Home > Systematic Theology > Duty of Gratitude for Divine Grace: Sovereignty of Grace: Election- Book Seventh- Chapter 4- Section 1

Duty of Gratitude for Divine Grace: Sovereignty of Grace: Election- Book Seventh- Chapter 4- Section 1

Book Seventh

CHAPTER IV.

SOVEREIGNTY OF GRACE.

GOD BESTOWS THE BLESSINGS OF HIS GRACE, NOT ACCORDING TO THE WORKS OF THE RECIPIENT, BUT ACCORDING TO HIS OWN SOVEREIGN PLEASURE.[1]

God is sovereign in doing what he pleases, uncontrolled by any other being. “He doth according to his will, in the armies of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth, and none may stay his hand, or say unto him: `What doest thou?'”[2] No superior being exists, who can dictate to Jehovah what he should do, or hinder him from the execution of his pleasure, or call him to account for anything that he has done.

Sovereignty is to be distinguished from arbitrariness. In the latter, the will of the agent directs the action, without reference to a wise or good purpose to be accomplished. When God acts, it is according to his good pleasure. His pleasure is good, because it is always directed to a good end. He is sovereign in his acts, because his acts are determined by his own perfections. He has a rule for what he does; but this rule is not prescribed to him by any other being, nor does it exist independently of himself. It is found in his own nature. In his acts, his nature is unfolded and displayed.

In some respects the divine nature is so far made known to us, that we are able to understand the rule to which his acts conform. We so far understand his justice, that the distribution of rewards and punishments according to the works of men, is a process for which we can account, and the result of which we can in part foretell. But there are mysteries in the divine nature which are too deep for us to fathom: and hence we are unable to assign a rule for the divine proceedings. These are the cases which we specially refer to the sovereignty of God. He is not less sovereign in his justice, than in the dispensations for which he has given us no reason. But we bow before his sovereignty, in the best exercise of simple confidence in him, when we are least able to account for his doings; and it has been his pleasure, to leave much of his proceedings involved in mystery, that we may have occasion for the exercise of this confidence, which is pleasing to him, and profitable to ourselves.

We are prone to demand the reason or rule of God’s acts, and to prescribe rules according to which God should act; but the Scriptures teach us to restrain this propensity. “Shall the thing formed, say to him that formed it: `Why hast thou made me thus?'”[3] “He giveth not account of any of his matters.”[4] But though the Scriptures do not explain those dispensations of God which we are compelled to refer to his inscrutable sovereignty, they teach us that God is not governed by such rules as human wisdom would prescribe. His ways are above our ways, and his thoughts above our thoughts, as high as the heavens are above the earth.[5]

Men often complain that God’s ways are not equal, and charge him with partiality in his dealings with his creatures. When this charge is brought against him, in such a manner as to imply injustice in anything which he does, he repels the charge: “Are not my ways equal? Are not your ways unequal?”[6] But in bestowing the blessings of his grace, God claims the right to do what he will with his own.[7] He is not bound to give to every one an equal measure of undeserved favor; or to measure his freely bestowed blessings, according to the works of those on whom they are bestowed. This is clearly taught in the inspired word: “He 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.”[8] “Not of works, but of him that calleth.”[9] “Not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy.”[10]

In the condition of the creatures that God has made, we observe a diversity to which we can assign no limits. In the vegetable kingdom, we find productions varying from the cedar of Lebanon to the minute blade of grass, some beautiful and fragrant, or adapted to great utility, and others without any quality in which we can perceive a reason for their having been made. Among animals, a boundless variety appears, in their size, modes of life, and capacity for enjoyment. In the condition of human beings, the system of diversity continues. As the human species differs from every other species, so the condition of each individual man differs from that of every other individual belonging to the species. One man passes his days in affluence and ease, and another drags out his miserable existence in poverty and toil. One enjoys almost uninterrupted health, while another, from the beginning to the end of his life, is oppressed with disease and pain. One possesses intellect susceptible of the highest cultivation, and is favored with all the necessary means of cultivation; while another gropes his way in mental darkness, either from the natural imbecility of his mind, or from the disadvantageous circumstances in which his lot of life is cast. Why is all this diversity? We must answer in the words of Christ: “Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in thy sight.”[11] To some extent the sufferings and enjoyments of men in the present life are attributable to their personal conduct; and so far the reason for the divine dispensation towards them is apparent; but, to a far greater extent, no cause can be assigned by human reason; and we are compelled to ascribe the mysterious arrangement to the sovereignty of God. As he is sovereign in creation and providence, so he is sovereign in the dispensations of his grace. “He divides to every man severally as he will.”[12] He withholds from the wise and prudent, and reveals unto babes, as it seems good in his sight.[13] When the question arises: “Who made thee to differ from another?” the proper answer is: “It is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy;”[14] and “By the grace of God, I am what I am.”[15] In the dispensations of grace, full regard is had to justice, and nothing unjust is done to any one; but grace rises high above justice, and gives ample room for the display of the divine sovereignty, in the distribution of blessings to which no individual has the slightest claim.

