THE DOCTRINE OF ABSOLUTE PREDESTINATION STATEDANDASSERTED
Upon the whole , it is evident that the doctrine of God's eternal and unchangeable predestination should neither be wholly suppressed and laid aside, nor yet be confined to the disquisition of the learned and speculative only; but likewise should be publicly taught from the pulpit and the press, that even the meanest of the people may not be ignorant of a truth which reflects such glory on God, and is the very foundation of happiness to man. Let it, however, be preached with judgment and discretion, i.e., delivered by the preacher as it is delivered in Scripture, and no otherwise. By which means, it can neither be abused to licentiousness nor misapprehended to despair, but will eminently conduce to the knowledge, establishment, improvement and comfort of them that hear. That predestination ought to be preached, I thus prove:--
I.--The Gospel is to be preached, and that not partially and by piece-meal , but the whole of it. The commission runs, "Go forth and preach the Gospel"; the Gospel itself, even all the Gospel, without exception or limitation. So far as the Gospel is maimed or any branch of the evangelical system is suppressed and passed over in silence, so far the Gospel is not preached. Besides there is scarce any other distinguishing doctrine of the Gospel can be preached, in its purity and consistency, without this of predestination. Election is the golden thread that runs through the whole Christian system; it is the leaven that pervades the whole lump. Cicero says of the various parts of human learning: "Omnes artes, quoe ad humanitatem pertinent, habent quoddam commune vinculum, et quasi cognatione quadam inter se continentur," i. e., The whole circle of arts have a kind of mutual bond and con/nection, and by a sort of reciprocal relationship are held together and interwoven with each other. Much the same may be said of this important doctrine: it is the bond which connects and keeps together the whole Christian system, which, without this, is like a system of san, ever ready to fall to pieces. It is the cement which holds the fabric together ; nay, it is the very soul that animates the whole frame. It is so blended and interwoven with the entire scheme of Gospel doctrine that when the former is excluded, the latter bleeds to death. An ambassador is to deliver the whole message with which he is charged. He is to omit no part of it, but must declare the mind of the sovereign he represents, fully and without reserve. He is tho say neither more or less than the instructions of his court require, else he comes under displeasure, perhaps loses his head. Let the ministers of Christ weigh this well.
Nor is the Gospel to be preached only, but preached to every creature, i. e., to reasonable beings promiscuously and at large, to all who frequent the Christian ministry, of every state and condition in life, whether high or low, young or old, learned or illiterate. All who attend on the ministrations of Christ's ambassadors have a right to preach it, says Christ (Mark xvi. 15), publish it abroad, be its cryers and heralds, proclaim it aloud, tell it out, keep back no part of it, spare not, lift up your voices like trumpets. Now, a very considerable branch of this Gospel is the doctrine of God's eternal, free, absolute and irreversible election of some persons in Christ to everlasting life. The saints were singled out, in God's eternal purpose and choice, ut crederent, to be endued with faith, and thereby fitted for their destined salvation. By their interest in the gratuitous, unalienable love of the blessed trinity they come to be, subjectively, saints and believers, so that their whole salvation, from the first plan of it in the Divine mind to the consummation of it in glory, is at once a matter of mere grace and of absolute certainty; while they who die without faith and holiness prove thereby that they were not included in this elect number, and were not written in the book of life.
The justice of God's procedure herein is unquestionable. Out of a corrupt mass, wherein not one was better than another, He might (as was observed before) love and choose whom and as many as He pleased. It was likewise, without any shadow of injustice, at His option, whom and how many He would pass by. His not choosing them was the fruit of His sovereign will, but His condemning them, after death, and in the last day, is the fruit (not of their non-election, which was no fault of theirs, but) of their own positive transgressions. The elect, therefore, have the utmost reason to love and glorify God which any beings can possibly have, and the sense of what He has done for them is the strongest motive to obedience. On the other hand, the reprobates have nothing to complain of, since whatever God does is just nothing to complain of, since whatever God does is just and right, and so it will appear to be (however darkly matters may appear to us now) when we see Him as He is and know Him even as we are known.
And now why should not this doctrine be preached and insisted upon in public?--a doctrine which is of express revelation, a doctrine that makes wholly for the glory of god, which conduces, in a most peculiar manner to the conversion, comfort and sanctification of the elect, and leaves even the ungodly themselves without excuse. But perhaps you may still be inclined to question whether predestination be indeed a Scripture doctrine. If so, let me by way of sample beg you to consider the following declarations--first, of Christ; secondly, of His apostles.
"If the mighty works that have been done in thee had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented," etc. (Matt. xi.), whence it is evident that the Tyrians and Sidonians, at least the majority of them, died in a state of impenitency, but that if God had given them the same means of grace afforded to Israel they would not have died impenitent, yet those means were not granted them. How can this be accounted for? Only on the single principle of peremptory predestination flowing from the sovereign will of God. No wonder, then, that our Lord concludes that chapter with these remarkable words, "I thank Thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because Thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes: even so, Father , for so it seemed good in Thy sight." Where Christ thanks the Father for doing that very thing which Arminians exclaim against as unjust and censure as partial.
"To you it is given to know the mysteries of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it is not given" (Matt. xiii.)
"To sit on My right hand and on My left is not Mine to give, except to them for whom tit hath been prepared by My Father," q.d., salvation is not a precarious thing; the seats in glory were disposed of long ago in My Father's intention and destination; I can only assign them to such persons as they were prepared for in His decree" (Matt. xx. 23).
"Many are called, but few chosen" (Matt. xxii), i.e., all who live under the sound of the Gospel will not be saved, but those only who are elected unto life.
