Can Change the World Again.
NINTH OF ROMANS;
INFLUENCE OF THE HOLY SPIRIT.
BY REV ASA MAHAN, A. M.,
2 PETER i. 10.
"Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure; for if you do these things, ye shall never fail."
THERE are three words, of not unfrequent use, in the New Testament, which are quite commonly supposed to be employed to designate the doctrine of eternal and unconditional election, to wit, the noun rendered "election,"the adjective rendered "elect,"and the original verb from which each of these is derived, the verb generally rendered "chosen." The verb is used just twenty times, the adjective twenty-three times, and the noun seven times, in the New Testament. To understand the bearing of these words upon the doctrine under consideration, we must, in the first place, determine the nature of the doctrine itself. The doctrine of election, as everywhere held by its advocates, is this: God, foreseeing from eternity all mankind in a state of sin and ruin; and while no reasons whatever, as far as character of men is concerned, presented themselves to the divine mind why one should be selected as an heir of life rather than another, and when it was not just as practicable for him to save one as another, and all as a part, had he seen it wise and best so to do, determined, from eternity, to select out of the mass a certain fixed and definite number of individuals as heirs of everlasting lifea number which, by no possibility, can be either increased or diminished. Upon this fixed and definite number God determined from eternity to bring to bear a divine influence, in the time and under the circumstances unchangeably fixed and pre-determined,an influence which would infallibly secure in them a fitness for eternal life. The remaining portion of mankind, God, in his sovereignty, eternally determined to pass over, and leave to perish in their sins. The former class are called the elect, and the later, the reprobate. God's plan, in respect to these two classes, is denominated the doctrines of eternal and unconditional election and reprobation. Election to life is said to be unconditional, because it rests upon no conditions foreseen as complied with on the part of the elect. Such is the doctrine of election. A part only are elected, when the whole might have been just as well, and God seen it wise so to do. This part are elected without any reasons whatever forseen in them why they should be saved rather than others. Everything rests wholly upon the sovereign election of God. It has been my honest aim not to pervert the views of my brethren holding this doctrine, but to present such views as they themselves actually hold them. It is according to the views above defined that they suppose the words elect, election, and chosen, are used in the New Testament. The question for us, as students of the Bible and pupils of the Holy Spirit to determine, is this: Is this the idea which we ought to attach to these terms when we meet with them in the Scriptures? As preparatory to a direct consideration of the various passages in which these words are found, I would invite very special attention to the following preliminary observations.
1. It is obviously contrary to all our natural ideas of a Being of perfect wisdom and goodness, that he would make such a difference between moral agents, as the doctrines of election and reprobation suppose, without there being reasons all-sufficient, intrinsic in the character of such agents themselves, for such momentous discriminations between them. When a Being of perfect wisdom and rectitude elects one object for one purpose, we naturally suppose that such selections are based upon reasons perceived as intrinsic in the objects,reasons demanding the diverse uses to which they are respectfully assigned. All our ideas of fitness are shocked at the mere suggestion that such a wide discrimination has not its basis in a corresponding difference, intrinsic in the character of the objects on which the acts referred to terminate. No such acts, we cannot but judge, ought to be based upon the mere will or sovereign pleasure of any being. All acts of will, on the other hand, (is it irreverential in a creature to say?) ought to be in harmony with intelligence, to be demanded by the dictates of perfect wisdom, and to be put forth for the reason alone that they are thus demanded. Now, when we contemplate the Most High as bringing two moral agents into being, agents divinely endowed with capacities for endless progress in knowledge, and consequent capacities for virtue or vice, and happiness or misery, it is certainly contrary to all our ideas of what is fit and proper in a Being thus related to such agents,a Being of infinite wisdom and rectitude,to suppose that he has selected one of them as an heir of life eternal, and the other as a victim of eternal pain and suffering, without there being reasons of infinite weight, reasons intrinsic in their characters, for such a separation.
2. When God makes eternal separation between them, he always assigns reasons intrinsic in their characters as the sole grounds for that separation. "Come, ye blessed of my Fatherfor I was hungered and you gave me meat." "Depart, ye cursedfor I was an hungered, and ye gave me no meat." The term for, in these several instances, expresses the reasons for the election and reprobation of the diverse classes of moral agents before us, the reasons in view of which God vindicates his own adjudications before the universe. The entire representations of Scriptrue, on this important subject, are in perfect harmony with these declarations of Christ: "Who will render to every man according to his deeds.""All that are in their graves shall hear his voice, and shall come forth; they that have done good unto the resurrection of life, and they that have done evil unto the resurrection of damnation."
Since such is the basis of all the procedures of the judgment in which the final discrimination between mankind is to be made, if God has any predeterminations or purposes of election, in respect to such discriminations, may we not safely conclude that they have their basis wholly on the grounds foreseen by him, on which the discrimination is made, that is, "the deeds," in view of which, and for the avowed reasons which, the awards of the great day are dispensed? If this be the character of the electing grace and reprobating judgment of God, then we have an election and reprobation which must, when understood, "commend themselves to every man's conscience in the sight of God."
