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MERCY OF GOD-NEW TESTAMENT.
JOHN III. 16, 17.
“ God so lored the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him
should not perish, but have everlasting life ; for God sent not His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world, through Him, might be saved."
This declaration from our divine Lord Himself, seems unambiguously to assure us, that the blessings of Christianity are open to all, to whom the Gospel is preached, if they will but believe in that Jesus, who calls on them to receive Him as the Son of God, the Redeemer of man. Let us compare this authoritative declaration, and the passages of Scripture which correspond to and illustrate it, with the spirit of the predestinarian scheme.
The first circumstance that must strike us in the description of this scheme of mercy, is the universality of the offers of salvation it holds out, extending them to all men to whom they are at any time addressed ; without any the smallest appearance of their being limited to a fixed number, according to a previous decree of election, while all the rest, even of those to whom these glad tidings of salvation appears to be equally sent, are excluded from partaking the pardon and blessing they hold out, by an eternal and unalterable decree of reprobation.
This unrestricted character of the Gospel offers, seems to be most decisively established by the nature of the illustration immediately preceding, derived from a fact which our Lord declares was intended to typify His own death on the cross, for the salvation of man ; “ for as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whosoever believeth on Him, should not perish, but have everlasting life.”* Now what is there in this type, which suggests any limitation of the benefits of Christ's atonement, except men obstinately and contumaciously refuse to accept of Christ as a Redeemer, and with humble faith to look to Him as the source of their salvation.
* John ii. 14, 15.
It seems clear, that the efficacy of Christ's death must be thus unrestricted, if it corresponds to that instant cure which all received, who looked to the brazen serpent raised at the divine command, of which it is said, “ that every one who looked upon it shall live;"* and therefore also all who look to and believe on Christ shall live. But according to the predestinarian scheme, we are to understand, that really all men's eyes are closed, so that they cannot look to Christ, except only those elected and foreordained by an unalterable decree, whose eyes God will open, and they alone can behold and live.
It is declared in the text by our divine Lord, that “ God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” And it is added, as if with an intention to guard against any interpretation limiting this free and unrestricted act of pardon and grace, “for God sent not His Son into the world to condemn the world, but that the world, through Him, might be saved.f Here the predestinarian insists, that by the world is meant only the elect that are in the world; but as to all the rest of mankind, that God sent not His Son to save them ; but that, because they believe not in Him, (from which belief the eternal decree of predestination precluded all but the elect,) the world, through Him, might be condemned.
Again; St. Paul declares ; I thank Christ Jesus our Lord, who hath enabled me ; for that He counted me faithful, putting me into the ministry ; who was before a blasphemer and a persecutor, and injurious: but I obtained mercy, because I did it ignorantly in unbelief; and the grace of our Lord was exceeding abundant, with faith, and love which is in Christ Jesus.”
This description, so consonant to that humiliation which true repentance inspires, and magnifying so strongly the power of divine grace in converting such a sinner, marks however one particular, which appears very contrary to a leading principle
Numbers xxi. 8.-Compare John iii. 14, 15; and vi. 40.
#1 Tim. i. 12-16.
of the predestinarian scheme. If God looked upon the apostle's original ignorance and unbelief as a palliation of his guilt in persecuting Christianity, would this lead us to believe that the ignorance and unbelief of the great mass of mankind necessarily terminates in their final condemnation; nay, that they are by an unalterable divine decree, precluded from escaping out of this ignorance and unbelief, and this in order to their preparation for eternal misery!!
St. Paul proceeds ; “this is a true saying and worthy of all men to be received, that Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners,” and lest any sinner should despair of partaking this salvation, the apostle adds, “ of whom I am chief. Howbeit for this cause I obtained mercy, that in me first Jesus Christ might show forth all long suffering, for a pattern to them who should hereafter believe on Him to life everlasting.”
Can the absolute predestinarian, after this declaration of the apostle, insist that Christ came, not to save sinners in general, but only such sinners as it was from eternity determined to convert; while all the rest of mankind are fore-ordained to perish in their sins, because for them, there is no compassion, no mercy, no long suffering.