"For the elect's sake those days shall be shortened" (Matt. xxiv.), and ibid, "If it were possible, they should deceive the elect," where, it is plain, Christ teaches two things: (1) that there is a certain number of persons who are elected to grace and glory, and (2) that it is absolutely impossible for these to be deceived into total or final apostacy.
"Come, ye blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world" (Matt. xxv.).
"Unto you it is given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God, but to them that are without" (i.e., out of the pale of election) "all these things are done in parables; that seeing, they may see, and not perceive: and hearing, they may hear, and not understand: lest at any time, they should be converted, and their sins should be forgiven them" (Mark xi.).
"Rejoice, because your names are written in heaven" (Luke x.).
"It is your Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom" (Luke xii.).
"One shall be taken and the other shall be left" (Luke xvii.).
"All that the Father hath given Me shall come unto Me" (John vi.), as much as to say these shall but the rest cannot.
"He that is of God, heareth God's words; ye therefore hear them not, because ye are not of God" (John viii.), not chosen of Him.
"Ye believe not, because ye are not of My sheep" (John xv.).
"Ye have not chosen Me, but I have chosen you" (John xv.).
I come now, second, to the Apostles.
"They believed not on Him, that the saying of Esaias the prophet might have fulfilled which he spake; Lord, who hath believed our report? and to whom hath the arm of the lord been revealed? Therefore they could nook believe, because that Esaias said again, He hath blinded their eyes and hardened their heart, that they should not see with their eyes, nor understand with their heart, and be converted, and I should heal them" (John xii., 37, 40). Without certain prescience there could be no prophecy, and without predestination no certain prescience. Therefore, in order to the accomplishment of prophecy, prescience and predestination, we are expressly told that these persons could not believe; they were not able, it was out of their power. In short, there is hardly a page in St. John's Gospel which does not, either expressly or implicitly, make mention of election and reprobation.
St. Peter says of Judas, "Men and brethren, the Scriptures must needs have been fulfilled, which the Holy Ghost, by the mouth of David, spoke before concerning Judas" (Acts i.). So, "That he might go to his own place" (ver. xxv.), to the place of punishment appointed for him.
"Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and with wicked hands have crucified and slain" (Acts ii.): predestinated should come to pass.
"And as many as were ordained to eternal life, believed" (Acts xiii.): destined or appointed unto life.
Concerning the Apostle Paul, what shall I say? Everyone that has read his epistles knows that they teem with predestination from beginning to end. I shall only give one or two passages, and begin with that famous chain: "whom He did foreknow: (or forelove for to know often signifies in Scripture to love) "He also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of His Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren," that, as in all things else, so in the business of election Christ might have the pre-eminence, He being first chosen as a Saviour, and they in Him to be saved by Him: "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.).
Chapters ix., x. and xi. of the same epistle are professed dissertations on, and illustrations of the doctrine of god's decrees, and contain, likewise, a solution of the principal objections brought against that doctrine.
"Who separated me from my mother's womb and called me by His grace" (Gal. i.).
The first chapter of Ephesians treats of little else but election and predestination.
After observing that the reprobates perish wilfully, the apostle, by a striking transition, addresses himself to the elect Thessalonians, saying, "But we are bound to give thanks unto God always for you, brethren, beloved of the lord, because God hath, from the beginning, chosen you to salvation, through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth" (2 Thess. ii.).
"Who hath saved us and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose, and grace, which was given us in Christ before the world began"(2 Tim.i.).
St. Jude, on the other hand, describes the reprobate as "ungodly men, who were, of old, foreordained to this condemnation."
Another apostle makes this peremptory declaration, "Who stumble at the word, being disobedient, whereunto also they were appointed: but ye are a chosen generation [an elect race}, a royal priesthood, and holy nation, a peculiar people, a people purchased to be His peculiar property and posession" (1 Peter ii. 8, 9); to all which may be added, "Whose names were not written in the book of life from the foundation of the world" (Rev. xvii.8).
All these texts are but as an handful to the harvest, and yet are both numerous and weighty enough to decide the point with any who pay the least deference to Scripture authority. And let it be observed that Christ and His apostles delivered these matters, not to some privileged persons only, but to all at large who had ears to hear and eyes to read. therefore, it is incumbent on every faithful minister to tread in their steps by doing likewise, nor is that minister a faithful one, faithful to Christ, to truth and to souls, who keeps back any part of the counsel of God, and buries those doctrines in silence which he is commanded to preach upon the house-tops.
The great St. Augustine, in his valuable treatise, De Bono Persever., effectually obviates the objections of those who are burying the doctrine of predestination in silence. He shows that it ought to be publicly taught, describes the necessity and usefulness of preaching it, and points out the manner of doing it to edification. And since some persons have condemned St. Augustine, by bell, book and candle, for his stedfast attachment to and nervous, successful defences of the decrees of God, let us hear what Luther, that great light in the Church, thought respecting the argument before us.
Erasmus (in most other respects a very excellent man) affected to think that it was of dangerous consequence to propagate the doctrine of predestination either by preaching or writing. His words are these: "What can be more useless than to publish this paradox to the world, namely, that whatever we do is done, not by virtue of our own free-will, but in a way of necessity, etc.? What a wide gap does the publication of this tenet open among men for the commission of all ungodliness! What wicked person will reform his life? Who will dare to believe himself a favourite of heaven? Who will fight against his own corrupt inclinations? Therefore, where is either the need or the utility of spreading these notions from whence so many evils seem to flow?."
