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How we may ascertain our own election. Those of the elect that are already converted, are known by their character and conduct. They have evidence of their election in their obedience to God. Those that are unconverted may settle the question each one for himself, whether he is elected or not, so as to have the most satisfactory evidence whether he is of that happy number. If you will now submit yourselves to God, you may have evidence that you are elected. But every hour you put off submission, increases the evidence that you are not elected.
Every sinner under the gospel has it within his power to accept or reject salvation. The elect can know their election only by accepting the offered gift. The non-elect can know their non-election only by the consciousness of a voluntary rejection of offered life. If any one fears that he is one of the non-elect, let him at once renounce his unbelief, and cease to reject salvation, and the ground of fear and complaint instantly falls away. Inferences and remarks. 1. Foreknowledge and election are not inconsistent with free agency. The elect were chosen to eternal life, upon condition that God foresaw that in the perfect exercise of their freedom, they could be induced to repent and embrace the gospel.
2. You see why many persons are opposed to the doctrine of election, and try to explain it away; 1st, they misunderstand it, and 2nd, they deduce unwarrantable inferences from it. They suppose it to mean, that the elect will be saved at all events, whatever their conduct may be; and again, they infer from the doctrine that there is no possibility of the salvation of the non-elect. The doctrine, as they understand it, would be an encouragement to the elect to persevere in sin, knowing that their salvation was sure, and their inference would drive the non-elect to desperation, on the ground that for them to make efforts to be saved would be of no avail. But both the doctrine, as they understand it, and the inference, are false. For election does not secure the salvation of the elect irrespective of their character and conduct; nor, as we have seen, does it throw any obstacle in the way of the salvation of the non-elect.
3. This view of the subject affords no ground for presumption on the one hand, nor for despair upon the other. No one can justly say, If I am to be saved I shall be saved, do what I will. Nor can any one say, If I am to be damned I shall be damned, do what I will. But the question is left, so far as they are concerned, as a matter of entire contingency. Sinners, your salvation or damnation is as absolutely suspended upon your own choice, as if God neither knew nor designed anything about it.
4. This doctrine lays no foundation for a controversy with God. But on the other hand, it does lay a broad foundation for gratitude, both on the part of the elect and non-elect. The elect certainly have great reason for thankfulness, that they are thus distinguished. Oh, what a thought, to have your name written in the book of life, to be chosen of God an heir of eternal salvation, to be adopted into His family, to be destined to enjoy His presence, and to bathe your soul in the boundless ocean of His love for ever and ever! Now are the non-elect without obligations of thankfulness. You ought to be grateful, if any of your brethren of the human family are saved. If all were lost, God would be just. And if any of this dying world receive the gift of eternal life, you ought to be grateful, and render everlasting thanks to God.
5. The non-elect often enjoy as great or greater privileges than the elect. Many men have lived and died under the sound of the gospel, have enjoyed all the means of salvation during a long life, and have at last died in their sins, while others have been converted upon their first hearing the gospel of God. Nor is this difference owing to the fact, that the elect always have more of the strivings of the Spirit than the non-elect. Many who die in their sins, appear to have had conviction for a great part of their lives; have often been deeply impressed with a strong sense of their sins and the value of their souls, but have strongly entrenched themselves under refuges of lies, have loved the world and hated God, and fought their way through all the obstacles that were thrown around them to hedge up their way to death, and have literally forced their passage to the gates of hell. Sin was their voluntary choice.
6. Why should the doctrine of election be made a stumbling-block in the way of sinners? In nothing else do they make the same use of the purposes and designs of God, as they do on the subject of religion; and yet, in everything else, God's purposes and designs are as much settled, and have as absolute an influence. God has as certainly designed the day and circumstances of your death, as whether your soul shall be saved. It is not only expressly declared in the Bible, but is plainly the doctrine of reason. What would you say if you should be called in to see a neighbor who was sick; and, on inquiry, you should find he would neither eat nor drink, and that he was verily starving himself to death. On expostulating with him upon his conduct, suppose he should calmly reply, that he believed in the sovereignty of God, in foreknowledge, election and decrees; that his days were numbered, that the time and circumstances of his death were settled, that he could not die before his time, and that all efforts he could make would not enable him to live a moment beyond his time; and if you attempted to remonstrate against his inference, and such an abuse and perversion of the doctrine of decrees, he should accuse you of being a heretic, of not believing in divine sovereignty. Now, should you see a man on worldly subjects reasoning and acting thus, you would pronounce him insane. Should farmers, mechanics, and merchants, reason in this way in regard to their worldly business, they would be considered fit subjects for bedlam.
