THE DOCTRINE OF ABSOLUTE PREDESTINATION STATEDANDASSERTED
HAVING considered predestination as it regards all men in general, and briefly shown that by it some are appointed to wrath and others to obtain salvation by Jesus Christ (1 Thess. v. 9), I now come to consider, more distinctly, that branch of it which relates to the saints only, and is commonly styled election. Its definition I have given already in the close of the first chapter. What I have farther to advance, from the Scriptures, on this important subject, I shall reduce to several positions, and subjoin a short explanation and confirmation of each.
POSITION 1.--Those who are ordained unto eternal life were not so ordained on account of any worthiness foreseen in them, or of any good works to be wrought by them, nor yet for their future faith, but purely and solely of free, sovereign grace, and according to the mere pleasure of God. This is evident, among other considerations, from this: that faith, repentance and holiness are no less the free-gifts of God than eternal life itself. "Faith--is not of yourselves, it is the gift of God" (Eph. ii. 8). "Unto you it is given to believe" (Phil. i. 29). "Him hath God exalted with His right hand for to give repentance" (Acts v. 31). "Then hath God also to the Gentiles granted repentance unto life" (Acts xi. 18). In like manner holiness is called the sanctification of the Spirit (2 Thess. ii. 13), because the Divine Spirit is the efficient of it in the soul, and, of unholy, makes us holy. Now, if repentance and faith are the gifts, and sanctification is the work of God, then these are not the fruit of man's free-will, nor what he acquires of himself, and so can neither be motives to, nor conditions of his election, which is an act of the Divine mind, antecedent to, and irrespective of all qualities whatever in the persons elected. Besides, the apostle asserts expressly that election is not of works, but of Him that calleth, and that it passed before the persons concerned had done either good or evil (Rom. ix. 11).
Again, if faith or works were the cause of election, God could not be said to choose us, but we the choose Him, contrary to the whole tenor of scripture: "Ye have not chosen Me, but I have chosen you" (John xv. 16). "Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that He loved us. We love Him because He first loved us" (1 John iv. 10, 19). Election is everywhere asserted to be God's act, and not man's (Mark xiii. 20; Rom. ix. 17; Eph. i. 4; i Thess. v. 9; 2 Thess. ii. 13). Once more, we are chosen that we might be holy, not because it was foreseen we would be so (Eph. i. 4), therefore to represent holiness as the reason why we were elected is to make the effect antecedent to the cause. The apostle adds (ver. 5), "Having predestinated us according to the good pleasure of His will," most evidently implying that God saw nothing extra se, had no motive from without, why He should either choose any at all or this man before another. In a word, the elect were freely loved (Hosea xiv.4), freely chosen (Rom. xi. 5,6), and freely redeemed (Isa. lii. 3), they are freely called (2 Tim. i. 9), freely justified (Rom.iii., 24), and shall be freely glorified (Rom. vi. 23). The great Augustine, in his book or Retractations, ingeniously acknowledges his error in having once thought that faith foreseen was a condition of election; he owns that that opinion is equally impious and absurd, and proves that faith is one of the fruits of election, and consequently could not be,in any sense, a cause of it. " I could never have asserted," says he, "that God in choosing men to life had any respect to their faith, had I duly considered that faith itself is His own gift." And, in another treatise of his, he has these words: "Since Christ says, `Ye have not chosen Me,' etc., I would fain ask whether it be Scriptural to say we must have faith before we are elected, and not, rather, that we are elected in order to our having faith?"
POSITION 2.--As many as are ordained to eternal life are ordained to enjoy that life in and through Christ, and on account of His merits alone (1 Thess. v. 9). Here let it be carefully observed that not the merits of Christ, but the sovereign love of God only is the cause of election itself, but then the merits of Christ are the alone procuring cause of that salvation to which men are elected. This decree of God admits of no cause out of Himself, but the thing decreed, which is the glorification of His chosen ones, may and does admit, nay, necessarily requires, a meritorious cause, which is no other than the obedience and death of Christ.
POSITION 3.--They who are predestinated to life are likewise predestinated to all those means which are indispensably necessary in order to their meetness for, entrance upon, and enjoyment of that life, such as repentance, faith, sanctification, and perseverance in these to the end.
