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Duty of Preparing for the Future World: Immortality and Separate State of the Soul: Book Eight- Chapter 1

Book Eighth

CHAPTER I.

IMMORTALITY AND SEPARATE STATE OF THE SOUL.

WHEN THE HUMAN BODY DIES, THE SOUL, WHICH IS IMMORTAL, CONTINUES TO EXIST IN A SEPARATE STATE.[1]

When the body dies, the atoms of which it consisted are not annihilated; but they separate from each other, and continue to exist in a different state, or in new combinations. The mind, which had previously existed in connection with the body, and had, in that connection, exhibited phenomena, superior to matter, and peculiar to mind, now disappears, and no longer manifests itself as formerly. Though it has disappeared, analogy suggests, that it has not been annihilated. The same philosophy that teaches the indestructibility of the atoms which compose the body, gives its sanction to the doctrine, that the soul is immortal. As the soul is not a compound substance, like the body, it is not susceptible of decomposition, and, therefore, if it continues to exist, it must exist entire, with the properties peculiar to it.

Though philosophy gives its sanction to the doctrine of the soul’s immortality, it arrives at the truth through so many perplexing difficulties, that it grasps it finally with but a feeble faith. Plants are bodies of peculiar organization; and are endowed with vitality, either arising from, or connected with, their organization. Brute animals possess organized bodies, endowed with vitality, and, in connection with this vitality, properties are exhibited, which resemble those of the human mind. In surveying the order of beings, from the most imperfect plant, through the rising scale, up to man, the most exalted of animals, philosophy asks, whether man alone is immortal. This question, with which philosophy is embarrassed, natural religion comes in to answer. The moral faculty of man, and its adaptedness to religion, separate him widely from all other animals, and justify the conclusion that he alone, of all the creatures that inhabit the earth, is destined to immortality.

Philosophy and natural religion have, after all, only an obscure view of this important truth. Life and immortality are brought to light by the gospel.[2] Divine revelation was needed, to make the truth clear; and that revelation, in the light of the gospel, has so exhibited the truth, that he who does not see it, is wilfully blind. In the dawn of revelation under the former dispensation, so much light was thrown on this truth, that believers of that age regarded themselves as pilgrims and strangers in the earth, and declared plainly that they sought a continuing city, a place of everlasting abode, in another world. But the gospel of Jesus Christ has poured the light of noonday on this momentous truth. The doctrine of Jesus, and the resurrection of Jesus, have lifted the veil that hid the invisible world from our view, and we are now permitted to look into it, with the full assurance of hope.

When the soul leaves its mortal tenement, we are taught by the Scriptures that it is not companionless. The departing spirit of Lazarus was borne by angels to Abraham’s bosom.[3] This discourse of our Saviour concerning the rich man and Lazarus, was designed to give us knowledge of the future world. It is not called a parable, but if we regard it as such, it should be remembered, that the parables of Jesus were not like the fables of Æsop, in which beasts and birds spoke and reasoned, but were representations drawn from nature, and conformed to the existing properties of things. In this view, though we are not obliged to regard the account of the rich man and Lazarus, as the actual history of two individuals, it is such a representation as our divine teacher was pleased to employ, to give us some knowledge of the unseen world. In this representation, the angels, who, according to sacred teaching in which is no parable, are ministering spirits,[4] sent forth to minister to them who are heirs of salvation, are hovering around the despised beggar, in his last suffering, and receiving his released spirit, to bear it to its final happy abode. Death, to the departing saint, is not a journey through a solitary way. He is no sooner separated from earthly friends, than he finds himself in a company of celestial spirits, who offer themselves as his attendants and guides, to his eternal and blissful home.

Paul has taught us, that believers, who depart from the dissolving tabernacle, when absent from the body, are present with the Lord.[5] The promise made to the dying thief, is fulfilled to every expiring saint: “To-day, thou shall be with me in paradise.”[6] More than this, he has promised: “I will come again, and receive you unto myself, that where I am, there ye may be also.”[7] As the Lord descended on Mount Sinai, with ten thousands of his angels, so he comes with these attendant spirits, to the chamber in which the Christian dies. As he enters the unseen world, he can joyfully exclaim: “I will fear no evil, for thou art with me.” In company with his blessed Lord, and borne by ministering spirits, the departing saint is conveyed to the mansion which Jesus has prepared for him in the Father’s house. Here, he is brought into Abraham’s bosom, into intimate communion with the Father of the faithful, and with all the holy patriarchs, prophets, and apostles, and with all the spirits of just men made perfect.

The paradise to which the departing spirit goes, is not a place distinct from the heaven in which God makes the most glorious manifestation of himself, and in which the glorified body of Christ has been received until the restitution of all things. The idea, that the disembodied spirit has a separate existence in sheol or hades, shut out from the glorious assembly near the throne, has originated from a misinterpretation of Scripture. Sheol or hades means the unseen world into which the spirit enters, when it leaves the body; but nothing is determined, by the use of the term, respecting the place or condition of the departed. The rich man and Lazarus alike went to the unseen world; but the rich man was “in torment,” and Lazarus “in Abraham’s bosom.”

When separated from the body, the soul does not lose the mental powers which belong to it. The power of perception remains: for the rich man, though the eyes of the body were closed and in the grave, lifted up other “eyes” in hell, and saw Abraham afar off. The power of memory remains: for Abraham said “Son, remember that thou,” &c. The capacity of enjoying and suffering remains: for Lazarus was comforted, and the rich man tormented. It appears, also, from the discourse between Abraham and the rich man, that disembodied spirits not only know each other, but are allowed to hold converse with each other. Doubtless their modes of perceiving, and of communicating with each other, differ widely from ours; and all attempts to understand what is entirely beyond our experience and conception, must necessarily fail. What the Scriptures teach on the subject, is all that we can possibly know; and they explicitly declare that the instruction which they give on the subject, leaves our knowledge imperfect: “We know in part.”[8] “We see through a glass darkly.”[9]

The Scriptures teach us that the departed spirit of the saint is free from suffering. It no longer groans, being burdened.[10] Lazarus is comforted.[11] Together with freedom from suffering, it enjoys freedom from sin. The spirits of just men, when separated from the bodies in which they groaned, are “made perfect.”[12] ‘They are admitted into the high and holy place, where nothing impure can enter.

