – Particular Redemption.
THE SON OF GOD GAVE HIS LIFE TO REDEEM THOSE WHO WERE GIVEN TO HIM BY THE FATHER IN THE COVENANT OF GRACE. (Eph 5:25-27; Tit 2:14; John 10:11; Rev 1:5, 6; Acts 20:28; Heb 10:14; Isa 53:5, 11)
The Scriptures teach that the Son of God, in coming into the world and laying down his life, had the salvation of a peculiar people in view: "You shall call his name Jesus, for he shall save his people from their sins." (Mat 1:21) "The good Shepherd gives his life for the sheep." (John 10:11) "Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the Church, and gave himself for it, that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, that he might present it to himself a glorious church." (Eph 5:25-27) The Scriptures also teach that the expectation of the Redeemer will be fully realized, and that not one of all whom the Father gave him will fail to be saved: "He shall see his seed. He shall see of the travail of his soul and be satisfied." (Isa 53:10-11) "All that the Father gives me, shall come to me; and him that comes to me I will in no wise cast out." "And this is the Father's will which has sent me, that of all which he has given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day." (John 6:37, 39) "Father, I will that they also, whom you have given me, be with me where I am." (John 17:24)
And finally, when all shall be congregated, he will say, "Behold, I, and the children which God has given me." (Heb 2:13) In presenting to the Father all who had been given to him, in the covenant of grace, to be redeemed out of every kindred, tongue, nation, and people, the Savior will have the full reward of his obedience unto death.
Redemption will not be universal in its consummation; for the redeemed will be out of every kindred, tongue, nation, and people (Rev 5:9); and therefore cannot include all in any of these divisions of mankind. And redemption cannot have been universal in its purpose; otherwise the purpose will fail to be accomplished, and all, for which the work of redemption was undertaken will not be effected.
Besides God's will of purpose, we have seen that he has a will of precept. According to the latter, he commands all men everywhere to repent; he requires all to believe in Jesus Christ; and it is his will that all men should honor the Son. To all who obey his will in these particulars, he gives the promise of eternal life. The precept and the promise are both included in the revealed will of God. It is the revealed will of God that the gospel should be preached to every creature, and that every creature who hears should believe, and that all who believe shall receive life everlasting. The revealed will is the rule of our faith, duty, and hope; and by it those who preach the gospel, and those who hear it, are authorised and bound to regulate every thought and action. In it, Christ is exhibited as the Savior of the world (John 4:42); the only name under Heaven given among men whereby we must be saved (Acts 4:12); and sinners, without exception, are invited and commanded to believe in Christ. As the gospel is preached to all men without distinction, and all are called upon to come to Christ for life; and nothing but man's rejection of the gospel prevents the extension of its blessing to all who hear it; it accords with the design of God's revealed word, to speak of the offices and work of Christ, according to men's obligations respecting them. It must be remembered, however, that the gospel promises its blessings to those only who obey it; and, as the promise, not the precept, is the proper measure of the benefits which it secures, its benefits are limited to particular persons, even when the limitation in its extent does not appear in the language employed. Christ is called the Savior of the world (John 4:42), the atoning sacrifice (1 John 2:2) for the sins of the whole world; and the free gift through him is said to come on all men unto justification of life (Rom 5:18). These, and other like expressions of Scripture, represent the facts as they would be, on the supposition that all men did their duty. But notwithstanding these general expressions, the revealed will of God secures blessings only to the obedient, and is therefore narrower in its limit than the purpose or secret will of God, which not only provides all needed grace for the obedient, but also, for all the elect, the grace necessary to render them obedient.
The remarks which have been made may suffice to show that redemption is not universal, in any view which can properly be taken of it. It is particular in its consummation, and in its purpose; and it is equally so in the revelation of it, which is made in the gospel. The general terms "all men," "the whole world," etc. which the Scriptures employ in speaking of its extent, cannot be understood to secure its benefits to the impenitent and unbelieving. According to God's secret will, or will of purpose, redemption is secured by the death of Christ to all the elect; according to his revealed will, it is secured to those only who believe.
