"I do not like that expression at all," say some; "'God's sovereign, electing love.' It does not fit into my idea of things." Very likely not, doubter; but we must recollect that your likes and dislikes are one thing, and God's will and God's ways another, as He Himself declares: "For My thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways My ways, said the Lord. For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways, and My thoughts than your thoughts." (Isa. 55:8,9)
"It is a dangerous doctrine," say some. "It makes God an unjust God; for how can He be just, to save some of the creatures He has made, and condemn others?" Read Jehovah's own answer to that false accusation, in the eighteenth of Ezekiel, which He sums up with, "O house of Israel, are not My ways equal, and are not your ways unequal?"
"It is a dangerous doctrine," say others; "it leads a man into licentiousness: because, if a man knows that he is one of the elect, he may say, 'Oh, then I shall enjoy life, and take my fill of the world; I am sure to go to heaven at last.'" Such objectors, whether they know it or not, are blasphemers against the Holy Ghost; because God's elect cannot nor do not desire to do as they like, for they are under the guidance of the law of the Spirit of life, which has made them free from sin. The assertion, therefore, is equivalent to saying that the Spirit of God will lead them into licentiousness. Hence the blasphemy against the Holy Ghost. Beside which, the children of God are just those that cannot sin with impunity; but are earnestly desirous of testifying, by their life, walk, and conduct, their love to that dear One who has redeemed their lives from destruction.
"Ah! well," say others, "it is a dangerous doctrine; it makes out man a mere machine." We are afraid we can scarcely allow him so excellent a title, for a machine once set in order will work with precision and regularity; but we all know what human nature is if left to itself; and those who have tasted that the Lord is gracious are ever feeling that the greatest calamity that can befall them would be for the Lord to leave them to themselves.
"Ah! well," say others, "it is a dangerous doctrine to preach to the people." As a popular Dissenting minister once said to us, "I believe all you say about the doctrine of election to be true; but we have no authority for bringing it prominently before the people." This objection really amounts to this: "We are ashamed of God's will, and therefore suppress it; because we have the fear of man before our eyes. If we preach election, we shall offend So-and-so, and he will withhold his support." Now, if the Scriptures enjoin us to contend earnestly for it, as we shall presently show, how we are to do this, and yet keep it in the background, it is difficult to imagine. But, then, others will affirm--
"It is a dangerous doctrine, because it is a stumbling-block to the weak believer." Sometimes a stumbling-block in the way is a very good thing; it trips up one who is high-minded and self-sufficient, and brings him to the dust. We can give you a striking instance of this, which occurred in our own experience. Some years ago we received a letter from an unknown sister in Christ, stating that she had believed she was a truly converted person. She was enjoying great peace of mind, and, as she thought, hallowed communion with God; but, meeting with the Gospel Magazine, she read an article therein which completely upset her, and she had not known what it was to have a peaceful hour since. We turned to the article in question, and found the subject was "electing love;" and that it was written by a dear brother in Christ, (Alfred Hewlett, of Astley, near Manchester) who would be the last man to deceive a poor, trembling sinner. Well, nothing we could write to her was of any avail. We received letters from her from time to time, breathing great distress of soul; but at last the set time came. It was all cleared up to her under this passage; "Until the time that his word came: the word of the LORD tried him." (Ps. 105:19) She saw it all, and was led to bow before the sovereign will of God.
