The Rev. CHARLES G. FINNEY’S SYSTEMATIC THEOLOGY (1851)
In discussing this subject,
I. I SHALL NOTICE SOME POINTS IN WHICH THERE IS A GENERAL AGREEMENT AMONG ALL DENOMINATIONS OF CHRISTIANS RESPECTING THE NATURAL AND MORAL ATTRIBUTES OF GOD.
II. WHAT THE BIBLE DOCTRINE OF ELECTION IS NOT.
III. WHAT IT IS.
IV. I SHALL PROVE THE DOCTRINE TO BE TRUE.
V. SHOW WHAT COULD NOT HAVE BEEN THE REASONS FOR ELECTION.
VI. WHAT MUST HAVE BEEN THE REASON.
VII. WHEN THE ELECTION WAS MADE.
VIII. ELECTION DOES NOT RENDER MEANS FOR THE SALVATION OF THE ELECT UNNECESSARY.
IX. ELECTION IS THE ONLY GROUND OF HOPE IN THE SUCCESS OF MEANS TO SAVE THE SOULS OF MEN.
X. ELECTION DOES NOT OPPOSE ANY OBSTACLE TO THE SALVATION OF THE NON-ELECT.
XI. THERE IS NO INJUSTICE IN ELECTION.
XII. THIS IS THE BEST THAT COULD BE DONE FOR THE INHABITANTS OF THIS WORLD.
XIII. HOW WE MAY ASCERTAIN OUR OWN ELECTION.
I. I shall notice some points in which there is a general agreement among all denominations of Christians respecting the natural and moral attributes of God.
1. It is agreed that eternity is a natural attribute of God in the sense that he grows no older. He was just as old before the world or universe was made, as he is now, or as he will be at the day of judgment.
2. It is agreed that omniscience is an attribute of God, in the sense that he knows from a necessity of his infinite nature all things that are objects of knowledge.
3. That he has necessarily and eternally possessed this knowledge, so that he never has, and never can have, any accession to his knowledge. Every possible thing that ever was, or will be, or can be an object of knowledge, has been necessarily and eternally known to God. If this were not true, God would be neither infinite nor omniscient.
4. It is agreed also that God exercises an universal providence, embracing all events that ever did or ever will occur in all worlds. Some of these events he secures by his own agency, and others occur under his providence, in the sense that he permits or suffers them to occur rather than interpose to prevent them. They may be truly said to occur under his providence, because his plan of government in some sense embraces them all. He made provision to secure those that are good, that is, the holy intentions of moral agents, and to overrule for good those that are evil, that is, the selfish intentions of moral agents. These intentions are events, and may be said to occur under Divine Providence, because all events that do, or ever will, occur, are and must be foreseen results of God’s own agency, or of the work of creation.
5. It is agreed that infinite benevolence is the sum of the moral attributes of God.
6. That God is both naturally and morally immutable; that in his natural attributes he is necessarily so, and in his moral attributes he is certainly so.
7. It is agreed that all who are converted, sanctified and saved, are converted, sanctified, and saved by God’s own agency; that is, God saves them by securing, by his own agency, their personal and individual holiness.
II. What the Bible doctrine of election is not.
1. Not, as Huntington maintained, that all men are chosen to salvation through the atonement of Christ. This gentleman, who was a congregational minister of New England, left a treatise for publication after his death, (which was accordingly published,) in which he maintained the usual orthodox creed, with the exception of extending the doctrine of election to the whole human race. He took the old school view of the atonement, that it was the literal payment of the debt of the elect; that Christ suffered what and as much as they deserved to suffer, and thus literally purchased their salvation. Assuming that such was the nature of the atonement, he sets himself to inquire into the extent of the atonement, or for whom it was made. Finding that Christ tasted death for every man, that he died for the world, he came to the conclusion that all were elected to salvation, and that all will therefore be saved. I have never seen the work of which I speak, but such is the account I have had of it from those who know. But this is not the Bible doctrine of election, as we shall see.
2. The Bible doctrine of election is not that any are chosen to salvation, in such a sense, that they will or can be saved without repentance, faith, and sanctification.
3. Nor is it that some are chosen to salvation, in such a sense, that they will be saved irrespective of their being regenerated, and persevering in holiness to the end of life. The Bible most plainly teaches, that these are naturally indispensable conditions of salvation, and of course election cannot dispense with them.
