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1 THESS, 1:4. Knowing, brethren beloved, your election of God.
THE subject suggested to the mind by this brief expression, is one which has been the occasion of long protracted and strenuous controversy in the church. This dispute, although now greatly abated, still exists among the different denominations of Christians, and still it continues to interrupt and, in a degree, to lessen that cordial affection and harmony, which all the truly pious will acknowledge ought to characterize and distinguish all the genuine disciples of the Lord Jesus Christ. There is still a marked difference and contrariety of sentiment respecting this important article of the faith once delivered to the saints.
In this discourse the leading object will be, to explain the sense in which Christian election is understood and maintained by true Calvinists, and to defend it against the false constructions given to it by its opposers, as well as by some pious people, who profess, in general, to subscribe to the Calvinistic creed.
Diffidence, I am very conscious, becomes me in undertaking to discuss this mysterious and controverted subject. It is my sincere desire to undertake the discussion of it in the spirit of Christian meekness and candor, and with the kindest feelings towards those pious followers of the Redeemer, who hold a creed different from mine, as well as towards those of my own church, who find it difficult to reconcile their views to the doctrine of God's sovereign purposes and decrees.
The apostle Paul, in the introduction of this epistle, expresses his devout thanksgivings to God for the success of his ministry at Thessalonica; the blessed effects of his labors having been manifested in the lively faith, active love, and patient hope, of the Christians of that place. The evangelical graces which adorned their profession of love to the Redeemer, he viewed as satisfactory evidence of their election of God, and evidently alludes to them as the foundation of his knowledge of their election of God. He reasons from the effect to the cause. His ministry among the people at Thessalonica had been effectual in promoting their conversion and salvation; hence he justly inferred their election of God.
I. WHAT IS ELECTION? AND THE EVIDENCE OF ITS BEING A SCRIPTURAL DOCTRINE.
Election is a plain and familiar term, and is not involved in any peculiar mystery. This word, as every person knows, is synonimous with the familiar and intelligible word, choice. The election of God is his choosing a part of the fallen race of Adam in the Lord Jesus Christ, unto eternal life, and ORDAINING the MEANS by which they are to be qualified and prepared for future glory. This view of the subject is clearly expressed in Ephesians 1:4, 5, 6. "According as he hath chosen us in him [Christ] before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love: having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the Beloved." The same sentiments occur again in 2 Thess. 2:13, 14. "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. Whereunto he called you by our gospel, to the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ." The apostle Peter likewise advances the same doctrine in his 1st Epistle 2:1, 2, in which he addresses the Christians to whom he was writing, as being elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ.' Any candid person, who will attentively read these quotations from the writings of the inspired apostles must, we think, be convinced that they speak explicitly of God's having chosen some persons, and that before the foundation of the world, that they should obtain salvation in Jesus Christ, and that they should be prepared for heaven through faith and sanctification.
Now, if it be admitted that God has chosen some persons, or a part of mankind in Christ, unto eternal life, it will follow as a plain conse quence, that some persons, or a part of mankind, have not been so chosen. If it had been God's purpose, or determination, to save all men, then there would have been nothing said about a choice; for, upon that supposition, there would, in reality, have been no choice made. The very idea of a choice implies that some are taken and some left. A choice must terminate upon some and not upon others; upon a part and not the whole. In any other sense, a choice, in relation to the human family, is wholly inconceivable. Why it is that God, in his sovereign and eternal purpose of grace, should have chosen some and not others unto everlasting life, is not for us, at present, to know; but, if the Bible teaches us, as it plainly does, that God has made such a choice, then he has certainly made it, and we have reason to believe he has made it in a manner consistent with his infinite wisdom, justice, and benevolence. Some of our Christian brethren prefer the idea of an election of characters, but this scheme, when rightly considered, will be found to be attended with the same difficulty as that for which it is intended to be substituted. If Christian characters are not found in all men, as all must acknowledge, then it is evident that election,
$ even according to this scheme, will be restricted to a part only of mankind. According to that principle, it is a choice of a certain part only; that is, all to whom Christian characters appertain, and no more. Election, then, whether we understand it as referring to persons or to Christian characters, will embrace only a part of the human family. All will not be saved agreeably to either scheme. It is agreed, on all hands, that none will be saved but those in whom Christian characters are found. If, therefore, we restrict election to Christian characters, it will refer only to a part of mankind. Understanding the doctrine of election in this sense, a part only of mankind can be viewed as chosen of God to eternal life. That part the apostle Paul, in one of his epistles, has represented as the election of grace.