The souls of the wicked, as well as of the righteous, are immortal, and survive the body. They, too, have their companions; for the devil, by whom they have been led captive, and his angels, with whom they are to suffer everlasting punishment, receive them into their society. Their mental powers and capacities remain, to see heaven and glory at a distance, to remember and bitterly regret their sin against God, and the opportunity of mercy despised, and to endure torments without mitigation, or hope of relief.

Some persons have supposed that departed spirits become angels, and have cited, in proof of this opinion, the words of the angel to John: “I am thy fellow-servant, and of thy brethren, the prophets.”[13] They understand that the angel declares himself to be the spirit of one of the ancient prophets. But this is an erroneous interpretation of the passage, which may be correctly interpreted thus: “I am the fellow-servant of thee, and the fellow-servant of thy brethren, the prophets.” The angels are spirits, but not human spirits. They were never redeemed by the blood of Christ; and therefore, in their joyful announcement to the shepherds of Bethlehem, they said: “Unto you,” not unto us, “is born this day in the city of David, a Saviour.”[14] Hence the song of redemption, when heard in heaven, is described as a new song,[15] having never been sung by the angelic choirs. Paul has clearly distinguished between the innumerable company of angels,[16] and “the spirits of just men made perfect,” though they are named together, as component parts of the great society into which men are introduced, when they become believers in Christ.

[1] Luke xvi. 22, 23; xxiii. 43; Matt. xxii. 31,32; Luke xx. 37, 38; Rev. xiv. 13; Heb. xii. 23; 2 Cor. v. 6, 8; Phil. i. 23; 1 Thess. v. 10; Eccl. xii. 7.

[2] 2 Tim. i. 10.

[3] Luke xvi. 22.

[4] Heb. i. 14.

[5] 2 Cor. v. 8.

[6] Luke xxiii. 43.

[7] John xiv. 3.

[8] 1 Cor. xiii. 9

[9] 1 Cor. xiii. 12.

[10] 2 Cor. v. 4.

[11] Luke xvi. 25.

[12] Heb. xii. 23.

[13] Rev. xix. 10.

[14] Luke ii. 11.

[15] Rev. v. 9.

[16] Heb. xii. 22,23.

John L. Dagg- Manual of Theology

Duty of Preparing for the Future World: Introduction- Book 8

Book Eighth

INTRODUCTION.

DUTY OF PREPARING FOR THE FUTURE WORLD.[1]

The people of God have ever been strangers and pilgrims in the earth. Though in the world, they are not of the world; and, both by their professions and their deportment, they declare plainly, that they seek another country, as their final home. Hence, they walk not according to the course of this world, and are deaf to its enticements, and appear to have their eyes fixed on objects that the world sees not. So Moses endured, as seeing him who is invisible.[2] So he turned his back on the pleasures of sin and the treasures of Egypt, and had respect unto the recompense of the reward, to be obtained in the future world. So patriarchs, prophets, apostles, and martyrs, have lived for eternity, and have left their testimony to mankind, that they were not of this world, and that their treasure, their hearts, and their final home to which they journeyed, were in heaven. These examples call on us for imitation, and, if we possess the wisdom and spirit by which they were actuated, we too shall make it the business of our lives, to prepare for the future world.

The precepts of revelation call on us to prepare for eternity. “Prepare to meet thy God.” “Set your affections on things above.”[3] “Lay not up for yourselves treasures on earth, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven; for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.”[4] “O that they were wise, that they would consider their latter end.”[5] All revelation calls as with one voice, as with a voice from heaven, a voice of warning, expostulation, and earnest entreaty, to quit this perishing world, to flee from the wrath to come, to lay hold on eternal life, and to seek a continuing city, an enduring portion, in the world to come. With reference to this future world, every duty is enjoined, every promise made, every motive presented, and he whose eye is not steadfastly fixed on that world, has no reason to hope that he will secure the inheritance of the saints.

Since the motives to holiness, and to diligence in the pursuit of it, are drawn so abundantly from the future world, a knowledge of that world is of great importance to all men. Every man knows that the time of his continuance on earth is short and uncertain; and while fully assured that he must leave this world, and that the time of his departure is just at hand, to make no inquiry concerning the world to which he is going, or to disregard authentic information concerning it, and the means of obtaining happiness there, is folly in the extreme. It is therefore wise to study the doctrine concerning the future world, and to study it as a subject of momentous personal interest. At every step in our progress, we should ask, how does this truth affect my heart? Am I so running, as to obtain? Are my prospects clear? Ought I not to renew my diligence, and to seek more earnestly the guidance and help needed, that I may finish my course with joy?

[1] Amos iv. 12. prepare to meet thy God.

2 Cor. iv. 18. We look not at the things which are seen and temporal, but at the things which are unseen and eternal.

[2] Heb. xi.27.

[3] Col. iii. 2.

[4] Matt. vi. 19, 20, 21.

[5] Deut. xxxii. 29.

John L. Dagg- Manual of Theology

Duty of Gratitude for Divine Grace: Conclusion- Book Seventh- Chapter 4

Book Seventh

CHAPTER IV.

CONCLUSION.

Our Saviour frequently rebuked those who trusted in themselves that they were righteous, and despised others. This self-righteous temper prevailed in the sect of the Pharisees; and Paul, who was a Pharisee, was obliged to renounce it, when he became a follower of Christ. He then prayed to be found, not having his own righteousness, but the righteousness which is of God by faith. In his strong desire and earnest prayer for the salvation of his countrymen, the Jews, he regarded it as their great and fatal error, that, “being ignorant of God’s righteousness, they went about to establish their own righteousness.”