The adaptedness of Christ's death to serve as a ground for universal gospel invitations, constitutes it in the view of some persons a universal redemption. But no one can with propriety be said to be redeemed, who does not obtain deliverance, and who never will obtain it. Other persons who maintain the doctrine of particular redemption, distinguish between redemption and atonement, and because of the adaptedness referred to, consider the death of Christ an atonement for the sins of all men; or as an atonement for sin in the abstract. In Romans 5:11, the only place in the New Testament where the word atonement occurs, the Greek word for which it stands, is the same that is rendered reconciling--reconciliation, in other places (Rom 11:15; 2 Cor 5:18, 19). The reconciliation is not between God and sin in the abstract, for such a reconciliation is impossible. It is a reconciliation of persons; and such a reconciliation as secures eternal salvation. "If, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God, by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life." (Rom 5:10) In Paul's view, all those for whom Christ's death made reconciliation or atonement, will certainly be saved; and therefore atonement cannot be universal, unless salvation be universal. It is possible to use the word atonement in such a sense, as to render the question respecting the extent of the atonement one of mere definition: but it is best to use the words of Scripture in the Scripture sense.
In reconciling the vicariousness of Christ's death with the universal call of the gospel a difficulty arises, which may be stated thus:–
An unrestricted invitation to all who hear the gospel, to come to Christ for life, seems to imply that universal provision has been made in him; and in order to the making of universal provision, it appears necessary that he should have borne the sins of all men.
But the supposition that he bore the sins of the whole human race, is attended with much difficulty. Multitudes died in impenitence before he came into the world, and were suffering for their sins in the other world, while he was hanging on the cross. How could he be a substitute for these, and suffer the penalty for their sins, when they were suffering it in their own persons? And if he endured the penalty for the sins of all who have since died, or shall hereafter die in impenitence, how shall they be required to satisfy justice a second time by personal suffering?
For a solution of this difficulty, with which the minds of many have been much perplexed, it has been supposed that the amount of suffering necessary to make an atoning sacrifice, is not increased or lessened by the amount of the sin to be atoned for. This hypothesis is entitled to respect, not only because of the relief which it affords the mind, but also because it has recommended itself to the general acceptance of learned and pious men. Nevertheless, like every other hypothesis invented for the removal of difficulty, it should not be made an article of faith, until it has been proved.
In support of the hypothesis, it has been argued that since the wages of sin is death, Christ must have died for a single sin, and he needed only to die, in making atonement for the sins of the whole world.
This argument does not sustain the hypothesis, unless it be assumed that death is the same in every supposable case. But death may be an easy and joyful transition from this world to the world of bliss. Such was not the death of Christ. Death, as the wages of sin, includes more than the mere dissolution of the body: and Christ, in dying for sin, endured an amount of sorrow which was not necessary to mere natural death. In this suffering, the expiatory efficacy of his death chiefly consisted; and we dare not assume that the amount of it must be the same in every supposable case. The sufferings of Christ derive infinite value from his divine nature; but, being endured by his human nature, their amount could not be infinite; hence it is supposable that the amount might have been different in different circumstances. The inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah will, in the last day, be doomed to the second death, equally with the more guilty inhabitants of Chorazin and Bethsaida: but the anguish attendant will be more intolerable in one case than in the other. Analogy would seem to require, that Christ, suffering for the sins of the whole world, must endure more than if suffering for only one sin.
The advocates of the hypothesis urge, that the atonement is moral, and not commercial; and they object, that the notion of so much suffering for so much sin, degrades it into a mere commercial transaction. According to an illustration before given, if twenty men owe one hundred dollars, commercial justice is satisfied when each man has paid five dollars; but when twenty men have conspired to commit murder, moral justice, or rather distributive justice (for commercial justice is also moral), holds every man guilty of the deed, and as deserving of capital punishment as if he alone had committed the crime. On the same principle, it is maintained, moral justice does not divide the death of Christ into parts, accounting so much for each offence; but regards it as equally sufficient for many offences, as for one; and equally sufficient for the sins of the whole world, as for the sins of the elect.
The argument is not conclusive. It is not true, that the principle of distributive justice repels the notion of so much suffering for so much sin. Justice has its scales in government, as well as in commerce; and an essential part of its administration consists in the apportionment of penalties to crimes. It does not account the stealing of herbs from a neighbor's garden, and the murder of a father, crimes of equal magnitude; and it does not weigh out to them equal penalties. The justice of God has a heavier penalty for Chorazin and Bethsaida, than for Sodom and Gomorrah. Everything of which we have knowledge in the divine administration, instead of exploding the notion of so much suffering for so much sin, tends rather to establish it. The objection that it is commercial, is not well founded. Though justice in government, and justice in commerce, may be distinguished from each other, it does not follow, that whatever may be affirmed of the one, must necessarily be denied of the other. Distributive justice is not that which determines the equality of value, in commodities which are exchanged for each other: but it does not therefore exclude all regard to magnitudes and proportions. In the language of Scripture, sins are debts (Mat 6:12), the blood of Christ is a price (1 Cor 6:20; 1 Pet 1:18), and his people are bought (1 Cor 6:20). This language is doubtless figurative: but the figures would not be appropriate, if commercial justice, to which the terms debt, price, bought, appertain, did not bear an analogy to the distributive justice which required the sacrifice of Christ.