Among the rules which human officiousness prescribes to God for the regulation of his conduct, we are prone to insist that the blessings of his grace should be distributed according to men’s works. We do not presume to say, that they should be given for men’s works, for this would render them rewards of debt, and not of grace. Scripture and reason unite in checking the presumption which would claim all that God bestows, as due on the ground of merit: but, while we relinquish the claim on the ground of positive merit, we are yet prone to conceive that there is a fitness in conferring the blessings of grace on those who have the negative merit of being less wicked than others. In this method of dispensation, which human wisdom would recommend, the blessings are conferred, not for men’s works, but according to their works: but the wisdom of God rejects the counsel of human wisdom in this particular. A Saul of Tarsus, though chief of sinners, is made a happy recipient of divine grace, while an amiable young ruler, who had kept the law from his youth up, is left to perish in his self-righteousness. Publicans and harlots enter the kingdom of heaven; while multitudes, less wicked than they, are left to the course to which natural depravity inclines them. These cases exemplify the explicit declarations of Scripture, which teach, that “we are saved and called, not according to our works.”

It is true, that in the last day, men will be judged according to the deeds done in the body. But it must be remembered that salvation begins in the present life. To the present life the calling of men from darkness to light is limited; and the salvation and calling of the present life, are not according to men’s works. As men are called “to be holy,” the holiness which they exhibit as a consequence of the salvation and calling which they receive from the grace of God, distinguishes them from other men, and becomes a proper rule for the decisions of the last day. We see, therefore, that the last judgment will be according to the deeds done in the body; while it nevertheless remains, that we are saved and called, not according to our works, but according to the purpose and grace of God.

SECTION I.–ELECTION.

ALL WHO WILL FINALLY BE SAVED, WERE CHOSEN TO SALVATION BY GOD THE FATHER, BEFORE THE FOUNDATION OF THE WORLD, AND GIVEN TO JESUS CHRIST IN THE COVENANT OF GRACE.[16]

The doctrine of election encounters strong opposition in the hearts of men, and it is therefore necessary to examine thoroughly its claim to our belief. As it relates to an act of the divine mind, no proof of its truth can be equal to the testimony of the Scriptures. Let us receive their teachings on the subject without hesitation or distrust; and let us require every preconceived opinion of ours, and all our carnal reasonings, to bow before the authority of God’s holy word.

The Scriptures clearly teach, that God has an elect or chosen people. “Who shall lay any thing to the charge of God’s elect.”[17] Elect according to the foreknowledge of God.[18] “Shall not God avenge his own elect.”[19] “Ye are a chosen generation.”[20] “God hath chosen you to salvation.”[21] “According as he hath chosen us in Christ.”[22] Whatever may have been our prejudices against the doctrine of election as held and taught by some ministers of religion, it is undeniable, that, in some sense, the doctrine is found in the Bible; and we cannot reject it, without rejecting that inspired book. We are bound by the authority of God, to receive the doctrine; and nothing remains, but that we should make an honest effort to understand it, just as it is taught in the sacred volume.

The Scriptures teach expressly, that God’s people are chosen to salvation. “Beloved, we are bound to give thanks always to God for you, because he hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation.”[23] Some have been chosen by God[24] to peculiar offices; as Paul was a chosen vessel, to bear the name of Christ to the Gentiles, and David was chosen to be the King of Israel. The whole nation of Israel was chosen out of all nations to be a peculiar people to the Lord: but it is very clear that the eternal salvation of every Israelite was not secured by this national election; for to some of them Christ said, “Ye shall die in your sins; and whither I go ye cannot come.”[25] The election to salvation is shown by the words of Paul in Rom. ix. 6, to be different from this national election: “They are not all Israel that are of Israel.” “There is a remnant according to the election of grace.”[26] The national election comprehended all Israel, according to the flesh: but the election of grace included those only who will finally be saved. It is not a choice merely to the means of salvation, for these were granted to all the nation of Israel: but it was a choice to salvation itself, and therefore respected the “remnant,” and not the whole nation.