But how does this great transaction appear when contemplated in the light of the doctrine under consideration? According to this doctrine, all events alike are eternally predetermined by God. Its fundamental teachings are, that "God hath, for his own glory, unchangeably foreordained whatsoever comes to pass." The fall of man, then, and all our states and acts, as sinners, as these are events which do come to pass, must as really and truly be the objects of an unchangeable decree, as the salvation and holiness of the righteous. Whatever is not thus predetermined, the advocates of this doctrine affirm, is left to chance; and as nothing, as they affirm, is thus left, all things alike must, of course, be fixed, and inevitably so, by an eternal decree. If any who maintain the doctrine of decrees deny any of these statements, they must deny the fundamental article of their system; to wit, that "God has unchangeably foreordained whatsoever comes to pass." They must, according to their own principles, affirm that the occurrence of some events is left to chance.
Suppose, now, that when the finally reprobate are about to receive that doom, the fact stands revealed that the character and acts for which they are to receive that doom were all unchangeably rendered what they were by an eternal, all-necessitating decree of God, and consequently that the exclusive final cause of their doom is, not their own voluntary choice of evil instead of good, but God's own purpose necessarily rendering that choice what it was. When the principles of that transaction are thus unveiled before the intelligence of the universe, how will appear? Could God's judgments, thus contemplated, appear "true and righteous altogether?" I conclude, then, that when God assigns the moral character of men as the sole cause of the discrimination there to be made between the saints and sinners, he assigns the true and real grounds of all his own predeterminations pertaining to their election on the one hand, or their reprobation on the other. God's preëlecting grace, and pre-reprobationg judgments, must have their basis exclusively in the foreseen free, voluntary acts of men, in accepting or rejecting offered mercy. Against all such elections no conceivable objections can be brought. God's simple foreknowledge of what men, in the exercise of their uninterrupted free agency, will do, in no sense or degree determines their acts one way or the other. Men, under the influence which God brings to bear upon them for their own eternal good, determine their own character as sinful or holy. Whatever purposes God has formed in respect to men,purposes resting wholly upon their character foreseen,no reasonable mind can object against. Such a form of election as this cannot be unworthy of God, as the moral governor of the universe.
3. I will now notice an idea fundamentally false, as it appears to me, professedly based upon the great truth that God is our Creator. Because he sustains this relation to us, he has a right, it is said, to dispose of us as his property, according to his own sovereign pleasure,to appoint one to life, and others directly or indirectly to death, as may be his will. Now, to me it is a truth self-evident, that the highest conceivable reasons why God should not, without consideration of infinite and eternal weight, destroy the happiness of such a creature, are involved in the great fact that he, by his own voluntary act, has brought that creature into being, and has endowed him with all his capacities for good or evil. What is one of the main reasons for parental obligation to care for the necessities of children? The very fact that the parent, by his own voluntary act, has been the cause of the existence of the child. Such reasons must apply with equal weight to God, as the Infinite Father of the great family of the rational universe. God certainly, without reasons of eternal weight, does not claim the right to cut off a creature from the infinite good to which he has himself adapted the nature of that creature. The contrary idea has its origin exclusively in the pro-slavery conception of property in man. Man is not a thing, and neither does God claim, nor can man rightly claim, property in him. As a moral agent, he stands eternally excluded from the idea of property. He can forfeit his right to good only by crime, and crime can exist only as the exclusive result of the voluntary act of a free moral agent.
We are now prepared for a direct consideration of the meaning of the terms elect, election, and chosen, as they are applied to men in the New Testament. The question is, Do they represent an election which has no basis whatever in the intrinsic character of the objects, character making a difference wide and fundamental between them and the non-elect, and therefore demanding that this difference shall be made between them? Or is it, what all wise and just elections of this character, in all other instances, are, an election in which a wise and just discrimination is made where, and only where, such a discrimination is demanded by what is intrinsic in the character of the objects of such election?
If we refer to the primary significations of the words under consideration, there can be no doubt whatever as to the meaning which we should attach to them. They always, according to their primary signification, designate an election in which one object is preferred to another, on the exclusive ground of the perceived or imputed superior excellence of the former over the later. Thus the primary signification of the word elect, according to the distinguished lexicographer, Professor Robinson, is, "select, choice, excellent." According to this definition, the term elect can be applied to an object when, and only when, it possesses superior intrinsic excellence which requires that it should be preferred to other of the same class. The question is, Is this the meaning of the term when applied to men in the Scriptures? Are they God's elect, if the are such, because they are the objects of his moral approbation and favor, on account of the beauty of holiness which he sees in them, and not in others?