To which Luther replies: "If, my Erasmus, you consider these paradoxes (as you term them) to be no more than the inventions of men, why are you so extravagantly heated on the occasion? In that case, your arguments affect not me, for there is no person now living in the world who is a more avowed enemy to the doctrines of men than myself. But if you believe the doctrines in debate between us to be (as indeed they are) the doctrines of God, you must have bid adieu to all sense of shame and decency thus to oppose them. I will not ask, `Whither is the modesty of Erasmus fled?' but, which is much more important, `Where, alas! are your fear and reverence of the Deity when you roundly declare that this branch of truth which He has revealed from that this branch of truth which He has revealed from heaven, is, at best, useless and unnecessary to be known?' What! shall the glorious Creator be taught by you, His creature, what is fit to be preached and what to be suppressed? Is the adorable God so very defective in wisdom and prudence as not to know till you instruct Him what would be useful and what pernicious? Or could not He, whose understanding is infinite, foresee, previous to His revelation of this doctrine, what would be the consequences of His revealing it until those consequences were pointed out by you? You cannot, you dare not say this. If, then, it was the Divine pleasure to make known these things in His Word, and to bid His messengers publish them abroad, and leave the consequences of their so doing to the wisdom and providence of Him in whose name they speak, and whose message they declare, who art thou, O Erasmus, that thou shouldest reply against God and say to the Almighty, `What doest Thou?'
"St. Paul, discoursing of God, declares peremptorily, `Whom He will He hardeneth,' and again, `God willing to show His wrath,' etc. And the apostle did not write this to have it stifled among a few persons and buried in a corner, but wrote it to the Christians at Rome, which was, in effect, bringing this doctrine upon the stage of the whole world, stamping an universal imprimatur upon it, and publishing it to believers at large throughout the earth. What can sound harsher in the uncircumcised earth. What can sound harsher in the uncircumcised ears of carnal men than those words of Christ, `Many are called, but few chosen'? And elsewhere, `I know whom I have chosen.' Now, these and similar assertions of Christ and His apostles are the very positions which you, O Erasmus, brand as useless and hurtful. You object, `If these things are so, who will endeavour to amend his life?' I answer, `Without the Holy Ghost, no man can amend his life to purpose' Reformation is but varnished hypocrisy unless it proceed from grace. The elect and truly pious are amended by the Spirit of God, and those of mankind who are not amended by Him will perish.
"Your ask, moreover, `Who will dare to believe himself a favourite of heaven?' I answer, `It is not in man's own power to believe himself such upon just grounds until he is enabled from above.' But the elect shall be so enabled; they shall believe themselves to be what indeed they are. As for the rest who are not endued with faith, they shall perish, raging and blaspheming as you do now. `But,' say you, `these doctrines open a door to ungodliness.' I answer, `Whatever door they may open to the impious and profane, yet they open a for of righteousness to the elect and holy, and show them the way to heaven and the path of access unto God.' Yet you would have us abstain from the mention of these grand doctrines, and leave our people in the dark as to their election of God; the consequence of which would be that every man would bolster himself up with a delusive hope of share in that salvation which is supposed to lie open to all, and thus genuine humility and the practical fear of |God would be kicked out of doors. This would be a pretty way indeed of stopping up the gap Erasmus complains of! Instead of closing up the door of licentiousness, as is falsely pretended, it would be, in fact, opening a gulf into the nethermost hell.
"Still you urge, `Where is either the necessity or utility of preaching predestination?' God Himself teaches it or commands us to teach it, and that is answer enough. We are not to arraign the Deity and bring the motives of His will to the test of human scrutiny, but simply to revere both Him and it. He, who alone is all-wise and all-just, can in reality (however things appear to us) do wrong to no man, neither can He do anything unwisely or rashly. And this consideration will suffice to silence all the objections of truly religious persons. However, let us for argument's sake go a step farther. I will venture to assign over and above two very important reasons why these doctrines should be publicly taught:--
"(1) For the humiliation of our pride and the manifestation of Divine grace. God hath assuredly promised His favour to the truly humble. By truly humble, I mean those who are endued with repentance, and despair of saving themselves; for a man can never be said to be really penitent and humble until he is made to know that his salvation is not suspended in any measure whatever on his own strength, machinations, endeavours, free-will or works, but entirely depends on the free pleasure, purpose, determination and efficiency of another, even of God alone. Whilst a man is persuaded that he has it in his power to contribute anything, be it over so little, to his own salvation, he remains in carnal confidence; he is not a self-despairer, and therefore he is not duly humbled before God; so far from it, that he hopes some favourable juncture or opportunity will offer when he may be able to lend a helping hand to the business of his salvation, such a person despairs of all self-assistance, he renounces his own will and his own strength, he waits and prays for the operation of God, nor waits and prays in vain. For the elect's sake, therefore, these doctrines art to be preached, that the chosen of God, being humbled by the knowledge of His truths, self-emptied and sunk, as it were into nothing in His presence, may be saved in Christ with eternal glory. This, then, is one inducement to the publication of the doctrine, that the penitent may be made acquainted with the promise of grace, plead it in prayer to God, and receive it as their own.
"(2) The nature of the Christian faith requires it. Faith has to do with things not seen. And this is one of the highest degrees of faith, steadfastly to believe that God is infinitely merciful, though He saves, comparatively, but few and condemns os many, and that He is strictly just, though of His own will He makes such numbers of mankind necessarily liable to damnation. Now, these are some of the unseen things whereof faith is the evidence, whereas, was it in my power to comprehend them or clearly to make out how God is both inviolably just and infinitely merciful, notwithstanding the display of wrath and seeming inequality in His dispensations respecting the reprobate, faith would have little or nothing to do. But now, since these matters cannot be adequately comprehended by us in the present state of imperfection, there is room for the exercise of faith. The truths therefore, respecting predestination in all its branches, should be taught and published, they, no less than the other mysteries of christian doctrine, being proper objects of faith on the part of God's people."