The Scriptures plainly teach that the election of grace is from eternity. “God hath, from the beginning, chosen you to salvation.”[27] “According as he hath chosen us in him from the foundation of the world.”[28] “According to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began.”[29] Election is a part of God’s eternal purpose. Had it been his purpose to save all the human race, there would have been no elect from among men; no peculiar people, no redeemed out of every nation. But his purpose to save did not include all the race; and therefore, on some principle yet to be inquired into, some of the race have been selected, who will receive the kingdom prepared for them from the foundation of the world. The eternity of God’s election ought not to excite in our hearts any objection against it. If, in the final judgment, God will distinguish between the righteous and the wicked, whatever he will then do in righteousness, it was right for him to purpose to do from all eternity. In his final sentence, all his preceding dispensations toward the children of men, and all their actions under these dispensations, will be carefully reviewed, and the final doom of every one will be pronounced in righteousness. All that will then be present to the divine mind, was before it from all eternity; and what God will then do, he purposed to do from the beginning; and the reasons for which he will do it, are the reasons for which he purposed to do it. There can be no wrong in the purpose, if it does not exist in the execution. If God can fully justify at the last day, before the assembled universe, all his dispensations toward the children of men; all these dispensations must be right, and the purpose of them from eternity must have been right: and if a division of the human race can then be righteously made, that division was righteously made in the purpose of God; and consequently God’s election was made in righteousness.

The Scriptures teach that election is of grace, and not of works. “Not of works, lest any man should boast;”[30] and if it be of works, then grace is no more grace.[31] The subject is illustrated by the case of Jacob and Esau, of whom Jacob was chosen before the children had done either good or evil; and in applying this illustration, Paul says: “That the purpose of God according to election might stand; not of works, but of him that calleth.”[32] In the last day, God will discriminate between the righteous and the wicked, according to their works: and it was the eternal purpose of God, that this discrimination should then be made on that ground; but the purpose of God includes an earlier discrimination made in effectual calling; whence we read of those who are “the called according to his purpose.”[33] This discrimination, made at the time of calling, is not according to men’s works, for it is expressly said, “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;”[34] Calling is a blessing of grace, not conferred for previous works, nor according to previous works. Why is this benefit bestowed? The answer is, “not of works, but of him that calleth.”[35] “Not of him that willeth, or of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy.”[36] “It is God that worketh in us to will and to do, of his good pleasure.”[37] The first actual separation of God’s people from the rest of mankind, is made when they are called out of darkness into his marvellouslight; and this calling is not according to men’s works, but according to the good pleasure of God. A discrimination is then made, for reasons wholly unknown to mortals; not according to the works of men, but on a ground which infinite wisdom approves. The reason of the procedure is laid deep in the counsels of the divine mind; and we are compelled to say respecting it, “How unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!”[38] This actual separation of God’s people from the rest of mankind, made in their effectual calling, is like everything which he does, the fulfilment of his eternal purpose. “He worketh all things after the counsel of his will;”[39] and “known unto him are all his works from the beginning.”[40] The purpose to effect this first actual discrimination, is God’s election; and the ground of the discrimination when it actually takes place, is nothing different from that of the purpose to discriminate; that is, it is the ground of election. The discrimination, when actually made, is approved by the wisdom of God; and all the consequences of it will be approved in the last day, and throughout all coming eternity; and therefore the election, or purpose to discriminate, was approved by infinite wisdom, in the counsels of eternity past. When we object to the act, or the purpose, we presume to be wiser than God.

From the views which have been presented, it necessarily follows, that election is not on the ground of foreseen faith or obedience. On this point, the teachings of Scripture are clear. They are chosen not because of their holiness, but that they may be holy;[41] not because of their obedience, but unto obedience.[42] As the discrimination made in effectual calling is God’s work, the antecedent to all holiness, faith, or acceptable obedience; the purpose to discriminate could not be on the ground of acts foreseen, which do not exist as a consideration for the execution of the purpose. The discriminating grace which God bestows, is not on the ground of faith and obedience previously existing, but for a reason known only to God himself. This unrevealed reason, and not foreseen faith and obedience, is the ground of election.