[A word of explanation is demanded here. When I speak of reasons, instrinsic in the character of men, why one should be saved and the other lost, I would, by no means, be understood as supposing that salvation is not, from first to last, wholly by grace, and more than we are to suppose the Bible to teach this doctrine, because it asserts that men shall be "judged according to their works." Salvation is all of grace; yet it is proffered on certain irreversible conditions. Those intrinsic in their character why they should or should not become "heirs of the grace of life." Such reasons do not imply that those who are saved receive eternal life on the ground of merit in themselves, and not wholly as a gift of grace.]
That we may come to a right understanding of this subject, we will first consider the meaning of these terms when applied to our Saviour. "To whom (Christ) coming, as unto a living stone, disallowed indeed of men, but chosen (elect) of God and precious." I Pet. ii. 4. "Wherefore it is contained in the Scripture, Behold, I lay in Sion a chief cornerstone, elect, precious; and he that believeth on him shall not be confounded." I Pet. ii. 6. "Let him save himself if he be the Christ, the chosen (elect) of God." Luke xxiii. 35. The original word rendered chosen and elect in these passages is, in all instances, one and the same. So it will be the case in all the passages which I shall hereafter select. The only difference that ever occurs is, that in two or three instances the participle instead of the adjective is used. There is no difference of meaning, however, in any instance. Now, of the meaning of the term elect, when applied to Christ, there can, by no possibility, be any doubt. It never can designate an object in itself not to be preferred to others, but which, by an act of sovereignty, has been selected out from a class in themselves all equally eligible, and then rendered precious, by an influence subsequently brought to bear upon it. It designates, on the other hand, precisely the opposite idea, that of an object in itself preferable to others, and, for that reason, selected out from among them. The figure employed is that of a builder seeking a rock in itself adapted to occupy the place of the chief corner-stone on which the entire building is to be founded, and having found one, of all others to be preferred for this end, selects it accordingly. Hence it is called "elect, precious." Such was the meaning of the term when applied to Christ, by his enemies, "If he be Christ, the chosen (elect) of God," that is, if he is, as he professed to be, so dear to God, on account of his transcendent excellence.
We find the same terms applied to men, also, in connections which render their meaning equally manifest. "Then pleased it the apostles and elders, with the whole church, to send chosen men of their own company to Antioch with Paul and Barnabas: namely, Judas surnamed Barabas, and Silas, chief men among the brethren." "It seemed good unto us, being assembled with one accord, to send chosen men unto you with our beloved Barnabas and Paul." The term chosen, in both the above passages, can have but one meaning. It implies, in the individuals elected, superior qualifications for the mission on which they were sent. For this reason, they are called "chosen men." Thus we are accustomed to call individuals of superior excellence "choice spirits." You will now understand clearly the meaning of the same term when applied to Paul, (Acts ix. 15.) "He is a chosen vessel (literally vessel of election) unto me, to bear my name before the Gentiles." The evident meaning is, he is a very precious vessel unto me; a vessel, on account of his present character and superior qualifications, worthy to be selected from among all others for the high office of "bearing my name before the Gentiles." There is nothing in the term, as here used, that, in the most distant form, even looks towards an eternal, unconditional election, whom there is no reason in the object why it should be selected rather than others of the same class. God only speaks of Paul in view of what he then was, as a truly converted man.
Equally manifest is the meaning of the term applied to Christians generally and indiscriminately, (1 Peter ii. 9.) "But ye are a chosen (elect) generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a peculiar people." The meaning of the term, as applied to Christ, in the verse preceding, we have already understood. In the same sense, all the laws of language compel us to understand it in the verse before us. Such are the connections in which it is here found, that no honest mind can mistake its meaning. An elect generation is one which, on account of its superior and royal moral excellence, is worthy to be selected from the rest of mankind, as the objects of divine approbation and favor.
No less plain is the meaning of the term in Rev. xvii. 14. "For he (Christ) is Lord of lords, and King of kings, and they that are with him are called and chosen (elect) and faithful;" that is, Christ himself is superior to all others, and his glorified associates are, on account of their transcendent excellence, worthy to be his companions and associates. The connection in which the term "elect" is her found, renders that this must be its meaning in this passage.
The term "called," here found, and which is often applied to the saints in the Scriptures of the New Testament, demands a special explanation, in this connection. The term is figurative, and is taken from the customs which obtained in the ancient regal feasts. When a monarch would make a feast, he was accustomed, as we learn, (Matt. xxii. 13, and elsewhere,) to send out first and notify individuals, that at the time appointed they would be invited to the royal feast that was to be celebrated. The notice and the final invitation were denominated the calling to the feast. As the guest were selected on account of their high standing, and for their superior worth in the monarch's estimation, to receive such a call was a mark of great distinction. Hence the guests, as expressive of such distinction, were denominated the called ones, the called of the king; that is, individuals standing high in royal estimation. This is the great and exclusive idea to be attached to the term when applied to saints, in the passage above cited from Revelation, and in all other passages where they are denominated "the called of God," "called saints," not "called to be saints," as rendered in our translation. In all instances in which we read "called to be saints," "called to be an apostle," &., the literal rendering is "called saints," and "called apostle." The adjective called, when thus applied, never, I am quite safe in the affirmation,in any single instance, designates what is denominated "effectually calling." It is always employed as a term of distinction, to designate those who are, on account of their superior excellence, dear to God, and consequently invited by him to the "marriage supper of the Lamb," or to the enjoyment of high and distinguished privileges.