Self-righteousness is offensive to God. The king, in the parable, was displeased, because one of the guests appeared at the marriage, not having on a wedding garment. But when we array ourselves in our own righteousness of filthy rags, and present ourselves in the assembly of the saints, before the God of holiness, and claim his approbation and smile, because we are thus arrayed, we offer insult to the King Supreme. We evince that we have no right appreciation of his holiness and justice: and while we profess to honor him as God, we so degrade his moral perfections as to make him altogether such an one as ourselves. This temper of mind rejects the mediation and righteousness of Christ, and thereby sets at nought the counsel of God, in the great scheme of salvation. The Father is well pleased with the Son, for his righteousness’ sake; and he cannot be well pleased with those who despise that righteousness, and choose to appear in their own.

Self-righteousness is ruinous to the soul. It may be highly esteemed among men; for the Pharisees, who loved the praise of men more than the praise of God, obtained their reward, in being honored for their great sanctity. But God searches the heart, and in his view the outward sanctity avails nothing, while all within is rottenness. Yet the disguise cheats mankind, and cheats him who wears it. Blindly and stupidly trusting to his own righteousness, he is at ease, and cries Peace, Peace, until sudden destruction comes upon him. It is one of Satan’s most successful artifices, to lull men to sleep in their own righteousness. Many who have been alarmed by a view of their outward sins, have reformed their lives; and, relying on their morality, have, without any heart-religion, without any true faith in Christ, fatally dreamed their life away in the vain hope that all will be well at last. So difficult is it to rouse men from this delusion, that publicans and harlots entered into the kingdom of heaven before the self-righteous Pharisees.[1]

The doctrine of grace is the remedy for self-righteousness. It is a remedy which the unholy heart greatly dislikes, but if once received, it proves an effectual antidote to the evil. It slays all self-dependence, and lays the guilty sinner prostrate at the feet of mercy. He turns from his own righteousness, as from his sins, with loathing and abhorrence, and pleads, and trusts, and hopes for mercy only for the sake of Christ. In this method of salvation there is not compromise with the self-righteous spirit; no reliance is admitted either on absolute merit, or on comparative merit. Every one is required to come to Christ, as most guilty and vile, and to seek mercy as the chief of sinners. He must bring no plea that he is more worthy, or less worthy than his neighbor. So long as he relies on such a plea, the door of mercy is shut against him. He is taught to receive salvation as a free gift, absolutely free, without money and without price.

The doctrine of grace completely excludes all human boasting. This was Paul’s view of it. “Where is boasting then? It is excluded. By what law? Works? Nay, but by the law of faith.”[2] Its tendency to humble men before God, and teach them to glory in the Lord alone, is an excellence which the inspired apostle highly prized. This endeared the doctrine to him, and should endear it to us. We are prone to think of ourselves above what we ought to think: but we have the means at hand for humbling our pride, in the interrogatory, “Who made thee to differ from another? and what hast thou, that thou didst not receive?”[3]

This doctrine presents the strongest motive to holiness. It has been charged against it, that it leads to licentiousness; and this charge is as old as the days of the apostles. It was then asked, “Shall we continue in sin, that grace may abound?”[4] and it was falsely asserted that they taught, “Let us do evil, that good may come.”[5] If, in advocating this doctrine, we meet with similar charges, we may rejoice in the proof thus furnished, that we stand on apostolic ground. But the whole charge is without foundation. Men may be self-righteous Pharisees, and, at the same time, live in sin; but when self-righteousness is destroyed by the Spirit of grace, the man becomes dead, not only to the law, but also to sin, and, being dead to sin, he can live no longer therein. Men may, in a self-righteous spirit, abstain from sin, while they love it. But the doctrine of grace, when received into the heart, destroys the very love of sin. A sense of obligation for free and unmerited mercy, occupies the heart, and constrains to holy obedience.

This doctrine is honorable to God. All flesh is humbled before him, and he alone is exalted. The cross of Christ is elevated; and men are attracted to it, and taught to glory in it alone. The full salvation, as it comes forth from the triune God, in its completeness, and perfect adaptedness to our wretched and lost condition, becomes the object of our admiring delight, and calls forth our joyful ascriptions of praise.

This doctrine unites the people of God. All come to Christ on the same level. The rich, the poor, the learned, the unlearned, the bond, the free; all come to him, without distinction of rank, or of merit. All melt before him into penitence and love, and their hearts become one. Under the full influence of this doctrine, no man can glory in men, or treat with contempt a fellow member of Christ, a weak brother whom Christ has received.

This doctrine prepares us to join the song of the redeemed in heaven. Even here we learn to sing, “Not unto us, not unto us, but unto thy name give glory.”[6] And the same shall be our song, when we stand before the throne. “Salvation, and glory, and honor, and power, unto the Lord our God.”[7] The celestial harps cannot sound a self-righteous note, It would disturb the heavenly harmony. Every heart feels, and every song declares, that “Salvation is of the Lord.”[8]

[1] Matt. xxi. 31.

[2] Rom. iii. 27.

[3] 1 Cor. iv. 7.

[4] Rom. vi. 1

[5] Rom. iii. 8.

[6] Ps. cxv. 1.

[7] Rev. xix. 1

[8] Jonah ii. 9.

John L. Dagg- Manual of Theology

Duty of Gratitude for Divine Grace: Sovereignty of Grace: Effectual Calling- Book Seventh- Chapter 4- Section 3

Book Seventh

CHAPTER IV.

SECTION III.–EFFECTUAL CALLING.