"As many as were ordained to eternal life, believed" (Acts xiii. 48). "He hath chosen us in Him, before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy, and without blame before Him in love" (Eph. i. 4). "For we (i.e., the same we whom He hath chosen before the foundation of the world) are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath foreordained that we should walk in them" (Eph. ii. 10). And the apostle assures the same Thessalonians, whom he reminds of their election and God's everlasting appointment of them to obtain salvation, that this also was His will concerning them, even their sanctification (1 Thess. i. 4, v. 9, iv. 3), and gives them a view of all these privileges at once. "God hath, from the beginning, chosen you to salvation, through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth" (2 Thess. ii. 13). As does the apostle, "Elect--through sanctification of the Spirit unto obedience, and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ" (1 Peter i. 2). Now, though faith and holiness are not represented as the cause wherefore the elect are saved, yet these are constantly represented as the means through which they are saved, or as the appointed way wherein God leads His people to glory, these blessings being always bestowed previous to that. Agreeable to all which is that of Augustine: "Whatsoever persons are, through the riches of Divine grace, exempted from the original sentence of condemnation are undoubtedly brought to hear the Gospel, and when heard, they are caused to believe it, and are made likewise to endure to the end in the faith which works by love, and should they at any time go astray, they are recovered and set right again." A little after he adds: "All these things are wrought in them by that God who made them vessels of mercy, and who, by the election of His grace, chose them, in His Son, before the world began."
POSITION 4.--Not one of the elect can perish, but they must all necessarily be saved. The reason is this: because God simply and unchangeably wills that all and every one of those whom He hath appointed to life should be eternally glorified, and, as was observed towards the end of the preceding chapter, all the Divine attributes are concerned in the accomplishment of this His will. His wisdom, which cannot err; His knowledge, which cannot be deceived; His truth, which cannot fail; His love, which nothing can alienate; His justice, which cannot condemn any for whom Christ died; His power, which none can resist; and His unchangeableness, which can never vary--from all which it appears that we do not speak at all improperly when we say that the salvation of His people is necessary and certain. Now that is said to be necessary (quod nequit aliter esse) which cannot be otherwise than it is, and if all the perfections of God are engaged to preserve and save His children, their safety and salvation must be, in the strictest sense of the word, necessary. (See Psalm ciii 17, cxxv. 1, 2; Isa. xlv. 17, liv. 9, 10; Jer. xxxi. 3 xxxii. 40; John vi. 39, x. 28, 29, xiv. 19, xvii. 12; Rom. vii. 30, 38, 39, xi. 29; 1 Cor. i. 8, 9; Phil. i. 6; 1 Peter i. 4, 5).
Thus St Augustine: "Of those whom god hath predestinated none can perish, inasmuch as they are His own elect," and ib., "They are the elect who are predestinated, foreknown, and called according to purpose. Now, could any of these be lost, God would be disappointed of His will and expectation; but He cannot be so disappointed, therefore they can never perish. Again, could they be lost, the power of God would be made void by man's sin, but His power is invincible, therefore they are safe." And again (chap.9), "The children of God are written, with an unshaken stability. in the book of their heavenly Father's remembrance." And in the same chapter he hath these words: "Not the children of promise, but the children of perdition shall perish, for the former are the predestinated, who are called according to the Divine determination, not one of whom shall finally miscarry." So likewise Luther: "God's decree of predestination is firm and certain, and the necessity resulting from it is, in like manner, immoveable, and cannot but take place. For we ourselves are so feeble that, if the matter was left in our hands, very few, or rather none, would be saved, but Satan would overcome us all." To which he adds: "Now, since this steadfast and inevitable purpose of God cannot be reversed nor disannulled by any creature whatever, we have a most assured hope that we shall finally triumph over sin, how violently soever it may at present rage in our mortal bodies."
POSITION 5.--The salvation of the elect was not the only nor yet the principal end of their being chosen, but God's grand end, in appointing them to life and happiness, was to display the riches of His own mercy, and that He might be glorified in and by the persons He had thus chosen.
For this reason the elect are styled vessels of mercy, because they were originally created, and afterwards by the Divine Spirit created anew, with this design and to this very end, that the soveriegnty of the Father's grace, the freeness of His love, and the abundance of His goodness might be manifested in their eternal happiness. Now God, as we have already more than once had occasion to observe, does nothing in time which He did not from eternity resolve Himself to do, and if He, in time, creates and regenerates His people with a view to display His unbounded mercy, He must consequently have decreed from all eternity to do this with the same view. So that the final causes of election appear to be these two: first and principally, the glory of God; second and subordinately, the salvation of those He has elected, from which the former arises, and by which it is illustrated and set off. So, "The Lord hath made all things for Himself" (Prov. xvi. 1), and hence that of Paul, "He hath chosen us--to the praise of the glory of His grace" (Eph. i.).
