The GOSPEL TRUTH
In discussing this subject,
I. I SHALL REMIND YOU OF SOME POSITIONS THAT HAVE BEEN SETTLED RESPECTING THE NATURAL AND MORAL ATTRIBUTES OF GOD.
II. WHAT THE BIBLE DOCTRINE OF ELECTION IS NOT.
III. WHAT IT IS.
IV. I SHALL PROVE THE DOCTRINE TO BE TRUE.
V. SHOW WHAT COULD NOT HAVE BEEN THE REASONS FOR ELECTION.
VI. WHAT MUST HAVE BEEN THE REASONS.
VII. WHEN THE ELECTION WAS MADE.
VIII. ELECTION DOES NOT RENDER MEANS OF THE SALVATION OF THE ELECT UNNECESSARY.
IX. ELECTION IS THE GREAT GROUND OF HOPE IN THE SUCCESS OF MEANS TO SAVE THE SOULS OF MEN.
X. ELECTION DOES NOT OPPOSE ANY OBSTACLE TO THE SALVATION OF THE NON-ELECT.
XI. THERE IS NO INJUSTICE IN ELECTION.
XII. THIS IS THE BEST THAT COULD BE DONE FOR THE INHABITANTS OF THIS WORLD.
XIII. HOW WE MAY ASCERTAIN OUR OWN ELECTION.
I. I shall remind you of some points that have been settled.
1. We have seen that eternity is a natural attribute of God in the sense that he grows no older. He was just as old before the world or the universe was made, as he is now, or as he will be at the day of judgment.
2. We have seen that omniscience is an attribute of God in the sense that he knows from a necessity of his infinite nature, all things that are objects of knowledge.
3. That he has necessarily and eternally possessed this knowledge, so that he never has and never can have any accession to his knowledge. Every possible thing that ever was, or will be, or can be an object of knowledge, has been necessarily and eternally known to God. If this were not true God would be neither infinite nor omniscient.
4. We have seen also that God exercises an universal providence, embracing all events that ever did or ever will occur in all worlds. Some of these events he causes or secures by his own agency, and others occur under his providence in the sense that he permits or suffers them to occur rather than interpose to prevent them. They may be truly said to occur under his providence because his plan of government in some sense embraces them all. He made provision to secure those that are good, and to overrule for good those that are evil and naturally of evil tendency, but which result incidentally from those that are good. They may be said to occur under Divine Providence also, because all events that do or ever will occur are and must be foreseen, results of God's own agency, or of the work of creation.
5. We have seen that infinite benevolence is a moral attribute, or rather that it is the sum of the moral attributes of God.
6. That God is both naturally and morally immutable; that in his natural attributes he is necessarily so, and in his moral attributes he is certainly so.
7. We have also seen that all who are converted, sanctified and saved, are converted, sanctified and saved by God's own agency; that is, God saves them by securing by his own agency their personal and individual holiness.
II. What the bible doctrine of election is not.
1. Not, as Huntington maintained, that all men are chosen to salvation through the atonement of Christ. This gentleman, who was a Congregational minister of New England, left a treatise for publication after his death, (which was accordingly published,) in which he maintained the usual orthodox creed, with the exception of extending the doctrine of election to the whole human race. He took the Old School view of the Atonement, that it was the literal payment of the debt of the elect; that Christ suffered what and as much as they deserved to suffer, and thus literally purchased their salvation. Assuming that such was the nature of the Atonement, he sets himself to inquire into the extent of the Atonement, or for whom it was made. Finding that Christ tasted death for every man, that he died for the world, he came to the conclusion that all were elected to salvation, and that all will therefore be saved. I have never seen the work of which I speak, but such is the account I have had of it from those who know as I suppose. But this is not the bible doctrine of election, as we shall see.
2. The bible doctrine of election is not that any are chosen to salvation in such a sense that they will or can be saved without repentance, faith and sanctification.
3. Nor is it that some are chosen to salvation in such a sense that they will be saved irrespective of their being regenerated and persevering in holiness to the end of life. The bible most plainly teaches that these are naturally indispensable conditions of salvation; and of course election can not dispense with them.