With Luther the excellent Bucer agrees, particularly on Eph. i., where his words are: "There are some who affirm that election is not to be mentioned publicly to the people. But they judge wrongly. The blessings which God bestows on man are not to be suppressed, but insisted and enlarged upon, and, if so, surely the blessing of predestination unto life, which is the greatest blessing of all, should not be passed over." And a little after he adds: "Take away the remembrance and consideration of our election, and then, good God! what weapons have we left us wherewith to resist the temptations of Satan? As often as he assaults our faith (which he is frequently doing) we must constantly and without delay have recourse to our election in Christ as to a city of refuge. Meditation upon the Father's appointment of us to eternal life is the best antidote against the evil surmisings of doubtfulness and remaining unbelief. If we are entirely void of all hope and assurance, respecting our interest in this capital privilege, what solid and comfortable expectation can we entertain of future blessedness? How can we look upon God as our gracious Father and upon Christ as our unchangeable Redeemer? without which I see not how we can ever truly love God; and if we have no true love towards Him, how can we yield acceptable obedience to Him? Therefore, those persons are not to be heard who would have the doctrine of election laid(as it were) asleep, and seldom or never make its appearance in the congregations of the faithful."
To what these great men have so nervously advanced permit me to add, that the doctrine of predestination is not only useful, but absolutely necessary to be taught and known.
(1) For without it we cannot form just and becoming ideas of God. Thus, unless He certainly foreknows and foreknew from everlasting all things that should come to pass, His understanding would not be infinite, and a Deity of limited understanding is no Deity at all. Again, we cannot suppose Him to have foreknown anything which He had not previously decreed, without setting up a series of causes, extra Deum, and making the Deity dependent for a great part of the knowledge He has upon the will and works of His creatures, and upon a combination of circumstances exterior to Himself. Therefore, His determinate plan, counsel and purpose (i.e., His own predestination of causes and effects) is the only basis of His foreknowledge, which foreknowledge could neither be certain nor independent but as founded on His own antecedent decree.
(2) He alone is entitled to the name of true God who governs all things, and without whose will (either efficient or permissive) nothing is or can be done. And such is the God of the Scriptures, against whose will not a sparrow can die nor an hair fall from our heads (Matt. x.) Now what is predestination but the determining will of God? I defy the subtlest semi-piligan in the world to form or convey a just and worthy notion of the Supreme Being without admitting Him to be the great cause of all causes else, Himself dependent on none, who willed from eternity how He would act in time, and settled a regular, determinate scheme of what He would do and permit to be done from the beginning to the consummation of the world. A contrary view of the Deity is as inconsistent with reason itself, and with the very religion of nature, as it is with the decisions of revelation.
(3) Nor can we rationally conceive of an independent, all-perfect first cause without allowing Him to be unchangeable in His purposes. His decrees and His essence coincide, consequently a change in those would infer an alteration in this. Nor can that being be the true God whose will is variable, fluctuating and indeterminate, for His will is Himself willing. A Deity without decrees and decrees without immutability are, of all inventions that ever entered the heart of man, the most absurd.
(4) Without predestination to plan, and without providence to put that plan in execution, what becomes of God's omnipotence? It vanishes into air. It becomes a mere nonentity. For what sort of omnipotence is that which may be baffled and defeated by the very creatures it has made? Very different is the idea of this attribute suggested by the Psalmist, "Whatsoever the Lord willed, that did He, in heaven and in earth, in the sea and in all deep places" (Psalm cxiii.),i.e., He not only made them when He would, but orders them when made.
(5) He alone is the true God, according to Scripture representation, who saves by His mere mercy and voluntary grace those whom He hath chosen, and righteously condemns (for their sins) those whom He thought fit to pass by. But without predestination there could be no such thing either as sovereign mercy or voluntary grace. For, after all, what is predestination but His decree to save some of His mere goodness, and to condemn others in His just judgment? Now it is most evident that the Scripture doctrine of pre-determination is the clearest mirror wherein to see and contemplate these essential attributes of God. Here they all shine forth in their fullness of harmony and lustre. Deny predestination and you deny (though, perhaps, not intentionally, yet by necessary consequence) the adorable perfections of the Godhead: in concealing that, you throw a veil over these; and in preaching that, you hold up these to the comfort, the establishment and the admiration of the believing world.
II.--Predestination is to be preached because the grace of God (which stands opposed to all human worthiness) cannot be maintained without it. The excellent St. Augustine makes use of this very argument. "If," says he, "these two privileges (namely, faith itself and final perseverance in faith) are the gifts of God, and if God foreknew on whom He would bestow these gifts (and who can doubt of so evident a truth?), it is necessary for predestination to be preached as the sure and invincible bulwark of that true grace of God, which is given to men without any consideration of merit." Thus argued St. Augustine against the Pelagians, who taught that grace is offered to all men alike; that God, for His part, equally wills the salvation of all, and that it is in the power of man's free-will to accept or reject the grace and salvation so offered. Which string of errors do, as Augustine justly observes, center in this grand point, gratiam secundum nostra merita dari: that God's grace is not free, but the fruit of man's desert.