In the case adduced for illustration, every accomplice in the murder is held guilty of the crime, because every one has the full intention of it. Justice, viewing the crime in the intention, accounts each one guilty, and requires the penalty to be inflicted on him. It does not admit that the punishment of one will be equivalent to the punishment of all: but, in this very case, employs its scales to give to every one his due, and apportions the amount of penalty inflicted, to the amount of crime.
This examination of the argument discovers, that it is not conclusive. If the atonement of Christ excludes all regard to the amount of sin to be expiated, the exclusion does not arise from the abstract principles of distributive justice, as distinguished from commercial, but from something peculiar in the great transaction. No transaction like it with which it may be compared, has ever occurred. The wisdom and justice of God have decided this single case, and have decided it right. Christ did endure just so much suffering, as would expiate the sins that were laid on him. What amount of suffering would have been necessary if he had expiated but one sin, is a question which, so far as we know, has never been decided in the court of Heaven. When we confidently decide it, we are in danger of intruding into those things which do not belong to us. If the Holy Scriptures teach us nothing on the subject, we should not seek to be wise above what is written.
The Scriptures, so far as I know, contain no proof of the hypothesis. The best argument in its favor is drawn from Hebrews 9, in which it is taught that, if the sacrifices of the old dispensation had been efficacious, they would not have needed to be repeated. This seems to involve the principle, that an efficacious sacrifice for sin, when once made, will suffice for all sin, however it may be multiplies in all future time; and this principle, if established, establishes the hypothesis before us. But the clause "then would they not have ceased to be offered," may be taken without an interrogative point following, and the argument of Paul will be, that the sacrifices of the Old Testament dispensation, if efficacious, would have continued to be offered from year to year, making atonement for the sins of each year as it passed, and would not have been superseded by another covenant, as the Lord had foretold by his prophet. So interpreted, the argument of Paul, instead of establishing the hypothesis, subverts it. But if the clause be read with the interrogative point, it may still be understood to refer to the remembrance from year to year continually of the same sins, that had once been atoned for. When the sins of one year had been atoned for, why should the very same sins be brought into remembrance the second, third, and fourth years, and the offering for them repeated, if the first offering had been efficacious? So understood, the apostle's argument does not establish the principle involved in the hypothesis.
If, after a thorough examination of the hypothesis, we should, instead of making it an article of faith, be inclined to abandon it; and if the difficulty which it was invented to remove should perplex us; we may obtain relief, as we are compelled to do in other cases, by receiving the whole of God's truth on his authority, even though the harmony of its parts is not apparent to our weak understandings. In this way, theological difficulties furnish an opportunity for the exercise of confidence in the divine veracity: and our state of mind is never better or safer than when, in simple faith, we take God at his word.
So far as we have the means of judging, the sufferings of Christ, when viewed apart from the purpose of God respecting them, were in themselves as well adapted to satisfy for the sins of Judas as on Peter. But we cannot affirm this of every act which Christ performed in his priestly office. His intercessions for Peter were particular and efficacious; and these, as a part of his priestly work, may be included with his sufferings, as constituting with them the perfect and acceptable offering which he, as the great High Priest, makes for his people. The atonement or reconciliation which results, must be as particular as the intercessions by which it is procured.