We are now prepared to explain the passage in 2 Peter i. 10, in which both the terms "calling" and "election" are found. "Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure; for if ye do these things, ye shall never fall." The election and calling, here referred to, are undeniably future; because they are yet uncertain and conditioned on the voluntary conduct of the creature. Reference is had to the time when "God is to make up his jewels," and when he is to invite all who are his to the great feast of heaven. The meaning of the passage is, Give all diligence to live so as to render it certain that when that period shall arrive, you will be among the called and elected of God. No construction conceivable can be more forced, unnatural, and opposite to all the laws of language, than the high Calvinistic explanation, which makes the passage mean thismake it certain to yourselves that you were from all eternity called and elected of God. Calling, to say the least, must be in time, and not from eternity; and as this is and must be future, so must the election here referred to be future.
The meaning of 1 Peter ii. 2, now becomes obvious:"Elect, according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ; grace unto you, and peace be multiplied." Three important truths are taught in this passage. 1. That Christians are sanctified and saved through the influence of the Spirit and grace of Christ. That they are not passive but active recipients of this divine influence, and that as such recipients of this divine influence, and that as such recipients they may properly be said to purify themselves by yielding of their own free will to this influence, we learn from the 22d verse of this same chapter:"Ye have purified yourselves by obeying the truth, through the Spirit,"that is, ye have rendered yourselves pure, by yielding, of your own choice, to the truth, presented to your minds by the Spirit. 2. The second great truth that we have from this passage is this:Believers became the elect of God in consequence of having thus obeyed the truth through the Spirit. 3. All these are divinely foreseen results of God's gracious arrangement for the redemption of men. By no stretch of language can anything in this passage be made to bear in favor of the doctrine of eternal, unconditional election. An election foreseen as actually taking place in time, and in consequence of terms of life being complied with, is a very different form of doctrine from that above stated. Rom. ii. 5: "Even so, then, at this present time, also, there is a remnant according to the election of grace,"that is, the kind, gracious, benignant election of God, as opposed to the ungracious and arbitrary arrangement. According to this election, there was, as Paul affirms, a remnant among the Jews who were numbered among the elect of God.
1 Thess. i. 4: "Knowing, brethren, beloved, your election of God," that is, calling to remembrance the circumstances in which you, in the midst of the fiercest contentions, and most embittered persecutions, as the apostle shows in the verse following, embraced the gospel, and thus became beloved elected once of God. As the election here referred to place in time, no reference can be had in the passage to the doctrine of eternal, unconditional election.
As Rom. ix. 11, "That the purpose of God according to election might stand," has been explained in a former lecture, nothing in addition is demanded in respect tot he passage in this connection. The election here referred to pertained exclusively to nations, as such, and not to individuals, and had no reference whatever to an election to eternal life.
A mere passing remark is all that is now required in explaining the phrase, "Many are called, but few chosen," found in Matt. xx. 16; xxii. 14. All that this phrase can be made to mean is this: Many, that is, all, are invited to partake of the salvation of God; but few, however, in consequence of accepting the offer, are elected as heirs of life eternal. I suppose that a still different construction should be put upon this phrase; but as it has no particular bearing upon our present inquiries, I pass it over.
As the terms elect and election imply something valuable and excellent in the object, something on account of which it is selected in preference to others of the same class, they are hence sometimes used in the Scriptures as terms of very tender endearment; as, for example, "the elect lady," and the "elect sister,"that is, the precious beloved Christian lady and sister; 2 John 1 and 13. "Shall not God avenge (answer the prayers) of his own elect?" Luke xvii. 7. His own elect,that is, those who, on account of their character, are dear and precious in God's sight, and, as such, have been chosen by him out of the world. "Who shall lay anything to the charge of God's elect?" Rom. viii. 33; that is, who will appear in judgment against those whom, on account of their character, God has selected as dear and precious before him? "And shall gather together his elect," (his own precious chosen ones.) Matt. xxiv. 31; Mark xiii. 27. "For the elect's sake whom he hath chosen," (his own precious elected ones.) Matt. xxiv. 22; Mark xiii. 20. "Salute Rufus, chosen in the Lord,"that is, an honored, precious, beloved disciple of Christ. Rom. xvi. 13. "Put on, therefore, as the elect of God," (holy and beloved,)that is, as the holy and beloved chosen ones of God,"bowels of mercies, kindness," &c. Col. iii. 12. "According to the faith of God's elect," (God's chosen ones.) Tit. i. 1.
