PREDESTINATION AND ELECTION.
IT has happened that in religion, as well as in philosophy, a great diversity of opinions has prevailed in the world of mankind. In philosophy we might not expect it to be otherwise, because it is the science of nature, and we have no other source of knowledge to which we may apply for the truth of nature. So much of self-evident truth as nature will furnish is a sure guide; and so far as we adhere to that, we are in no danger of error. But the comparative amount of self evident truth, which nature furnishes in proportion to the vast amount of information which the great realm of nature contains, compels us to explore extensive regions in the pursuit of knowledge, oftentimes by the aid of mere speculative induction, and much labor of thought has to be expended before we can bring our results to the test of demonstration. Hence, for want of an infallible directory, available at all times and on every subject of inquiry, we have a reasonable apology for a variety of opinions in that department of knowledge.
But we can make no such excuse for error in matters of religion. We have an infallible directory to guide us into all truth. There is not a doctrine which is essential to the service of God, or to the salvation of the soul, but what is laid down with sufficient clearness in the Holy Scriptures to guard us from every important error. I do not allude exclusively to those doctrines the belief of which is essential to salvation but to every doctrine which is an essential part of the great plan which God has ordained for accomplishing the salvation of sinners, and every duty which is essential to Christian obedience. If any man, therefore errs through ignorance, he is himself responsible for all the evil that may result from that error. We have a definite and perfect standard by which we may test every article of our faith, and thus avoid error before we embrace it; or, having embraced it, we may correct it. If God had left us, in matters of religion, as He has done (in a great degree) in matters of mere science, merely to the exercise of our reasoning powers error might have a plausible excuse; but He has not so left us; hence, therefore, he that, in matters of religion, believes or practices differently from God’s word, has no plea for his error, because he rejects the counsel of God against Himself. And in the great day of decision, when the secrets of every heart shall be brought to light, if any man shall be found who held erroneous doctrines, the only answer he can make will be, that he did not believe God; and if he has erred in any important duty, he can only say that he disobeyed God. No vindication will be allowed. He may not plead ignorancehe may not plead good intentions; every plea of every kind will be overruled. We have the all-sufficient rule of God’s word, and among all the thousands of false opinions that have been taught and believed in this world there is not one that will admit of apology before the tribunal of the Righteous Judge. If a man who has access to the Bible is ignorant, he is ignorant of choice; if he is in error, he chose error in preference to truth. To say that there is any defect or insufficiency in the code of Divine truth, or that the mind of God is not delivered with sufficient clearness to enable the sincere inquirer to learn His truth, is a manifest impeachment of the wisdom and goodness of God. And he that charges the Bible with obscurity calumniates its Author; and no man can slander God’s word and be guiltless. Whatever may be alleged with regard to some particular passages in the Bible, all that is material to the primary doctrines of the gospel, or to Christian duty, is presented to us plainly enough for the instruction of every obedient mind; and if it is not understood, we must not ascribe obscurity to the language of Divine Revelation, but we must seek for it in the darkness of our degenerate hearts. It is true, as we have said, that a great variety of opinions has prevailed in the world, and even amongst Christians, on almost every fundamental doctrine of the Bible, and endless controversies have grown out of this diversity of sentiments, yet there are some doctrines which have been acknowledged by almost all who profess to take the Bible for their guide. This is some alleviation of the evils attending erroneous principles. It is well, indeed, when there are opposing, views in religious concerns, that so many can agree on some of the essential truths of the gospel of salvation. All agree that there is one God, and only one. They agree, also, in more than this one thing. There is a general agreement with regard to the attributes which constitute the perfection of the Divine nature. It is admitted that God is eternalself-existent, and that all else besides Him is created, and was created by Him, and that all things are dependent upon Him. It is admitted that He possesses every possible perfection that can pertain to a self-existent and infinitely perfect God; and, consequently, that in Him there is no imperfection.
Since, then, God is the only eternal, self-existent Being, and all else had a beginning and was created, it follows that there was a period in the depths of a past eternity when Jehovah dwelt alone, and there was no other being in existence; but He then possessed every attribute of His nature in all the fullness of perfection the same as He does now, and as He ever will; and though His hands had effected nothing out of Himself, yet His infinite mind had ample employment, and was in never-ceasing exercise. Whatever His power has since then brought to pass, is only the fulfillment of designs which He then entertained while He then dwelt in His own eternity, and while the original immensity contained no other being than Himself. Whatever purpose then existed in the Divine mind, must of necessity have originated in Himself, for there was nothing in existence but Himself; and, therefore, nothing that could give rise to a thought or purpose in His mind. And whatever He might do or bring to pass pursuant to such a purpose, must necessarily be done in view of some specific end or particular object contemplated by that purpose; and this ultimate end must have a determinate final reference to Himself, seeing there was nothing in existence at that period out of Himself to which it could refer. And this ultimate end, which it was His will to accomplish, must be an end worthy of Himself, and not beneath the dignity of His infinitely glorious character. The ultimate end, therefore, which God has in view, in all that He ever has done or ever will do, is His own glory; that is, in other words, the manifestation of His own infinite perfections. In this He proposes to Himself an object worthy of Himself. This is the highest end that it is possible for Him to have in view, in any thing that He does or permits to be done. Not only is it the highest end of which we can form any conception, but, from the nature of the case, we are fully warranted in saying that He could not have any higher aim in view; for as He is infinitely supreme in Himself, and as He is His own end in all that He purposes and performs, it follows that this is the highest end that He can possibly have in view in all His works. Having, therefore, a most glorious end in view, which it was His purpose to effect by the use of means, it was indispensably,- necessary that He should have a perfect knowledge of all the means which He would employ in fulfilling the great design. Whether a wisdom and knowledge short of that which is infinite would be adequate to the purpose, I do not at present propose to inquire; but shall content myself with exhibiting some of the proofs which the inspired record brings to bear on the subject: “Known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world.” “All things are naked and opened unto the eyes of Him with whom we have to do.” ” God is greater than our heart, and knoweth all things.” “His understanding is infinite.” “He that is perfect in knowledge is with thee.” As all things were created by Him, it is impossible that He should not know all things, and know them to be just what they are. As He made all things for Himself, He certainly knew what use He would make of every thing that He made. It can hardly be thought hazardous to say that whatever God may do must necessarily be, in some way, a manifestation of what He is. He certainly does nothing accidentally (as we term it), nor does He do any thing without knowing beforehand what He will do. Hence all that He does is done in the prosecution and fulfillment of a specific purpose.