4. Nor is it that any are chosen to salvation for, or on account of their own foreseen merits, or good works. 2Ti_1:9 : “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.” The foreseen fact, that by the wisest governmental arrangement God could convert and sanctify and fit them for heaven, must have been a condition in the sense of a sine quà non, of their election to salvation, but could not have been the fundamental reason for it, as we shall see. God did not elect them to salvation for, or on account of their foreseen good works, but upon condition of their foreseen repentance, faith and perseverance.
5. The Bible doctrine of election is not that God elected some to salvation, upon such conditions that it is really uncertain whether they will comply with those conditions, and be finally saved. The Bible does not leave the question of the final salvation of the elect as a matter of real uncertainty. This we shall see in its place. The elect were chosen to salvation, upon condition that God foresaw that he could secure their repentance, faith, and final perseverance.
III. What the Bible doctrine of election is.
It is, that all of Adam’s race, who are or ever will be saved, were from eternity chosen by God to eternal salvation, through the sanctification of their hearts by faith in Christ. In other words, they are chosen to salvation by means of sanctification. Their salvation is the end–their sanctification is a means. Both the end and the means are elected, appointed, chosen; the means as really as the end, and for the sake of the end. The election of some individuals and nations to certain privileges, and to do certain things, is not the kind of election of which I treat at this time; but I am to consider the doctrine of election as it respects election unto salvation, as just explained.
IV. I am to prove the doctrine as I have stated it to be true.
It is plainly implied in the teaching of the Bible: the Bible everywhere assumes and implies the truth of this doctrine, just as might be expected, since it so irresistibly follows from the known and admitted attributes of God. Instead of formally revealing it as a truth unknown to, or unknowable by, the human reason, the scriptures in a great variety of ways speak of the elect, of election, &c., as a truth known by irresistible inference from his known attributes. To deny it involves a denial of the attributes of God. I have been surprised at the laboured and learned efforts to show that this doctrine is not expressly taught in the Bible. Suppose it were not, what then? Other truths are taught, and reason irresistibly affirms truths, from which the doctrine of election, as I have stated it, must follow. It is common for the inspired writers to treat truths of this class in the same manner in which this is, for the most part, treated. Suppose it were possible so to explain every passage of scripture as that no one of them should unequivocally assert the doctrine in question, this would be to no purpose; the doctrine would still be irresistibly inferrible from the attributes of God. It would still be true, that the Bible assumes the truth of the doctrine, and incidentally speaks of it, and introduces it as a truth of reason, and as following of course from the attributes of God. It is thus treated throughout the entire scriptures. The Bible as really assumes the truth of this doctrine, as it does the existence of God. It asserts it just as it does the attributes of God. The learned and laboured efforts to show that this doctrine is not expressly asserted in the Bible, are of no value, since it would follow as a certain truth from the attributes of God, and from the revealed facts that some will be saved, and that God will save them, even had the Bible been silent on the subject.
I shall therefore only introduce a few passages for the purpose of showing that the inspired writers repeatedly recognize the truth of this doctrine, and thus preserve their own consistency. But I shall not attempt by laboured criticism to prove it from scripture, for reasons just mentioned.
Mat_20:16 : “So the last shall be first, and the first last, for many be called, but few chosen.”
Mat_24:22 : “And except those days should be shortened, there should no flesh be saved; but for the elect’s sake those days shall be shortened.”
Joh_13:18 : “I speak not of you all; I know whom I have chosen.”
Joh_15:16, Joh_15:19 : “Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you, and ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, and that your fruit should remain; that whatsoever ye shall ask of the Father in my name, he may give it you. 19. If ye were of the world, the world would love his own; but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you.”
Act_13:48 : “And when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad, and glorified the word of the Lord; and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed.”
Rom_8:28-29 : “And we know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to his purpose. 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.”
Rom_9:10-15 : “And not only this, but when Rebecca had conceived by one, even by our father Isaac; (For the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that calleth,) It was said unto her, The elder shall serve the younger. As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated. What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? God forbid. For he saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.”