Again ; St. John, doubtlessly by partaking that spirit of affection to mankind, which was so natural to him who was the beloved disciple of Christ, thus addresses all Christians; “my little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not; and if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ, the righteous, and He is the propitiation for our sins ;"* and then he adds, as if to guard against the very error we are now combating, and to declare in the strongest form of words he could adopt, that the propitiation of Christ was not limited to a chosen few, but capable of embracing, and intended to embrace all who did not obstinately reject it, “and not for our sins only, but also for the sins of the whole world.”
Here again, the absolute predestinarian must maintain, seemingly in distinct opposition to the text, that the whole world means only a part chosen out of the world, who alone are enabled to believe by the special grace of God; but that for the
* 1 John, ii. 1, 2.
sins of others there is no propitiation: for their pardon, no room, no hope,
I have selected these last three passages of the New Testament, out of a number of others equally clear on the point we are now considering, because the church of England in her com. munion service, one of the most solemn parts of her admirable Liturgy, puts these forward as declaratory of the opinion she wishes all her communicants should hold, as to the extent of Christ's propitiation for the sins of man; and thus (as it appears to me,) gives the most decisive testimony on her part, against that exclusive and unrelenting severity in the divine administration, which the system of absolute predestination requires ; a testimony correspondent to the strong declaration both of her Articles and her Liturgy; that “ the offering of Christ once made, is that perfect redemption, propitiation, and satisfaction for all the sins of the whole world, both original and actual ;'* a declaration which a multitude of texts in the New Testament, besides these already considered, powerfully supports. As when St. John declares, 56 we have seen and do testify, that the Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world.”+ And when our divine Lord is termed “the Saviour of all men, specially of those who believe.”+ And again ; “ we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels, for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honour, that He by the grace of God should taste death for every man." And that “ God our Saviour, will have all men to be saved and to come unto the knowledge of the truth; for there is one God, and one Mediator between God and men, the Man Christ Jesus, who gave Himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time; whereunto I am ordained a preacher and an apostle, (I speak the truth in Christ, and lie not,) a teacher of the Gentiles in faith and verity”—as if it were the peculiar object and glory of this great apostle, to preach the doctrine of unrestricted salvation by Christ. Thus unboundedly merciful, thus unspeakably encouraging is the genuine doctrine of the Gospel peace! And how totally repugnant to a scheme, which s repre* Article xxxi. f 1 John iv. 14.
1 Tim. iv. 10. § Hebrews ii. 9.
|| 1 Tim. ii 3—7 Bishop Mant's Bampton Lecture Sermons, p. 130; also Introduction to this work, the quotations from the Articles of Lambeth, the Synod of Dort-Calvin, Toplady, Vaughan, and the Confession of Westminster.
n, and Chem the Atelic Lecture Sermon
sents, that all who are not in the number of the elect are passed over, rejected, or reprobated by God, who has, by an eternal and unalterable decree, pre-ordained them before they were born, to certain and everlasting death, to which they are devoted, and for which God himself prepares them, not because He foresees their unworthiness, but solely because He wills it, and which therefore from the very hour of their birth He hath foreordained them not to escape, and hath precluded them from the means of escaping!!
Oh how delightful is the contrast between this terrific, this appalling system, and the language of our merciful Redeemer : “ Come unto me all ye that labour, and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest !"* who has also graciously assured every suppliant for divine light to direct him in the path to heaven, that it shall be given him with a promptitude and tenderness of affection, as far exceeding even the fondest love of parents to their children, as the goodness of the Divinity is superior to the capricious and unsteady character of human attachments ; for “ if ye then (says our divine Lord,) being evil know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to them that ask Him.”+
We find this is the constant language, the universal tenor of the New Testament; and we cannot but perceive, that the predestinarian scheme would require that all the texts we have quoted, and the numerous corresponding passages, should be interpreted in a subtle and intricate sense, totally different from that plain and artless simplicity, which on every other subject distinguishes the sacred writings. In short, to make Scripture consistent with itself, this its general tenor and spirit, must be remembered in the interpretation of every detached passage which touches on doctrines thus perpetually repeated, and thus lying at the foundation of the whole Scripture scheme.
Further, to show that the revelation of Gospel mercy closes, as it begins, with a gracious offer of universal redemption; hear our Redeemer himself speaking by the mouth of his beloved apostle, to whom he discloses, and whom he commanded in the book of Revelation to declare to man, the glories and the mys