4. Nor is it that any are chosen to salvation for or on account of their own foreseen merits, or good works, 2 Tim. 1:9: "Who hath saved us, and called us with a[n] 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." The foreseen fact that by the wisest governmental arrangement God could convert and sanctify and fit them for heaven, must have been a condition of their election to salvation, but could not have been the fundamental reason for it, as we shall see. God did not elect them to salvation for or on account of their foreseen good works, but upon condition of their foreseen repentance, faith and perseverance.
5. The bible doctrine of election is not that God elected some or any to salvation upon condition that they would repent, believe, and persevere in such a sense that there was any certainty in respect to either their conversion, perseverance or ultimate salvation.
These, as has just been said, are necessary conditions of salvation, and of course of election. But God, foreseeing that by the wisest use of means, he could secure their conversion and perseverance, chose them both to salvation, and also to obedience through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth. This brings me to show,
III. What the bible doctrine of election is.
It is, that certain individuals, making a certain number of mankind, are chosen by God to eternal salvation through the. sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth. In other words they are chosen to salvation by means of sanctification. Their salvation is the end--their sanctification is a means. Both the end and the means are elected, appointed, chosen; the means as really as the end, and for the sake of the end. The election of some individuals and nations to certain privileges, and to do certain things is not the kind of election of which I treat at this time, but I am to consider the doctrine of election as it respects election unto salvation as just explained.
IV. I am to prove the doctrine, as I have stated it, to be true.
It is a plain doctrine of the bible:
Matt. 20:16. So the last shall be first, and the first last, for many be called, but few chosen.
24:22. And except those days should be shortened, them should no flesh be saved; but for the elect's sake those days shall be shortened.
John 13:18. I speak not of you all; I know whom I have chosen.
15:16. Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain; that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you. 19. If ye were of the world, the world would love his own; but cause ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you.
Acts 13:48. And when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad, and glorified the word of the Lord; and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed.
Ro. 8:28. And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. 29. For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son that he might be the first-born among many brethren.
9:10. And not only this, but when Rebecca had conceived by one, even by our father Isaac, 11. (For the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that calleth,) 12. It was said unto her, The elder shall serve the younger. 13. As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated. 14. What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? God forbid. 15. For he saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.
11.5. Even so at this present time also there is a remnant according to the election of grace. 7. What then? Israel hath not obtained that which he seeketh for, but the election hath obtained it, and the rest were blinded.
Eph. 1:4. According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love. 11. In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will.
1 Thes. 1:4. Knowing, brethren beloved, your election of God.
5:9. For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ.
2 Thes. 2:13. But we are bound to give thanks alway to God for you, brethren beloved of the Lord, because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit, and belief of the truth.
1 Pet. 1:2. Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ.
Rev. 17:8. The beast that thou sawest was, and is not; and shall ascend out of the bottomless pit, and go into perdition: and they that dwell on the earth shall wonder, (whose names were not written in the book of life from the foundation of the world,) when they behold the beast that was, and is not, and yet is.
This doctrine is expressly asserted, or indirectly assumed and implied in every part of the bible, and in ways and instances too numerous to be quoted in these lectures. The above are only specimens of the scripture treatment of this subject.
9. It is as plainly the doctrine of reason as of revelation.
(1.) We have seen that God by his own agency secures the conversion, sanctification, and salvation of all that ever were or will be saved.
(2.) Whatever volitions or actions God puts forth to convert and save men he puts forth designedly to secure that end; that is, he does it in accordance with a previous design to do as and what he does.
(3.) He does it with the certain knowledge that he shall succeed in accomplishing the end at which he aims.
(4.) He does it for the purpose of securing this end.