The Scriptures teach that election is according to the foreknowledge of God.[43] We are, however, not to understand the foreknowledge here mentioned, to be foreknowledge of faith or good works. Faith and good works do not exist, before the grace consequent on election begins to be bestowed; and therefore a foresight of them is impossible. Moreover, the objects of this divine foreknowledge are the persons of the elect, and not their faith or good works. “Whom he foreknow, them he also did predestinate.”[44] In this foreknowledge of persons, according to the Scripture use of terms, a peculiar regard to them is implied. It is said, “Hath God cast away his people, whom he foreknew.”[45] If simple knowledge, without any peculiar regard, were all that is here implied, it would be equally true that God foreknew the heathen nations, as well as the nation of Israel.

This case of national election may serve also to illustrate the ground of election to salvation. God’s choice of the Hebrew nation arose from a peculiar regard to them, not founded on their superiority to other nations,[46] but on his own sovereign pleasure. He loved them, because he would love them. So the election of grace is according to God’s foreknowledge of his people; a foreknowledge implying a peculiar regard not founded on any superiority in the objects of it, but arising from the sovereign pleasure of God.

Election is ascribed to God the Father, redemption to God the Son, and sanctification to God the Holy spirit: “Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience, and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ.”[47] The Father, as sustaining the authority of the Godhead, is represented as giving the elect to Christ in the covenant of grace: “Thine they were, and thou gavest them to me.”[48]

The choice of them was with reference to Christ, and that they might be given to him, and rendered accepted in him. Hence they are said to be “chosen in Christ.”[49] The election, or setting of them apart to salvation, is, in Jude, attributed to God the Father, by the use of the word sanctify, which signifies to set apart: “Sanctified by God the Father.” The next clause of this verse, “preserved in Christ Jesus,” may denote that a special divine care is exercised over the elect, because of their covenant relation to Christ, even before their being called by the Holy Spirit. “Preserved in Christ Jesus, and called.”

Those who are not included in the election of grace, are called, in Scripture, “the rest,”[50] and vessels of wrath.”[51] Why they are not included, we are as unable to explain as why the others are included; and we are therefore compelled to refer the matter to the sovereignty of God, who, beyond all doubt, acts herein most wisely and righteously, though he has not explained to us the reasons of his procedure. His absolute sovereignty, is the discrimination which he makes, is expressed by Paul in these words: “He hath mercy on whom he will have mercy; and whom he will he hardeneth.”[52] The natural tendency of human depravity is such, that the heart grows harder under the general mercies which God bestows, unless he superadds to all the other benefits which he confers, the renewing grace of the Holy Spirit, by which the heart is changed. This renewing grace he gives or withholds at his sovereign pleasure. This sovereignty, in so bestowing mercy as to soften the hard heart, is unquestionably taught by the words just quoted, however we may interpret the phrase “he hardeneth.” It is not necessary to understand these words as implying a positive act of God, exerted for the purpose of producing hardness of heart, and directed to this end. When Paul speaks of the vessels of mercy, he says that God hath “afore prepared” them for glory; but when he speaks of the vessels of wrath, as fitted for destruction, he does not say that God has fitted them for this end.[53] As the potter, out of the same mass, makes one vessel to honor and another to dishonor;[54] so God, out of the same mass of mankind, prepares some for glory, as vessels of mercy; while others, whatever benefits abuse the mercies which he bestows, and, growing harder by the influence of their natural depravity, are vessels of wrath fitted for destruction.

Divines have used the term “reprobate” as equivalent to “non-elect;” but this is not the Scripture use of the term. Paul says, “Examine yourselves whether ye be in the faith, prove your own selves. Know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates?[55] Here all are regarded as reprobates in whom Christ does not dwell by faith; and, of consequence, the elect themselves are reprobates so long as they remain in unbelief. Reprobation, as a positive act of God, is no other than the condemnation under which all unbelievers lie.

From a state of condemnation, God, according to his purpose in election, delivers some by his renewing grace, and this is no injury or disadvantage done to the rest.

The doctrine of election is generally opposed by unrenewed men: and even in the minds of those whose hearts have been renewed by grace, such objections to it often arise as to prevent the cordial reception of it. The most common of these objections is would be proper here to consider.

Obj. 1. The doctrine of election offers no inducement to human effort. Under the belief of it men conclude that, if elected, they will be saved, do what they will; and if not elected, they will be damned, do what they can. Hence they decide that all effort on their part is useless, and that it will be as well to live as they please, and dismiss all concern about their destiny, over which they can have no control.