As believers only are thus elected by God, these terms are often used in the Scriptures as synonymous with the term Christian or believer, always including the idea of preciousness on account of character. In this sense they are to be explained in such passages as the following:2 Tim. ii. 10: "All things are for the elect's sake,"for the good of believers. Matt. xiii. 24: "To deceive, if it were possible, the very elect." Rom. xi. 7: "Bu the election (believers) hath obtained it, (the salvation of Christ,) and the rest (Jews and unbelievers) were blinded." Rom. xi. 28: "As concerning the gospel, they are enemies for your sake; but as touching the election, they are beloved for the Father's sake." The meaning of this passage, as I suppose, amy be thus expressed. As far as the gospel is concerned, they, the mass of the Jews, are its embittered enemies, because you Gentiles are introduced into the fold of Christ; but as far as the "election" is concerned, the remnant of true believers among them, these are very dear to God, not only on account of their character as believers, but as the decedents of the ancient patriarchs. Whether this is the true explanation or not, the passage cannot be explained so as to have any bearing in favor of the doctrine of eternal and unconditional election. Thee is one passage (1 Tim. iv. 21) in which the term elect is applied to angels. "I charge thee before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, and the elect angels." Here the term evidently has the meaning of holy, beloved of God, and therefore to be held in esteem by us. The meaning of the passage is: I charge thee before God, and the Lord Jesus Christ, and the high principalities of heaven.
I have thus complied my promise, as far as the passages in which the terms elect and election, found in the New Testament, are concerned. I have, I believe, omitted not a single passage in which either of these terms, or the original word which they represent, appears. You now have a distinct exposition of the meaning which, as I suppose, should be attached to them, and are able, if the explanation given is admitted as the correct one, to judge for yourselves in respect to their bearings upon the doctrine of eternal and unconditional election. It now remains to consider several other passages in which these terms do not appear, but which are supposed to sustain, either directly or indirectly, this doctrine.
1. There is one class of passages which is supposed to teach this doctrine not directly, but by manifest implication; those passages especially which are deemed to affirm the fact of the sinner's total inability to anything that is good. If the sinner lacks all ability to do what is right, then his salvation must depend wholly upon a sovereign act of God, an act conditioned of course upon a purpose of eternal and unconditional election.
The first passage that I notice, which is supposed to affirm this doctrine, is found in Jer. xiii. 23: "Can the Ethiopian change his skin?" &c. This is adduced as affirming the absolute inability of all sinners to "cease to do evil, and learn to do well." In reply, I remark, 1. This passage, instead of being applicable to all sinners, is most undeniably applicable only to a part; those "who are accustomed to do evil."that is, those who have become confirmed in the habit of sinning. 2. The inability affirmed of this particular class, whatever the nature of such impotency may be, is one which wholly results from long-continuance in sin, and consists exclusively in the power or tendency of habit thus acquired. 3. The form of inability, therefore, is to be totally denied of the mass of sinners, that is, of all those who have not become confirmed in the habit of sin. 4. This passage, then, when rightly understood, teaches, most plainly and undeniably, the very doctrine which it is supposed to deny, to whit, the ability of the sinner to do what is good. If men have not the power to do right or wrong, they can never generate in themselves a tendency to do, or confirm themselves in the habit of doing, the one in distinction from the other. If all mankind are alike in the state of total incapacity to do anything but sin, then it is the height of absurdity to speak of their disabling themselves from ceasing to sin, by being accustomed to sin. 5. Nothing is or can be further from the design of inspiration, in this passage, than to affirm that an absolute incapacity to holiness is acquired even by the habit of sinning. The simple truth here taught is this: the sinner, by accustoming himself to sin, becomes at length so confirmed in the habit of sinning, that his reformation becomes hopeless. It is a most fatal perversion of the passage to make any other use of it than as a warning against "accustoming ourselves to do evil."
The passage which next claims our attention is John vi. 43. "No many can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him; and I will raise him up at the last day." To be "drawn" to Christ, in the sense of this passage, is, as we learn from the next verse, to be "taught of God." The doctrine announced is, that no man can attain to a saving knowledge of Christ unless he is taught of God. That which cuts the sinner off from the divine teaching under consideration, renders it impracticable from him to come to Christ. To indulge a cavilling spirit, instead of opening the heart to divine teaching, accomplishes this fearful result. To warn his enemies against the indulgence of such a spirit, and thus to prevent their cutting themselves off from divine teaching, is the exclusive object of Christ, in this passage. The Jews had been cavilling at our Saviour's word. "Murmur not among yourselves," he says,that is, I beseech you not to indulge this cavilling spirit. You will thereby wholly cut yourselves off from the divine teaching or drawing, without which no man can come to me. It is fully implied in our Saviour's words, that the sinner is able to avail himself of divine teaching, and he is simply warned against that act of suicide, by which, in the indulgence of a cavilling spirit, he would cut himself off from this infinite good. To draw the conclusion from this passage that the sinner cannot cease his cavils and avail himself of divine teaching so as to come to Christ, is to do that which has but one tendency, and that a most fatal one, to feat the every end which Christ had in view in the utterance of this truth. His exclusive design was to present the strongest possible motive for the suppression in ourselves of the captious, cavilling spirit against the truth. To draw from such an announcement the doctrine of the total impotency of the sinner to all good,in other words, to tell him, when cavilling against the truth, that he cannot cease doing it, and yield himself to divine teaching,is to reverse wholly our Saviour's benevolent intentions in all he said on that occasion.