Now the doctrine of predestination batters down this delusive Babel of free-will and merit. It teaches us that, if we do indeed will and desire to lay hold on Christ and salvation by him, this will and desire are the effect of God's secret purpose and effectual operation, for He it is who worketh in us both to will and to do of His own good pleasure, that he that glorieth should glory in the Lord. There neither is nor can be any medium between predestinating grace and salvation by human merit. We must believe and preach one or the other, for they can never stand together. No attempts to mingle and reconcile these two incompatible opposites can ever succeed, the apostle himself being judge. "If (says he) it (namely, election) be by grace, then is it no more of works, otherwise grace is no more grace: but, if it be of works, then is it no more grace; otherwise work is no more work" (Rom. xi. 6). Exactly agreeable to which is that of St. augustine: "Either predestination is to be preached as expressly as the Scriptures deliver it, namely, that with regard to those whom He hath chosen, `the gifts and calling of God are without repentance,' or we must roundly declare, as the Pelagians do, that grace is given according to merit." Most certain it is that the doctrine of gratuitous justification through Christ can only be supported on that of our gratuitous predestination in Christ, since the latter is the cause and foundation of the former.
III.--By the preaching of predestination man is duly humbled, and God alone is exalted; human pride is levelled, and the Divine glory shines untarnished because unrivalled. This the sacred writers positively declare. Let St. Paul be spokesman for the rest, "Having predestinated us--to the praise of the glory of His grace" (Eph. i. 5,6). But how is it possible for us to render unto God the praises due to the glory of His grace without laying this threefold foundation?
(1) That whosoever are or shall be saved are saved by His alone grace in Christ in consequence of His eternal purpose passed before they had done any one good thing.
(2) That what good thing soever is begun to be wrought in out souls (whether it be illumination of the understanding, rectitude of will or purity of affections) was begun altogether of God alone, by whose invincible agency grace is at first conferred, afterwards maintained, and finally crowned.
(3) That the work of internal salvation (the sweet and certain prelude to eternal glory) was not only begun in us of His mere grace alone, but that its continuance, its progress and increase are no less free and totally unmerited than its first original donation. Grace alone makes the elect gracious, grace alone keeps them gracious, and the same grace alone will render them everlastingly glorious in the heaven of heavens.
Conversion and salvation must, in the very nature of things, be wrought and effected either by ourselves alone, or by ourselves and God together, or solely by God Himself. The Pelagians were fore the first. The Arminians are for the second. True believers are for the last, because the last hypotheses, and that only, is built on the strongest evidence of Scripture, reason and experience: it most effectually hides pride from man, and sets the crown of undivided praise upon the head, or rather casts it at the feet, of that glorious Triune God, who worketh all in all. But this is a crown which no sinners ever yet cast before the throne of God who were not first led into the transporting views of His gracious decree led into the transporting views of His gracious decree to save, freely and of His own will, the people of His eternal love. Exclude, therefore, O Christian, the article of sovereign predestination from thy ministry or from thy faith, and acquit thyself if thou art able from the charge of robbing God.
When God does, by the omnipotent exertion of His Spirit, effectually call any of mankind in time to the actual knowledge of Himself in Christ; when He, likewise, goes on to sanctify the sinners He has called, making them to excel in all good works, and to persevere in the love and resemblance of God to their lives' end, the observing part of the unawakened world may be apt to conclude that these converted persons might receive such qualifications, good dispositions, or pious desires and internal preparations, discovered in them by the all-seeing eye, which, if true, would indeed transfer the praise from the Creator and consign it to the creature. But the doctrine of predestination, absolute, free, unconditional predestination, here steps in and gives God His own. It lays the axe to the root of human boasting, and cuts down (for which reason the natural man hates it) every legal, every independent, every self-righteous imagination that would exalt itself against the grace of God and the glory of Christ. It tells us that God hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in His Son, "according as He hath chosen us in Him before the foundation of the world," in order to our being afterwards made "holy and blameless before him in love" (Eph. i.).
Of course, whatever truly and spiritually good thing is found in any person, it is the especial gift and work of God, given and wrought in consequence of eternal unmerited election to grace and glory. Whence the greatest saint cannot triumph over the most abandoned sinner, but is led to refer the entire praise of his salvation, both from sin and hell, to the mere goodwill and sovereign purpose of God, who hath graciously made him to differ from that world which lieth in wickedness. Such being the tendency of this blessed doctrine, how injurious both to God and man would the suppression of it be! Well does St. Augustine argue: "As the duties of piety ought to be preached up, that he who hath ears to hear may be instructed how to worship God aright; and as chastity should be publicly recommended and enforced, that he who hath ears to hear may know how to possess himself in sanctification; and as charity, moreover, should be inculcated from the pulpit, that he who hath ears to hear may be excited to the ardent love of God and his neighbour, in like manner should God's predestination of His favours be openly preached, that he who hath ears to hear may learn to glory not in himself, but in the Lord."
IV.--Predestination should be publicly taught and insisted upon, in order to confirm and strengthen true believers in the certainty and confidence of their salvation. For when regenerate persons are told, and are enabled to believe,that the glorification of the elect is so assuredly fixed in God's eternal purpose that it is impossible for any of them to perish, and when the regenerate are led to consider themselves as actually belonging to this elect body of christ, what can establish, strengthen and settle their faith like this? Nor is such a faith presumptuous, for every converted man may and ought to conclude himself elected, since God the Spirit renews those only who were chosen by God the Father and redeemed by God the Son. This is a "hope which maketh no ashamed," nor can possibly issue in disappointment if entertained by those into whose hearts the love of God is poured forth by the Holy Ghost given unto them (Rom. v. 5).