That some men, who profess to believe the doctrine of election, make a bad use of it, cannot be denied; but it cannot be affirmed that all who receive the doctrine reason or act in the manner stated in the objection. On the contrary, multitudes, eminent for holiness of life and self-denying labors in the cause of Christ, not only cordially receive the doctrine, but ascribe all their holiness and self-denying labors to that grace which they have received from God’s electing love. Many who reject and hate the doctrine, determine to live as they please, and to give themselves no concern for the things of God and religion: and the same cause will produce the same effect, in unregenerate men who admit the doctrine, and pervert it by their carnal reasonings to a use to which is has no legitimate tendency.

This objection to election applies equally to every part of the divine purpose, and proceeds on the supposition that God has predetermined the end without reference to the means by which it is to be accomplished. God has his purpose in providence, as well as in grace; and works all things in each department of his operations, after the counsel of his own will: but no wise man will say, “If I am to have a crop, I shall have it, whether I plough and sow, or not; and therefore I need not labor, or give myself concern to obtain bread to eat.” The purpose of God leaves men at equal liberty, and gives them equal encouragement to labor for the meat that perisheth not, as for that which perisheth. God’s purpose does not sever the connection between the means and the end, but establishes it; and there is nothing, in a proper view of God’s sovereignty, whether in providence or in grace, to induce the belief that the end may be obtained without the use of the appropriate means; or that the end need be despaired of if the appropriate means be used. The word of God assures us, that “he who believes in Christ shall be saved, and he who believes not shall be damned;” and there is nothing in God’s purpose, or in a proper view of his purpose, to annul these declarations of his word. The purpose of God determines his own action; but his revealed word is the rule of ours; and if we so act as to have his promise on our side, we may be sure that is purpose also will be on our side: but his purpose cannot secure the salvation of any who remain in impenitence and unbelief, and under the condemnation of his revealed word.

It is true, however, that election discourages such human effort as is made in a wrong direction. It prostrates all human hope at the feet of a Sovereign God, and teaches the prayer, “Lord, if thou wilt, thou canst make me clean.” It discountenances all effort to save ourselves by our own works of righteousness; but brings the sinner to commit himself at once to the sovereign mercy of God. He who, knowing himself to be condemned and helpless, gives himself, from the heart, into the hands of God as a sovereign, and trusts entirely to his grace for salvation, will find no reason to prefer that this grace should be conferred according to some present determination of the divine mind, rather than according to the counsel of eternal wisdom. The objection to the latter, if thoroughly analyzed, will be found to contain in it some lurking idea that it is safer to trust in something else than in God’s absolute mercy. As such lurking trust is dangerous to the soul, the doctrine of election has a salutary tendency to deliver us from it. It tends to produce precisely that trust in God, that complete surrender of ourselves to him, to which alone the promise of eternal life is made; and if we reject the doctrine, we ought to consider whether we do not, at the same time, reject our only hope of life everlasting.

Obj. 2. The doctrine of election is unfavorable to the interest of morality. If men believe that God has appointed them to salvation or damnation, at his own pleasure, without regard to their works, the motive to good works which is drawn from the expectation of future reward or punishment, will cease to influence them.

At the last day men will be judged according to their works. God’s choice of men to holiness and obedience, and the grace bestowed on them to render them holy and obedient, do not change the rule by which the final judgment will be pronounced: they, therefore, leave the expectation of future retribution to have its full effect on the minds of men. No one will be condemned at the mere pleasure of God; but every sentence of condemnation will be for sins committed. Hence the fear of future punishment ought to deter men from the commission of sin. None have a right to expect acceptance in the great day who do not, in the present life, serve God in sincerity and with persevering constancy. A belief that God, by his grace, inclines some men to serve him, and that he determined, from eternity, to bestow this grace upon them, cannot diminish, in any well-disposed mind, the proper influence arising from the expectation of future retribution, or produce indifference to the claims of morality. In electing men to salvation, God has devised no method of accomplishing his gracious purpose respecting them, but by rendering them holy and obedient; and therefore the doctrine of election teaches the indispensable necessity of holiness and obedience, in order to salvation. The doctrine is perverted and abused when men take occasion from it to indulge in sin.