THE HOLY SPIRIT EFFECTUALLY CALLS ALL THE ELECT TO REPENT AND BELIEVE.[85]

The gospel calls all who hear it to repent and believe. This call proceeds from the Holy Spirit, who qualifies the ministers of the gospel for their work, and gives them the written word. But men resist and disobey this call of the Spirit, and remain under condemnation. “Ye do always resist the Holy Ghost; as your fathers did, so do ye.” “Which of the prophets have not your fathers persecuted?”[86] “He shall be revealed, taking vengeance on all them that obey not the gospel.”[87]

Besides the call which is external, and often ineffectual, there is another, which is internal and effectual. This always produces repentance and faith, and therefore secures salvation. The former external call is intended in such passages of Scripture as the following: “Because I have called, and ye refused.”[88] “Many be called, but few chosen.”[89] The internal and effectual call is designed in the following passages: “Who hath saved us, and called us with a holy calling.”[90] “Whom he predestinated, them he also called; whom he called, them he also justified.”[91] “Called to be saints.”[92] “Among whom are ye also called to Jesus Christ.”[93] “To them who love God who are the called according to his purpose.”[94] It is not true of all who receive the external call, that they are predestinated to life, justified and saved. Whenever these blessings are represented as belonging to the called, the internal and effectual call must be meant.

We have before distinguished between the direct and the indirect influence of the Holy Spirit. The external call being by means of the written or preached word, belongs to the indirect influence of the Spirit. To render this call effectual, the direct influence is superadded; and the gospel is then said to come, not in word only,[95] but in demonstration of the Spirit and with power.[96] The external call is disobeyed, because men will not come to Christ that they may have life: the internal call operates on the will itself, working in men to will and to do, and rendering God’s people willing in the day of his power. As distinguished from the external call the internal is always unresisted. In the process of conversion, the Holy Spirit is violently resisted; but his resistance is directed against the outward means. The internal grace softens and subdues the heart, and brings it into peaceful subjection to the gospel of Christ.

The internal grace, which renders the outward call effectual, is the grace of regeneration. Hence regeneration, considered as the work of the Holy Spirit, is the same as effectual calling; considered as the change of the sinner’s heart, it is the effect of this calling. The calling is effectual, because it produces regeneration in the subject on whom it operates.

In effectual calling, the Holy Spirit displays his omnipotence. “We believe according to the working of his mighty power, which he wrought in Christ, when he raised him from the dead.”[97] The same power which created the world, and said, “Let there be light, and there was light,” is needed in the new creation of the sinner. “God, who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, hath shined in our hearts.”[98] “We are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works.”[99] “According as his divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of him that hath called us to glory and virtue.”[100] His power in creating the world was unresisted; and equally unresisted is the power by which he new-creates the heart. The outward means which the Spirit sends may be resisted; but when the Spirit himself comes in the omnipotence of his grace, resistance vanishes.

In effectual calling, the Holy Spirit acts as a sovereign. In bestowing the various gifts which he conferred on the ancient Christians, he acted as a sovereign: “All these worketh that one and the self-same Spirit, dividing to every man severally as he will.”[101] He is equally sovereign in giving regenerating grace. “Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth.”[102] Grace is sovereign in election by the Father, redemption by the Son, and effectual calling by the Holy Spirit. The discrimination which grace makes among the children of men, first appears in effectual calling. This work of the Holy Spirit leads up, through the redemption of Jesus Christ, to God the Father, to whose electing love we are taught to ascribe all the blessings of eternal salvation. In this reverse order we look back, along the stream of mercy, to the fountain from which it flows. The reverse order is observed in the precept, “Make your calling and election sure.”[103] Our calling proceeds from our election; but we ascertain our election by first ascertaining our calling.

In effectual calling, the Holy Spirit operates on the elect. These are “sanctified by God the Father, preserved in Christ Jesus, and called.”[104] They whom the Spirit calls are “chosen in Christ from the foundation of the world.”[105] “As many as were ordained to eternal life believed.”[106] The Spirit’s effectual calling fulfils the word of Christ, “All that my Father giveth me, shall come to me.”[107] “Other sheep have I, which are not of this fold; them also I must bring.”[108]

It has been asked, for what purpose does God send his outward call to the non-elect, since it will be ineffectual, unless accompanied with his omnipotent grace. We might as well ask for what purpose does God give men his law, when they will not obey it; or why does he institute a moral government over them, when they will not submit to it. Instead of demanding God’s reasons for what he does, it becomes every man rather to inquire, what reason he can render to God, for violating his holy law, and rejecting the call of his gospel. We may be sure that God will do right, and will be able to vindicate his ways before the intelligent universe; and we should regard our propensity to call in question the wisdom and righteousness of his procedure, as an alarming evidence of our want of submission to his will.

Objection. If repentance and faith are gifts of grace bestowed by the Holy Spirit in effectual calling, men on whom this grace is not conferred, are not blameworthy for being impenitent and unbelieving.

The objection virtually assumes, that men are under no obligation to serve God further than they please; or that if their unwillingness to serve him can be overcome by nothing less than omnipotent grace, it excuses their disobedience. Let the man who makes to himself this apology for his impenitence and unbelief, consider well, with what face he can present his plea before the great Judge. “I did not serve God, because I was wholly unwilling to serve him; and so exceedingly unwilling that nothing less than omnipotent grace could reconcile me to the hated service.” Who will dare offer this plea on the great day?

The efficacious grace which renders the gospel successful, is the grand peculiarity of the gospel dispensation.

This grace was bestowed in a smaller measure, before the coming of Christ, and during his personal ministry; but the abundant outpouring of it was reserved for the Pentecost that followed the Saviour’s ascension, and the times succeeding. The apostles were commanded to remain in Jerusalem, until they were endued with power from on high, and the power of the Holy Spirit which fell on them rendered their preaching far more successful than the ministry of Christ himself had been. Had God bound himself, by rule, to give an equal measure of grace to every human being, and to leave the result to the unaided volitions of men, the extraordinary success which marked the first period of Christianity would not have existed. It must be ascribed to the efficacious grace of the Holy Spirit, whom the Saviour promised to send after he should go to the Father. To the power of the Spirit, the success of the word, in all ages, must be attributed: and the glorious millennial day so long expected by the church will not come, until the Spirit be poured out from on high.[109] Hence, all good men looking forward to this glorious day, have not relied for its coming on the superior morality and religious tendency of future generations, but have prayed for it and have hoped for success, only through the abundant influence of the Holy Spirit.