And now, passing from these several futile objections to the fundamental doctrine itself, let us inquire--
I. WHAT GOD'S WORD SAYS ABOUT IT, for we must take our stand upon the ground of God's Word. This is His revealed will to His Church; and, therefore, it is not what man thinks, but what God says, that must be our guide. Notice, then, that--
1. The Word of God tells us that "electing love" was according to the mind of Jehovah before He laid the foundation of the world. Hence--
Angels were elected.--Some chosen to happiness and communion with God, and to be the associates of the redeemed throughout the countless ages of eternity; so that the Apostle Paul speaks of them as "elect angels," (1 Tim. 5:21) while Peter tells us that "God spared not the angels that sinned, but cast them down to hell." (2 Pet. 2:4) Again--
Christ was the elected One of the Father.--Hence Jehovah said to His inspired prophet Isaiah, "Behold My Servant, whom I uphold; Mine Elect, in whom My soul delighteth;" (Isa. 42:1) and by the Apostle Peter, "Behold, I lay in Sion a chief Corner Stone, elect, precious; and he that believeth shall not be confounded." (1 Pet. 2:6) Furthermore--
God's ancient people were His elected.--Hence Jehovah declared; "I will bring forth a seed out of Jacob, and out of Judah an inheritor of My mountains: and Mine elect shall inherit it, and My servants shall dwell there." (Isa. 65:9) And then--
God's ancient people but typified His spiritual elect Israel.--Hence it is written, "The Lord did not set His love upon you, nor choose you, because ye were more in number than any people; for ye were the fewest of all people: but because the Lord loved you;" (Deut. 7:7,8) and that this language is applicable to His spiritual elect among both Jews and Gentiles is evident from the language of Peter: "But ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a peculiar people, that ye should show forth the praises of Him who hath called you out of darkness into His marvellous light." (1 Pet. 2:9) But a step further--
2. We have Jesus' own declarations concerning this precious doctrine.
He preached it in His first memorable sermon: "But I tell you of a truth, many widows were in Israel in the days of Elias,....but unto none of them was Elias sent save unto Sarepta, a city of Sidon, unto a woman that was a widow. And many lepers were in Israel in the time of Eliseus the prophet; and none of them was cleansed saving Naaman the Syrian." (Luke 4:25-27) This "filled them all with wrath," just as the preaching of the same doctrine does in these days. Again--
Jesus constantly taught it.--As, for instance, in His reference to the great tribulation that should come upon the world, He promises that "for the elect's sake those days shall be shortened." (Matt. 24:22) And then He tells us of false prophets that should arise, who, if it were possible, "shall deceive the very elect." (Matt. 24:24) And then He refers to the time when the Father's angels "shall gather together His elect from the four winds, from one end of heaven to the other." (Matt. 24:31) Furthermore--
It was the burden of Jesus' last precious prayer: "And now, O Father, glorify Thou Me with Thine own self with the glory which I had with Thee before the world was. I have manifested Thy name unto the men which Thou gavest Me out of the world: Thine they were, and Thou gavest them Me; and they have kept Thy word." (John 17:5,6) "I pray for them: I pray not for the world, but for them which Thou hast given Me; for they are Thine. And all Mine are Thine, and Thine are Mine; and I am glorified in them." (John 17:9,10) How anyone can read these words, and deny the doctrine of election, it is indeed impossible to understand.
And then, as our Lord taught it, so His apostles, having learnt His mind and drank into His Spirit, taught it also. Hence Paul says, "Who shall lay anything to the charge of God's elect?" (Rom. 8:33) In Titus Paul is called "an Apostle according to the faith of God's elect," (Titus 1:1) while Peter speaks of the children of God as "elect according to the foreknowledge of God." (1 Peter 1:2) And then, His faithful servants to the end of time are to contend for it: "Be not thou therefore ashamed of the testimony of our Lord, who hath saved us, and called us with a holy calling." (2 Tim. 1:9) Such was the expostulation of the Apostle Paul.
Thus, then, have we brought forward a weight of evidence from God's Word concerning the doctrine of God's sovereign, electing love that it is impossible to put aside or gainsay. It was in the mind of the Father from eternity, in proof of which, angels, Jesus Himself, God's ancient people, and His spiritual Israel, were elected. Christ taught this fact while upon earth; He preached it, and prayed concerning it; and His faithful disciples proclaimed the same glorious doctrine: and we might add, to come down to later times, our good old Reformers insisted upon it too; but, alas! read the following words of the seventeenth Article of the Church of England, and see how many are traitors to their confession of faith: "Predestination to life is the everlasting purpose of God, whereby (before the foundations of the world were laid) He hath constantly decreed by His counsel, secret to us, to deliver from curse and damnation those whom He hath chosen in Christ out of mankind, and to bring them by Christ to everlasting salvation, as vessels made to honor." How few preach the purport of this important Article! Nevertheless, whether they preach it or not--
"Deep in the everlasting mind
The great mysterious purpose lay
Of choosing some from lost mankind,
Whose sins the Lamb should bear away."