(5.) This must be a universal truth, to wit, that whatever God does for the salvation of men, he does with the design to secure the salvation of all whoever will be saved, or of all whose salvation he foresees that he can secure, and with the certain knowledge that he shall secure their salvation. He also does much for the non-elect, in the sense of using such means with them as might and ought to secure their salvation. But as he knows he shall not succeed in securing their salvation on account of their voluntary and persevering wickedness, it can not be truly said that he uses these means with design to save them, but for other, and good, and wise reasons. Although he foresees that he can not secure their salvation because of their wilful and persevering unbelief, yet he sees it important under his government to manifest a readiness to save them and to use such means as he wisely can to save them, and such as will ultimately be seen to leave them wholly without excuse.
But with respect to those whom he foresees that he can and shall save, it must be true, since he is a good being, that he uses means for their salvation with the design to save them. And, since as we have seen, he is an omniscient being, he must use these means, not only with a design to save them, but also with the certainty that he shall save them. With respect to them he uses these means for the sake of this end; that is, for the sake of their salvation. But with respect to the non-elect, he does not use means for the sake of, or expecting to accomplish their salvation, but for other purposes, such as to leave them without excuse, &c.
(6.) But if God ever chooses to save any human beings, he must always have chosen to do so, or else he has changed. If he now has or ever will have any design about it, he must always have had this design; for he never has and never can have any new design. If he ever does or will elect any human being to salvation, he must always have chosen or elected him, or he has or will form some new purpose, which is inconsistent with his moral immutability.
(7.) If he will ever know who will be saved, he must always have known it, or he will obtain some new knowledge, which is contrary to his omniscience.
(8.) We are told by Christ that at the day of judgment he will say to the righteous, "Come ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world;" that is, from eternity.
Now has the judge at that time any new knowledge or design respecting those individuals? Certainly not!
(8.) Since God of necessity eternally knew all about the elect that will ever be true, he must of necessity have chosen something in respect to them, for it is naturally impossible that he should have had no choice about or in respect to them and their salvation.
(9.) Since God must of necessity from eternity have had some choice in respect to their salvation, it follows that he must have chosen that they should be saved or that he would not use such means as he foresaw would save them. If he chose not to use those means that he foresaw would save them, but afterwards saves them, he has changed, which is contrary to his immutability. If he always chose that they should be saved, this is the same thing for which we are contending.
(10.) It must, therefore, be true that all whom God will ever save were from eternity chosen to salvation by him, and since he saves them by means of sanctification, and does this designedly, it must be that this also was eternally designed or intended by him.
To deny the doctrine of election, involves a denial of the attributes of God.
(11.) It must also be true that God foreknew all that ever will be true of the non-elect, and must have eternally had some design respecting their final destiny. And also that he has from eternity had the same and the only design that he ever will have in respect to them. But this will come up for consideration in its place.
V. What could not have been the reasons for election.
It has been ascertained and established beyond controversy and dispute that God is infinitely benevolent and wise. It must follow that election is founded in some reason or reasons, and that these reasons are good and sufficient; reasons that rendered it obligatory upon God to choose just as he did, in election. Assuming, as we must, that God is wise and good, we are safe in affirming that he could have had none but benevolent reasons for his election of some to eternal life in preference to others. Hence we are bound to affirm that election was not based upon, nor does it imply partiality in God, in any bad sense of that term. Partiality in any being, consists in preferring one to another without any good or sufficient reason, or in opposition to good and sufficient reasons. It being established that God is infinitely wise and good, it follows that he can not be partial; that he can not have elected some to eternal salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth, and passed others by, without some good and sufficient reason. That is, he can not have done it arbitrarily. The great objection that is felt and urged by opposers of this doctrine is, that it implies partiality in God and represents him as deciding the eternal destiny of moral agents by an arbitrary sovereignty. But this objection is a sheer and altogether unwarrantable assumption. It assumes that God could have had no good and sufficient reasons for the election. It has been settled that good is the end upon which God set his heart; that is, the highest well-being of himself and the universe of creatures. This end must be accomplished by means. If God is infinitely wise and good he must have chosen the best practicable means. But he has chosen the best means for that end, and there can be no partiality in that.