[85] John vi. 37; Rom. viii. 26, 30; 1 Cor. i. 24; 2 Tim. i. 9; 1 Pet. ii. 9; Jude 1, 2; 1 Cor. ii. 4; 1 Thess. i. 4–6.

[86] Acts vii. 51, 52.

[87] 2 Thess. i. 7, 8.

[88] Prov. i. 24.

[89] Matt. xx. 16.

[90] 2 Tim. i. 9.

[91] Rom. viii. 30.

[92] Rom. i. 7.

[93] Rom. i. 6.

[94] Rom. viii. 28.

[95] 1 Thess. i. 5.

[96] 1 Cor. ii. 4.

[97] Eph. i. 19, 20.

[98] 2 Cor. iv. 6.

[99] Eph. ii. 10.

[100] 2 Pet. i. 3

[101] 1 Cor. xii. 11.

[102] James i. 18.

[103] 2 Pet. i. 10

[104] Jude 1.

[105] Eph. i. 4–13.

[106] Acts xiii. 48.

[107] John vi. 37.

[108] John x. 16.

[109] Isaiah xxxii. 15.

John L. Dagg- Manual of Theology

Duty of Gratitude for Divine Grace: Sovereignty of Grace: Particular Redemption- Book Seventh- Chapter 4- Section 2

Book Seventh

CHAPTER IV.

SECTION II.–PARTICULAR REDEMPTION.

THE SON OF GOD GAVE HIS LIFE TO REDEEM THOSE WHO WERE GIVEN TO HIM BY THE FATHER IN THE COVENANT OF GRACE.[66]

The Scriptures teach that the Son of God, in coming into the world and laying down his life, had the salvation of a peculiar people in view: “Thou shalt call his name Jesus, for he shall save his people from their sins.”[67] “The good Shepherd giveth his life for the sheep.”[68] “Husbands, love your wives, even as Christ also loved the Church, and gave himself for it, that he might sanctify and cleanse it with the washing of water by the word, that he might present it to himself a glorious church.”[69] The Scriptures also teach that the expectation of the Redeemer will be fully realized, and that not one of all whom the Father gave him will fail to be saved: “He shall see his seed. He shall see of the travail of his soul and be satisfied.”[70] “All that the Father giveth me, shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out.” “And this is the Father’s will which hath sent me, that of all which he hath given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day.”[71] “Father, I will that they also, whom thou hast given me, be with me where I am.”[72]

And finally, when all shall be congregated, he will say, “Behold, I, and the children which God has given me.”[73] In presenting to the Father all who had been given to him, in the covenant of grace, to be redeemed out of every kindred, tongue, nation, and people, the Saviour will have the full reward of his obedience unto death.

Redemption will not be universal in its consummation; for the redeemed will be out of every kindred, tongue, nation, and people;[74] and therefore cannot include all in any of these divisions of mankind. And redemption cannot have been universal in its purpose; otherwise the purpose will fail to be accomplished, and all, for which the work of redemption was undertaken will not be effected.

Besides God’s will of purpose, we have seen that he has a will of precept. According to the latter, he commands all men everywhere to repent; he requires all to believe in Jesus Christ; and it is his will that all men should honor the Son. To all who obey his will in these particulars, he gives the promise of eternal life. The precept and the promise are both included in the revealed will of God. It is the revealed will of God that the gospel should be preached to every creature, and that every creature who hears should believe, and that all who believe shall receive life everlasting. The revealed will is the rule of our faith, duty, and hope; and by it those who preach the gospel, and those who hear it, are authorised and bound to regulate every thought and action. In it, Christ is exhibited as the Saviour of the world;[75] the only name under heaven given among men whereby we must be saved;[76] and sinners, without exception, are invited and commanded to believe in Christ. As the gospel is preached to all men without distinction, and all are called upon to come to Christ for life; and nothing but man’s rejection of the gospel prevents the extension of its blessing to all who hear it; it accords with the design of God’s revealed word, to speak of the offices and work of Christ, according to men’s obligations respecting them. It must be remembered, however, that the gospel promises its blessings to those only who obey it; and, as the promise, not the precept, is the proper measure of the benefits which it secures, its benefits are limited to particular persons, even when the limitation in its extent does not appear in the language employed. Christ is called the Saviour of the world,[77] the propitiation[78] for the sins of the whole world; and the free gift through him is said to come on all men unto justification of life.[79] These, and other like expressions of Scripture, represent the facts as they would be, on the supposition that all men did their duty. But notwithstanding these general expressions, the revealed will of God secures blessings only to the obedient, and is therefore narrower in its limit than the purpose or secret will of God, which not only provides all needed grace for the obedient, but also, for all the elect, the grace necessary to render them obedient.

The remarks which have been made may suffice to show that redemption is not universal, in any view which can properly be taken of it. It is particular in its consummation, and in its purpose; and it is equally so in the revelation of it, which is made in the gospel. The general terms “all men,” “the whole world,” &c. which the Scriptures employ in speaking of its extent, cannot be understood to secure its benefits to the impenitent and unbelieving. According to God’s secret will, or will of purpose, redemption is secured by the death of Christ to all the elect; according to his revealed will, it is secured to those only who believe.