We propose, in this chapter, to consider the doctrines of predestination and election. Although election is included within the category of predestination, the two doctrines are distinct from each other; and this distinction should be observed in treating of them, especially as in one point of view there is an essential distinction. Predestination has respect to the whole system of natureto the whole creationas well as to the scheme of salvation. Election, as the term is generally used by theological writers, respects God’s plan of saving sinners. Election always respects persons. Predestination respects things as well as persons, and often respects things and events irrespective of persons. To predestinate is to determine beforehand; to elect is to choose. These two acts of the Divine will may be co-extensive, but they are not identical.
We shall submit to your consideration a few remarks on the subject of predestination. We have already said that to predestinate is to determine beforehand According to this general idea of the term, as indicated by its etymology, if God designs or determines to do any particular thing at any period of time before He actually performs it, this is predestination; and in this sense of the term I suppose that all will admit that every thing God does is predestinated by Him, for who can think that God does any thing without intending to do it? But that characteristic of Divine predestination which has given rise to so much controversy in the theological world relates to the time when the act of predestination took place in the Divine mind. Many object against eternal predestination, but even this objection is not urged very strongly against many of God’s predeterminations. I think I have seen it laid down somewhere, as a fundamental principle, that God predestinated, or fore-ordained from all eternity, “all things whatsoever cometh to pass.” I have an objection to this form of expression; but notwithstanding this objection, I believe that all the wisdom of this world can never overturn the doctrine even as it is stated above. The truth of the doctrine can never be disproved either by the Scriptures or by logical reasoning. But I will state the doctrine of eternal predestination in a form to which I will subscribe without hesitation. I believe there was a determinate purpose in the mind of God, before the beginning of His creation, to do all that He ever has done, or ever will do, in His creation. There are some, I believe, who maintain the doctrine of the Divine omniscience in the strictest and most comprehensive sense, who yet deny the doctrine of predestination. They argue that omniscience does not necessarily involve predestination. Others who, I suppose, can not well separate the two, and, being unwilling to receive the doctrine of predestination, deny the doctrine of omniscience. I may notice these things before I close my remarks on this subject; but I will say here, that I do not rely alone on this kind of evidence, and if the doctrine of predestination is sustained by the Holy Scriptures, it will be sufficient for my purpose, and ought to be sufficient for every sincere seeker of Divine knowledge; for he should receive it on the authority of God’s word, independently of other arguments. In Ephesians (i.11) it is said, ” Being predestinated according to the purpose of Him who worketh all things after the counsel of His own will.” Here we learn that God works all things after the counsel of His own will. This shows that whatever He does is done in pursuance of a previous design. The will of God never changes, and His “counsels are of old.” He predestinates according to a purpose, and according to the same purpose He works all things. “The Lord hath made all things for Himself.” If He made all things for Himself, He must have known for what purpose He made them, and must have determined so to use them that they should answer that specific end. Again, it is said that ” all things were made by Him and for Him, and by Him all things consist.” How all this should be, and yet He have no previously fixed design, is beyond my conception, especially taking into view that all that He ever does is with a determinate design to manifest the glory of His own perfections. ” Known unto God are all His works from the beginning of the world.” If all His works were not determined by Him from the beginning of the world, it is not possible to understand how He could know them.
I deem it unnecessary to say much on the subject of universal predestination, because that predestination which is so much opposed has particular reference to moral and accountable creatures, and of this I shall have occasion to speak more at large when treating on another part of the subject; but I have expressed an intention to say something more on the subject of God’s omniscience, and its connection with predestination. At that time I thought to reserve my remarks on these points till the close of this chapter; but I suppose they would come in place with more propriety at present. That God knows all things perfectly, absolutely, and in the most comprehensive and universal meaning of the terms, is a doctrine that very few, I believe, have ever called in question; but this infinite knowledge of God has been disputed by some. We might expect that if any would limit the Divine wisdom and knowledge, it would be those of the more ignorant and weak-minded class of men; but we find such among the learned. Men of learning (and, as I believe, truly pious), and in high repute as theological writers, have denied the strict omniscience of the infinitely wise God. I think I have already sufficiently proved the doctrine by the explicit testimony of God’s word; and it is an unpleasant task to controvert opinions that are revolting to the moral sense of a reverential mind. Those who contend for limitations of the Divine knowledge admit (I believe) that His capacity for knowledge is strictly infinite, and that God is capable of knowing all things; but they suppose there is no necessity that He should actually extend His knowledge to every event and circumstance to which He may extend it. If this idea is true in natural theology, it must be true also in Divine revelation, for these two witnesses can not contradict each other; and the Scriptures teach positively that God does actually know all things; that His knowledge is infinite; that all things were known to Him from the beginning of the world. If He does not, in fact, know all thingsthat is, if His knowledge is not absolutely infinitewith what propriety can we ascribe omniscience to Him as an attribute of the Divine nature? To ascribe omniscience to Him, is giving Him rather more glory than is due unto His name; besides, if there is imperfection in His knowledge, it would seem to follow that there must be corresponding imperfection in all His attributes, otherwise there would be a want of harmonious perfection in the Divine nature totally inconsistent with the glory of the Divine character; and if we allow corresponding imperfections His other attributes, we effectually destroy the whole idea of a perfect Being. The advocates of this most unwarrantable assumption adopt it confessedly for the purpose of making room for the perfect freedom of the human will. That