In support of the assumption that election implies partiality and the exercise of an arbitrary sovereignty in God, it has been affirmed that there might have been divers systems of means for securing the same end in every respect equal to each other; that is, that no reason existed for preferring any one, to many others--that, therefore, in choosing the present, God must have been partial or must have exercised an arbitrary sovereignty. To this I answer:
(1.) There is no ground for the assumption that there are or can be divers systems of means of precisely equal value in all respects in such a sense that there could have been no good reason for preferring one to the other.
(2.) I reply that if there were divers such systems, choosing the one, and not any other, would not imply preference. Choice of any one in such case must have proceeded upon the following ground, to wit, the value of the end demanded that one should be chosen. There being no difference between the various systems of means God chooses one without reference to the other and makes no choice respecting it, any more than if it did not exist. He must choose one--he has no reason for preference and consequently he can not prefer one to the other. His benevolence leads him to choose one because the end demands it. He therefore takes any one of many exact equals, indifferently without preferring it to any of the others. This implies no partiality in God in any bad sense of the term. For upon the supposition, he was shut up to the necessity of choosing one among many exact equals. If he is partial in choosing the one he does, he would have been equally so had he chosen any other. If this is partiality, it is a partiality arising out of the necessity of the case and can not imply any thing objectionable in God.
That there is no preference in this case is plain because there is no ground or reason for preference whatever, according to the supposition. But there can be no choice or preference when there is absolutely no reason for the choice or preference. We have seen on a former occasion that the reason that determines choice, or the reason in view of which, or in obedience to which, or for the sake of which, the mind chooses, and the object or end chosen, are identical. When there is absolutely no reason for a choice, there is absolutely no object of choice, nothing to choose, and of course there can be no choice. Choice must have an object; that is, choice must terminate upon something. If choice exists, something must be chosen. If there are divers systems of means between which there is no possible ground of preference, there can absolutely be no such thing as preferring one to the other for this would be the same as to choose without any object of choice, or without choosing any thing which is a contradiction.
If it be said that there may be absolutely no difference in the systems of means so far as the accomplishment of the end is concerned, but that one may be preferred or preferable to another on some other account, I ask on what other account? According to the supposition, it is only valued or regarded as an object of choice at all, because of its relation to the end. God can absolutely choose it only as a means a condition or an end, for all choice must respect these. The inquiry now respects means. Now if as a means there is absolutely no difference between diverse systems in their relation to the end, and the value of the end is the sole reason for choosing them, it follows that to prefer one to another is a natural impossibility. But one must be chosen for the sake of the end, it matters not which: any one is taken indifferently so far as others are concerned. This is no partiality and no exercise of arbitrary sovereignty in any objectionable sense. But as I said, there is no ground for the assumption that there are various systems of means for accomplishing the great end of benevolence in all respects equal. There must have been a best way, a best system, and if God is infinitely wise and good, he must have chosen that for that reason; and this is as far as possible from partiality. Neither we nor any other creature may be able now to discover any good reasons for preferring the present to any other system, or for electing those who are elected in preference to any other. Nevertheless such reasons must have been apparent to the Divine mind, or no such election could have taken place.
2. Election was not an exercise of arbitrary sovereignty. By arbitrary sovereignty is intended the choosing and acting from mere will, without consulting moral obligation or the public good. God has been shown to be infinitely wise and good. It is, therefore, impossible that he should choose or act arbitrarily in any case whatever. He must have good and sufficient reasons for every choice and every act. Some seem to have represented God, in the purpose or act of election, as electing some and not others merely because he could or would, or in other words to exhibit his own sovereignty, without any other reason than because so he would have it. But it is impossible for God to act arbitrarily, or from any but a good and sufficient reason; that is, it is impossible for him to do so and continue to be benevolent. We have said that God has one and but one end in view; that is, he does and says and suffers all for one and the same reason, namely, to promote the highest good of being. He has but one ultimate end, and all his volitions are only efforts to secure that end. The highest well being of the universe including his own, is the end on which his supreme and ultimate choice terminates. All his volitions are designed to secure this end and in all things he is and must be directed by his infinite intelligence in respect not only to his ultimate end, but also in the choice and use of the means of accomplishing this end. It is impossible that this should not be true, if he is good. In election then he can not possibly have exercised any arbitrary sovereignty, but must have had the best of reasons for the election. His intelligence must have had good reasons for the choice of some and not of others to salvation, and have affirmed his obligation in view of those reasons to elect just as and whom he did. So good must the reasons have been, that, to have done otherwise would have been sin in him; that is, to have done otherwise would not have been wise and good.