Some have maintained that, if the atonement of Christ is not general, no sinner can be under obligation to believe in Christ, until he is assured that he is one of the elect. This implies that no sinner is bound to believe what God says, unless he knows that God designs to save him. God declares that there is no salvation, except through Christ; and every sinner is bound to believe this truth. If it were revealed from Heaven, that but one sinner, of all our fallen race, shall be saved by Christ, the obligation to believe that there is no salvation out of Christ, would remain the same. Every sinner, to whom the revelation would be made, would be bound to look to Christ as his only possible hope, and commit himself to that sovereign mercy by which someone of the justly condemned race would be saved. The abundant mercy of our God will not be confined to the salvation of a single sinner; but it will bring many sons to glory through the sufferings of Jesus, the Captain of our salvation. Yet every sinner, who trusts in Christ for salvation, is bound to commit himself, unreservedly, to the sovereign mercy of God. If he requires some previous assurance that he is in the number of the elect, he does not surrender himself to God, as a guilty sinner ought. The gospel brings every sinner prostrate at the feet of the Great Sovereign, hoping for mercy at his will, and in his way: and the gospel is perverted when any terms short of this are offered to the offender. With this universal call to absolute and unconditional surrender to God's sovereignty, the doctrine of particular redemption exactly harmonizes.
Section III. – Effectual Calling.
THE HOLY SPIRIT EFFECTUALLY CALLS ALL THE ELECT TO REPENT AND BELIEVE. (John 6:37; Rom 8:26, 30; 1 Cor 1:24; 2 Tim 1:9; 1 Pet 2:9; Jude 1, 2; 1 Cor 2:4; 1 The 1:4-6)
The gospel calls all who hear it to repent and believe. This call proceeds from the Holy Spirit, who qualifies the ministers of the gospel for their work, and gives them the written word. But men resist and disobey this call of the Spirit, and remain under condemnation. "You do always resist the Holy Spirit; as your fathers did, so do you." "Which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted?" (Acts 7:51, 52) "He shall be revealed, taking vengeance on all them that obey not the gospel." (2 The 1:7, 8)
Besides the call which is external, and often ineffectual, there is another, which is internal and effectual. This always produces repentance and faith, and therefore secures salvation. The former external call is intended in such passages of Scripture as the following: "Because I have called, and you refused." (Pro 1:24) "Many be called, but few chosen." (Mat 20:16) The internal and effectual call is designed in the following passages: "Who has saved us, and called us with a holy calling." (2 Tim 1:9) "Whom he predestined, them he also called; whom he called, them he also justified." (Rom 8:30) "Called to be saints." (Rom 1:7) "Among whom are you also called to Jesus Christ." (Rom 1:6) "To them who love God who are the called according to his purpose." (Rom 8:28) It is not true of all who receive the external call, that they are predestined to life, justified and saved. Whenever these blessings are represented as belonging to the called, the internal and effectual call must be meant.
We have before distinguished between the direct and the indirect influence of the Holy Spirit. The external call being by means of the written or preached word, belongs to the indirect influence of the Spirit. To render this call effectual, the direct influence is superadded; and the gospel is then said to come, not in word only (1 Thess 1:5), but in demonstration of the Spirit and with power (1 Cor 2:4). The external call is disobeyed, because men will not come to Christ that they may have life: the internal call operates on the will itself, working in men to will and to do, and rendering God's people willing in the day of his power. As distinguished from the external call the internal is always unresisted. In the process of conversion, the Holy Spirit is violently resisted; but his resistance is directed against the outward means. The internal grace softens and subdues the heart, and brings it into peaceful subjection to the gospel of Christ.
The internal grace, which renders the outward call effectual, is the grace of regeneration. Hence regeneration, considered as the work of the Holy Spirit, is the same as effectual calling; considered as the change of the sinner's heart, it is the effect of this calling. The calling is effectual, because it produces regeneration in the subject on whom it operates.
In effectual calling, the Holy Spirit displays his omnipotence. "We believe according to the working of his mighty power, which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead." (Eph 1:19, 20) The same power which created the world, and said, "Let there be light, and there was light," is needed in the new creation of the sinner. "God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, has shined in our hearts." (2 Cor 4:6) "We are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works." (Eph 2:10) "According as his divine power has given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that has called us to glory and virtue." (2 Pet 1:3) His power in creating the world was unresisted; and equally unresisted is the power by which he new-creates the heart. The outward means which the Spirit sends may be resisted; but when the Spirit himself comes in the omnipotence of his grace, resistance vanishes.
