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EPHESIANS i. 45.--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 predestinated us unto the adoption of children, by Jesus Christ, to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will.
THE subject of this discourse is the doctrine of election, and in the discussion of it, I shall pursue the following order:
I. Show what is not intended by this doctrine. II. What is intended by it. III. That it is a doctrine of the Bible. IV. That it is the doctrine of reason. V. Why they are elected. VI. When they were elected. VII. That it is not a partial election. VIII. That there is no injustice in it. IX. That it opposes no obstacle to the salvation of the non-elect. X. That it is the best that could be done for the world. XI. That it does not supersede the use of means for the salvation of the elect. XII. That it is the only ground of encouragement for using means. XIII. How it may be known who are elected.
I. I am to show what is not intended by this doctrine.
1. Not that a part of mankind are to be saved irrespective of their moral character. We are not to suppose that the elect will be saved, do what they may, without regard to their conduct.
2. Nor are we to understand by it, that the elect will be forced to heaven against their will.
3. Nor that there is any particular provision made in the atonement for their salvation, more than for the salvation of the non-elect.
4. Nor that the unconverted elect are any better than the non-elect.
5. Nor that the unconverted elect are any more beloved of God, than the non-elect.
6. Nor that the non-elect are created for damnation, and cannot be saved do what they may.
II. But, by the doctrine of election, is intended, that a part of the human family are chosen to eternal salvation; that not only are they chosen as a whole, but as individuals; every one of whom will finally be saved.
III. This doctrine is taught in the Bible. It is plainly taught in the text. Peter directs his first epistle to the strangers scattered throughout Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia, 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. Blessed be the God and father of our Lord Jesus Christ which according to his abundant mercy hath begotten us again unto a lively hope, by the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead, to an inheritance incorruptible, and undefiled, and that fadeth not away, reserved in heaven for you who are kept by the power of God, through faith unto salvation, ready to be revealed in the last times. In 2d Timothy i. 9.--The apostle says, who hath saved us and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace which were given us in Christ Jesus before the world began.
I will not take up your time in multiplying passages of Scripture; scarcely any doctrine of the Bible is more abundantly and unequivocally taught than this. Much ingenuity has been exercised in explaining these passages so as to show that they do not teach election as I have stated it. But the manner in which the attempts to explain this doctrine away have uniformly terminated, has fully demonstrated that it cannot be explained away, and that the doctrine as it lies upon the face of the Scriptures is that contained in the proposition I have stated, viz. that a part of mankind are chosen to eternal life and salvation.
IV. It is the doctrine of reason. This will follow, first, from the foreknowledge of God. God must have foreknown who would and who would not be saved. Dr. Adam Clark attempts to evade the inference of election from the omniscience of God. He says, that God's being omniscient is no more evidence that he actually knows all things that are knowable, than that his being omnipotent proves that he does all things that are doable. His omnipotence, he observes, is under the control of his wisdom, so that he actually does nothing but what his wisdom directs; and that his omnipotence is never exerted only in those cases where wisdom calls it to act; so he maintains, that the omniscience of God, is in like manner under the control of infinite wisdom, and that although he might know every possible thing, yet he actually does know only such things as it is wise for him to know. This argument, if it can be called an argument, hardly deserves an answer. But as it is often relied upon and brought forward as sound and conclusive reasoning, I would only ask in answer to it, How could God know whether a particular thing was best to be known, without a previous knowledge of that thing? It is plain that he must first have a perfect knowledge of it before he could know whether it was wise or unwise to know it.
Peter asserts the foreknowledge of God, by addressing Christians as elect according to the foreknowledge of God. Paul, in the eighth chapter of his epistle to the Romans, says, 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.
Again. If God foreknew whom he would save, he must have had some design about it. He must have designed that they should be saved, or should not be, or that he would have no design about it. It is unreasonable to suppose that he could have had either of the last two; he must therefore have had the first, to wit, that they should be saved.
Again. If any are to be saved, God must save them--now if he saves them, he either chooses to save them, or chooses not to save them, or chooses to have no choice about it. But it is impossible that he should have no choice about it. It is a contradiction to say, that he knew what would occur, and that he had no choice in relation to the matter.
Again. The doctrine of election may be inferred from the unchangeableness of God. Suppose ourselves all gathered around the judgment seat, suppose all his saints to be gathered at his right hand, and now the final sentence is to be passed, and now God designs to take all his saints to heaven. But when did God first form this design? Has he any new light on the subject? has he changed his mind? He is of one mind, and who can turn him?
Again. The doctrine of election may be inferred from the fact that with God there is no past or future time, but that all eternity is present time to him. The beginning and the end of time, all the events of time and eternity, past to us, the judgment day and eternity beyond, with all their events, are present to his mind. The name and character and eternal destiny of every creature are present to him, and that is a very unworthy view of God, which exhibits him as having no definite plan in relation to all the concerns of his vast empire; indeed it is virtually denying God, and robbing him of the essential attributes of his nature.
Again. If God does not know the individuals that will be saved, it is impossible that he should know that any will be saved. If he has designed to save his saints as a body, he must have designed to save them as individuals, for they are made up of individuals.
V. I am to show why they are elected.
1. I remark that it is not because the elect are any better by nature than others. Paul says, we are called with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace which he had in Christ Jesus before the world began.
2. Nor because God more strongly desires the salvation of the elect, than of the non-elect.
3. Nor because Christ agreed to purchase a part of mankind of the father, and paid down so much suffering for so much sin, and took his choice from among them, as we should from among a flock of sheep.