Rom_11:5, Rom_11:7 : “Even so at this present time also there is a remnant according to the election of grace. 7. What then? Israel hath not obtained that which he seeketh for, but the election hath obtained it, and the rest were blinded.”
Eph_1:4, Eph_1:11 : “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. 11. In whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will.”
1Th_1:4 : “Knowing, brethren beloved, your election of God.”
1Th_5:9 : “For God hath not appointed us to wrath, but to obtain salvation by our Lord Jesus Christ.”
2Th_2:13 : “But we are bound to give thanks alway to God for you, brethren beloved of the Lord, because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit, and belief of the truth.”
1Pe_1:2 : “Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ.”
Rev_17:8 : “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.” This doctrine is expressly asserted, or indirectly assumed and implied in every part of the Bible, and in ways and instances too numerous to be quoted in these lectures. The above are only specimens of the scripture treatment of this subject.
2. It is plainly the doctrine of reason.
(1.) It is admitted that God by his own agency secures the conversion, sanctification, and salvation of all that ever were or will be saved.
(2.) Whatever volitions or actions God puts forth to convert and save men, he puts forth designing to secure that end; that is, he does it in accordance with a previous design to do as and what he does.
(3.) He does it with the certain knowledge, that he shall succeed in accomplishing the end at which he aims.
(4.) He does it for the purpose of securing this end.
(5.) This must be an universal truth, to wit, that whatever God does for the salvation of men, he does with the design to secure the salvation of all who ever will be saved, or of all whose salvation he foresees that he can secure, and with the certain knowledge that he shall secure their salvation. He also does much for the non-elect, in the sense of using such means with them as might secure, and ought to secure, their salvation. But as he knows he shall not succeed in securing their salvation, on account of their voluntary and persevering wickedness, it cannot be truly said, that he uses these means with design to save them, but for other, and good, and wise reasons. Although he foresees, that he cannot secure their salvation, because of their wilful and persevering unbelief, yet he sees it important under his government to manifest a readiness to save them, and to use such means as he wisely can to save them, and such as will ultimately be seen to leave them wholly without excuse.
But with respect to those whom he foresees that he can and shall save, it must be true, since he is a good being, that he uses means for their salvation with the design to save them. And since, as we have seen, he is an omniscient being, he must use these means, not only with a design to save them, but also with the certainty that he shall save them. With respect to them, he uses these means for the sake of this end; that is, for the sake of their salvation. But with respect to the non-elect, he does not use means for the sake of, or expecting to accomplish, their salvation, but for other purposes, such as to leave them without excuse, &c.
(6.) But if God ever chooses to save any human beings, he must always have chosen to do so, or else he has changed. If he now has, or ever will have, any design about it, he must always have had this design; for he never has, and never can have, any new design. If he ever does, or will, elect any human being to salvation, he must always have chosen or elected him, or he has, or will, form some new purpose, which is inconsistent with his moral immutability.
(7.) If he will ever know who will be saved, he must always have known it, or he will obtain some new knowledge, which is contrary to his omniscience.
(8.) We are told by Christ, that at the day of judgment he will say to the righteous, “Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world;” that is, from eternity.
Now, has the judge at that time any new knowledge or design respecting those individuals? Certainly not!
(9.) Since God of necessity eternally knew all about the elect that will ever be true, he must of necessity have chosen something in respect to them; for it is naturally impossible, that he should have had no choice about, or in respect to, them and their salvation.
(10.) Since God must of necessity from eternity have had some choice in respect to their salvation, it follows, that he must have chosen that they should be saved, or that he would not use such means as he foresaw would save them. If he chose not to use those means that he foresaw would save them, but afterwards saves them, he has changed, which is contrary to his immutability. If he always chose that they should be saved, this is the very thing for which we are contending.
(11.) It must therefore be true, that all whom God will ever save were from eternity chosen to salvation by him; and since he saves them by means of sanctification, and does this designedly, it must be that this also was eternally designed or intended by him.
To deny the doctrine of election, therefore, involves a denial of the attributes of God.
(12.) It must also be true, that God foreknew all that ever will be true of the non-elect, and must have eternally had some design respecting their final destiny. And also that he has from eternity had the same, and the only design that he ever will have in respect to them. But this will come up for consideration in its place.