And this fact leads us to observe that the carrying out of the eternal mind and purpose of Jehovah is--
1. Worthy of the Trinity.--All that pertains to the Trinity must be infallibly sure. The Three Persons in the Godhead are co-equal and co-eternal--they are one in purpose and design--therefore whom the Father hath chosen, the Son hath redeemed and the Holy Ghost hath sanctified. Universal redemption is a theory unworthy of a God, because it is impossible to separate it from demanding a power of the creature he is totally unable to exercise; but God's sovereign, electing love is a conception fraught with purpose and design, and worthy of its great Originator.
2. It is an exhibition of the matchless love of the Father.--Oh, how the poor soul will feel this, and be melted under its consideration!
"Why was I made to hear Thy voice,
And enter while there's room,
While thousands make a wretched choice,
And rather starve than come?"
"To think that the Lord should ever have loved one so unworthy!" Such will be the language of his grateful heart.
Are you saved, dear reader? The matchless love of the Father is the basis of your salvation.
3. It proves the perfection of the work of Jesus.--He came into this world not to work out a random project, but for a distinct purpose; hence, when He had worked it out, He could say, "I have finished the work which Thou gavest Me to do. And now, O Father, glorify Thou Me with Thine own self with the glory which I had with Thee before the world was." (John 17:4,5) He could not have said, "I have finished the work," if that work had been universal redemption; but, whether man will believe it or not, "He did see" (as Isaiah prophesied) "of the travail of His soul, and was satisfied." (Isa. 53:11) Again--
4. It shows the certainty of the work of the Spirit.--The divine plan of salvation is not merely infallible as a whole, but it is efficacious in its operation.
With the theory of universal redemption it must depend upon the creature, and consequently, there could be no efficacy, but constant uncertainty. The Spirit might strive and man resist, the result being endless confusion; but that the Spirit worketh out the love of the Father, revealing Christ to His chosen, is distinct and certain.
Thus, then, our election is of God--Father, Son, and Holy Ghost. Some say, "If we believe, then are we elected." This is an absurdity. In every day affairs, in connection with the valued institutions of our land, it is plain enough that the election does not rest with the benefited, but with the benefactor; yet, when it comes to spiritual things, cavilers say, "No, it is the benefited that have the power, and not the Benefactor." This is a most incomprehensible theory, and one that cannot stand good for a moment. Be it ours, reader, to believe that--
"If God the Spirit has renewed my soul,
Then God the Son redeemed me with His blood,
And I am God the Father's sovereign choice."
And now, beloved, let us further draw your attention to some of--
II. THE BLESSINGS THAT THE REALIZATION OF THIS PRECIOUS DOCTRINE BRINGS TO THE SOUL.--There is an impressive desire, often thoughtlessly uttered: "Make Thy chosen people joyful;" and this is quite in the spirit of the Article of the Church of England before referred to, which states, "The godly consideration of predestination, and our election in Christ, is full of sweet, pleasant, and unspeakable comfort to godly persons." We most heartily add our Amen to that statement, for, to our mind, it brings one to--
1. Firmness of standing.--Free-will is a shifting sand, free grace a solid rock. Universal redemption is nothing to lay hold of, but the election of God is a safe anchorage. The choice of the creature would inevitably be fluctuating; the choice of Jehovah is the believer's security.
Let my faith lay hold of such a declaration as the following, and I feel "He hath set my feet upon a rock"--"I will make an everlasting covenant with them, that I will not turn away from them to do them good; but I will put My fear in their hearts, that they shall not depart from Me." (Jer. 32:40) God's "I will" and "they shall" will do to rest upon for time and eternity. No other plan could bring me into such firmness of standing. Again, the doctrine of election brings--
2. Fruitfulness of soul.--"For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works, which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them." (Eph. 2:10) This passage may well silence the blasphemy before alluded to, that the elect of God may live indifferently; it matters not. God's Word declares that they are "created in Christ Jesus unto good works." And, furthermore, the doctrine of God's electing love gives--
3. Foretastes of glory.--If God has an elect people, which I think we have clearly shown, then must they be elected to something. Persons are elected to some tangible benefit, and so are God's chosen ones. They are elected to eternal glory. Do you want a Scripture for this assertion? Read Romans 9:23, "That He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had afore prepared unto glory, even us, whom He hath called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles;" and this blessed fact is realized by them in hallowed foretastes. True, such seasons are few and far between, still they do know what it is at the foot of the cross sometimes to sing--
"Here we find the dawn of heaven,
While upon the cross we gaze;
See our trespasses forgiven,
And our songs of triumph arise."