Obj. 3. The doctrine of election represents God as partial, and is, therefore, inconsistent with Scripture, which teaches that “The wisdom which is from above, is without partiality.”[56]

The wisdom from above, which James declares to be without partiality, dwells in the minds of Christian men, and is exercised in their intercourse with mankind. It does not incline or require them to feel equal affection toward all, or to do good equally to all. Within the limits of justice, it requires that every man shall have his due; and here, all partiality is injustice. In the department of benevolence, the Christian man is not bound to bestow his favors with equality, on all his fellow creatures. The wisdom from above guides him, in the distribution of his favors, by other rules. So God, the source of this wisdom, is without partiality in the dispensation of his justice; but, in bestowing his grace, he acts as a sovereign, and claims and exercises the right to do what he will with his own. Partiality in a judge, when professing to administer justice, is a great wrong; but the same judge may bestow special favor on his children, or near friends, or on chosen objects of charity, without any just imputation of wrong; and to charge God with partiality, because he bestows his favors as he pleases, is to pour contempt on his sovereignty, and covertly to deny his right to do what he will with his own. He may well say to man who makes this charge: “Is thine eye evil, because I am good?”

Obj. 4. The doctrine of election represents God as a respecter of persons; but Peter affirmed that “God is not a respecter of persons.”[57]

The same phrase has different significations, according to the connection in which it is used. We may affirm that God is, in one sense of the phrase, a respecter of persons, for his word states, that “he had respect unto Abel and his offering.”[58] The first Christians were taught, not to have respect of persons, by giving superior places, in their religious assemblies, to those who were rich, and wore gay clothing.[59] The Hebrew judges were required not to have respect of persons, by favoring any one in his cause.[60] In this objectionable sense, God is not a respecter of persons. Before him, the rich and great of the earth are as nothing: yet he has respect to his saints, however humble and despised among men. When Peter affirmed that God is not a respecter of persons, he was addressing the first company of uncircumcised persons to whom the Gospel was preached; and his words manifestly imported the equal admission of Gentiles with Jews, to the privileges and blessings of the Gospel. “God is not a respecter of persons; but in every nation, he that feareth God, and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him.”[61] The words express nothing contrary to what Peter elsewhere says: “Ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a peculiar people, that ye should show forth the praises of him who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light.”[62]

Obj. 5. The doctrine of election represents God as insincere. He invites all man to participate in the blessings of the gospel; and yet, if this doctrine is true, the blessings of the gospel are not designed for all.

If God’s word teaches the doctrine of election, and if it contains commands or invitations to all men to seek salvation through Christ, it is highly presumptuous in us to charge God with insincerity, because we cannot reconcile the two things with each other. We ought to remember that we are worms of the dust, and that it is criminal arrogance in us to judge and condemn the infinite God. But, in truth, there is no ground whatever for this charge of insincerity. God requires all men to believe in Christ; and this is their duty, however unwilling they may be to perform it. The fact that they are unwilling, and that God knows they will remain unwilling, unless he change their hearts, abates nothing from the sincerity of the requirement. God proves his sincerity, by holding them to the obligation, and condemning their unbelief. He promises salvation to all who believe in Christ; and he proves his sincerity, by fulfilling his promise in every instance. The bestowment of special grace, changing the hearts of men, and bringing them to believe in Christ, is, in no respect, inconsistent with any requirement or promise that God has made. While men regard the call of the gospel as an invitation which they may receive or reject at pleasure, it accords with their state of mind to institute the inquiry, whether God is sincere in offering this invitation: but when they regard it as a solemn requirement of duty, for which God will certainly hold them accountable, they will find no occasion for calling his sincerity in question.

Obj. 6. The doctrine of election confines the benevolence of God to a part of the human race; but the Scriptures teach, that “the Lord is good to all, and his tender mercies are over all his works.”[63]

God is kind to the unthankful and evil, and bestows blessings on the just and the unjust; but his benevolence, though infinite, does not produce in every one of his creatures the highest degree of happiness. The world which we inhabit abounds with misery, and the Scriptures have warned us, that there is a world of unmitigated torment, into which wicked men will be driven, to be punished for their sins, with the devil and his angels. The justice of God limits the exercise of his benevolence; and, if we deny the doctrine of election, it still remains true, that the benevolence of God will effect the salvation of a part only of the human race. Now, unless it can be shown that the election of grace lessens the number of the saved, no objection can lie against it, on the ground of its relation to God’s benevolence. Paul did not regard it as lessening the divine benevolence. According to his view of the subject, all Israel would have been cast away, had not God reserved a remnant according to the election of grace.[64] What was true of this nation, is true of all other nations. There are causes, apart from election, which intercept the flow of God’s benevolence to sinful men: and election, instead of increasing the obstacles, opens the channel in which the mercy of God can flow, to bless and save the lost.