we find mystery, when we view the freedom of the human will, in reference to absolute omniscience, needs no proof; it is a matter of consciousness: but in avoiding this mystery by denying the latter, we are forced into mystery equally as great, and, indeed, it involves us in still more mystery, for those who embrace this strange theory suppose that God purposely hides some events from Himself. This is mystery in the abstract. He hides an event from Himself in order to leave man to his own choice, and thus He knows not what man will do till the event transpires. But how can He hide an event from His view of which He knows nothing? If He does not know of it, how can He know how to conceal it from His view? “The eyes of the Lord are in every place, beholding the evil and good.” But He removes some of the evil out of His sight till it is committed. It is hard to say whether there is more mystery or more absurdity in this. I wish to treat great men with respect, or I should apply to this doctrine the term which I think properly belongs to it. Moreover, if it is necessary, in order to man’s freedom of will and accountability, that God should exclude from His immediate knowledge any one act of man, in any one instance, it is equally necessary that He should do the same in every case with regard to every act, for we are, equally accountable for every action of life, and for one as much as for another; and thus we shall make the omniscient God ignorant of all the actions of His accountable creatures till He discovers it by the event. But there is one thing that it is certain He knowsHe knows how far His knowledge extends, and He declares that He knows all things, and no man can doubt it and be innocent. But that the absolute foreknowledge of God is inconsistent with the freedom of man’s will, is what can not be proved by the Scriptures. Their doctrine is founded upon what they suppose possibly may be in the Godhead; ours is founded upon what God declares is in Himself. Their doctrine is the offspring of human speculation; ours is the substance of God’s own testimony. I have not the least doubt that the absolute foreknowledge of God extends to all things; neither have I the shadow of a doubt that the human will is free. And to me it appears to be more consistent with sound reason to believe what is clearly provable as both these doctrines are, though I might not be able to show their agreementthan to reject a doctrine that is expressly affirmed in the word of God, in order to adopt a hypothesis that is so exceedingly derogatory to the honor of God, as that of imputing to Him an imperfection which must vitiate all His attributes; for how can He exercise His justice, or His power, or His goodness, according to the perfection of their own nature, if His knowledge is limited? Are not all these attributes exercised under the direction of His knowledge? Who can tell what will become of the world and all its inhabitants in time and eternity, if the God who governs it is ignorant of what is going on among His accountable subjects.
But if God does foreknow with certainty some events which yet are contingent upon the will of man, and for which men accountable it is clear that He may also foreknow all events in which the will and accountability of men are involved; and that He does foreknow such events is matter of the clearest revelation. The Lord foreknew, and foretold to Moses, that Pharaoh would not let the Israelites go out of Egypt; and that he sinned in refusing, is beyond dispute, for he acknowledged his sin, saying, ‘The Lord is righteous, and I and my people have sinned.” Again: “Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain.” (Acts ii. 23. ) It would be easy to refer to a great number of examples equally pertinent, but these are fully sufficient to establish the point.
The God that made man and endowed him with a moral nature, must of necessity know what that nature is; and He knows also to what influences it will be exposed; consequently He knows what every man will do in every instance, if left to the free exercise of his own will, whether the action itself be good or bad. But this foreknowledge has nothing to do with the moral character of the action. It is certain that God never foretells what He does not foreknow; but neither His foreknowledge nor the prediction of the event gives moral character to the action. If God knows with certainty that any particular event will transpire, every one, I suppose, will admit that the event will certainly come to pass; but it is not His foreknowledge that makes it certain, for it would be just as certain if He did not foreknow it. And this is true with regard to the accountable actions of men, whether of good actions or of bad actions. God never compels men by His power to the performance of any action, good or bad, whether willingly or unwillingly, but He often interposes with His power to prevent men from performing bad actions, even when they would willingly do them. You may see this exemplified in the builders of Babel, and the Scriptures will furnish you with any number of examples.
But I submit to my reader’s consideration, that if there is any thing that God does not know, then, in that thing, He is ignorant. Is the reader prepared to say that God is ignorant? Does not your moral sense revolt at the thought? And yet, if the hypothesis is true, it is unavoidable. Do angels worship a God who is ignorant of the affairs of His government? So, indeed, some learned men would have us believe. It would be rather uncharitable to suspect that such divines are more willing to make others believe it than they are to believe it themselves. If any man expects to stand before God in judgment, I would advise him not to make himself responsible for having charged God with ignorance, lest he should see anger in the face of the Judge. I will adopt no tenet that requires to be supported by imputing ignorance to the God of heaven. The abettors of this doctrine admit that God could know all things, but that He chooses to conceal some things from His knowledge; that is, He chooses not to know some events till they transpire. But this evasive refinement upon the perfections of the Divine nature rather aggravates than alleviates the reproachful imputation; for it makes God ignorant as a matter of choice, and thus He is made to choose ignorance rather than knowledge. It certainly betrays a most deplorable want of reverence for the Divine Majesty to ascribe to Him the least imperfection of knowledge, whether willful or involuntary, besides the fact that it is a direct contradiction of His own testimony. Let us banish the thought with abhorrence, and not give it a moment’s entertainment. I hope that no such degrading conceptions of the Divine perfections will find a momentary lodgment in the minds of my readers. Our God knows all things, past, present, and to come; all things actual and possible; all contingencies, dependencies, and possibilities, both fundamental and incidental. Such is the perfection of His infinite knowledge that He can not willingly or by necessity hide any thing from His all comprehensive view. From everlasting to everlasting His knowledge embraces all things within His own infinite immensity, without exception limitation, or modification.