One other passage demands attention in this connection. Rom. viii. 8: "So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God." The doctrine here taught is so plain, that it is a matter of no little surprise that any should have misapprehended it. Paul is offering reasons why we should cease to live after the flesh, and, by the mortification of the deeds of the body, become heirs of eternal life. He has not certainly been guilty of the strange folly of urging us to do this by the presentation of the consideration that it is impossible for us to do it. The real idea presented by the apostle is this. Our salvation depends upon our pleasing God. Living after the flesh is wholly incompatible with doing this. Pleasing God and minding the things of the flesh cannot coëxist in the heart. Therefore we should cease living after the flesh.
2. In still another class of passages conversion is ascribed to God, in such a form and manner, as clearly to affirm the doctrine of eternal and unconditional election. Of this class, Ps. cx. 3 is often quoted: "Thy people shall be willing in the day of thy power, in the beauties of holiness from the womb of the morning: thou hast the dew of thy youth." The explanation which some give of the first clause is this:Sinners shall be converted at the time when God, by his own omnipotence, changes their nature, or constrains them to repent; and that in conformity to his own eternal and unconditional purpose of election. This construction is based upon a total misunderstanding of the whole passage, (it being utterly impossible to attach any meaning whatever to the most of it,) and consequently not perceiving the real connection of the first clause what immediately follows. The true meaning of the passage, according to the original Hebrew, may be thus expressed:Thy people (those already converted) shall be volunteers (literally voluntariness) in the day of thy glorious war, in holy garments, (or clad in the beauty of holiness.) More than the dew-drops from the womb of the morning shall be thy youth; the youth who shall arrange themselves under thy banners. Christ is presented to our contemplation under the figure of a glorious conqueror marching forth at the head of the sacramental host, for the spiritual conquest of the world. His people, that is, those who are then his real followers, are to volunteer their services with the intensest ardor. So numerous are his self-consecrated host then to be, that even the young men about his standard will be more numerous than the dew-drops from the womb of the morning. The passage, then, simply and exclusively relates to the spirit with which the Church, in the progress of her future history, will be imbued, relatively to the salvation of the world, and has no relation whatever to the doctrine which it is adduced to prove, the nature of the divine influence in the conversion of sinners.
To the same purpose Eph. ii. 1 is often cited:"And you hath he quickened, who were dead in trespasses and sins." From the fact that sinners are here said to be "dead in (on account of) trespasses and sins," it is inferred, that they are totally disabled to all good, and can be rendered holy only by an act of divine sovereignty in conformity to an eternal decree of election. Now, if we are to infer the sinner's absolute inability to holiness, because he is said to be dead in sin, we should conclude that it is impossible for any real Christian ever to sin again; for they are positively declared to be dead to sin. "Ye are dead." Two important truths are plainly taught in this passage. 1. Sinners are dead, under condemnation to death, on account of their sins. 2. They are recovered from this state by the spirit and grace of Christ. But whether they are active or passive under this divine influence, nothing whatever is here affirmed one way or the other. On this important point full and distinct information is imparted to us in other portions of the divine word. Sinners, as we there learn, pass from death unto life, by receiving by faith the truth presented to their minds by the Spirit. "Ye have purified yourselves by obeying the truth through the Spirit." The Spirit quickens the sinner by presenting the truth to his mind. The sinner purifies himself by obeying the truth, or voluntarily yielding to the truth thus presented to his election. The quickening is one in which divine and human activity voluntarily combine and harmonize. Any idea of conversion or regeneration which would separate these two agencies in the change, "puts asunder what God has joined together,"a fatal divorcement not unfrequently resulting from the folly of human speculation.