But now there will doubtless spring out of this subject the inquiry--
III. "HOW MAY I KNOW THAT I AM ONE OF GOD'S ELECT?"--This question was once asked of a good old Baptist minister, and his reply was most excellent. "How," said a caviler, "can we know who are God's elect?" "By their fruits," answered that servant of God. And so it is; and, blessed be our God, He has not left us without evidences in His Word for our comfort and peace. For, notice--
1. The elect are effectually called.--"Moreover, whom He did predestinate, them He also called." (Rom. 8:30) I may not be able to tell the hour when thus called, or point to the date when I passed from death unto life; but I felt the regenerating influence of the Holy Ghost, and can say, "One thing I know: whereas I was blind, now I see." It is enough; go thy way; thou art the called of God. Effectual calling may be known by two results: first, it breaks the sinner's heart; second, it effects a change in the life. Put, reader, thine experience to these two tests.
2. The elect hate sin.--"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) The change in the life effected by the spiritual and internal call of God will evidence itself in a loathing of sin and an earnest desire to be kept from falling into it. The chosen one will look back upon his days of unregeneracy with perfect horror and hatred of self, and he will desire henceforth to be kept "unspotted from the world." Is it not so, dear Christian reader?
3. The elect "walk after the Spirit."--This it is their anxious desire to do day by day, and, if they lean to the movings of the flesh, how poignant is their grief, and how they reproach themselves with ingratitude! "For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit." (Rom. 8:5)
4. The elect pant after Christ.--They are miserable without the manifestation of His Person. They prove their relationship by their longings for His presence. No language can better describe their feelings than that of David's: "As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after Thee, O God. My soul thirsteth for God, for the living God: when shall I come and appear before God?" (Ps. 42:1,2)
5. The elect "love the brethren."--"We know that we have passed from death unto life, because we love the brethren" (1 John 3:14)--a simple yet sweet evidence of belonging to the family of God. And is there not a superiority about this love for the members of the family of God (unknown, yet well known) which far surpasses earthly relationship and affection? God forbid that we should undervalue the latter. We have too many dear ones to do this; yet can we say of Jesus, "He is the Chiefest among ten thousand, and the altogether lovely;" (Songs 5:10,16) and for His sake we love His loved ones.
6. The elect have a hope beyond the grave.--If a subject of divine grace, the Scriptures assure me I then am an heir of glory. "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." (1 Peter 1:3-5)
Now, beloved, can your faith lay hold of these evidences? Have you a broken heart? Is your life changed? Do you hate sin; "walk after the Spirit;" pant after Christ; love the brethren; and possess a hope beyond the grave? If so, with Paul we can say, "I am bound to give thanks alway to God for you, because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth." (2 Thess. 2:13) To His dear name be all the praise! But, if you are saying, "Oh, I fear to put in my claim to be one of God's elect; I am so unworthy;" let me remind you that among that royal rank is a frail David, a polluted Joshua, a rebellious Jonah, a guilty Manasseh, and backsliding Peter, a persecuting Saul, a devil-tried Mary Magdalene. Then why not you? One thought more, beloved--
Doctrine will issue in practice.--Hence, we are enjoined "to make our calling and election sure." (2 Peter 1:10) Not that there is any uncertainty in the act or purpose of God, who hath made with David "an everlasting covenant, ordered in all things, and sure." (2 Sam. 23:5) It is sure with God; but we are to make it sure to our comfort and peace, by living out our profession, and by walking humbly and meekly in this ungodly world. This drives us to the throne of grace, for grace upon grace so to do.
And now we must leave the consideration of this precious doctrine, with the earnest desire that God the Spirit would bless it to the comfort of His elect. Planned in wisdom by the Eternal Three before the world was, the produce of the love of the Father, the redemption of the Son, and the gracious power of the Holy Ghost, imparting consolation to the believer in the midst of all his struggles by the way to the eternity of glory in reserve for him.
"Let proud free-will dispute Jehovah's right
To choose a people for His holy name,
And carnal minds revolt at fixed decrees;
I'll glory in the thought that all my peace,
My pardon, life, and joy, yea, all my hope,
My faith and love, flow down in sacred streams
From this grand source, God's free, electing love."