« FöregåendeFortsätt »
world."* Into which, that we all, my fellow-Christians, may be admitted, God of his infinite mercy grant, through the merits, atonement and mediation of Christ Jesus, our Lord and our God, our Saviour and our King; to whom with the Father, and the Holy Ghost, be all honour and glory, now and for ever. Amen, Amen.
• Matt. xxv. 34.
THE REAL NATURE OF ELECTION, AS DESCRIBED IN
THE NEW TESTAMENT, CONSIDERED.
ROMANS, ix. 13, 14.
• It is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated. What shall we say then? Is there
unrighteousness with God? God forbid."
In the series of the preceding discourses, I have endeavoured to show that the doctrine of absolute predestination is repugnant to the general tenor of Scripture. I have appealed to the law and the prophets, to the declarations of the apostles and evangelists, nay even of our Lord himself against the supposition, that all human beings are either elected to immortal life, or reprobated to endless misery, by an unconditional and irrespective divine decree fixed before the existence, and unalterable by any exertion in the power of the individuals whose doom it seals.
I am however aware, that the Scriptures speak of choice or election, of rejection, exclusion or reprobation, and apply them frequently to nations and collective bodies of men, and sometimes to individuals in a manner, which has been mistaken as implying the irrespective reprobation of certain individuals to future misery, and the election of others to future glory, which absolute predestination supposes. I shall, in this and the subsequent discourses, endeavour to consider the principal passages of Scripture in which such election or reprobation is described ; and mark the distinction between their result, and the doctrine of the predestinarian scheme.
First then, with respect to election, as it regards nations or collective bodies of men, I am very far from denying, that many passages of Scripture show that the supreme God, the moral Governor of the world, following the dictates of his own free choice and the counsels of his unfathomable wisdom, justice, and mercy, has conferred and still confers on different nations or collective bodies of men, and consequently on the individuals of which they are composed, greater degrees of moral and religious advantages than those which he has conferred upon others ; advantages which, if improved aright, are calculated to lead the individuals possessed of them to higher exaltation in a future world than those who are not possessed of them. And in this sense such individuals may truly be said to be called or elected ; while others to whom these advantages are not extended, may be said to be comparatively excluded or rejected. And as this admission or exclusion, must take place according to the predetermination of God and the fixed order of his providential dispensations, they may be said to be predestined and decreed. But due attention to the doctrine of the Scripture on this subject will prove that this election implies no security of unconditional salvation to the elect; this exclusion of the rest of mankind supposes no such reprobation as condemns them to eternal misery; and that both are consistent with the clearest equity and most extended mercy in the moral government of God, and perfectly reconcileable with the free will and moral agency of man.
To compare this principle with the history of the divine dispensations, it is necessary in the first instance to consider, that remarkable example of election to religious distinctions exhibited in the selection of the Jews as the peculiar people of God, and in the circumstances of the rest of mankind in this respect, compared with this chosen race. Undoubtedly the rest of mankind enjoyed very inferior religious advantages; they were left to the light of reason unassisted by revelation ; except so far as the indistinct traditions of patriarchal antiquity, or the indirect communications of the Jewish history and religion served to enlighten or direct them. Idolatry with its attendant vices and corruptions overspread the world; and the progress of refinement and philosophy proved totally inadequate to check their spread, or counteract their baleful influence. But this national selection of the Jews, and this exclusion of the Gentiles from national religious privileges, were perfectly distinct from predestinarian election and reprobation. It implied no election of a single Jew to future happiness independently of his own conduct; no condemnation of a single heathen to future misery, merely because he did not partake of the privileges of the Jew.
There is nothing, says a celebrated prelate, who has vindicated the ways of God to man with most distinguished success, “there is (he argues) nothing in all these varieties and supposed disadvantages of some in comparison of others respecting religion, that may not be paralleled by manifest analogies in the natural dispensations of Providence at present, and considering ourselves merely in our temporal capacity. Nor is there any thing shocking in all this, or which would seem to beár hard upon the moral administration in nature; if we would really keep in mind, that every one shall be dealt equitably with, instead of forgetting this, or explaining it away, after it is acknowledged in words. All shadow of injustice, and indeed all harsh appearances in this various economy of providence would be lost if we would keep in mind, that every merciful allowance shall be made, and no more required of any one, than what might have been equitably expected of him from the circumstances in which he was placed, and not what might have been expected had he been placed in other circumstances, that is in Scripture language, that every man shall be accepted according to what a man hath, not according to what he hath not.”* Such is the observation of the judicious Butler. And that such is the doctrine of Scripture is undeniable. Our divine Lord's declaration is so decisive as to remove all doubt. " That servant,” says he, “ which knew his Lord's will, and prepared not himself, neither did according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes. But he that knew not, and did commit things worthy of stripes, shall be beaten with few stripes. For unto whomsoever much is given, of him shall be much required ; and to whom men have committed much, of him they will ask the more.”+ How utterly irreconcilable is this positive declaration of equal justice tempered with mercy, to all the sons of men, (a declaration proceeding from the Supreme Judge himself,) how totally repugnant is this to the doctrine, that a certain number of the human race are predestined for future happiness, and all the rest for future misery, by an eternal decree, unalterable by any conduct of their own. No, the most untaught Indian that ever roamed in the desert, will receive a merciful as well as an equitable trial from the universal Father; and abundant allowance will be made for the ignorance he could not avoid, and the temptations he could not flee from: while the most favoured Christian, who was ever enlightened by the Spirit of God, must take heed, by improving the talents entrusted to his care, “to make his calling and election sure,” and will be responsible for the use he makes of all the talents he enjoys.
* Butler's Analogy, part 2, ch. vi. p. 320, 3d. edit. 1740. + Luke, xii. 47, 48, quoted and observed upon, supra p. 198.
That the different systems of religion under which different individuals are placed, will not deprive any human being of the benefit of an equitable trial, is the express declaration of the great Apostle of the Gentiles, who has been so frequently, but so erroneously supposed to inculcate absolute predestination. “ For there is no respect of persons with God. For as many as have sinned without law, shall also perish without law; and as many as have sinned in the law, shall be judged by the law.”*
But though all mankind are secure from inevitable, and therefore unequitable condemnation, yet it does not therefore follow, that all men's condition in this life is equally advantageous with respect to futurity. The eminent divine, whom I have before quoted, truly observes, “it is not unreasonable to suppose that the same wise and good principle which disposed the Author of nature to make different kinds and orders of creatures, disposed him also to place creatures of like kinds in different situations : and that the same principle which disposed him to make creatures of different moral capacities, disposed him also to place creatures of like moral capacities, or even the same creatures in different periods of their being, in different religious circumstances and situations.”+ Such is the observation of this distinguished writer, and the fact is equally attested by experience and revelation. The heathens were certainly far inferior to the Jews in the means of religious improvement during the times of that ignorance which “ God winked at,” in which, says Scripture,
* Rom. ii. 11, 12
† Butler's Analogy, part 2, ch. vi. sec, 1.