Obj. 7. The doctrine of election, by teaching that God has reprobated a part of the human race to hopeless misery, represents him as an unamiable being.

Sinful men are indeed reprobated, not by the election of grace, but by the justice of God; but their reprobation is not hopeless, so long as the gospel of salvation sounds in their ears. But the only hope on which they are authorized to lay hold, springs from the electing love of God. Instead of covering men’s prospects with the blackness of darkness, the doctrine of election sends a ray of hope, the only possible ray, to enlighten the gloom.

The justice of God will hereafter doom the finally impenitent, as it has already doomed the fallen angels, to hopeless misery. The unamiable feature, which the objection we are considering finds in the divine character, is the justice so horrible to the workers of iniquity. The election of grace, if it wholly annihilated the justice of God, would receive the praises of unconverted men; but it cannot do this. The infinite benevolence of God cannot do this. If men will pronounce the character of God unamiable, because he is just, and dooms sinful beings to hopeless misery, they prove thereby that they do not love the God whom the Scriptures reveal, and by whom they are to be judged. Their quarrel with the doctrine of election is, in truth, a quarrel with the justice of God, from which that election has not delivered them.

Of the laborers in the vineyard, who received every man his penny, they who had borne the heat and burden of the day, complained that those who had labored but one hour, received equal wages with them. The occasion for this complaint would not have existed, if no one had received more than was due to him, in strict justice, according to the amount of service rendered. So, if all grace were withheld from the human race, and every one received from God what his deeds in strict justice deserve, no occasion would exist for the objection which is urged against God’s election. But, would men be better off? or would God be more amiable? The lord in the parable met the objection thus: “Friend, I do thee no wrong. Is it not lawful for me to do what I will with mine own? Is thine eye evil, because I am good?”[65] We are taught hereby how to silence objections to the sovereignty of divine grace. While God does wrong to no man, though he does as he will with his own, it becomes us to bow to his sovereignty, and acknowledge him infinitely amiable in all his perfections.

Not content with the God whom the Bible reveals, and who does according to his pleasure in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth, we carve out to ourselves a deity more amiable, in our view, than he. If we dare not strip him of his justice, and secure thereby the salvation of all men, we endeavor to devise for him a method of salvation less exposed to human cavil. We aim to free him from the responsibility of determining who shall be saved; and we form the plan, and fix the terms of salvation, with the design of rendering the result contingent on the actions of men. Our method of grace, we admit, will not secure the salvation of all men. If the infinitely wise God should adopt it, he would foreknow all its results, and precisely how many persons, and what persons, would finally be save by it. Now, if he should make our plan his own, with this foreknowledge of its results, it would then be his plan, fixing as definitely the salvation of those who will be saved, as the plan on which he at present proceeds, and equally leaving the residue of mankind to the awful doom to which his justice will consign them. Our preferred plan may accord better with the views of finite worms, like ourselves, who know not the end from the beginning; but if God would adopt it, he would be responsible for it, in all its workings, to the final issue: responsible, though not to any other being, yet to himself; for his acts must accord with his perfections, and must receive his own approbation. In selecting his present plan, he has chosen it with a full knowledge of all its results. As the plan is his chosen plan, so the people whom it will save are his chosen people. We must prove that our plan would be better, before we can maintain that the deity of our imagination would be more amiable than the God of the Bible.

Every proposed method of salvation that leaves the issue dependent on human volition, is defective. It has been always found, that men will not come to Christ for life. The gospel is preached to every creature; but all, with one consent, ask to be excused. The will of men must be changed; and this change the will itself cannot effect. Divine grace must here interpose. Unless God work in the sinner to will and to do, salvation is impossible. God knows the force of opposition which his grace will encounter in each heart, and the amount of spiritual influence necessary to overcome it. He gives or withholds that influence at his pleasure. He has his own rule of acting in this matter–a rule infinitely wise and good. With full knowledge how his rule will affect every particular case, he perseveres in acting according to it, however men may cavil: and the rule which infinite wisdom adopts must be the best; nor can it be any objection to it, that infinite wisdom knows perfectly its final result.

Obj. 8. The doctrine of election does not recommend itself to the general acceptance of mankind; but is received only by those who believe themselves to be in the number of the elect; and who are therefore interested judges.