V. What could not have been the reasons for election.
1. It is admitted that God is infinitely benevolent and wise. It must follow that election is founded in some reason or reasons; and that these reasons are good and sufficient; reasons that rendered it obligatory upon God to choose just as he did, in election. Assuming, as we must, that God is wise and good, we are safe in affirming that he could have had none but benevolent reasons for his election of some to eternal life, in preference to others. Hence we are bound to affirm, that election was not based upon, nor does it imply partiality in God, in any bad sense of that term. Partiality in any being, consists in preferring one to another without any good or sufficient reason, or in opposition to good and sufficient reasons. It being admitted that God is infinitely wise and good, it follows, that he cannot be partial; that he cannot have elected some to eternal salvation and passed others by, without some good and sufficient reason. That is, he cannot have done it arbitrarily. The great objection that is felt and urged by opposers of this doctrine is, that it implies partiality in God, and represents him as deciding the eternal destiny of moral agents by an arbitrary sovereignty. But this objection is a sheer and altogether unwarrantable assumption. It assumes, that God could have had no good and sufficient reasons for the election. It has been settled, that good is the end upon which God set his heart; that is, the highest well being of himself and the universe of creatures. This end must be accomplished by means. If God is infinitely wise and good, he must have chosen the best practicable means. But he has chosen the best means for that end, and there can be no partiality in that.
In support of the assumption, that election implies partiality, and the exercise of an arbitrary sovereignty in God, it has been affirmed, that there might have been divers systems of means for securing the same end in every respect equal to each other; that is, that no reason existed for preferring any one, to many others; that therefore in choosing the present, God must have been partial, or must have exercised an arbitrary sovereignty. To this I answer:
(1.) There is no ground for the assumption, that there are or can be divers systems of means of precisely equal value in all respects, in such a sense, that there could have been no good reason for preferring one to the other.
(2.) I reply, that if there were divers such systems, choosing the one, and not any other, would not imply preference. Choice of any one in such case must have proceeded upon the following ground; to wit, the value of the end demanded, that one should be chosen. There being no difference between the various systems of means, God chooses one without reference to the other, and makes no choice respecting it, any more than if it did not exist. He must choose one, he has no reason for preference, and consequently he cannot prefer one to the other. His benevolence leads him to choose one because the end demands it. He therefore takes any one of many exact equals, indifferently, without preferring it to any of the others. This implies no partiality in God in any bad sense of the term. For upon the supposition, he was shut up to the necessity of choosing one among many exact equals. If he is partial in choosing the one he does, he would have been equally so had he chosen any other. If this is partiality, it is a partiality arising out of the necessity of the case, and cannot imply anything objectionable in God.
That there is no preference in this case is plain, because there is no ground or reason for preference whatever, according to the supposition. But there can be no choice or preference, when there is absolutely no reason for the choice or preference. We have seen on a former occasion, that the reason that determines choice, or the reason in view of which, or in obedience to which, or for the sake of which, the mind chooses, and the object or end chosen, are identical. When there is absolutely no reason for a choice, there is absolutely no object of choice, nothing to choose, and of course there will be no choice. Choice must have an object; that is, choice must terminate upon something. If choice exists, something must be chosen. If there are divers systems of means, between which there is no possible ground of preference, there can absolutely be no such thing as preferring one to the other, for this would be the same as to choose without any object of choice, or without choosing anything, which is a contradiction.
If it be said, that there may be absolutely no difference in the system of means, so far as the accomplishment of the end is concerned, but that one may be preferred or preferable to another, on some other account, I ask on what other account? According to the supposition, it is only valued or regarded as an object of choice at all, because of its relation to the end. God can absolutely choose it only as a means, a condition, or an end; for all choice must respect these. The inquiry now respects means. Now, if as a means, there is absolutely no difference between diverse systems in their relation to the end, and the value of the end is the sole reason for choosing them, it follows, that to prefer one to another is a natural impossibility. But one must be chosen for the sake of the end, it matters not which; any one is taken indifferently so far as others are concerned. This is no partiality, and no exercise of arbitrary sovereignty in any objectionable sense.