The doctrine of election, in whatever sense it ought to be taken, is a doctrine which is certainly taught in the Bible. To avoid prolixity, we will add only a few quotations to those which we have already adduced. This doctrine is found in every part of the word of God. We find it in many parts of the Old Testament. In the sixty-fifth psalm, the holy Psalmist presents to the glorious object of his pious adoration, the following devotional address: "Blessed is the man whom thou choosest, and causest to approach unto thee, that he may dwell in thy courts." Blessed, indeed," says Dr. Scott on this verse," is that T man whom the Lord chooseth, and by his Spirit causeth to approach him in humble faith and prayer; and who, finding acceptance with him, learns to delight and be at home in his courts and ordinances." To the same purport are the words of the Lord, by the prophet Isaiah, 65:9: “And I will bring forth a seed out of Jacob, and out of Judah an inheritor of my mountains, and mine elect shall inherit it, and my servants shall dwell there." The people alluded to in these words was ancient Israel, who, generally, in the Old Testament, are spoken of as God's chosen people, because, in preference to all other nations, the Lord had placed his name and established his worship among them, and honored them with his peculiar protection and blessing. But now, the wall of partition between Jews and Gentiles being broken down, the same gracious promise extends to all who become true Israelites by faith in Jesus Christ. All true believers are his elect, and shall inherit his promised blessings; for, in the New Testament, we read, that the blessing of Abraham comes upon the Gentiles through Jesus Christ.
But the doctrine of election is more explicitly and clearly taught by our blessed Savior, and by the inspired evangelists and apostles. Our Savior has spoken of the elect in frequent instances. When he was predicting the destruction of Jerusalem and the temple, and the awful calamities which were to attend that event, he comforted his disciples with the assurance that, "For the elect's sake, whom the Lord hath chosen, he hath shortened the days." Mark 13:20. In the same chapter, verses 26, 27, we read again: “Then shall they see the Son of man coming in the clouds, with great power and glory. And then shall he send his angels, and shall gather together his elect from the four winds, from the uttermost part of the earth, to the uttermost part of heaven." In each of these predictions, our Savior makes a plain distinction
between the elect and the rest of mankind, and speaks of special favor being showed to them; and we may observe, in every instance where the elect are spoken of in the Scriptures, they are always represented as the objects of God's peculiar favor.