But it is alleged that foreknowledge does not necessarily involve predestination. And perhaps it might not be easy to prove that simple foreknowledge does involve predestination; but to make any argument of this against the doctrine of Divine predestination, it will be necessary for the objector to show that the foreknowledge of God is ever exercised independently of His other attributes, which, I think, can not be made to appear. It is very doubtful whether any one perfection of the Divine nature can be exercised alone without necessarily, involving the exercise of other attributes in connection with it. It has been thought that the attribute of self-existence necessarily comprehends all the infinite perfections of Divinity, and it would not be easy to defend the contrary. However this may be, it is quite safe to say that there is no possibility of separating those perfections of Divinity which constitute the one infinite perfection of the Godhead; and, considering omniscience in connection with other attributes of the Divine nature, I think it does necessarily involve predestination. God knows in all cases what will be best; His infinite goodness must incline Him to do what is best; His holy will must determine Him to choose what is best. This is predestination. Unless we will say that He does not always do what is best, I can not see how predestination can be evaded. To predestinate is to determine beforehand; and if God always knows beforehand what will be best, and determines beforehand to do what is best, He must necessarily predestinate all things that He ever does. And if He is immutable if “He is in one mind” – then His predestination must be as eternal as Himself. On the point now under consideration, absolute foreknowledge is a conceded principle, and the question is, Does this foreknowledge involve predestination? Absolute prescience necessarily includes the knowledge of what is best in all things; and if, with this knowledge He chooses to do what is best, wherein does this act of choice differ from an act of predestination? To choose is to determine, and to determine a future event is predestination. His omniscience precludes the possibility of His making a wrong choice, and His immutability precludes the possibility of His changing that choice. I am aware that some have held forth the doctrine that God does change His mind; but if this is so, we can not learn His character from His word, for He expressly affirms the contrary. I could extend these arguments much further, but I deem it unnecessary. The doctrine of the freedom of the human will is true, but the inference that it is inconsistent with Divine omniscience and immutability is false.
Having treated of predestination in a general point of view, we will proceed to consider the subject of election. There has been more controversy on this doctrine than almost any other in the whole body of theology. Many have misunderstood the doctrine; some have either ignorantly or intentionally misrepresented it; others have perverted it by misapplying it. The word elect signifies to choose; and when we find the word in the Bible, this is the sense in which we should understand it. And if we find it apparently teaching a doctrine which we can not understand, or which we can not reconcile with other doctrines, or which is repulsive to our feelings, we are not at liberty to put a different meaning on the word, for this would be no better than making Scripture.
The advocates and opposers of the doctrine of election argue, for the most part, on different principles, and unless there is some standard of ultimate appeal which both parties would acknowledge, and by which both parties would consent that their arguments should be tested, there can be little hope of a termination of the controversy.
But waving this for the present, we will notice some doctrines which are erroneously supposed to be necessarily involved in the doctrine of election, but which, in fact, have no immediate connection with it.
1. And first, we will discourse a little on reprobation. Of those who reject the doctrine of election, there are some who make a great parade about reprobation, as though it must necessarily follow if election be true. But this is palpable sophistry. And while dealing their vindictive anathemas against the doctrine of reprobation, they suppose they are demolishing the foundations of election. Except what they do by way of creating and confirming prejudices against the truth, their labor is lost. Perhaps very few of those who declaim so bitterly against reprobation have any definite idea of what they mean by the term they use. If, by reprobation, it is understood that the Almighty, by an eternal decree, doomed men to everlasting punishment, irrespective of their character and works, we may very justly denounce the doctrine. But why make so much ado about it? I know not a man upon earth who avows his belief in it; and if there are any that do, I should not feel obliged to debate the question with them. But supposing I have stated the doctrine correctly (and I know that some do understand it in that light), I deny that any such idea is involved in the doctrine of election; and to argue against the doctrine of election on that ground, is misrepresentation. But further: If it were true that such a decree has been ordained, and the truth of it could be proved, it would not in the least affect the doctrine of election, because it would have no necessary connection with it. Such an act of reprobation would be, and necessarily must be, wholly distinct from an act of election. To confound the two, evinces a great want of discrimination. Neither of these acts would necessarily include the other. If one is true, it does not follow that the other is true. Each of these acts would be independent of the other. The decree of reprobation would affect those only who are the objects of such decree, and none else, and the decree of election would affect none else but the objects of election. Reprobation would respect none but those who are lost, and election respects those only who are saved. The two acts contemplate different and opposite results, and respect different objectsthat is, different personsand no force of construction can make them identical. In the great day of consummation, when the Judge of all will say to those on His right hand, “Come, ye blessed of my Father,” this sentence will have no relation to the others; but a distinct sentence of “Depart, ye cursed,” must go forth from the tribunal against them, and the latter sentence will have no respect to the heirs of the kingdom. And so, likewise, if there were an irrevocable decree of predestination, before the foundations of the earth were laid, fixing the eternal state of the wicked, such decree would not elect the righteous, nor in any way affect them for good or for evil; but there must be a distinct and independent act choosing them to eternal life. It would be just as necessary, in the one case, that there should be two distinct acts of predestination, as, in the other, that there should be two distinct sentences of final decision. Those who make such an outcry against the doctrine of reprobation, with a view to overthrow the doctrine of election, may possibly succeed to some extent in misleading the credulous and inattentive reader; but they succeed in an evil work, for it is highly sinful to employ false reasoning on sacred subjects. The truth of God stands in no need of such satanical assistance; for whether a doctrine be true or false, it is wicked to employ false reasoning in the discussion; and if they gain any advantage by it, the acquisition is the reward of dishonesty. The opposers of the doctrine of election are apt to make reprobation a first and last resort; but the believer in election, if he rightly appreciates his means of defense, may always have an effectual reply ready for the attack. He has nothing to do but to tell his opponent that reprobation has no connection with election-that he has left the question in debate, and is not legitimately entitled to an answer till he proves the truth and applicability of his objection; and this his adversary will never be able to do.
2. Equally unfounded, and very similar to the preceding objection, is the notion that some have entertained, that if election is true, the Almighty created one part of the human family to be saved and the other to be lost. But the doctrine of election involves no such consequence. That some will be saved and others lost is true, and clearly taught in the Scriptures, but the Bible does not teach that they were created for that purpose. If any choose to say that the fact that some will be saved and others lost, involves the doctrine of election, they may prove their inference if they can, but that would not prove that election causes the salvation of some and the loss of others as the end for which they were created. Election of itself saves none, and it is neither the cause nor the occasion of the loss of any. I repeat, that election has respect to those only who are saved; and there is no difficulty in showing the reason why sinners are lost.