4. Nor because he felt any particular partiality for the elect more than for the non-elect. In short it was nothing in the nature or character of men, that led him to make this distinction, and to choose some in preference to others.
Nor are we to suppose that God acted in the selection of the elect without motives. He must have had some good and substantial reason for choosing one man in preference to another. Some speak of election in such a manner as to leave the impression on the mind, that God acted arbitrarily, and that the whole turned upon an inscrutable sovereignty the reasons for which we can in no wise understand. But certainly I have not so learned the doctrine of election. For although he has not told us why he has selected one in preference to another, yet he has told us certain things from which we may justly infer what the reasons are which led him to this selection. The Scriptures inform us that God is good, yea infinitely good, and that he doth good; and from the fact that he is infinitely good we are bound to infer that he does all the good he can.
Moreover he asks, what more could I have done for my vineyard that I have not done. If God does not save all men, it must be because all cannot consistently be saved. That the salvation of all men would require such a change in the administration of his government as would upon the whole do more hurt than good in the universe. For if the salvation of all men would upon the whole be wise, most for the glory of God, and for the best interests of his kingdom, we may rest assured that all men would be saved. But it is a matter of fact, that the conversion of all men would require a very different arrangement and administration of the divine government from that which we now experience, in order to bring sufficient moral influence to bear upon this world, to turn all men to God. It is easy to see also, that this change in the administration of the divine government might in many ways so disarrange the concerns of the universe, of the worlds that roll around his throne, as upon the whole to do more hurt than good. It also follows, that if any part of mankind are saved, it is because God can wisely save them. That in the best possible administration of his government he can bring sufficient moral influence to bear upon themto convert them. It is a contradiction to say that the same amount of moral influence can be brought to bear upon every individual of the human family. It would be the same as to say, that every individual could be in circumstances in all respects, precisely similar. But this is a natural impossibility. The elect then must be those whom God foresaw could be converted under the wisest administration of his government. That administering it in a way that would be most beneficial to all worlds, exerting such an amount of moral influence on every individual, as would result upon the whole, in the greatest good to his divine kingdom, he foresaw that certain individuals could with this wisest amount of moral influence be reclaimed and sanctified, and for this reason they were chosen to eternal life. By this we are not to understand that he foresaw that some men would be better by nature than others, and that because on this account they could be more easily turned to God; but that upon the whole they would be so circumstanced that it would be wise in God, in the administration of his government, to bring sufficient moral influence to bear upon them to subdue their opposition, and to save their souls.
VI. I am to show when the election was made.
The apostle says it was before the world began, or from eternity. It must have been when the plan of the divine government was settled in his mind, and the present mode of administration concluded upon. Some suppose that men are not elected until they are converted, and confound their election with their conversion. But this is neither reasonable nor scriptural. Christ will say to his saints in the judgment day; Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world; and certainly it is unreasonable to suppose that an unchangeable God has changed his mind in regard to an individual, and made a new choice, and elected him to eternal life when he sees that he is converted.
VII. I am to show that this election is not partial.
By partiality, we understand undue bias or favor towards one individual or party, founded upon some interest or prejudice. Some particular liking we have for one individual more than for others. I have already shown that election does not turn upon any thing in the character of the elect, or any particular prejudice or partiality which God has in their favor. The question of their election did not turn upon any thing in them, but upon the best interests of his government. In electing them, God did not look over the human family to see whom he loved best, but upon whom in the wisest administration of his government he could bring sufficient moral influence to bear to save them. It was no partiality to them, but a high and holy regard to the great interests of his immense kingdom that led to their election.
VIII. I am to show that there is no injustice in this.
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.
IX. Election opposes no obstacle to the salvation of the non-elect.
The choice of some to eternal life, on the ground that they can be converted under the wisest administration of government, is by no means throwing any difficulty in the way of the conversion of the non-elect; for with them God uses all the means that are consistent with wisdom to reclaim and save them. The conversion of the elect, instead of being an obstacle in the way, is a powerful inducement to the non-elect to turn and live. The conversion of the elect, sustaining such relations as they do to the multitudes of the non-elect, is among the most powerful motives that could be presented for the conversion of the non-elect.
X. This is the best that could upon the whole 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 less a 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 city, who has so strongly entrenched himself in error that there is but one man in all the land who is so acquainted with his refuges of lies as to be able to answer his objections and rout 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 city, might not on the whole be most for the interest 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.
XI. Election does not supersede the necessity of means for the conversion of the elect. They are chosen to salvation through the sanctification of the spirit and belief of the truth. They must then hear, believe, and obey the truth. If the end is to be accomplished, the necessary means must be used: would a farmer, because he knew that God had settled it in his own mind whether he should have a crop or not, say that if he was to have a crop he would have it, whether he sowed his land or not? Would a sick man neglect to use means for the recovery of his health, because he knows that God has numbered his days, and that it was settled in the divine mind whether he would die or not? Certainly not. If the farmer is to have a crop, he must sow his field and use the necessary means. So if the sick man is to live, the means requisite for his recovery must be used. So in the cure of sinners, if means be not used, not even the elect can be saved, and those that neglect the means will never make their calling and election sure.
Knowing as I do that the carnal mind is enmity against God; that men are utterly opposed to the way of salvation; that they hate the Gospel, and all the efforts that are made to save them; what encouragement should I have to preach the Gospel, were it not that I know that God has chosen some to eternal life, and that many or all my hearers may be of this number; and that his providence has collected you here, with a design to reach you with the arrows of his truth. It is this consideration alone that can afford any ground for encouragement to hold forth in your heaving the word of life.