3. There is one other class of passages which are supposed, by some, to have a fundamental bearing in favor of the doctrine under consideration,passages in which it is affirmed to be directly and immediately taught. Of these, Rom. viii, 29, 30, is reckoned as one of the most important:"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. Moreover, whom he did predestinate, them he also called; and whom he called, them he also justified; and whom he justified, them he also glorified." In the preceding part of the chapter, the apostle assures us, that "if we live after the flesh, we shall die; but if we through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, we shall live." In the verse preceding the one above cited, we are told, as a reason for obeying such truths, of the blessedness of all who obey and love God: "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." The calling here referred to takes place in time, and is not at all from eternity. This we learn from verse 30. To be "called according to God's purpose," means to be invited to a participation of eternal life, in conformity to a preärrangement of divine grace. This all will admit. The object of the apostle, in verses 29, 30, is to give the reasons why "all things shall work together for good to them that love God." This is evident from the particle "for," with which these verses are introduced! What a strange reason this would be to assign for the proof of such a fact, to wit. that all who have from all eternity been unconditionally elected will be saved! If you will not "live after the flesh, but through the Spirit will mortify the deeds of the body," and continue to love God, "all things shall work together for your good." What is the evidence of this fact? Why, this. All who were from all eternity unconditionally elected shall be saved. Where is the connection between two such propositions as these? Paul certainly was never guilty of reasoning thus illogically. What, then, is the real meaning? After saying that "all things work together for good to them that love God," he proceeds to present the reasons for the assurance of such a result in the experience of all such. The reasons are the following:1. All whom God foresaw would exercise this love, he predetermined, in consequence of foreseeing this virtue in them, to perfect their character into a perfect likeness to the image of Christ. So he is represented, in the fulfilment of this purpose, as giving them his Spirit, that they, "with an open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, may be changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord." 2. "All whom he thus predestinates, he also calls," (invites to a participation of life eternal.) 3. "All whom he calls he also justifies," (fully pardons all their iniquities,) and all "whom he thus pardons he glorifies" in heaven at last. Such is God's fixed arrangement in respect to all whom he foresees as loving him. We have only "to keep ourselves in the love of God," and we shall become, with infallible certainty, the objects of this divine arrangement. What a motive thus to keep ourselves! We must bear in mind that the predestination referred to in the passage is based wholly and exclusively upon God's foreknowledge of what creatures, in a voluntary compliance with the influence of his own Spirit, will become. "Whom he did foreknow." Foreknow as what? As actually loving him. This is the exclusive subject of the apostle's remarks. "All things work together for good to them that love God." Why? Because that all whom God did foreknow as doing this, "he did predestinate." There is nothing whatever in the passage which has the most distant reference to an eternal unconditional election among sinners who do not love God at all, electing some of these to salvation, and leaving the rest to perish in their sins. To put this construction upon it annihilates wholly its power to accomplish the purpose for which alone it was written, namely, to present an all-constraining motive for "keeping ourselves in the love of God."
Eph. i. 4, 5, is another passage most confidently relied upon to sustain this doctrine. "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. Having predestined us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will." The phrase, "chosen us in him," admits of two constructions; to wit, chosen us to be in him, or chosen us who are in him. There can be no reasonable doubt that the latter is the true meaning. Were the former one the correct explanation, the words "to be," which, in the original, appear before the words "holy and without blame," would stand before the phrase "in him." The meaning of the passage, then, is this. According as he hath chosen us, who are in Christ, that is, true believers, and chosen us to be, or chosen that we should be, "holy and without blame before him in love." Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children, or predetermined to adopt us as children, &c. Now for God, before the foundation of the world, to choose that all who truly believe in Christ should be without blame before him in love, and for him to predetermine the adoption of all such as his children, is one thing; for him, form all eternity, to elect, unconditionally, a certain portion of sinners to life eternal, and to determinate to leave the remainder to perish in their sins, when he might just as well have saved one part as the another, and the whole as a part, had he seen it best so to do, is quite another thing. With this latter doctrine the passage under consideration has no connection whatever, unless it be that of opposition. The exclusive object of the apostle is to reveal to Christians God's purposes and arrangements of holy love, grace and mercy towards them, as believers in Christ, and because of their relation to him as sinners saved by grace through him. No greater perversion can possibly be made of the passage than to use it in support of the doctrine of eternal and unconditional election and reprobation.
The meaning of verse 11, of this same chapter, now becomes plain:"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." The predestination here referred to is a predestination of believers, as such, to the inheritance of life eternal, and that, in consequence of their foreseen acceptance of mercy. Nothing is said, or intimated, of a predesitination of a portion of sinners to conversion, and consequent salvation, while the rest, in the fulfilment of an eternal decree, are left to perish in sin. The "working of all things after the counsel of his own will," refers to the certainty of God's carrying into accomplishment all his predetermined arrangements in respect to believers. It is very singular that high Calvinists cite this passage in proof of a proposition strictly universal, to wit, that God brings to pass all events according to his eternal decrees, and that they then deny what is necessarily implied in their own construction; to wit, that God is the efficient cause of sin.
Acts xiii. 48: "And as many as were ordained to eternal life believed." The original word here rendered "ordained" is a military term, and refers to an army's taking rank, or voluntarily arranging themselves, in obedience to the order of their commander. The apostle is represented, in the context, as giving the word of command to sinners, to arrange themselves for eternal life, by believing in Christ. We are here told, that as many as in obedience to that order were voluntarily arranged for eternal life, believed in Christ. This, I have not doubt, from the laws of language, is, and must be, the meaning of this passage. An eternal and unconditional election is not, in the most distant form, referred to.
Matthew xxiv. 40, 41: "The one shall be taken and the other left." This passage simply asserts that, at the destruction of Jerusalem, one, in consequence of disregarding Christ's admonitions, would fall into the hands of the enemy, and the other, in consequence of heeding these admonitions, and "fleeing to the mountains," as directed, would escape. No referenced whatever to final salvation is had in the passage.