In the writings of the holy evangelists and apostles, who, as all Christians must allow, wrote as they were inspired by the Holy Ghost, the doctrine of Christian election occurs in frequent instances, and is expressed with the utmost plainness and candor. The apostle Paul, that zealous, faithful, and successful minister of Christ, has something on the subject of election in almost all his epistles. We have already made two or three quotations from the writings of this holy man. We ask your patient attention while we add a few more. We quote first from the Epistle to the Romans. The ninth chapter of that Epistle is wholly occupied in stating and explaining the doctrine of election. In that chapter, the apostle illustrates the riches of the grace of God and his adorable sovereignty by the examples of Isaac and Ishmael; Esau and Jacob; and of Pharaoh. He shows, from the Old Testa ment, that God chose Isaac to be the heir of his promised blessing, in preference to Ishmael and to the sons of Abraham by Keturah; that he chose Jacob, in preference to Esau; but we will insert the apostle's own words: "Neither, because they are the seed of Abraham, are they all children: but in Isaac shall thy seed be called." The apostle then proceeds to another example in verses 10-13: "And not only this; but when Rebecca also had conceived by one, even by our father Isaac, (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;) it was said unto her, The elder shall serve the younger. As it is written, (Malachi 1:2, 3) Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated." We find no reason assigned any where in the Bible, why special favor was showed to Jacob in preference to Esau. It did not at first accord with the views and feelings of the good old patriarch; but so soon as he became convinced that God had chosen Jacob to inherit the blessing, he calmly acquiesced in the divine will, and confirmed the blessing to his younger son, although he had previously expected, agreeably to prevailing custom, to have awarded the privileges connected with the divine promise to his firstborn, Esau. The apostle also introduces the instance of Pharaoh, respecting whom God by Moses had declared: " I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion." So then, St. Paul infers," it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy;" and then he adds, in verses 17, 18: "For the Scripture saith unto Pharaoh, Even for this same purpose have I raised thee up, that I might show my power in thee, and that my name might be declared throughout all the earth. Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth." This portion of Scripture clearly teaches the doctrine of God's absolute sovereignty in the dispensation of his mercy, and of his righteousness in permitting wilful transgressors to go on in sin, and then punishing them for having, by a course of wilful sinning, hardened their hearts to con
alfirmed impenitence. God did not advance Pharaoh to the throne of Egypt in order that he might disobey his commands and contemn his sovereign authority; but the haughty monarch hardened his own heart by a voluntary course of sinning; by a succession of acts of disobedience to the positive injunctions of God; and it is in the same way that all obdurate transgressors become the cause of their own perdition. There is no divine decree which lays any one under any neceselsity of leading a sinful life, but it is decreed-and who can say the decree is unjust-that "the wicked shall be turned into hell, and all the nations that forget God."
In the 11th chapter of the same epistle, the apostle mentions the subject of election again, and shows that a part of the Jewish nation was graciously chosen to salvation through the sovereign mercy and free grace of God in Jesus Christ. In verses 5, 6, he says: "Even so, then, at this present time also, there is a remnant according to the election of grace. And, if by grace, then it is no more of works: otherwise grace is no more grace. But if it be of works, then it is no more grace: otherwise work is no more work. What then, (he continues in verse 7th,) Israel hath not obtained that which he seeketh for, but the election hath obtained it, and the rest were blinded." these verses, we think, the apostle plainly teaches, that the election of some sinners to eternal life is a matter entirely of grace, or free favor. He does not hold out the idea, that men are chosen to salvation in consequence of their faith or obedience, but wholly out of God's unmerited mercy and sovereign good pleasure.
The apostle Peter also asserts the doctrine of Christian election as explicitly as the apostle Paul. In the introduction to his First Epistle, addressed to the strangers scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, he calls them "elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ." Peter considered the Christians to whom he was writing, as having been chosen in Christ, according to the foreknowledge of God, and taught them, that the object of their election was, that they should be saved through sanctification of the Spirit, and the merit of the atonement made by Jesus Christ, Now, if Peter and the other apostles, who were cotemporary with our blessed Savior, and who received immediately from him the essential doctrines of his kingdom of grace; if these holy men have taught and asserted the doctrine of election, we must think it is a doctrine worthy of credit, and abundantly confirmed by the best authority. If, then, the first ministers of Christ's kingdom have, in their published writings, inculcated the doctrine of absolute election, may not their successors in office be permitted, without censure, to imitate their example? Have we not, from the New Testament, ample authority for assuring all true believers in Jesus Christ of their election of God?
But some pious people enter a demurrer, and allege that, though the doctrine of election is a doctrine of Scripture, Calvinistic Christians do not hold it as it is taught in the Bible. This will merit particular investigation; for doctrinal principles which are not to be found in the Bible can have no title to our belief. Calvinists, though con