The holy triumph and assurance resulting from this blessed view are expressly warranted by the apostle, where he deduces effectual calling from a prior predestination, and infers the certainty of final salvation from effectual calling: "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.). How naturally from such premises does the apostle add, "Who shall lay anything to the charge of god's elect?" Who and where is he that condemneth them? Who and what "shall separate us form the love of Christ? In all these things we are," and shall be, "more than conquerors through Him that hath loved us, for I am persuade [I am most clearly and assuredly confident] that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers,nor things present, nor things to come, nor height nor depth, nor any other creature shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord." So elsewhere the foundation of the Lord, i.e., His decree or purpose, according to election, "standeth sure, having this seal, the Lord knoweth them that are His," which is particularly noted by the apostle, lest true believers might be discouraged and begin to doubt of their own certain perseverance to salvation, either from a sense of their remaining imperfections or from observing the open apostacy of unregenerate professors (2 Tim. ii.). How little obliged, therefore, are the flock of Christ to those persons who would, by stifling the mention of predestination, expunge the sense and certainty of everlasting blessedness from the list of Christian privileges!
V.--Without the doctrine of predestination we cannot enjoy a lively sight and experience of God's special love and mercy towards us in christ Jesus. Blessings, not peculiar, but conferred indiscriminately on every man, without distinction or exception, would neither be a proof of peculiar love in the donor nor calculated to excite peculiar wonder and gratitude in the receiver. For instance, rain from heaven, though an invaluable benefit, is not considered as an argument of God's special favour to some individuals above others: and why? because it falls on all alike, as much on the rude wilderness and the barren rock as on the cultivated garden and the fruitful field. But the blessing of election, somewhat like the Sibylline books, rises in value, proportionably to the fewness of its objects. So that, when we recollect that in the view of God (to whom all things are at once present) the whole mass of mankind was considered as justly liable to condemnation on account of original and actual iniquity, His selecting some individuals from among the rest and graciously setting them apart in Christ for salvation both from sin and punishment, were such acts of sovereign goodness as exhibit the exceeding greatness and the entire freeness of His love in the most awful, amiable and humbling light.
In order, then, that the special grace of God may shine, predestination must be preached, even the eternal and immutable predestination of His people to faith and everlasting life. "From those who are left under the power of guilt," says Augustine, "the person who is delivered from it may learn what he too must have suffered had not grace stepped in to his relief. And if it was that grace that interposed, it could not be the reward of man's merit, but the free gift of God's gratuitous goodness. Some, however, call it unjust for one to be delivered while another, though no more guilty than the former, is condemned; if it be just to punish one, it would be but justice to punish both. I grant that both might have been justly punished. Let us therefore give thanks unto God our Saviour for not inflicting that vengeance on us, which, from the condemnation of our fellow-sinners, we may conclude to have been our desert, no less than theirs. Had they as well as we been ransomed from their captivity, we could have framed but little conception of the penal wrath due, in strictness of justice, to sin; and, on the other hand, had none of the fallen race been ransomed and set at liberty, how could Divine grace have displayed the riches of its liberality?" The same evangelical father delivers himself elsewhere to the same effect. "Hence," says he, "appears the greatness of that grace by which so many are freed from condemnation, and they may form some idea of the misery, due to themselves, from the dreadfulness of the punishment that awaits the rest. Whence those who rejoice are taught to rejoice not in their own merits (quoe paria esse vident damnatis, for they see that they have no more merit than the damned), but in the Lord."
VI.--Hence results another reason nearly connected with the former for the unreserved publication of this doctrine, namely, that, from a sense of God's peculiar, eternal and unalterable love to His people, their hearts may be inflamed to love Him in return. Slender indeed will be my motives to the love of God on the supposition that my love to Him is beforehand with His to me, and that the very continuance of His favour is suspended on the weathercock of my variable will or the flimsy thread of my imperfect affection. Such a precarious, dependent love were unworthy of God, and calculated to produce but a scanty and cold reciprocation of love from man. At the happiest of times, and in the best of frames below, our love to God is but a spark (though small and quivering, yet inestimably precious, because Divinely kindled, fanned and maintained in the soul, and an earnest of better to come), whereas love, as it glows in God, is an immense sun, which shone without beginning, and shall shine without end. Is it probable, then, that the spark of human love should give being to the sun of divine, and that the lustre and warmth of this should depend on the glimmering of that? Yet so it must be if predestination is not true, and so it must be represented if predestination is not taught. Would you, therefore, know what it is not taught. Would you, therefore, know what it is to love God as your Father, Friend, and Saviour, you must fall down before His electing mercy. Until then you are only hovering about in quest of true felicity. But you will never find the door, much less can you enter into rest, until you are enabled to "love Him because He hath first loved you" (1 John iv. 19).
This being the case, it is evident that, without taking predestination into the account, genuine morality and the performance of truly good works will suffer, starve and die away. Love to God is the very fuel of acceptable obedience. Withdraw the fuel, and the flame expires. But the fuel of holy affection (if Scripture, experience and observation are allowed to carry any conviction) can only be cherished, maintained and increased in the heart by the sense and apprehension of God's predestinating love to us in Christ Jesus. Now, our obedience to God will always hold proportion to our love. If the one be relaxed and feeble, the other cannot be alert and vigorous, and, electing goodness being the very life and soul of the former, the latter, even good works, must flourish or decline in proportion as election is glorified or obscured.