The only additional passage which requires notice is 2 Thess. ii. 13: "But we are bound to give thanks always 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." One of the meanings very commonly attached to the original word here rendered "through," is "on account of, in consequence of." I will give a few examples. 1 Cor. xi. 17: "Now in this (on account of this) that I declare unto you, I praise you not." Acts vii. 29: "Then fled Moses at (on account of ) this saying,"the original term, here rendered "at," being the same as the one rendered through, in the passage under consideration. Mark ix. 41: "For whosoever shall give you a cup of water to drink in (on account of) my name, because ye belong to Christ." I might cite many more passages to the same purpose; but these are abundantly sufficient. That the term rendered through, in this passage, should be understood, in the sense of "on account of," or, "in consequence of," is perfectly manifest from the context. The apostle, in the preceding part of the chapter, is speaking of the fearful judgments which are to come upon incorrigible sinners, on account of their rejection of the truth. He then turns to the Christians of Thessalonica, to commend them for their faith. They, instead of imitating the example of wicked men, had obeyed the truth, through the Spirit; that is, had received, instead of rejection as incorrigible sinners do, the truth presented by the Spirit to their election. Hence he says: "But," that is, we have something of a far different nature to say of you, "we are bound to give thanks always to God for you, brethren, beloved of the Lord, because God hath from the beginning chosen you unto salvation, through (on account of) the sanctification of the Spirit, and belief of the truth;" that is, because you have been sanctified by the Spirit, by receiving by faith the truth which he has commended to your reception. For God, from the beginning, to determine to save all such as thus believe the truth, presented to their minds by his own Spirit, is quite another doctrine from that of an eternal unconditional election of a portion of sinners to life, while all might have been elected just as well, had God judged it wise so to do. The simple and exclusive object of the apostle, in this passage, is this: 1. To commend believers for their faith, and to impress them with a conviction of its infinite value, and preciousness in the sight of God. 2. As a means to this end, to remind them of God's gracious purpose in respect to them,his purpose not to destroy them with the wicked, but to bestow upon them life eternal. Nothing is or can be, more foreign from his purpose, than the idea of thanking God that a portion of the race has been eternally and unconditionally elected to life, while the remainder are passed by, and left to perish in their sins. A more perverted construction cannot possibly be put upon a passage, than is put upon this, by turning it from its true original design, and making it teach such a soul-chilling doctrine. With two brief reflections I conclude this discourse.
1. We have, in the progress of our remarks, a very striking illustration of the tendency of a false theory, when once assumed as true, in blinding the mind to the real meaning of the Scriptures, and in preventing its even discerning their ineffable beauties, as well as in neutralizing the sanctifying power of their divine teachings upon the heart. All the passages which we have been considering, how long has their divine signification been thrown into a deep and dark eclipse, in consequence of their assumed relation to the doctrine of eternal and unconditional election and reprobation! How have their intrinsic beauties been veiled, and their otherwise sanctifying power become neutralized, by this means! Never will that "dearest of books"the precious Biblebe to the world of mind what the sun is to the physical universe, unto its divine teachings are emancipated from the perversions of false systems of theology.
2. The aspect of the portion of Scripture which have been supposed to teach the doctrine of eternal and unconditional election and reprobation, when seen in their true relations to the mind and the design of the Spirit in recording them, as contrasted with their appearance in their assumed relations to the doctrine under consideration, next claims our attention. When contemplated in their true light, they have a divine and ineffable beauty, and a most benign and sanctifying power. They breathe nothing but love, infinite as the love of God. They seem, and truly seem, to come warm from his infinite heart. The high Calvinist construction, on the other hand, throws them into the regions of eternal frost, and leaves in them one tendency and only one, a tendency to chill the soul and freeze up the fountain of life and love within it. What real virtue, actual or conceivable, has the dogma of eternal and unconditional election and reprobation,the doctrine which makes the immortal destiny of moral beings turn wholly, not upon their own voluntary choice of life or death, but upon an eternal all-necessitating decree,what real virtue has such a doctrine a tendency to develop in the human heart? Upon the sinner it can have no tendency but to palsy his powers into a fatal inaction, when he ought to be running for his life from the gates of death, or to cover his mind with the impenetrable gloom of despair. Upon the Christian it tends only to chill his sensibilities, pervert his ideas of a true moral government, and darken his apprehensions of God's judgments, as "true and righteous altogether." In the minds of all, alike, it tends only to render God an object of mere trembling awe and terror, instead of filial fear and reverence, adoptive trust, and confidence, and holy love.
EXPLANATION OF ROMANS IX. 113,
EXPLANATION OF ROMANS IX. 1418,
EXPLANATION OF ROMANS IX. 1924,
EXPLANATION OF ROMANS IX. 2533,
Eposition of Romans IX., Etc. By Asa Mahan - Romans 9 Commentary