7. How forcibly the perversion and abuse of this doctrine illustrate the madness of the human heart, and its utter opposition to the terms of salvation! The fact that God foreknows, and has designs in regard to every other event, is not made an excuse for remaining idle, or worse than idle, on these subjects. But where men's duty to God is concerned, and here alone, they seize these scriptures, and wrest them to their own destruction. How impressively does this fact bring out the demonstration, that sinners want an excuse for disobeying God; that they desire an apology for living in sin; that they seek an occasion for making war upon their Maker.
8. I have said, that the question is as much open for your decision, that you are left as perfectly to the exercise of your freedom, as if God neither knew or designed anything in regard to your salvation. Suppose there was a great famine in New York city, and that John Jacob Astor alone had provisions in great abundance; that he was a benevolent and liberal-minded man, and willing to supply the whole city with provisions, free of expense; and suppose there existed a universal and most unreasonable prejudice against him, insomuch that when he advertised in the daily papers that his storehouses were open, that whosoever would, might come and receive provisions, without money and without price, they all, with one accord, began to make excuse, and obstinately refused to accept the offers. Now, suppose that he should employ all the cartmen to carry provisions around the city, and stop at every door. But still they strengthened each other's hands, and would rather die than be indebted to him for food. Many had said so much against him, that they were utterly ashamed to feel and acknowledge their dependence upon him. Others were so much under their influence as to be unwilling to offend them; and so strong was the tide of public sentiment, that no one had the moral courage to break loose from the multitude and accept of life. Now, suppose that Mr. Astor knew beforehand the state of the public mind, and that all the citizens hated him, and had rather die than be indebted to him for food. Suppose he also knew, from the beginning, that there were certain arguments that he could bring to bear upon certain individuals, that would change their minds, and that he should proceed to press them with these considerations, until they had given up their opposition, had most thankfully accepted his provisions, and were saved from death. Suppose he used all the arguments and means that he wisely could to persuade the rest, but that, nevertheless all his benevolent efforts, they adhered to the resolution, and preferred death to submission to his proposals. Suppose, further, he had perfect knowledge from the beginning, of the issue of this whole matter, would not the question of life and death be as entirely open for the decision of every individual as if he knew nothing about it?
9. Some may ask, Why does God use means with the non-elect, which He is certain they will not accept? I answer, because He designs that they shall be without excuse. He will demonstrate His willingness and their obstinacy before the universe. He will stop their mouths effectually in judgment by a full offer of salvation; and although He knows that their rejection of the offer will only enhance their guilt, and aggravate their deep damnation, still He will make the offer, as there is no other way in which to illustrate His infinite willingness to save them, and their perverse rejection of His grace.
10. Lastly, God requires you to give all diligence to make your calling and election sure. In choosing His elect, you must understand that He has thrown the responsibility of their being saved upon them; that the whole is suspended upon their consent to the terms; you are all perfectly able to give your consent and this moment to lay hold on eternal life. Irrespective of your own choice, no election could save you, and no reprobation can damn you. The "Spirit and the Bride say Come: let him that heareth say, Come; let him that is athirst come; and whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely" (Rev. 22:17). The responsibility is yours. God does all that He wisely can, and challenges you to show what more He could do that He has not done. If you go to hell, you must go stained with your own blood. God is clear, angels are clear. To your own Master you stand or fall; mercy waits; the Spirit strives; Jesus stands at the door and knocks. Do not then pervert this doctrine, and make it an occasion of stumbling, till you are in the depths of hell.
* To this paragraph it has been objected as follows: "Can it be said, that the only reason why the non-elect are not saved is their rejection of salvation, etc? Is there not a reason back of this? God does not give that gracious influence in their case, which He does in the case of the elect. If the only reason why the non-elect are not saved is their pertinacious refusal, then it would follow that the only reason why the elect are saved, is their acceptance of salvation. If these two points are so, then why all this discussion about election to salvation, and the means to that end, and God's reason for electing? The whole matter would resolve itself into free will, and God would stand quite independent of the issue in every case. Then would there be no such thing as election." The objection contains a non sequitur.