3. There has been some controversy on the question whether Christ died for the elect only. Let this question be decided which way it may, it does not affect the doctrine of election. If Christ died for the whole human family, the doctrine of election would stand just where it does. The elect were not chosen as persons for whom Christ should die, but as persons who were the objects of God’s saving love. It is true they must be saved through the atonement of Christ, can not be saved without it any more than the non-elect; and there is an all-sufficiency in the atonement for the salvation of the whole world. But Christ did not die for the elect as elect; He died for sinners as sinners. There was an inexorable necessity that Christ should die for sinners because they are sinners; but there was no necessity that He should die for the elect because they are elect. The elect can not be saved without the atonement; but it is not because they are elect, but because they are sinners. Election does not bring us to Christ, neither does non-election keep us from Christ. Election does not invest us with any privilege to come to Christ, neither does non-election deprive any man of his privilege to come to Christ. All have the privilege of coming to Himand all have the same privilege. Election does not give any one any power or ability to come to Christ, nor does it deprive any one of such power or ability. The reason that any man does not come to Him, is because he will not come. Neither does election give any man a will to come to Christ, neither does election or non election make or keep any man in a state of unwillingness. God chooses His people, but this does not make them choose Him, or keep others from choosing Him. Election effects no change in the heart of a sinner, nor does it prevent any sinner from changing his own heart or his course of life; neither does it prevent the Lord from working in sinners that change of heart which is necessary to their salvation. Without repentance no sinner has any ground to hope for pardon; and election prevents no man from repenting, neither does it give any man any power or disposition to repent.
Election does not implant the love of God in the soul of the elect, nor does it prevent the non-elect from loving God, nor deprive them of any ability to love Him, or debar them of the privilege. It is the privilege of Satan, who is irrevocably doomed to eternal damnation, to love God, to repent of his sins, and to forsake his wicked ways, and also it is his duty to do all this. Without faith we can not be saved, but the elect have no more power to believe than the non-elect; and the non-elect have as much ability and privilege to believe in Christ and be saved as the elect have, and they are welcome to come to Him for salvation; and all that do come will be saved. They have the same means of grace, the same opportunities, the same invitations and encouragements, and the same assurance of acceptance. Election does not remove the curse of the law from the one any more than it does from the other; neither are the non-elect held under condemnation because they are not of the elect; for the elect are “the children of wrath even as others.” It is as much the privilege of the non-elect to pray and seek the Lord with assurance of salvation, as it is of the elect. The Lord’s election of His people has done no injury to any others. It debars them from no facilities or advantages for salvation. It does not doom the non-elect to hell, nor keep them out of heaven.
4. It is objected to the doctrine of election that the elect will be saved let them do what they willthat they may live in sin, and still be saved. Now, if election were the whole of salvation, there might be some seeming plausibility in this objection; but the Scripture doctrine of election does not necessitate any such result. Election does not supersede the necessity of faith and repentance, love to God and holiness of life, or any of the means or spiritual qualifications necessary to salvation. God’s people are chosen to salvation through Christ; but not chosen to salvation independently of the necessary conditions and means of salvation, but as including all that is necessary to the final consummation of the great end to which they were elected. As a counterpart to this objection, it is urged that if election be true, one who is not of the elect may pray, and strive, and seek with his whole heart, and do the best he can, and yet he can not be saved. But this is false reasoning; no such inference is deducible from the doctrine of election. There is nothing in the doctrine of election that precludes the possibility of salvation to any sinner. If there is nothing else in the way of your salvation, election will not prevent it. There is nothing in election that conflicts with any other doctrine taught in the Bible. ‘Do what he will the elect will be saved,” and, “Do what he will the non-elect will be lost.” This is substantially the argument of those who do not understand the doctrine: and, in fact, they do not understand their own argument; for, in point of fact, every man does what he will, whether elect or non-elect-whether he is saved or lostand election has no influence on his will. So it is said also that if a man is not elected, be has no possible chance of being saved. But why not? If he repents of his sins and forsakes them, and believes in Christ, will he not be saved? He has the same chance to repent and believe that all others have; and the gospel assures us that all who do these things shall be saved. And can any be saved without it? In respect to all the means of obtaining salvation, and all that is required of sinners in order to their being saved, the non-elect stand upon the very same ground as the elect.
Suppose that, before the foundation of the world, God, having prospectively in His view all the human family as if then present before Him, and, without regard to any good or evil that might attach to their character, He had then decreed, unconditionally, a certain number of elect persons to inevitable and eternal damnation, (and this is, perhaps, the worst form of reprobation that misrepresentation can devise,) I would ask if this inflexible decree would be of any advantage to those who were not of this devoted number? I think no man will pretend that they would be in any respect benefitted by it; for it would be impossible to point out in what respect their eternal interests could he favorably affected by such decree. And now, reversing the case, suppose that, instead of this horrible decree, God had ordained, by an immutable decree, that a certain number of selected persons should, irrespective of all considerations, be made eternally happy and glorious in heaven; I would inquire in what way could this decree injuriously affect the eternal interests of those who were not included in this selected number? No man can show it. It would not change their condition; it would not change their moral relations to God; it would not change their moral character; it would not affect them either for good or evil in any respect whatever. Such decrees would affect those who were the objects of them, and none else. Hence none but those who would be affected by them would have any ground of complaint. Even, therefore, upon this hypothesis, there would be no ground to charge the sovereign election of God with injurious discrimination. But the doctrine of election as taught in the Bible, and as held by those who are now called Calvinists, is far less liable to objection than the hypotheses above presented. What, then, are we to think of those enemies of sovereign grace who impiously charge the Almighty with being unjust, and apply to Him the odious appellation of tyrant, because He is infinitely gracious to His own chosen people, without doing any injury, or even unkindness, to those who obstinately persist in a course of rebellion against Him, and perish in their sins, while a free salvation is presented to their acceptance?