3. Election was not based on a foreseen difference in the moral character of the elect and the non-elect previous to regeneration. The bible every where affirms that previous to regeneration all men have precisely the same character and possess one common heart or disposition, that this character is that of total moral depravity. God did not choose some to salvation because he foresaw that they would be less depraved and guilty previous to regeneration than the non-elect. Paul was one of the elect, yet he affirms himself to have been the chief of sinners. We often see (and this has been common in every age,) the most outwardly abandoned and profligate converted and saved.
The reason of election is not found in the fact that God foresaw that some would be more readily converted than others. We often see those who are converted hold out for a long time in great obstinacy and rebellion, while God brings to bear upon them a great variety of means and influences, and takes much more apparent pains to convert them than he does to convert many others who are, as well as those who are not, converted. There is reason to believe that if the same means were used with those that are not converted that are used with those who are, many who are not converted would be. It may not be wise in God to use the same means for the non elect that he does for the elect, and if he should, they might, or might not be saved by them. God often uses means that to us seem more powerful to convert the non-elect than are used to convert many of the elect. The fact is he must have some reason aside from their characters for stubbornness or otherwise, for electing them to salvation.
VI. What must have been the reasons for election?
1. We have seen that God is infinitely wise and good. It follows that he must have had some reason, for to choose without a reason is impossible, as in that case there would be, as we have just seen, no object of choice.
2. From the wisdom and goodness of God, it follows that he must have chosen some good end, and must have had some plan, or system of means, to secure it. The end we know, is the good of being. The means we know from reason and revelation include election in the sense explained. It follows that the fundamental reason for election was the highest good of the universe. That is, the best system of means for securing the great end of benevolence included election. All choice must respect ends or conditions and means. God has, and can have but one ultimate end. All other choices or volitions must respect means. The choice or election of certain persons to eternal salvation &c., must have been founded in the reason that the great end of benevolence demanded it.
3. It is very easy to see that under a moral government, it might be impossible to so administer law as to secure the perpetual and universal obedience of all.
It is also easy to see that under a remedial system, or system of grace, it might be impossible to secure the repentance and salvation of all. God must have foreseen all possible and actual results. He must have foreseen how many and whom he could save by the wisest and best possible arrangement, all things considered. The perfect wisdom and benevolence of God being granted, it follows that we are bound to regard the present system of means as the best, all things considered, that he could adopt for the promotion of the great end of his government, or the great end of benevolence. The fact that the wisest and best system of government would secure the salvation of those who are elected, was doubtless a condition of their being elected. As God does every thing for the same ultimate reason, it follows that the intrinsic value of their salvation was his ultimate end, and that their salvation might and must have great relative value in promoting the highest good of the universe at large and the glory of God; so that the intrinsic value of their own salvation and the good to be promoted by it, must have been the reasons for election. If it be asked why some were elected instead of others, it is a sufficient answer to say that if we can see no good reasons, yet since it is so, we are bound to believe that there were good and sufficient reasons in the mind of God.
VII. When the election was made.
1. Not when the elect are converted. It has been said that God is omniscient and has known all things from eternity as really and as perfectly as he ever will. It has also been shown that God is unchangeable, and consequently has no new plans, designs, or choices. He must have had all the reasons he ever will have for election, from eternity, because he always has had all the knowledge of all events that he ever will have; consequently he always or from eternity chose in respect to all events just as he always will. There never can be any reason for change in the Divine mind, for he never will have any new views of any subject. The choice which constitutes election, then, must be an eternal choice.