In effectual calling, the Holy Spirit acts as a sovereign. In bestowing the various gifts which he conferred on the ancient Christians, he acted as a sovereign: "All these works that one and the self-same Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will." (1 Cor 12:10) He is equally sovereign in giving regenerating grace. "Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth." (Jam 1:18) Grace is sovereign in election by the Father, redemption by the Son, and effectual calling by the Holy Spirit. The discrimination which grace makes among the children of men, first appears in effectual calling. This work of the Holy Spirit leads up, through the redemption of Jesus Christ, to God the Father, to whose electing love we are taught to ascribe all the blessings of eternal salvation. In this reverse order we look back, along the stream of mercy, to the fountain from which it flows. The reverse order is observed in the precept, "Make your calling and election sure." (2 Pet 1:10) Our calling proceeds from our election; but we ascertain our election by first ascertaining our calling.
In effectual calling, the Holy Spirit operates on the elect. These are "sanctified by God the Father, preserved in Christ Jesus, and called." (Jude 1) They whom the Spirit calls are "chosen in Christ from the foundation of the world." (Eph 1:4-13) "As many as were ordained to eternal life believed." (Acts 13:48) The Spirit's effectual calling fulfills the word of Christ, "All that my Father gives me, shall come to me." (John 6:37) "Other sheep have I, which are not of this fold; them also I must bring." (John 10:16)
It has been asked, for what purpose does God send his outward call to the non-elect, since it will be ineffectual, unless accompanied with his omnipotent grace. We might as well ask for what purpose does God give men his law, when they will not obey it; or why does he institute a moral government over them, when they will not submit to it. Instead of demanding God's reasons for what he does, it becomes every man rather to inquire, what reason he can render to God, for violating his holy law, and rejecting the call of his gospel. We may be sure that God will do right, and will be able to vindicate his ways before the intelligent universe; and we should regard our propensity to call in question the wisdom and righteousness of his procedure, as an alarming evidence of our want of submission to his will.
Objection If repentance and faith are gifts of grace bestowed by the Holy Spirit in effectual calling, men on whom this grace is not conferred, are not blameworthy for being impenitent and unbelieving.
The objection virtually assumes, that men are under no obligation to serve God further than they please; or that if their unwillingness to serve him can be overcome by nothing less than omnipotent grace, it excuses their disobedience. Let the man who makes to himself this apology for his impenitence and unbelief, consider well, with what face he can present his plea before the great Judge. "I did not serve God, because I was wholly unwilling to serve him; and so exceedingly unwilling that nothing less than omnipotent grace could reconcile me to the hated service." Who will dare offer this plea on the great day?
The efficacious grace which renders the gospel successful, is the grand peculiarity of the gospel dispensation.
This grace was bestowed in a smaller measure, before the coming of Christ, and during his personal ministry; but the abundant outpouring of it was reserved for the Pentecost that followed the Savior's ascension, and the times succeeding. The apostles were commanded to remain in Jerusalem, until they were endued with power from on high, and the power of the Holy Spirit which fell on them rendered their preaching far more successful than the ministry of Christ himself had been. Had God bound himself, by rule, to give an equal measure of grace to every human being, and to leave the result to the unaided volitions of men, the extraordinary success which marked the first period of Christianity would not have existed. It must be ascribed to the efficacious grace of the Holy Spirit, whom the Savior promised to send after he should go to the Father. To the power of the Spirit, the success of the word, in all ages, must be attributed: and the glorious millennial day so long expected by the church will not come, until the Spirit be poured out from on high (Isa 32:15). Hence, all good men looking forward to this glorious day, have not relied for its coming on the superior morality and religious tendency of future generations, but have prayed for it and have hoped for success, only through the abundant influence of the Holy Spirit.
Our Savior frequently rebuked those who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others. This self-righteous temper prevailed in the sect of the Pharisees; and Paul, who was a Pharisee, was obliged to renounce it, when he became a follower of Christ. He then prayed to be found, not having his own righteousness, but the righteousness which is of God by faith. In his strong desire and earnest prayer for the salvation of his countrymen, the Jews, he regarded it as their great and fatal error, that, "being ignorant of God's righteousness, they went about to establish their own righteousness."
Self-righteousness is offensive to God. The king, in the parable, was displeased, because one of the guests appeared at the marriage, not having on a wedding garment. But when we array ourselves in our own righteousness of filthy rags, and present ourselves in the assembly of the saints, before the God of holiness, and claim his approbation and smile, because we are thus arrayed, we offer insult to the King Supreme. We evince that we have no right appreciation of his holiness and justice: and while we profess to honor him as God, we so degrade his moral perfections as to make him altogether such an one as ourselves. This temper of mind rejects the mediation and righteousness of Christ, and thereby sets at nothing the counsel of God, in the great scheme of salvation. The Father is well pleased with the Son, for his righteousness' sake; and he cannot be well pleased with those who despise that righteousness, and choose to appear in their own.