The adaptedness of Christ’s death to serve as a ground for universal gospel invitations, constitutes it in the view of some persons a universal redemption. But no one can with propriety be said to be redeemed, who does not obtain deliverance, and who never will obtain it. Other persons who maintain the doctrine of particular redemption, distinguish between redemption and atonement, and because of the adaptedness referred to, consider the death of Christ an atonement for the sins of all men; or as an atonement for sin in the abstract. In Rom. v.11, the only place in the New Testament where the word atonement occurs, the Greek word for which it stands, is the same that is rendered reconciling–reconciliation, in other places.[80] The reconciliation is not between God and sin in the abstract, for such a reconciliation is impossible. It is a reconciliation of persons; and such a reconciliation as secures eternal salvation. “If, when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God, by the death of his Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by his life.”[81] In Paul’s view, all those for whom Christ’s death made reconciliation or atonement, will certainly be saved; and therefore atonement cannot be universal, unless salvation be universal. It is possible to use the word atonement in such a sense, as to render the question respecting the extent of the atonement one of mere definition: but it is best to use the words of Scripture in the Scripture sense.

In reconciling the vicariousness of Christ’s death with the universal call of the gospel a difficulty arises, which may be stated thus:–

An unrestricted invitation to all who hear the gospel, to come to Christ for life, seems to imply that universal provision has been made in him; and in order to the making of universal provision, it appears necessary that he should have borne the sins of all men.

But the supposition that he bore the sins of the whole human race, is attended with much difficulty. Multitudes died in impenitence before he came into the world, and were suffering for their sins in the other world, while he was hanging on the cross. How could he be a substitute for these, and suffer the penalty for their sins, when they were suffering it in their own persons? And if he endured the penalty for the sins of all who have since died, or shall hereafter die in impenitence, how shall they be required to satisfy justice a second time by personal suffering?

For a solution of this difficulty, with which the minds of many have been much perplexed, it has been supposed that the amount of suffering necessary to make an atoning sacrifice, is not increased or lessened by the amount of the sin to be atoned for. This hypothesis is entitled to respect, not only because of the relief which it affords the mind, but also because it has recommended itself to the general acceptance of learned and pious men. Nevertheless, like every other hypothesis invented for the removal of difficulty, it should not be made an article of faith, until it has been proved.

In support of the hypothesis, it has been argued that since the wages of sin is death, Christ must have died for a single sin, and he needed only to die, in making atonement for the sins of the whole world.

This argument does not sustain the hypothesis, unless it be assumed that death is the same in every supposable case. But death may be an easy and joyful transition from this world to the world of bliss. Such was not the death of Christ. Death, as the wages of sin, includes more than the mere dissolution of the body: and Christ, in dying for sin, endured an amount of sorrow which was not necessary to mere natural death. In this suffering, the expiatory efficacy of his death chiefly consisted; and we dare not assume that the amount of it must be the same in every supposable case. The sufferings of Christ derive infinite value from his divine nature; but, being endured by his human nature, their amount could not be infinite; hence it is supposable that the amount might have been different in different circumstances. The inhabitants of Sodom and Gomorrah will, in the last day, be doomed to the second death, equally with the more guilty inhabitants of Chorazin and Bethsaida: but the anguish attendant will be more intolerable in one case than in the other. Analogy would seem to require, that Christ, suffering for the sins of the whole world, must endure more than if suffering for only one sin.

The advocates of the hypothesis urge, that the atonement is moral, and not commercial; and they object, that the notion of so much suffering for so much sin, degrades it into a mere commercial transaction. According to an illustration before given, if twenty men owe one hundred dollars, commercial justice is satisfied when each man has paid five dollars; but when twenty men have conspired to commit murder, moral justice, or rather distributive justice (for commercial justice is also moral), holds every man guilty of the deed, and as deserving of capital punishment as if he alone had committed the crime. On the same principle, it is maintained, moral justice does not divide the death of Christ into parts, accounting so much for each offence; but regards it as equally sufficient for many offences, as for one; and equally sufficient for the sins of the whole world, as for the sins of the elect.

The argument is not conclusive. It is not true, that the principle of distributive justice repels the notion of so much suffering for so much sin. Justice has its scales in government, as well as in commerce; and an essential part of its administration consists in the apportionment of penalties to crimes. It does not account the stealing of herbs from a neighbor’s garden, and the murder of a father, crimes of equal magnitude; and it does not weigh out to them equal penalties. The justice of God has a heavier penalty for Chorazin and Bethsaida, than for Sodom and Gomorrah. Everything of which we have knowledge in the divine administration, instead of exploding the notion of so much suffering for so much sin, tends rather to establish it. The objection that it is commercial, is not well founded. Though justice in government, and justice in commerce, may be distinguished from each other, it does not follow, that whatever may be affirmed of the one, must necessarily be denied of the other. Distributive justice is not that which determines the equality of value, in commodities which are exchanged for each other: but it does not therefore exclude all regard to magnitudes and proportions. In the language of Scripture, sins are debts[82], the blood of Christ is a price[83], and his people are bought.[84] This language is doubtless figurative: but the figures would not be appropriate, if commercial justice, to which the terms debt, price, bought, appertain, did not bear an analogy to the distributive justice which required the sacrifice of Christ.

In the case adduced for illustration, every accomplice in the murder is held guilty of the crime, because every one has the full intention of it. Justice, viewing the crime in the intention, accounts each one guilty, and requires the penalty to be inflicted on him. It does not admit that the punishment of one will be equivalent to the punishment of all: but, in this very case, employs its scales to give to every one his due, and apportions the amount of penalty inflicted, to the amount of crime.

This examination of the argument discovers, that it is not conclusive. If the atonement of Christ excludes all regard to the amount of sin to be expiated, the exclusion does not arise from the abstract principles of distributive justice, as distinguished from commercial, but from something peculiar in the great transaction. No transaction like it with which it may be compared, has ever occurred. The wisdom and justice of God have decided this single case, and have decided it right. Christ did endure just so much suffering, as would expiate he sins that were laid on him. What amount of suffering would have been necessary if he had expiated but one sin, is a question which, so far as we know, has never been decided in the court of heaven. When we confidently decide it, we are in danger of intruding into those things which do not belong to use. If the Holy Scriptures teach us nothing on the subject, we should not seek to be wise above what is written.