2. Thus the scriptures represent it.
Eph. 1:4. According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love.
2:10. For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.
2 Tim. 1:9. Who hath saved us, and called us with a[n] 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.
Rev. 17:8. The beast that thou sawest was, and is not, and shall ascend out of the bottomless pit, and go into perdition: and they that dwell on the earth shall wonder, (whose names were not written in the book of life from the foundation of the world,) when they behold the beast that was, and is not, and yet is.
This language means from eternity beyond question.
3. But the question will arise, was election in the order of nature subsequent to or did it precede the Divine foreknowledge. The answer to this plainly is that in the order of nature what could be wisely done must have been foreseen before it was determined what should be done. And what should be done must, in the order of nature, have preceded the knowledge of what would be done. So that in the order of nature, foreknowledge of what could be wisely done preceded election, and foreknowledge of what would be done followed or was subsequent to election. In other words, God must have know whom he could wisely save, prior, in the order of nature, to his determination to save them. But his knowing who would be saved must have been in the order of nature, subsequent to his election or determination to save them, and dependent upon that determination.
VIII. Election does not render means for the salvation of the elect unnecessary.
We have seen that the elect are chosen to salvation through the use of means; that is, through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth. Since they are chosen to be saved by means they can not be saved in any other way or without them.
IX. Election lays a foundation for hope in the success of means.
1. No means are of any avail unless God gives them efficiency.
2. If God gives them efficiency in any case it is and will be in accordance with and in execution of his election.
3. It follows that election is the only ground of rational hope in the use of means to effect the salvation of any.
X. Election does not oppose any obstacle to the salvation of the non-elect.
1. God has taken care to bring salvation within the reach of all and to make it possible to all.
2. He sincerely offers to save all and does all to save all that he wisely can.
3. His saving some is no discouragement to others, but should rather encourage them to lay hold on eternal life.
4. The election of some is no bar to the salvation of others.
5. Those who are not elected may be saved if they will but comply with the conditions; which they are able to do.
6. God sincerely calls, and ministers may sincerely call on the non-elect to lay hold on salvation.
7. There is no injury or injustice done to the non-elect by the election of others. Has not God "a right to do what he will with his own?" If he offers salvation to all upon terms the most reasonable, and if he does all he wisely can for the salvation of all, shall some complain if God in doing for all what he wisely can secures the salvation of some and not of others?
XI. There is no injustice in election.
God was under obligation to no one--he might in perfect justice have sent all mankind to hell. The doctrine of election will damn no one; by treating the non-elect according to their deserts he does them no injustice; and surely his exercising grace in the salvation of the elect is no act of injustice to the non-elect, and especially will this appear to be true if we take into consideration the fact that the only reason why the non-elect will not be saved is because they pertinaciously refuse salvation. He offers mercy to all. The atonement is sufficient for all. All may come and are under an obligation to be saved. He strongly desires their salvation, and does all that he wisely can to save them. Why then should the doctrine of election be thought unjust?
XII. This is the best that could be done for the inhabitants of this world.
It is reasonable to infer from the infinite benevolence of God that the plan of his government includes the salvation of a greater number than could have been saved under any other mode of administration. This is as certain as that infinite benevolence must prefer a greater to a less good. To suppose that God would prefer a mode of administration that would accomplish the salvation of a less number than could be saved under some other mode, would manifestly be to accuse him of a want of benevolence. It is doubtless true that he could so vary the course of events as to save other individuals than he does; to convert more in one particular neighborhood, or family, or nation, or at one particular time. than he does.
Suppose there is a man in this town, who has so strongly intrenched himself in error, that there is but one man in all the land who is so acquainted with his refuge of lies as to be able to answer his objections and drive him from his hiding-places. Now it is possible that if this individual could be brought in contact with him, he might be converted; yet if he is employed in some distant part of the vineyard, his removal from that field of labor to this town, might not, upon the whole, be most for the glory of God's kingdom; and more might fail of salvation through his removal here, than would be converted here by such removal. God has in view the good of his whole kingdom. He works upon a vast and comprehensive scale. He has no partialities for individuals, but moves forward in the administration of his government with his eye upon the general good, designing to convert the greatest number, and produce the greatest amount of happiness within his kingdom.