POSITION 6.--The end of election, which, with regard to the elect themselves, is eternal life. I say this end and the means conducive to it, such as the gift of the Spirit, faith, etc., are so inseparably connected together that whoever is possessed of these shall surely obtain that, and none can obtain that who are not first possessed of these. "As many as were ordained to eternal life," and none else, "believed' (Acts xiii. 48). "Him hath God exalted--to give repentance unto Israel and remission of sins" (Acts v. 31): not to all men, or to those who were not, in the counsel and purpose of God, set apart for Himself, but to Israel, all His chosen people, who were given to Him, were ransomed by Him, and shall be saved in Him with an everlasting salvation. "According to the faith of God's elect" (Tit.i. 1), so that true faith is a consequence of election, is peculiar to the elect, and shall issue in life eternal. "He hath chosen us--that we should be holy" (Eph. i.), therefore all who are chosen are made holy, and none but they; and all who are sanctified have a right to believe they were elected, and that they shall be saved. "Whom He did predestinate, them He also called; whom He called, them He also justified; and whom He justified, them He also glorified" (Rom. viii. 30), which shows that effectual calling and justification are indissolubly connected with election on one hand and eternal happiness on the other; that they are a proof of the former and earnest of the latter. "Ye believe not, because ye are not of My sheep" (John x. 26); on the contrary, they who believe, therefore, believe because they are of His sheep. Faith, then is an evidence of election, or of being in the number of Christ's sheep; consequently, of salvation, since all His sheep shall be saved (John x. 28).
POSITION 7.--The elect may, through the grace of God, attain to the knowledge and assurance of their predestination to life, and they ought to seek after it. The Christian may, for instance, argue thus: "`As many as were ordained to eternal life, believed'; through mercy I believe, therefore, I am ordained to eternal life. `He that believeth shall be saved'; I believe, therefore, I am in a saved state. `Whom He did predestinate, He called, justified and glorified'; I have reason to trust that He hath called and justified me; therefore I can assuredly look backward on my eternal predestination, and forward to my certain glorification." To all which frequently accedes the immediate testimony of the Divine Spirit witnessing with the believer's conscience that he is a child of God (Rom. viii. 16; Gal. iv. 6; 1 John v. 10). Christ forbids His little flock to fear, inasmuch as they might, on good and solid grounds, rest satisfied and assured that "it is the Father's" unalterable "good pleasure to give them the kingdom" (Luke xii. 32). And this was the faith of the apostle (Rom. viii. 38, 39).
POSITION 8.--The true believer ought not only to be thoroughly established in the point of his own election, but should likewise believe the election of all his other fellow-believers and brethren in Christ. Now, as there are most evident and indubitable marks of election laid down in Scripture, a child of God, by examining himself whether those marks are found on him, may arrive at a sober and well-grounded certainty of his own particular interest in that unspeakable privilege; and by the same rule whereby he judges of himself he may likewise (but with caution) judge of others. If I see the external fruits and criteria of election on this or that man, I may reasonably, and in a judgment of charity, conclude such an one to be an elect person. So St. Paul, beholding the gracious fruits which appeared in the believing Thessalonians, gathered from thence that they were elected of God (1 Thess. i. 4,5), and knew also the election of the Christian Ephesians (Eph. i, 4, 5), as Peter also did that of the members of the churches in Pontus, Galatia, etc. (1 Peter i, 2). It is true, indeed, that all conclusions of this nature are not now infallible, but our judgments are liable to mistake, and God only, whose is the book of life, and who is the Searcher of hearts, can absolutely know them that are His (2 Tim. ii. 19); yet we may, without a presumptuous intrusion into things not seen,arrive at a moral certainty in this matter. And I cannot see how Christian love can be cultivated, how we can call one another brethren in the Lord, or how believers can hold religious fellowship and communion with each other, unless they have some solid and visible reason to conclude that they are loved with the same everlasting love, were redeemed by the same Savior, are partakers of like grace, and shall reign in the same glory.
But here let me suggest one very necessary caution, viz., that though we may, at least very probably, infer the election of some persons from the marks and appearances of grace which may be discoverable in them, yet we can never judge any man whatever to be a reprobate. That there are reprobate persons is very evident from Scripture (as we shall presently show), but who they are is known alone to Him, who alone can tell who and what men are not written in the Lamb's book of life. I grant that there are some particular persons mentioned in the Divine Word of whose reprobation no doubt can be made, such as Esau and Judas; but now the canon of Scripture is completed, we dare not, we must not pronounce any man living to be non-elect, be he at present ever so wicked. The vilest sinner may, for aught we can tell, appertain to the election of grace, and be one day wrought upon by the Spirit of God. This we know, that those who die in unbelief and are finally unsanctified cannot be saved, because God in His Word tells us so, and has represented these as marks of reprobation; but to say that such and such individuals, whom, perhaps, we now see dead in sins, shall never be converted to Christ, would be a most presumptuous assertion, as well as an inexcusable breach of the charity which hopeth all things.