But as I said, there is no ground for the assumption, that there are various systems of means for accomplishing the great end of benevolence in all respects equal. There must have been a best way, a best system, and if God is infinitely wise and good, he must have chosen that for that reason; and this is as far as possible from partiality. Neither we, nor any other creature may be able now to discover any good reasons for preferring the present to any other system, or for electing those who are elected, in preference to any other. Nevertheless, such reasons must have been apparent to the Divine mind, or no such election could have taken place.
2. Election was not an exercise of arbitrary sovereignty. By arbitrary sovereignty is intended the choosing and acting from mere will, without consulting moral obligation or the public good. It is admitted that God is infinitely wise and good. It is therefore impossible that he should choose or act arbitrarily in any case whatever. He must have good and sufficient reasons for every choice and every act.
Some seem to have represented God, in the purpose or act of election, as electing some and not others, merely because he could or would, or in other words, to exhibit his own sovereignty, without any other reason than because so he would have it.
But it is impossible for God to act arbitrarily, or from any but a good and sufficient reason; that is, it is impossible for him to do so, and continue to be benevolent. We have said that God has one, and but one end in view; that is, he does, and says, and suffers all for one and the same reason, namely, to promote the highest good of being. He has but one ultimate end, and all his volitions are only efforts to secure that end. The highest well being of the universe, including his own, is the end on which his supreme and ultimate choice terminates. All his volitions are designed to secure this end, and in all things he is and must be directed by his infinite intelligence, in respect not only to his ultimate end, but also in the choice and use of the means of accomplishing this end. It is impossible that this should not be true, if he is good. In election then he cannot possibly have exercised any arbitrary sovereignty, but must have had the best of reasons for the election. His intelligence must have had good reasons for the choice of some and not of others to salvation, and have affirmed his obligation in view of those reasons to elect just as and whom he did. So good must the reasons have been, that to have done otherwise, would have been sin in him; that is, to have done otherwise would not have been wise and good.
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 that he does for the 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. xi. 20-24. The fact is, he must have some reason aside from their characters for stubbornness or otherwise, for electing them to salvation.
VI. What must have been the reasons for election.
1. We have seen that God is infinitely wise and good. It follows that he must have had some reason, for to choose without a reason is impossible, as in that case there would be, as we have just seen, no object of choice.
2. 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, &c., must have been founded in the reason, that the great end of benevolence demanded it.
3. 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.
VII. 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, 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.
Eph_1:4. “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_2:10. “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.”
2Ti_1:9. “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.”
Rev_17:8. “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.”
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.
*I say, in the order of nature. With God all duration or time is present. In the order of time, therefore, all the divine ideas and purposes are contemporaneous. But the divine ideas must sustain to each other a logical relation. In the above paragraph I have stated what must have been the logical order of the Divine ideas in regard to election. By the order of nature, is intended that connection and relation of ideas that must result from the nature of intellect.
VIII. 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.
IX. Election is the only ground of hope in the success of means.
1. No means are of any avail unless God gives them efficiency.
2. If God gives them efficiency in any case, it is, and will be, in accordance with, and in execution of, his election.
3. It follows that election is the only ground of rational hope in the use of means to effect the salvation of any.
X. 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?
XI. 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?*
*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, &c.? 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.
XII. 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 neighbourhood, 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 intrenched 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 has 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 labour 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.
XIII. 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.
I quote some remarks from a former discourse upon this subject.
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.*
*An objector has said, “You say that the elect were chosen upon condition that God foresaw,” &c.; this is certainly inconsistent with your previous statement, that election includes all the means to secure its end; that is, it is independent of any conditions foreseen, because it includes efficient grace to gain its end.
What does this objection mean? What if election does include efficient grace to gain its end, does it follow that the elect would have been chosen, if it had been foreseen that these means would not have secured the consent of their free will? Why, these means could not have been efficient but upon condition of their consent. I say, in the above paragraph, that the elect were chosen upon condition that God foresaw that, by certain means, he could secure the consent of their free will. The objector says, that this was electing them without reference to their consent, or that their foreseen consent was no condition of their election, because the means, as well as the result, were included in election. But I can see no possible force or pertinency in this objection: it is a plain non sequitur.
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. Nor 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 intrenched 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 neighbour 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. If you attempted to remonstrate against his inference, and such an abuse and perversion of the doctrine of degrees, 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 illustrates 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 nor 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 store-houses 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, notwithstanding 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.” 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.