XIII. How we may ascertain our own election.
Those of the elect that are already converted are known by their character and conduct. They have evidence of their election in their obedience to God. Those that are unconverted may settle the question each one for himself, whether he is elected or not, so as to have the most satisfactory evidence whether he is of that happy number. If you will now submit yourselves to God, you may have evidence that you are elected. But every hour you put off submission, increases the evidence that you are not elected.
I quote some remarks from a former discourse upon this subject.
INFERENCES AND REMARKS.
1. Foreknowledge and election are not inconsistent with free agency. The elect were chosen to eternal life, because God foresaw that in the perfect exercise of their freedom, they could be induced to repent and embrace the Gospel.
2. You see why many persons are opposed to the doctrine of election, and try to explain it away; 1st, they misunderstand it, and 2d. they deduce unwarrantable inferences from it. They suppose it to mean, that the elect will be saved at all events, whatever their conduct may be; and again they infer from the doctrine that there is no possibility of the salvation of the non-elect. The doctrine as they understand it would be an encouragement to the elect to persevere in sin, knowing that their salvation was sure, and their inference would drive the non-elect to desperation; on the ground that for them to make efforts to be saved would be of no avail. But both the doctrine, as they understand it, and the inference are false. For election does not secure the salvation of the elect irrespective of their character and conduct; nor, as we have seen, does it throw any obstacle in the way of the salvation of the non-elect.
3. This view of the subject affords no ground for presumption on the one hand, nor for despair upon the other. No one can justly say, If I am to be saved, I shall be saved, do what I will. Nor can any one say, If I am to be damned, I shall be damned, do what I will. But the question is left, so far as they are concerned, as a matter of entire contingency. Sinners, your salvation or damnation is as absolutely suspended upon your own choice, as if God neither knew nor designed any thing about it.
4. This doctrine lays no foundation for a controversy with God. But on the other hand, it does lay a broad foundation for gratitude, both on the part of the elect and non-elect. The elect certainly have great reason for thankfulness that they are thus distinguished. Oh, what a thought, to have your name written in the book of life, to be chosen of God an heir of eternal salvation, to be adopted into his family, to be destined to enjoy his presence, and to bathe your soul in the boundless ocean of his love forever and ever. Nor are the non-elect without obligations of thankfulness. You ought to be grateful if any of your brethren of the human family are saved. If all were lost, God would be just. And if any of this dying world receive the gift of eternal life, you ought to be grateful and render everlasting thanks to God.
5. The non-elect often enjoy as great or greater privileges than the elect. Many men have lived and died under the sound of the Gospel, have enjoyed all the means of salvation during a long life, and have at last died in their sins, while others have been converted upon their first hearing the Gospel of God. Nor is this difference owing to the fact that the elect always have more of the strivings of the Spirit than the non-elect. Many who die in their sins, appear to have had conviction for a great part of their lives; have often been deeply impressed with a strong sense of their sins and the value of their souls, but have strongly intrenched themselves under refuges of lies, have loved the world and hated God, and fought their way through all the obstacles that were thrown around them to hedge up their way to death, and have literally forced their passage to the gates of hell.
6. Why should the doctrine of election be made a stumbling-block in the way of sinners? In nothing else do they make the same use of the purposes and designs of God, as on the subject of religion; and yet, in every thing else, God's purposes and designs are as much settled, and have as absolute an influence. God has as certainly designed the day and circumstances of your death, as whether your soul shall be saved. It is not only expressly declared in the Bible, but is plainly the doctrine of reason. What would you say on coming home from meeting, if you should be called in to see a neighbor who was sick; and on inquiry, you should find he would neither eat nor drink, and that he was nearly starved to death. On expostulating with him upon his conduct, he should calmly reply, that he believed in the sovereignty of God, in foreknowledge, election, and decrees; that his days were numbered, that the time and circumstances of his death were settled, that he could not die before his time, and that all efforts he could make would not enable him to live a moment beyond his time. If you attempted to remonstrate against his inference, and such an abuse and perversion of the doctrine of decrees, he should accuse you of being a heretic, of not believing in divine sovereignty. Now, should you see a man on worldly subjects reasoning and acting thus, you would pronounce him crazy. Should farmers, mechanics, and merchants, reason in this way in regard to their worldly business, they would be considered fit subjects for bedlam.