The Scriptures, so far as I know, contain no proof of the hypothesis. The best argument in its favor is drawn from Hebrews ix., in which it is taught that, if the sacrifices of the old dispensation had been efficacious, they would not have needed to be repeated. This seems to involve the principle, that an efficacious sacrifice for sin, when once made, will suffice for all sin, however it may be multiplies in all future time; and this principle, if established, establishes the hypothesis before us. But the clause “then would they not have ceased to be offered,” may be taken without an interrogative point following, and the argument of Paul will be, that the sacrifices of the Old Testament dispensation, if efficacious, would have continued to be offered from year to year, making atonement for the sins of each year as it passed, and would not have been superseded by another covenant, as the Lord had foretold by his prophet. So interpreted, the argument of Paul, instead of establishing the hypothesis, subverts it. But if the clause be read with the interrogative point, it may still be understood to refer to the remembrance from year to year continually of the same sins, that had once been atoned for. When the sins of one year had been atoned for, why should the very same sins be brought into remembrance the second, third, and fourth years, and the offering for them repeated, if the first offering had been efficacious? So understood, the apostle’s argument does not establish the principle involved in the hypothesis.

If, after a thorough examination of the hypothesis, we should, instead of making it an article of faith, be inclined to abandon it; and if the difficulty which it was invented to remove should perplex us; we may obtain relief, as we are compelled to do in other cases, by receiving the whole of God’s truth on his authority, even though the harmony of its parts is not apparent to our weak understandings. In this way, theological difficulties furnish an opportunity for the exercise of confidence in the divine veracity: and our state of mind is never better or safer than when, in simple faith, we take God at his word.

So far as we have the means of judging, the sufferings of Christ, when viewed apart from the purpose of God respecting them, were in themselves as well adapted to satisfy for the sins of Judas as on Peter. But we cannot affirm this of every act which Christ performed in his priestly office. His intercessions for Peter were particular and efficacious; and these, as a part of his priestly work, may be included with his sufferings, as constituting with them the perfect and acceptable offering which he, as the great High Priest, makes for his people. The atonement or reconciliation which results, must be as particular as the intercessions by which it is procured.

Some have maintained that, if the atonement of Christ is not general, no sinner can be under obligation to believe in Christ, until he is assured that he is one of the elect. This implies that no sinner is bound to believe what God says, unless he knows that God designs to save him. God declares that there is no salvation, except through Christ; and every sinner is bound to believe this truth. If it were revealed from heaven, that but one sinner, of all our fallen race, shall be saved by Christ, the obligation to believe that there is no salvation out of Christ, would remain the same. Every sinner, to whom the revelation would be made, would be bound to look to Christ as his only possible hope, and commit himself to that sovereign mercy by which some one of the justly condemned race would be saved. The abundant mercy of our God will not be confined to the salvation of a single sinner; but it will bring many sons to glory through the sufferings of Jesus, the Captain of our salvation. Yet every sinner, who trusts in Christ for salvation, is bound to commit himself, unreservedly, to the sovereign mercy of God. If he requires some previous assurance that he is in the number of the elect, he does not surrender himself to God, as a guilty sinner ought. The gospel brings every sinner prostrate at the feet of the Great Sovereign, hoping for mercy at his will, and in his way: and the gospel is perverted when any terms short of this are offered to the offender. With this universal call to absolute and unconditional surrender to God’s sovereignty, the doctrine of particular redemption exactly harmonizes.

[66] Eph. v. 25-27; Tit. ii. 14; John x. 11; Rev. i. 5, 6; Acts xx. 28; Heb. x. 14; Isaiah liii. 5, 11.

[67] Matt. i. 21.

[68] John x. 11.

[69] Eph. v. 25-27.

[70] Isaiah liii. 10, 11.

[71] John vi. 37, 39.

[72] John xvii. 24.

[73] Heb. ii. 13.

[74] Rev. v. 9.

[75] John iv. 42.

[76] Acts iv. 12.

[77] John iv. 42.

[78] 1 John ii. 2.

[79] Rom. v. 18.

[80] Rom. xi. 15; 2 Cor. v. 18, 19.

[81] Rom. v. 10.

[82] Matt. vi. 12.

[83] 1 Cor. vi. 20; 1 Pet i. 18.

[84] 1 Cor. vi. 20.

John L. Dagg- Manual of Theology

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

Duty of Gratitude for Divine Grace: Blessings of Grace: Perfection- Book Seventh- Chapter 3- Section 7

Book Seventh

CHAPTER III.

SECTION VII.–PERFECTION.

The process of sanctification, which is continued during the present life, is completed when the subjects of it are perfectly fitted for the service and enjoyments of heaven. In this work of the Spirit, the resurrection of the body is included, and the fashioning of it like the glorious body of Christ. Having been predestinated to be conformed to the image of God’s dear Son,[227] the purposed work of grace is not completed until we appear in glory, with our bodies like the glorious body of the Redeemer. For this perfect conformity, the saints on earth long, and to it they look as the consummation of their wishes and hopes: “then shall I be satisfied, when I awake with thy likeness.”[228] This was the object of Paul’s earnest desire, the prize for which he put forth every effort. He refers to it in these words: “If by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead: not as though I had already attained, either were already perfect; but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus. I press toward the mark, for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus.”[229]

The work of grace will not be completed until the second coming of Christ: “He which hath begun a good work in you, will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.”[230] Then the last change will be made, which will fit us for the eternal service and enjoyment of God, in his high and holy place. “Then we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.” “Now we know in part; but then we shall know even as also we are known.” “Then that which is perfect will have come;” and until then every saint must say with Paul: “Not as though I had already attained, or were already perfect.”

Besides this final perfection, to which the saints are taught to aspire, there are stages in their progress to which the name perfection is, in a subordinate sense, applied in the Holy Scriptures. The disembodied saints, now in the presence of God, though they have not attained to the resurrection of the body, are nevertheless called “just men made perfect.”[231] They are free from the body of death, free from sin, free from all the tribulations and sorrows of this world, and are present with the Lord, and in the enjoyment of his love.