VII.--Hence arises a seventh argument for the preaching of predestination, namely, that by it we may be excited to the practice of universal godliness. The knowledge of God's love to you will make you an ardent lover of God, and the more love you have to God, the more will you excel in all the duties and offices of love. Add to this that the Scripture view of predestination includes the means as we as the end. Christian predestinarians are for keeping together what God hath joined. He who is for attaining the end without going to it through the means is a self-deluding enthusiast. He, on the other hand, who carefully and conscientiously uses the means of salvation as steps to the end is the true Calvinist.
Now, eternal life being that to which the elect are ultimately destined, faith (the effect of saving grace) and sanctification (the effect of faith) are blessings to which the elect are intermediately appointed. "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" (Eph. i. 4). "We are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them" (Eph. ii. 10). "Knowing, brethren beloved, your election of God... and ye became followers of us and of the Lord" (1 Thess. i. 4, 6). "God hath chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the spirit and belief of the truth" (2 Thess. ii. 13). "Elect, according to the foreknowledge [or ancient love] of God the Father through sanctification of the Spirit unto obedience" (1 Peter i. 2). Nor is salvation (the appointed end of election) at all the less secure in itself (but the more so) for standing necessarily connected with the intervening means, seeing both these and that are inseparably joined, in order to the certain accomplishment of that through these. It only demonstrates that without regeneration of the heart and purity of life, the elect themselves are not led to heaven. But, then, it is incontestible from the whole current of Scripture that these intermediate blessings shall most infallibly be vouchsafed to every elect person, in virtue of God's absolute covenant and through the effectual agency of His Almighty Spirit. Internal sanctification constitutes our meetness for the kingdom to which we were predestinated, and a course of external righteousness is one of the grand evidences by which we make our election sure to our own present comfort and apprehension of it.
VIII.--Unless predestination be preached, we shall want one great inducement to the exercise of brotherly kindness and charity. When a converted person is assured, on one hand, that all whom God hath predestinated to eternal life shall infallibly enjoy that eternal life to which they are chosen, and, on the other hand, when he discerns the signs of election, not only in himself, but also in the rest of his fellow-believers, and concludes from thence (as in a judgment of charity he ought) that they are as really elected as himself, how must his heart glow with love to his Christians brethren! How feelingly will he sympathise with them in their distresses! How tenderly will he bear with their infirmities! How tenderly will he bear with infirmities How readily will he relieve the former, and how easily overlook the latter Nothing will so effectually knit together the hearts of God's people in time as the belief of their having been written by name in one book of life from everlasting, and the unshaken confidence of their future exaltation to one and the same state of glory above will occasion the strongest cement of affection below.
This was, possibly, one end of our Saviour's so frequently reminding His apostles of their election, namely, that from the sense of such an unspeakable blessing, in which they were all equally interested, they might learn to love one another with pure hearts fervently, and cultivate on earth that holy friendship which they well knew, from the immutability of God's decrees, would be eternally matured to the highest perfection and refinement in heaven. St. Paul, likewise, might have some respect to the same amiable inference when treating of the saints collectively, for he uses those sweet and endearing expressions, "He hath chosen us," "He hath predestinated us," etc., that believers, considering themselves as co-elect in Christ, might be led to love each other with peculiar intenseness as the spiritual children of on electing Father, brethren in grace and joint-heirs of glory. Did the regenerate of the present age but practically advert to each other. How happy would be the effect!
Hence it appears that, since the preaching of predestination is thus evidently calculated to kindle and keep alive the twofold congenial flame of love to man, it must, by necessary consequence, conduce to the advancement of universal obedience and to the performance of every social and religious duty, which alone, was there nothing else to recommend it, would be a sufficient motive to the public delivery of that important doctrine.
IX.--Lastly, without a due sense of predestination, we shall want the surest and the most powerful inducement to patience, resignation and dependence on God under every spiritual and temporal affliction.
How sweet must the following considerations be to a distressed believer! (1) There most certainly exists an almighty, all-wise and infinitely gracious God. (2) He has given me in times past, and is giving me at present (if I had but eyes to see it), many and signal intimations of His love to me, both in a way of providence and grace. (3) This love of His is immutable; He never repents of it nor withdraws it. (4) Whatever comes to pass in time is the result of His will from everlasting, consequently (5) my afflictions were a part of His original plan, and are all ordered in number, weight and measure. (6) The very hairs of my head are (every one) counted by Him, nor can a single hair fall to the ground but in consequence of His determination. Hence (7) my distresses are not the result of chance, accident or a fortuitous combination of circumstances, but (8) the providential accomplishment of God's purpose, and (9) designed to answer some wise and gracious ends, nor (10) shall my affliction continue a moment longer than God sees meet. (11) He who brought me to it has promised to support me under it and to carry me through it. (12) All shall, most assuredly, work together for His glory and my good, therefore (13) "The cup which my heavenly Gather hath given me to drink, shall I not drink it?" Yes, I will, in the strength He imparts, even rejoice in tribulation; and using the means of possible redress, which He hath or may hereafter put into my hands, I will commit myself and the event to Him, whose purpose cannot be overthrown, whose plan cannot be disconcerted, and who, whether I am resigned or not, will still go on to work all things after the counsel of His own will.
Above all, when the suffering Christian takes his election into the account, and knows that he was by an eternal and immutable act of God appointed to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ; that, of course, he hath a city prepared for him above, an building of God, a house not made with hands, but eternal in the heavens; and that the heaviest sufferings of the present life are not worthy to be compared with the glory which shall be revealed in the saints, what adversity can possibly befall us which the assured hope of blessings like these will not infinitely overbalance?