Let us make an example of an individual case; and for this purpose I will select the reader: Suppose God, before the foundation of the world, in foresight of your guilt and ruin, set His love upon you and resolved that He would redeem you from condemnation, and sanctify you by His Spirit, and save you eternally, to the praise of the glory of His grace, would you object to it? Are you unwilling that He should then make you an object of His saving mercy? Can you say conscientiously that you are not willing that God should, even before the world was made, entertain a gracious purpose of saving your wretched and guilty soul, and keep that purpose in his heart till He should consummate it in your eternal salvation? If you know the worth of God’s love, I can not believe you would object to such a design of mercy. Well, this is election. This is the very election taught in the Scriptures; and the principle is the same, whether it respects you as an individual sinner, or whether applied to the innumerable multitude that will inherit salvation. Now, on the other hand, does all this grace bestowed upon you do me any injustice? Does it injure me at all? Do I fall because you stand? If you stand, it is by the grace of God; if I fall, it is by my own sin. God, in His infinite mercy, has provided an all-sufficient atonement, and proclaims salvation through this atonement to a guilty world, assuring sinners that whosoever will accept this salvation shall receive the blessing. But I refuse this salvationI choose to live in sin; I will not accept the provisions of His grace, but freely choose to pursue my own voluntary course of unrighteousness till I die in my guilt; and God did not choose, either before I was born or after, to resist or change my will, but to leave me to my own choice. This is non-election. And, moreover, this is all the reprobation that any man can impute to Divine predestination, without a violation of truth.
5. The doctrine of election is supposed by some to interfere with the freedom of the human will; but this is a mere unfounded assumption. It has never been proved, and never can be. But suppose it could be proved, yet if the doctrine of election is proved also, they would still be bound to prove that it is impossible for both doctrines to be true, before they could derive any advantage from the objection. If God, before the foundation of the world, chose Paul as an heir of eternal glory, it is impossible to show, or even to conceive, how that act could in any way affect the freedom of will in any other man, or even in Paul himself. It is remarkable with what extreme jealousy some men seem disposed to guard the doctrine of free-will, even where there is no danger of invasion. The freedom of the human will is never in danger, and can not be. The will has in itself all the freedom of which it is capable in its own nature; and, in most instances, if the subject was critically examined, the foundation of this sensitive jealousy would be found to consist in this: that the objectors are not willing that God should have any will that is not in accordance with their will. If you think the doctrine of election limits or abridges the free exercise of the human will, and that this may consistently be offered as an objection to the doctrine, I would reason with you a little on the subject. How much freedom of will do you claim as your right? I will give all that you can claim. As to freedom of will in the ordinary concerns of life, and when our spiritual relations to God are not specially involved, there will be no dispute between us. In reference to our important relations to God, I will say that He has given you a holy, just, and good law, and it is your right and your privilege, as a rational and accountable being, to love this law or to dislike it; being responsible for your choice, God has given you this liberty as a rightan indefeasible right. This liberty you exercise, and have always exercised, unrestricted and unconstrained. You have always chosen of yourself and for yourself, whether you would love and obey this law, or whether you would not. Now, we have all freely disobeyed this law, and, as responsible subjects of it, we have incurred its condemnation. In addition to this, the great Sovereign has provided an ample atonement for our sins, and in the gospel He has set forth Christ as an able and willing Savior of sinners, and as the only way of salvation and has further assured us, that if we choose this way of salvation we shall obtain it. Now, the way of life and the way of death is set before you, and the Author has given you the liberty, as a right, to choose which you will. Here you have presented to your free choice salvation, with all its manifold blessings, on the one hand; condemnation, with all its fearful consequences, on the other; and it is your right, your privilege, to choose for yourself; and there is nothing that does or can debar you of this privilege, or force or compel your decision. You may, and you do, choose for yourself, and the consequences of your choice you may and you must receive. If you freely choose the Lord, He is your Lord and your Savior, and it is your right and privilege to choose Him. It is also your right and your privilege to refuse. Moreover, you have an unrestricted right to choose your own time for making your choice. You are at liberty to choose the Lord to-day, or to procrastinate as long as you will. There is no compulsion or prohibition. A friend or an enemy may persuade you to determine now what you will do, or to postpone your time of choosing indefinitely; but there neither is, nor can be, any force put upon the freedom of your will, Now, what more freedom of will do you claim. This is all the freedom that can belong to the will of a rational being, but if you can conceive of any freedom of will beyond this, I will concede it to you. Now, with all this plenitude of liberty which you claim and possess and I believe it is your sacred rightI must appeal to your candor to say whether you are willing to concede to your Maker equal rights and privileges? If you are, I call upon you to renounce your objection to God’s election to His eternal election. Or do you assert a claim to control the high prerogatives of a Sovereign God? If it is your right and privilege, in the free exercise of your will, to choose God or not to choose Him, has He not an equal right and privilege to choose you or not to choose you? If, in the free exercise of your liberty, you have a right to choose your own time to make your choice, has He not an equal right to determine the time of making His choice? If He chose you to salvation before the foundation of the world yet He leaves you at liberty to choose Him whenever you will; and this liberty you do, in fact, exercise at your own option. But perhaps you will say, that if God does not choose you there is no possibility of your being saved. I reply, that if you do not choose Him, there is no possibility of your being saved. Turn which way you may, if you object to election on the ground of freedom of will, you claim a prerogative which you are not willing to accord to your Maker. Supposing it to be possible the free exercise of God’s will should conflict with the free exercise of your will, so that the one must yield to the other, whose rights are paramount? Which has the prior claim? But these never do so clash as that the choice of onethat is, the election of one partywill deprive the other party of a free election.