Even in the present life there are stages in the Christian’s progress to which the term perfection is applied. When they have attained to an enlarged knowledge of divine truth, they are said to be perfect, or of full age, to distinguish them from those who have learned only the first principles of the doctrine of Christ.[232] Men who make a full and consistent exhibition of the religious character, by a godly life, are called perfect. So Job was “perfect and upright, fearing God and eschewing evil.”[233] To Christians generally the term “perfect” appears to be applied, in the exhortation of Paul: “Let us, as many as be perfect, be thus minded.”[234] He here includes himself among the perfect; and yet, in the same chapter,[235] he affirms that he was not already perfect. It is clear, therefore, that the words are used in different senses in the two places.

No perfection to which the people of God attain in the present life, includes perfect freedom from sin. Job, though a perfect man, said, “If I justify myself, mine own mouth shall condemn me. If I say, I am perfect, it also shall prove me perverse.”[236] Paul, though numbering himself among the perfect, said, “When I would do good, evil is present with me.”[237] “I am carnal, sold under sin.”[238] John says, “If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves:”[239] and Solomon, “There is not a just man upon earth that doeth good and sinneth not.”[240] With these declarations of God’s word, the experience of Christians in all ages has agreed; and they have found need for daily prayer, “Forgive us our trespasses.”

In the precept, “Be ye perfect, even as your Father in heaven is perfect,”[241] we may take the term in its highest sense. As we are commanded to love God with all the heart–to be holy because he is holy; it is our duty to be perfectly free from sin; and to come up to this standard, should be our constant aim and effort. We cannot attain to a perfect knowledge of God in the present life; but we may follow on to know him.[242] So we cannot attain to a perfect likeness in holiness, yet we may be “changed into the same image from glory to glory.”[243] Progress in the divine life is full of reward, and full of encouragement, even while we are fighting the good fight of faith, and before we obtain the victor’s crown. The promise of grace to help in every struggle, of continued success in every conflict, and of final victory, is sufficient encouragement to put forth every effort. We should ever press toward the mark, ever keep the high standard of perfection in view, and aim to reach it. “Having these promises, dearly beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all filthiness of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.”[244]

The indication is fearful when a man excuses sin in himself, on the ground that perfection is not attainable in the present life. A true Christian may have a besetting sin; but any one who has an indulged, allowed, or excused sin, has reason to fear that the love of sin has never been crucified in his heart. And he who satisfies himself with any standard below absolute perfection in holiness, is so far allowing sin in himself, and giving the indication which ought to alarm him.

In the spiritual warfare, of which every believer is conscious, the love of God in the heart is in conflict with other affections which are not duly subordinated to it. Growth in grace implies an ascendancy of the holy affection over those with which it contends. That gains strength, and those grow weaker, as the house of David waxed stronger, and house of Saul weaker,[245] in their struggle for dominion over Israel. It is therefore our duty, that we may grow in grace, to cherish the holy affections, which rise heavenward, and to mortify the carnal affections, which are earthward in their tendency. No man on earth can justly claim that the affections of his heart are perfectly regulated according to the high standard of God’s law. The internal conflict between the law in the members and the law in the mind, does not cease till God calls away the spirit from its union with the mortal body. The phrase “law in our members,”[246] does not imply that our sin belongs properly to our material bodies; but it nevertheless apparently suggests that the conflict between the law in the members and the law in the mind, may be expected to continue as long as the members and the mind have their present relation to each other. Just men are made perfect[247] when they become disembodied spirits. When absent from the body, they are present with the Lord;[248] and they are then holy; for without holiness no man shall see the Lord.[249]

We should not attribute to death the efficiency of our final deliverance from sin. It is only an instrument which the Holy Spirit uses in his work, just as he has used the many afflictions which have preceded death, and of which death is the termination. As this is the last suffering which the righteous will endure, the last enemy which remains to be destroyed, it is appropriately used as the last instrumentality which the Holy Spirit will employ in his work. And it is a most suitable instrumentality. Death introduces us into the full knowledge of God, which is necessary to the perfect love of him. It opens to our view the unseen things of the eternal world, that they may have their full and proper influence on our minds. It separates us for ever from the things of earth, to which our affections have been so strongly inclined to cleave. The death of a beloved friend has often been blessed as a means of our sanctification: but when we die, all our surviving friends die to us at once. The loss of property has weaned us from the world: but at death we lose all our earthly possessions at a single stroke. God may have burned down our dwellings and consumed in the flames the coffers which contained our gold, when he graciously designed to direct our thoughts to the house not made with hands, and to the treasure which cannot be consumed. What, then, when the earth itself, which he has given for the habitation of men, and all therein which he has given them to enjoy, shall be burned up in the last conflagration; or shall be shown to us as prepared to be cast into that funeral fire? This is well adapted to eradicate from the heart the love of the things that perish. This fit instrumentality the Spirit employs in completing his work of sanctification. Yet, as in all our afflictions, the efficiency is not in the means employed,, but in the divine power which employs them to fulfil his gracious purpose.

[227] Rom. viii. 29.

[228] Ps. xvii. 15.

[229] Phil. iii. 11, 12, 13.

[230] Phil. i. 6.

[231] Heb. xii.23.

[232] Heb. vi. 1; v. 14.

[233] Job i. 1.

[234] Phil. iii. 15.

[235] Phil. iii. 12.

[236] Job ix. 20.

[237] Rom. vii. 21.

[238] Rom. vii. 14.

[239] 1 John i. 8.

[240] Eccl. vii. 20.

[241] Matt. v. 48.

[242] Hosea vi. 3.

[243] 2 Cor. iii. 19.

[244] 2 Cor. vii. 1.

[245] 2 Sam. iii. 1.

[246] Rom. vii. 23.

[247] Heb. xii. 23.

[248] 2 Cor. v. 8.

[249] Heb. xii. 14.

John L. Dagg- Manual of Theology