I say, the only reason why the non-elect are not saved, is because they pertinaciously refuse salvation. But if this is true, he says, "it will follow that the only reason why the elect are saved, is their acceptance of salvation. But this does not follow. The non-elect fail of salvation only because they resist all the grace that God can wisely bestow upon them. This grace they resist, and fail of salvation. It is no more reasonable to say, that God's not giving them more divine influence to convert them "is a reason back of this," than it would be to say that His not having by a gracious influence, restrained them from sin altogether, is "a reason back of" their pertinacious resistance of grace. If the non-elect are lost, or fail of salvation only because they resist all the grace that God can wisely bestow, it would not follow that the only reason why the elect are saved, is because they accept, or yield to the same measure of gracious influence as that bestowed upon the non-elect, for it may be, and in many cases the fact is, that God does bestow more gracious influence on the elect, than on the non-elect, because He can wisely do so. Here then is a plain non sequitur. Observe, I am writing in the paragraph in question upon the justice of the divine proceeding. I say, that so far as this is concerned, he fails of salvation, not because God withholds the grace that He could wisely bestow, but only because he rejects the grace proffered, and all that can be wisely proffered.
If I understand this objector, there is another non sequitur in his objection. I understand him to say, that upon the supposition that the elect and the non-elect have the same measure of gracious influence, and that the reason why the elect are saved, and the non-elect not saved is, that the elect yield to, and the non-elect resist this influence; the whole question resolves into free will, and there is no election about it. If this is his meaning, as I think it must be, it is a plain non sequitur. Suppose God foresaw that this would be so, and in view of this foreseen fact elected those who He foresaw would yield both to the privileges and gracious influence to which He foresaw they would yield, and to salvation as a consequence of this influence and yielding. And suppose He foresaw that the non-elect, although ordained or elected to enjoy the same measure of gracious influence, would resist and reject salvation, and for this cause rejected or reprobated them in His eternal purpose. Would not this be election? To be sure, in this case the different results would turn upon the fact that the elect yielded, and the non-elect did not yield, to the same measure of gracious influence. But there would be an election of the one to eternal life, and a rejection of the other. I cannot see how this objector can say, that in this case there could be no election, unless in his idea of election there is the exercise of an arbitrary sovereignty. I suppose that God bestows on men unequal measures of gracious influence, but that in this there is nothing arbitrary; that, on the contrary, He sees the wisest and best reasons for this; that being in justice under obligation to none, He exercises His own benevolent discretion, in bestowing on all as much gracious influence as He sees to be upon the whole wise and good, and enough to throw the entire responsibility of their damnation upon them if they are lost. But upon some He foresaw that He could wisely bestow a sufficient measure of gracious influence to secure their voluntary yielding, and upon others He could not bestow enough in fact to secure this result. In accordance with this foreknowledge, He chose the elect to both the gracious influence and its results, eternal life. In all this there was nothing arbitrary or unjust. He does all for all that He wisely can. He does enough for all to leave them without excuse. If the non-elect would yield to that measure of gracious influence which He can and does bestow upon them, which is the best He can do without acting unwisely, and of course wickedly, they would be saved. To this they might yield. To this they ought to yield. God has no right to do more than He does for them, all things considered; and there is no reason of which they can justly complain why they are not saved. They can with no more reason complain of His not giving them more gracious influence than that He created them, or that He made them free agents, or that He did not restrain them from sin altogether, or do anything else which it had been unwise, and therefore wrong to have done. Nor is the fact that God does not bestow on them sufficient grace to secure their yielding and salvation, a "reason back of their obstinacy to which their not being saved is to be ascribed," any more than any one of the above-named things is such a reason.
This objection proceeds upon the assumption, that election must be unconditional to be election at all that election must be so defined, as to be the cause of the difference in the eternal state of the elect and non-elect. But I see not why election may not be conditionated upon the foreseen fact, that the wisest possible administration of moral government would secure the free concurrence of some, and not of others. What could be wisely done being foreseen, the purpose that so it should be done would be election. No man has a right to define the terms election and reprobation in such a sense, as to exclude all conditions, and then insist that conditional election is no election at all.