"A comfort so divine, May trial well endure." However keenly afflictions might wound us on their first access, yet, under the impression of such animating views, we should quickly come to ourselves again, and the arrows of tribulation would, in great measure, become pointless. Christians want nothing but absolute resignation to render them perfectly happy in every possible circumstance, and absolute resignation can only flow from an absolute belief of, and an absolute acquiescence in, God's absolute providence, founded on absolute predestination. The apostle himself draws these conclusions to our hand in Rom. viii., where, after having laid down, as most undoubted axioms, the eternity and immutability of God's purposes, he thus winds up the whole: "What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us? Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or sword? Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors through Him that loved us."
Such, therefore, among others, being the uses that arise from the faithful preaching and the cordial reception of predestination, may we not venture to affirm. with Luther, hac ignorata doctrina, neque fidem, neque ullum Dei cultum, consistere posse? that "our faith and all right worship of God, depend in no small degree upon our knowledge of that doctrine"?
The excellent Melancthon, in his first Common Places (which received the sanction of Luther's express approbation), does, in the first chapter, which treats professedly of free-will and predestination, set out with clearing and establishing the doctrine of God's decrees, and then proceeds to point out the necessity and manifold usefulness of asserting and believing it. He even goes so far as to affirm roundly that "a right fear of God and a true confidence in Him can be learned more assuredly from no other source than from the doctrine of predestination." But Melancthon's judgment of these matters will best appear from the whole passage, which the reader will find in the book and chapter just referred to.
"Divina predestinatio," says he, "Libetatem himini adimit"; Divine predestination quite strips man of his boasted liberty, for all things come to pass according to God's fore-appointment, even the internal thoughts of all creatures, no less than the external works. Therefore the apostle gives us to understand that God "performeth all things according to the counsel of His own will" (Eph. i.), and our Lord Himself asks, "Are not two sparrows sold for a farthing? yet one of them falleth not to the ground without your Father" (Matt. x.). Pray what can be more full to the point than such a declaration? So Solomon, "The Lord hath made all things for Himself; yea, even the wicked for the day of evil" (Prov. xvi.), and in chap. xx., "Man's goings are of the Lord: how then can a man understand his own way?" To which the prophet Jeremiah does also set his seal, saying (chapter x.), "O Lord, I know that the way of man is not in himself; it is not in man that walketh to direct his steps." The historical part of Scripture teaches us the same great truth. So (Gen. xv.) we read that the iniquity of the Amorites was not yet full. In 1 Sam. ii. we are told that Eli's sons hearkened not to his reproof, because the Lord would slay them. What could bear a stronger resemblance to chance and accident than Saul's calling upon Samuel, only with a view to seek out his father's asses?(1 Sam. ix.). Yet the visit was fore-ordained of God, and designed to answer a purpose little thought of by Saul (1 Sam. ix. 15,16). See also a most remarkable chain of predestinated events in reference to Saul, and foretold by the prophet (1 Sam. x. 2,8).
In pursuance of the Divine pre-ordination, there went with Saul a band of men, whose hearts God had touched (1 Sam. x. 26). The harshness of king Rehoboam's answer to the ten tribes, and the subsequent revolt of those tribes from his dominion, are by the sacred historian expressly ascribed to God's decree: "Wherefore the king hearkened not unto the people; for the cause was from the Lord, that He might perform His saying, which the Lord spake by Abijah the Shilonite unto Jeroboam the son of Nebat" (1 Kings xii. 15). What is the drift of the Apostle Paul (Rom. ix. and xi.), quam ut omnia, quoe fiunt, in destinationem divinam referat, but to resolve all things that come to pass into God's destination? The judgment of the flesh, or of mere unregenerate reason, usually starts back from this truth with horror; embrace it with affection. Neque enim vel timorem Dei vel fiduciam in Deum, certius aliunde disces, quam ubi imbueris animum hac de predestinatione sententia: you will not learn either the fear of God or affiance in Him from a surer source than from getting your mind deeply tinctured and seasoned with this doctrine of predestination.
Does not solomon, in the Book of Proverbs, inculcate it throughout, and justly, for how else could he direct men to fear God and trust in Him? The same he does in the Book of Ecclesiastes, nor had anything so powerful a tendency to repress the pride of man's encroaching discretion, as the firm belief, quod a Deo fiunt omnia, that all things are from God. What invincible comfort did Christ impart to His disciples in assuring them that their very hairs were all numbered by the Creator? Is there, then (may an objector say), no such thing as contingency, no such thing as chance or fortune? No. Omnia necessario evenire scripturoe docent; the doctrine of Scripture is, that all things come to pass necessarily. Be it so that to you some events seem to happen contingently, you nevertheless must not be run away with by the suggestions of your own narrow-sighted reason. Solomon himself, the wisest of men, was so deeply versed in the doctrine of inscrutable predestination as to leave this humbling maxim o record: "When I applied my heart to know wisdom, and to see the business that is done upon the earth, then I beheld all the work of God, that a man cannot find out the work that is done under the sun, because though a man labour to seek it out, yet he shall not find it yea, farther, though a wise man think to know it, yet shall he not be able to find it" (Eccles. viii. 16, 17).
Melancthon prosecutes the argument much further, but this may suffice for a specimen; and it is not unworthy of notice that Luther so highly approved of Melancthon's performance, and especially of the first chapter (from whence the above extract is given), that he (Luther) thus writes of it in his epistle to Erasmus, prefixed to his book "De Serv. Arb.," "That it was worthy of everlasting duration, and to be received into the ecclesiastical canon." Let it likewise be observed that Melancthon never, to the very last, retracted a word of what he there delivers, which a person of his piety and integrity would most certainly have done had he afterwards (as some have artfully and falsely insinuated) found reason to change his judgement on these heads.