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3. Election was not based on a foreseen difference in the moral character of the elect and the non-elect, previous to regeneration. The Bible everywhere affirms, that, previous to regeneration, all men have precisely the same character, and possess one common heart or disposition, that this character is that of total moral depravity. God did not choose some to salvation because He foresaw that they would be less depraved and guilty, previous to regeneration, than the non-elect. Paul was one of the elect, yet he affirms himself to have been the chief of sinners. We often see, and this has been common in every age, the most outwardly abandoned and profligate converted and saved.
The reason of election is not found in the fact, that God foresaw that some would be more readily converted than others. We often see those who are converted hold out for a long time in great obstinacy and rebellion, while God brings to bear upon them a great variety of means and influences, and takes much more apparent pains to convert them than He does to convert many others who are, as well as those who are not, converted. There is reason to believe, that if the same means were used with those who are not converted that are used with those who are, many who are not converted would be. It may not be wise in God to use the same means for the non-elect, and if He should, they might, or might not be saved by them. God often uses means that to us seem more powerful to convert the non-elect than are used to convert many of the elect. This is fully implied in Matt. 11:20-24. The fact is, He must have some reason aside from their characters for stubbornness or otherwise, for electing them to salvation.
What must have been the reasons for election.
1. We have seen that God is infinitely wise and good. From the wisdom and goodness of God, it follows, that He must have chosen some good end, and must have had some plan, or system of means, to secure it. The end, we know, is the good of being. The means, we know from reason and revelation, include election in the sense explained. It follows, that the fundamental reason for election was the highest good of the universe. That is, the best system of means for securing the great end of benevolence, included the election of just those who were elected, and no others. This has been done by the wisdom and benevolence of God. It follows, that the highest good demanded it. All choice must respect ends, or conditions and means. God has, and can have, but one ultimate end. All other choices or volitions must respect means. The choice or election of certain persons to eternal salvation, etc., must have been founded in the reason, that the great end of benevolence demanded it.
2. It is very easy to see, that under a moral government, it might be impossible so to administer law, as to secure the perpetual and universal obedience of all. It is also easy to see, that under a remedial system, or system of grace, it might be impossible to secure the repentance and salvation of all. God must have foreseen all possible and actual results. He must have foreseen how many, and whom He could save by the wisest and best possible arrangement, all things considered. The perfect wisdom and benevolence of God being granted, it follows, that we are bound to regard the present system of means as the best, all things considered, that He could adopt for the promotion of the great end of His government, or the great end of benevolence. The fact, that the wisest and best system of government would secure the salvation of those who are elected, must have been a condition of their being elected. As God does everything for the same ultimate reason, it follows, that the intrinsic value of their salvation was His ultimate end, and that their salvation in particular must have been of greater relative value in promoting the highest good of the universe at large, and the glory of God, than would have been that of others; so that the intrinsic value of the salvation of those elected in particular, the fact that by the wisest arrangement He could save them in particular, and the paramount good to be promoted by it, must have been the reasons for election.
When the election was made.
1. Not when the elect are converted. It is admitted, that God is omniscient, and has known all things from eternity as really and as perfectly as He ever will. It is also admitted, that God is unchangeable, and consequently has no new plans, designs, or choices. He must have had all the reasons He ever will have for election, from eternity, because He always has had all the knowledge of all events that He ever will have; consequently He always or from eternity chose in respect to all events just as He always will. There never can be any reason for change in the Divine mind, for He never will have any new views of any subject. The choice which constitutes election, then, must be an eternal choice.
2. Thus the scriptures represent it.
"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" (Eph. 1:4).
"Who hath saved us, and called us with a holy calling, not according to our works, but according to His own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began" (2 Tim. 1:9).
"The beast that thou sawest was, and is not, and shall ascend out of the bottomless pit, and go into perdition: and they that dwell on the earth shall wonder, (whose names were not written in the book of life from the foundation of the world), when they behold the beast that was, and is not, and yet is" (Rev. 17:8).
This language means from eternity, beyond question.
3. But the question will arise, was election in the order of nature subsequent to, or did it precede the Divine foreknowledge. The answer to this plainly is, that in the order of nature what could be wisely done must have been foreseen before it was determined what should be done. And what should be done must, in the order of nature, have preceded the knowledge of what would be done. So that in the order of nature, foreknowledge of what could be wisely done preceded election, and foreknowledge of what would be done, followed or was subsequent to election.
In other words, God must have known whom He could wisely save, prior, in the order of nature, to His determination to save them. But His knowing who would be saved must have been, in the order of nature, subsequent to His election or determination to save them, and dependent upon that determination. Election does not render means for the salvation of the elect unnecessary.
We have seen that the elect are chosen to salvation through the use of means. Since they are chosen to be saved by means, they cannot be saved in any other way or without them. Election is the only ground of hope in the success of means.
1. No means are of any avail unless God gives them efficiency.
3. It follows that election is the only ground of rational hope in the use of means to effect the salvation of any.
Election does not pose any obstacle to the salvation of the non-elect.
1. God has taken care to bring salvation within the reach of all, and to make it possible to all.
2. He sincerely offers to save all, and does all to save all that He wisely can.
3. His saving some is no discouragement to others, but should rather encourage them to lay hold on eternal life.
4. The election of some is no bar to the salvation of others.
5. Those who are not elected may be saved, if they will but comply with the conditions, which they are able to do.
6. God sincerely calls, and ministers may sincerely call on the non-elect to lay hold on salvation.
7. There is no injury or injustice done to the non-elect by the election of others. Has not God "a right to do what He will with His own?" If He offers salvation to all upon terms the most reasonable, and if He does all He wisely can for the salvation of all, shall some complain if God, in doing for all what He wisely can, secures the salvation of some and not of others? There is no injustice in election. 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? *[See note at end of Lecture.] This is the best that could be done for the inhabitants of this world. It is reasonable to infer from the infinite benevolence of God, that His present government will secure a greater amount of good than could have been secured under any other mode of administration. This is as certain as that infinite benevolence must prefer a greater to a less good. To suppose that God would prefer a mode of administration that would secure a less good than could have been secured 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 those He does; to convert more in one particular neighborhood, or family, or nation, or at one particular time; or it may be a greater number upon the whole than He does. It would not follow that He does not secure the greater good upon the whole.
Suppose there is a man in this town, who has so strongly entrenched himself in error, that there is but one man in all the land who is so acquainted with his refuge of lies as to be able to answer his objections, and drive 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 town, might not, upon the whole, be most for the glory of God's kingdom; and more might fail of salvation through his removal here, than would be converted 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 secure the greatest amount of happiness within His kingdom that can be secured by the wisest possible arrangement, and administration of His government.