Self-righteousness is ruinous to the soul. It may be highly esteemed among men; for the Pharisees, who loved the praise of men more than the praise of God, obtained their reward, in being honored for their great sanctity. But God searches the heart, and in his view the outward sanctity avails nothing, while all within is rottenness. Yet the disguise cheats mankind, and cheats him who wears it. Blindly and stupidly trusting to his own righteousness, he is at ease, and cries Peace, Peace, until sudden destruction comes upon him. It is one of Satan's most successful artifices, to lull men to sleep in their own righteousness. Many who have been alarmed by a view of their outward sins, have reformed their lives; and, relying on their morality, have, without any heart-religion, without any true faith in Christ, fatally dreamed their life away in the vain hope that all will be well at last. So difficult is it to rouse men from this delusion, that publicans and harlots entered into the kingdom of Heaven before the self-righteous Pharisees (Mat 21:31).
The doctrine of grace is the remedy for self-righteousness. It is a remedy which the unholy heart greatly dislikes, but if once received, it proves an effectual antidote to the evil. It slays all self-dependence, and lays the guilty sinner prostrate at the feet of mercy. He turns from his own righteousness, as from his sins, with loathing and abhorrence, and pleads, and trusts, and hopes for mercy only for the sake of Christ. In this method of salvation there is not compromise with the self-righteous spirit; no reliance is admitted either on absolute merit, or on comparative merit. Every one is required to come to Christ, as most guilty and vile, and to seek mercy as the chief of sinners. He must bring no plea that he is more worthy, or less worthy than his neighbor. So long as he relies on such a plea, the door of mercy is shut against him. He is taught to receive salvation as a free gift, absolutely free, without money and without price.
The doctrine of grace completely excludes all human boasting. This was Paul's view of it. "Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? Works? Nay, but by the law of faith." (Rom 3:27) Its tendency to humble men before God, and teach them to glory in the Lord alone, is an excellence which the inspired apostle highly prized. This endeared the doctrine to him, and should endear it to us. We are prone to think of ourselves above what we ought to think: but we have the means at hand for humbling our pride, in the interrogatory, "Who made you to differ from another? and what have you, that you did not receive?" (1 Cor 4:7)
This doctrine presents the strongest motive to holiness. It has been charged against it, that it leads to licentiousness; and this charge is as old as the days of the apostles. It was then asked, "Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound?" (Rom 6:1) and it was falsely asserted that they taught, "Let us do evil, that good may come." (Rom 3:8) If, in advocating this doctrine, we meet with similar charges, we may rejoice in the proof thus furnished, that we stand on apostolic ground. But the whole charge is without foundation. Men may be self-righteous Pharisees, and, at the same time, live in sin; but when self-righteousness is destroyed by the Spirit of grace, the man becomes dead, not only to the law, but also to sin, and, being dead to sin, he can live no longer therein. Men may, in a self-righteous spirit, abstain from sin, while they love it. But the doctrine of grace, when received into the heart, destroys the very love of sin. A sense of obligation for free and unmerited mercy, occupies the heart, and constrains to holy obedience.
This doctrine is honorable to God. All flesh is humbled before him, and he alone is exalted. The cross of Christ is elevated; and men are attracted to it, and taught to glory in it alone. The full salvation, as it comes forth from the triune God, in its completeness, and perfect adaptedness to our wretched and lost condition, becomes the object of our admiring delight, and calls forth our joyful ascriptions of praise.
This doctrine unites the people of God. All come to Christ on the same level. The rich, the poor, the learned, the unlearned, the bond, the free; all come to him, without distinction of rank, or of merit. All melt before him into penitence and love, and their hearts become one. Under the full influence of this doctrine, no man can glory in men, or treat with contempt a fellow member of Christ, a weak brother whom Christ has received.
This doctrine prepares us to join the song of the redeemed in Heaven. Even here we learn to sing, "Not unto us, not unto us, but unto your name give glory." (Psalm 115:1) And the same shall be our song, when we stand before the throne. "Salvation, and glory, and honor, and power, unto the Lord our God." (Rev 19:1) The celestial harps cannot sound a self-righteous note, It would disturb the heavenly harmony. Every heart feels, and every song declares, that "Salvation is of the Lord." (Jonah 2:9)