7. How forcibly the perversion and abuse of this doctrine illustrates the madness of the human heart, and its utter opposition to the terms of salvation. The fact that God foreknows and has designs in regard to every other event, is not made an excuse for remaining idle, or worse than idle on these subjects. But where their duty to God is concerned, and here alone, they seize the Scriptures, and wrest them to their own destruction. How impressively does this fact bring out the demonstration that sinners want an excuse for disobeying God; that they desire an apology for living in sin; that they seek an occasion for making war upon their Maker.
8. I have said that the question is as much open for your decision, that you are left as perfectly to the exercise of your freedom, as if God neither knew nor designed anything in regard to your salvation. Suppose there was a great famine in New York city, and that John Jacob Astor alone had provisions in great abundance; that he was a benevolent and liberal-minded man, and willing to supply the whole city with provisions, free of expense; and suppose there existed a universal and most unreasonable prejudice against him, insomuch that when he advertised in the daily papers that his store-houses were open, that whosoever would, might come and receive provisions, without money and without price, they all, with one accord, began to make excuse, and obstinately refused to accept the offers. Now, suppose that he should employ all the cartmen to carry provisions around the city, and stop at every door. But still they strengthened each other's hands, and would rather die than be indebted to him for food. Many had said so much against him that they were utterly ashamed to feel and acknowledge their dependence upon him. Others were so much under their influence as to be unwilling to offend them; and so strong was the tide of public sentiment, that no one had the moral courage to break loose from the multitude and accept of life. Now, suppose that Mr. Astor knew beforehand the state of the public minds and that all the citizens hated him, and had rather die than be indebted to him for life. Suppose he also knew, from the beginning, that there were certain arguments that he could bring to bear upon certain individuals, that would change their minds, and that he should proceed to press them with these considerations, until they had given up their opposition, had most thankfully accepted his provisions, and were saved from death. Suppose he used all the arguments and means that he wisely could, to persuade the rest, but then, notwithstanding all his benevolent efforts, they adhered to the resolution, and preferred death to submission to his proposals. Now, suppose he had perfect knowledge from the beginning, of the issue of this whole matter; would not the question of life and death be as entirely open for the decision of every individual as if he knew nothing about it?
9. Some may ask, Why does God use means with the non-elect, provided he is certain that they will not accept? I answer, because he designs that they shall be without excuse. He will demonstrate his willingness and their obstinacy, before the universe. He will rid his garments of their blood; and although he knows that their rejection of the offer will only enhance their guilt, and aggravate their deep damnation, still he will make the offer, as there is no other way in which to illustrate his infinite willingness to save them, and their perverse rejection of his grace.
Lastly, God requires you to give all diligence to make your calling and election sure. In choosing his elect, you must understand that he has thrown the responsibility of their being saved, upon them; that the whole is suspended upon their consent to the terms; you are all perfectly able to give your consent, and this moment to lay hold on eternal life. Irrespective of your own choice, no election can save you, and no reprobation can damn you. The spirit and the bride say, Come; let him that heareth say, Come; let him that is athirst come; and whosoever will, let him take the waters of life freely. The responsibility is yours. God does all that he wisely can, and challenges you to show what more he could do that he has not done. If you go to hell, you must go stained with your own blood. God is clear, angels are clear. To your own Master you stand or fall; mercy waits; the Spirit strives; Jesus stands at the door and knocks. Do not, then, pervert this doctrine, and make it an occasion of stumbling till you are in the depths of hell.
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