The truth or falsehood of a religious doctrine cannot be determined by the acceptance which is obtains among men. What God says, is true, whether men receive or reject it. The gospel, which is preached on the authority of God’s truth, is rejected by a large part of mankind; and those who do receive it are exposed to the charge of being interested judges, because they expect God’s blessing through their belief of it. All that the objection says of election is true of the gospel. It does not prove the gospel untrue; and it ought not, in the least degree, to impair and weaken our faith in the doctrine of election.

According to God’s method of grace, as revealed in this holy word, the salvation of men is made dependent on their belief of the gospel. It is a test of genuine faith, that it cordially receives those parts of divine truth which are least acceptable to the carnal heart. Hence it arises, that the doctrine of election, or, which is the same thing, of God’s sovereignty is the bestowment of his grace, often becomes the point at which a sinner’s submission to God is tested. When this doctrine is cordially received, the sinner’s rebellion against God ceases. When he yields to the sovereignty of God in bestowing eternal life at his pleasure, he admits that sovereignty in everything else. How much soever he may permit the monarch of the universe to do what he pleases in smaller matters, if he refuses to yield to his sovereignty in the matter of highest importance, his submission to God is partial, and the spirit of rebellion has not departed.

Many examples of Christian experience might be adduced, in which a submission to God’s sovereignty in bestowing the blessings of grace, became the deciding point of a sinner’s acceptance of Christ.

Though the objection which we have considered contains no valid argument against the doctrine of election, it may suggest an important lesson to those who admit this doctrine into their creed. If men, as interested judges, decide in favor of the doctrine, and regard it with pleasure merely because they suppose themselves to be among the favorites of heaven, their faith will be unavailing. No submission to God is implied in our approving of his supposed favoritism toward us. The gospel calls on every sinner to give himself up, through Christ, into the hands of his offended sovereign; and to do this as a guilty creature, and not as a supposed favorite of Heaven. In this complete surrender, the heart becomes fully reconciled to the doctrine of election.

[1] 2 Tim. i. 9; Rom. ix. 16; Phil. ii. 13; Matt. xi. 25; Luke x. 21; Eph. ii. 4–9.

[2] Dan. iv. 35.

[3] Rom. ix. 20.

[4] Job xxxiii. 13.

[5] Isaiah lv. 9.

[6] Ez. xviii. 29.

[7] Matt. xx. 15.

[8] 2 Tim. i. 9.

[9] Rom. ix. 11.

[10] Rom. ix. 16.

[11] Matt. xi. 26.

[12] 1 Cor. xii. 11.

[13] Matt. xi. 25.

[14] Rom. ix. 16.

[15] 1 Cor. xv. 10.

[16] Eph. i. 4, 5; 2 Thess. ii. 13; 1 Pet. i. 2; ii. 9; John vi. 37; Rom viii. 33; John x. 27-29.

[17] Rom. viii. 33.

[18] 1 Pet. i. 2.

[19] Luke xviii. 7.

[20] 1 Pet. ii. 9.

[21] 2 Thess. ii. 13.

[22] Eph. i. 4.

[23] 2 Thess. ii. 13.

[24] Acts ix. 15.

[25] John viii. 22. 24.

[26] Rom. xi. 5.

[27] 2 Thess. ii. 13.

[28] Eph. i. 4.

[29] 2 Tim. i. 9.

[30] Eph. ii. 9.

[31] Rom xi. 6.

[32] Rom. ix. 11.

[33] Rom. viii. 28.

[34] 2 Tim. i. 9.

[35] Rom. ix. 11.

[36] Rom. ix. 16.

[37] Phil. ii. 13.

[38] Rom. xi. 33.

[39] Eph. i. 11.

[40] Acts. xv. 18.

[41] Eph. i. 4.

[42] 1 Pet. i. 2.

[43] 1 Pet. i. 2.

[44] Rom. viii. 29.

[45] Rom. xi. 1, 2.

[46] Deut. vii. 7.

[47] 1 Pet. i. 2.

[48] John xvii. 6.

[49] Eph. i. 4.

[50] Rom. xi. 7.

[51] Rom. ix. 22.

[52] Rom. ix. 18.

[53] Rom. ix. 22, 23.

[54] Rom. ix. 21.

[55] 2 Cor. xiii. 5.

[56] James iii. 17.

[57] Acts x. 34.

[58] Gen. iv. 4.

[59] James ii. 3.

[60] Lev. xix. 15.

[61] Acts x. 34, 35.

[62] 1 Pet. ii. 9.

[63] Ps. cxlv. 9.

[64] Rom. xi. 2–5.

[65] Matt. xx. 13, 15.

John L. Dagg- Manual of Theology

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