If you are curious to know whether you are one of the elect, you should first decide the question whether you have chosen Christ as your Savior. If you, as a lost, guilty, helpless, and justly condemned sinner, put your whole trust and all your hope in a crucified Redeemer, rejecting all other confidences, you have all the assurance that God’s promises can give you that you shall be saved; and if you have thus chosen Christ, you have all the evidence that you can need that God has chosen you to salvation, for He chooses to save all that come to Him by Christ as the only way. And those whom He has not chosen will not come, and therefore die in their sins; and the very fact that you have chosen Christ is the best evidence that you can have that you are one of the elect number: “All whom the Father giveth me shall come to me: and him that cometh to me I will in nowise cast out.” It is not essential to your salvation that you should know or believe that you are one of the elect; but it is essential that you receive Christ by faith. Why, then, perplex yourself with a question that God has not directly revealed, and neglect those things which He has made known and which are material to your eternal happiness?
We will now attend to the direct proofs of the doctrine of election as that doctrine is taught in the Bible. And reverting to what has been said on a preceding page, we repeat, that to elect is to choose; hence the elect are the chosen. To exemplify this, we will notice a few examples, and a few will be sufficient: God chose Abraham as the head, or father, and in him one branch of his posterity, out of all the world, to be a peculiar people to Himself, for the purpose of making them a great nation upon which He would bestow great blessings, and confer upon them special privileges above all the nations. Hence they are called His chosen or elect people.
God also chose Cyrus. long before he was born, to be His instrument in overthrowing the city of Babylon, and calls him His elect. God chose Aaron to be His high priest, and David to be king over Israel, and Paul to be the apostle to the Gentiles. And it is needless to multiply examples; it is only necessary to remark that in all these cases God might have chosen others, if it had been His will to do so; and the word is used in its usual acceptation
But the election of which we are now to speak particularly, is the election of those who are chosen to salvation through Christ; and we shall understand the scriptures adduced according to the obvious meaning of the words and phrases employed by the inspired writers. To understand them otherwise, would imply that the Holy Spirit used language that was calculated to deceive the reader.
The election of the Lord’s people to grace and glory, as we have it taught in the Bible, bears the following characteristics: It is(1) sovereign, (2) eternal, (3) unconditional, (4) personal. This I undertake to establish by testimony that no obedient mind will presume to impeach.
In 2 Tim. i. 9, we read: “Who hath 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.” This saving and calling is according to His own purpose and grace. Is not this a sovereign act? If this is not sovereignty, I know not what meaning you will attach to the word. It is also according to His grace given us in Christ Jesus, not according to our worksno conditions of repentance, faith, good works, or good moral character, as a ground upon which this grace is given us. If there had been it would not be grace, but the reward of merit. It is expressly said that it is not according to our works. No conditions to be performed by us are so much as hinted; but according to the tenor of the passage they are necessarily excluded. This purpose and the grace given us is before the world began. Surely we may allow this to be eternal! Before ever there was a sin committed on earth, or any man to commit sin. This is going far enough back for any purpose the believer in election has in view. Good scholars translate, “before eternal ages.” I may notice this form of expression before I close this chapter; but to proceed: “Hath saved us and called us.” The grace is “given us.” The language is personal throughout. It can not be meant of nations, for it would not be true in that application; for no nation, as such, is saved: for the same reason it can not refer to religious privileges and the means of grace, neither to designation to office nor special service. It is personal salvation.
“Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ: according as He hath chosen us in Him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love: having predestinated us to the adoption of children by Jesus Christ unto Himself, according to the good pleasure of His will, to the praise of the glory of His grace, wherein He hath made us accepted in the Beloved.” (Eph. i. 3-6. ) Whatever of mystery and sublimity there may be in this passage, and in the general connection in which it stands, there is no force of construction that can be put upon the terms, if we allow words to have any fixed signification at all, by which election can be excluded from it. Each of those characteristics of the doctrine as-stated above are distinctly expressed. “Before the foundation of the world.” We understand this phrase according to the obvious meaning of the words. His choosing us in Christ, His predestinating us to the adoption of children, are acts of high and imminent sovereignty’ and it is expressly said to be according to the good pleasure of His will. Not only do we find the terms used to be personal, but the matter of the text will admit of no other application. The election here taught provides for our being made holy and without blameit is election to both grace and glory.
In the 11th verse of this same chapter we read: ” In whom (Christ) we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of Him who worketh all things after the counsel of His own will.” Again the sovereign will of God is expressly referred to, and it is more particularly against this point that opposition is chiefly directed.
“For whom He did foreknow, He also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the first-born among many brethren. Moreover, whom He did predestinate, them He also called: and whom He called, them He also justified: and whom He justified, them He also glorified.” (Rom. viii. 29, 30. ) Prodigious labor and ingenuity have been employed to invalidate the testimony of this scripture, but it has all been in vain; and such labor must forever be in vain. It stands to this day, and ever will remain an unshaken proof of the doctrine of eternal election. Nothing can be plainer shall than that the foreknown, and the predestinated, and the called and the justified, and the glorified, are the self-same persons; and those persons are predestinated to be conformed to the image of the Son of God. No force of construction that can be employed can make this apply to any nation that ever was upon the earth The language used by the inspired writer is strictly personal, and remarkably definite. These persons, as foreknown, are predestinated to a designation distinctly specified; that is, to be conformed to the image of Christ. This, without doubt, is the highest state of glorification to which any created being can he exalted. We have here, in one short sentence, the predestination and the ultimate end; then follow the steps of the Divine procedure, by which the precious design is carried out into final accomplishment. They are called, justified, and glorified. The whole passage, when understood according to the plain and obvious meaning of the language used by the apostle, is so plain, so explicit, that nothing but the perverse ingenuity of unsanctified human learning will attempt to devise any way to avoid the doctrine which is so plainly taught. The passage, when interpreted according to the plain import of the words, is in perfect agreement with the general scope of the apostle’s argument in the connection; it also accords with the whole of the doctrinal part of the epistle. Those who have attempted to evade the true doctrine of this text have been compelled to adopt a scheme of interpretation which requires them to put strange and unwarrantable meanings upon words and phrases which they will not bear, entirely different from their well known and acknowledged signification, in ordinary composition, and which they themselves would not pretend to attach to similar language when used on any other subject. It may be doubted whether they themselves ever employ the same forms of expression in that sense in which they pretend to interpret the inspired record. The object is manifestly to screen their preconceived opinions from the destructive force of Divine truth. Their method of explication is full of discord, confusion, and inconsistency, and never can be made to harmonize with the context and general scope of the apostle’s discussion, or with the tenor of the epistle throughout.
If the doctrine of election, as taught in this passage, was injurious to the interests of any rational being; if it was disparaging to the honor of God; if it was inconsistent with the perfection of any of the Divine attributes; if it was at variance with any other doctrine of the gospel; or if this was the only place in the Bible where the doctrine is taught, there might then be some seeming apology for those who put such forced and unnatural constructions upon the plain revelations of Divine inspiration; but there is nothing of all this involved in it. The radical principle from which his opposition to God’s electing grace emanates might be detected in every human heart, if honest inquisition was to be made; but how much better it would be if we would all bow with reverence to the ordinances of a Supreme God!
When the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven, with His mighty angels, in flaming fire, and He shall sit upon the throne of His glory, and before Him shall be gathered all nations, He will say to His own separate people, “Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” This kingdom is prepared for themthe very persons to whom He speaks, and in distinction from those on His other hand. Prepared for them from the foundation of the world! Will any sane man say this kingdom was prepared for those on the left hand?
I might add to the foregoing quotations a number of others, which go to establish the doctrine under consideration; but the mind that would resist the evidence of these would not yield to any amount of proof. The doctrine would not be rejected for the want of evidence, but for want of a disposition to submit to it.
To what has been advanced on this subject I will now subjoin a few remarks, which I submit to the reader’s reflection.
1. It is not possible that God can be under obligation to any of His creatures. Such obligation would be utterly inconsistent with His independence, and would also divest Him of His sovereignty. Obligation necessarily involves accountability; but what creature dare demand of Him, ” What doest Thou? “Yet, if He is under obligation to any creature (man or angel), that creature has a right to call Him to account. If it be alleged that if God makes a promise, He is under obligation to fulfill that promise, we admit it; but the obligation is to Himself, and not to him to whom the promise is made. What are we to understand by any promise that God makes to man? When God made a promise to Abraham, He merely revealed to him what He intended to do. He never promises to do any thing but what He previously intends to do; and He is no more under obligation to do it after the promise than He was before. God is under obligation to Himself to maintain inviolate all His perfections, and therefore He is under obligation to perform all His purposes. If He reveals any particular purpose to any man, this gracious disclosure of His design to that man can not bring Him under obligation to the man. I speak thus because I am aware that there is a latent impression on the mind of almost every one, that God ought to do something for him, and that even if he does deserve punishment, others also deserve it; and that it would be unfair (softening the term) for God to do that for another which He does not do for him. But if He has a right to do what He will with His own, and to bestow unmerited favor on whomsoever He pleases, the exercise of this right does no injustice to others. If none deserve His mercy–if all deserve His wrathand if He is good to all as certainly He is, surely no one is entitled to complain because He is infinitely gracious to a part. God’s election is an act of sovereign grace, and not compliance with an obligation. If any man object to discriminating grace, let him read the parable in the beginning of the twentieth chapter of Matthew and see if he is not rebuked by the application our Savior makes of it.
2. If we consider the condition into which we have brought ourselves by our sinsunder a just condemnationand also take into view the fact that we are all enemies to God by- nature, and have in ourselves no real disposition to love and serve God, or seek His sanctifying Spirit, we must see that there arises from these considerations a necessityif God saves anythat He must choose the objects of His saving mercy. If, all alike, we will not come to Him, is it not manifest that He must of Himself choose those whom He will bring to Himself?
3. The objections made to the doctrine of sovereign election will apply with equal justice and propriety to the dispensations of Divine Providence. There is a notable analogy between the dispensations of God’s providence and the dispensations of His grace considered in reference to His sovereign will. One man is born into the world with the elements of bodily disease in his natural constitution; a sufferer from his cradle to his graveperhaps never passes a day without suffering from an inborn defect of physical constitution while his neighbor, or perhaps his brother, comes into the world with a more perfect physical organization; enjoys good health, with all the activity and strength of a sound athletic frame. The one is not to blame for his misfortune, and the other does not owe his advantages to himself. It is the work of a sovereign God, who works all things after the counsel of His own will. No man can overlook these discriminating providences, or show the reason why it is so.
4. The doctrine of election is in perfect accordance with the dispensations of grace in the conversion of sinners. How often does it happen that the minister preaches for years to the same congregation! They all hear the same gospelall have the same means of gracethe same advantagesand here and there one is converted; and of those who are converted, it frequently occurs that some who appear soft and easily affected are left still in their unbelief, while others of the most stubborn heart, and who did not fear God nor regard man, have been subdued by sovereign grace. If the conversion of sinners is the prerogative of the Divine Spirit, we are compelled to resolve these discriminating dispensations into the “good pleasure of His will.”
5. Some think that even if the doctrine of election is true, and clearly- taught in the Bible, it ought not to be preached. Now I think that no one doctrine ought to be preached to the exclusion or neglect of other fundamental doctrines; but if the doctrine of election is revealed in the Scriptures, we ought to believe it, for it is profitable for instruction and growth in grace. But it can not be of use for our sanctification unless it is believed. Every truth revealed in the word of God ought to be believed, and therefore it is right to teach the whole truth. The false representations that some make of the doctrine, and the erroneous inferences that some profess to deduce from it, ought not to be preached. There is probably- not a fundamental doctrine contained in the Bible that some do not wrest to their injury; and the objection would lie with equal force against the whole body- of gospel doctrine.