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. (John 15:16)
There is nothing more gratifying to the mind, than when, in the enjoyment of any one given blessing, we are able to trace it to its source, and can discover both the author of it, and his kind intentions in giving it.
If I am made happy in the possession of even one of the common mercies of life, that mercy, be it what it may, is made doubly sweet, when the hand of God is seen in the appointment. It is a mercy then twice blessed. First, in respect to its own nature, and secondly, as coming to me with a peculiar and personal direction from God. The traveler, who on some sultry mountain, discovers unexpectedly a cooling stream to assuage his thirst, will drink of it with a tenfold pleasure, if in the moment of enjoyment he considers it as flowing from the immediate gift of heaven. Nay, will it not be allowed, that in the pleasing intercourse of social life, our felicities are all heightened, from the consciousness of the good-will with which the kindnesses of our friends are accompanied? If, then, in natural things, our enjoyments receive an increase from such causes, what an accession of happiness must it be in spirituals, when we are enabled to trace them up to Him, and to his special appointment, who is the predisposing cause of all!
If I enjoy the gracious operations of the Holy Ghost in my soul; if the person, and gifts, and righteousness, of the Redeemer be dear to my heart; if I know what it is "to have fellowship with the Father, and with his son Jesus Christ;" (1 John 1:3) will not these distinguishing mercies be yet abundantly increased, both in sweetness and in value, when they are discovered to be the result of that everlasting love wherewith God, in his Trinity of persons, hath loved his people, "before the foundation of the world?" (Eph. 1:4) Such views serve to confirm, and no less at the same time to explain, the meaning of that saying of the apostle, when, speaking of a divine appointment in all our mercies, he refers the whole unto God's sovereign will; "who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began." (2 Tim. 1:9)
And, moreover, besides the enjoyment of the blessing itself, in those distinguishing properties of it, there are several other very interesting qualities folded within its bosom. What method can be so effectual under God, to induce all the practical fruits of the gospel, as when, by pointing to the source whence all grace issues, we show whence, necessarily, all must be looked for? And is it not of all possible arguments the strongest and the best, both to saint and sinner, to manifest that He, who is the author and finisher of salvation, is the only being, from whom "every good and every perfect gift must come?" (Heb. 12:2; James 1:17)
Tell me, you who, from a clear conviction of your own unworthiness, are ever ready to ascribe your recovery from sin to salvation, wholly "to the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made you accepted in the beloved;" (Eph. 1:6) tell me, what motive do you find equally powerful in prompting you "to shew forth the praises of His who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light," (1 Pet. 2:9) as the consciousness that "God hath chosen you in Christ before the foundation of the world, that you should be holy and without blame before him in love." (Eph. 1:4) Does not this conviction operate beyond any other, to induce you "to adorn the doctrine of God your Saviour in all things?" And if, by divine grace, you find yourself preserved in the path of duty, is it not truly refreshing to the soul to discover the cause; that "you are his workmanship created in Christ Jesus unto good works which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them." (Eph. 2:10)
And no less, let the sinner say, if it be God's choice, and not man's desert; if all the difference between one man and another originates in Him "who giveth to every one severally as he will," (1 Cor. 12:11) why should you question more than others, but that you may be the happy partaker of the same grace also? Surely there would be abundantly more reason to doubt receiving the divine favor, if that favor were dependent upon your desert of it, than if it were the sole result of unmerited bounty and goodness!
I have been led into this train of observation from the perusal of the precious words of the Lord Jesus in the text. "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." Abstracted from any personal relation, which those words may be supposed to have, as more particularly addressed to the disciples of Christ, at that period and age of the church in which they were first spoken; they contain this plain and important truth, which is not confined to any period, but in all ages must have the same obvious and determined meaning: namely, that the personal salvation of every true believer in Jesus is founded, not in human merit, but in divine favor; not in our choice of Christ, but in his choice of us; for, that "it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth; but of God that sheweth mercy:" (Rom. 9:16) or, to sum it up in the full, comprehensive words of the apostle, "for of him, and through him, and to him, are all things, to whom be glory for ever and ever." (Rom. 11:36)
If you will analyze the several parts of the text you will find that they all bear a corresponding testimony to this one and the same leading truth, "Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you." No one, I venture to think after this declaration of Christ, can be such an advocate for the free will and merit of man, as to invert the order of these words, and fancy the reverse of what the Lord Jesus hath said to be true. Depend upon it, what John the apostle observes is a positive fact, and of universal extent; if "we love him, it is because he first loved us." (1 John 4:19)
And the ordination which in the text follows this choice of the Redeemer, as plainly manifests that the grace which hath appointed to the end, hath also appointed suitable and sufficient means for its accomplishment. "I have ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit." It is all in the divine appointment. "Thou O Lord, (saith the church) hast wrought all our works in us," (Isa. 26:12) or, as the Lord expresses it himself, in another scripture, "From me is thy fruit found." (Hosea 14:8)
Neither is this all. It would not, indeed, answer the purposes of salvation, if, like abortions in the natural world, the setting fruit of the fairest blossoms were liable to fall off: Jesus, therefore, adds one circumstance more, and that a very material one: I have not only ordained you, that ye should go and bring forth fruit, but "that your fruit shall remain." It is an object of the highest moment to the peace and comfort of the believer, to be well assured that the grace which begins the work, will carry it on and complete it. And therefore, nothing can be more satisfactory than to know, that being chosen and ordained, by a will that is not his own, he shall be preserved by a grace which is more than mortal, and "kept by the power of God through faith unto salvation."
And, lastly, as a comprehensive expression, which conveys to the believer the assurance of every blessing he may stand in need of, in passing on through a life of grace to glory; Jesus hedges in the whole of the many precious things in this text, with that delightful promise in the close of it, and founded in the security of his own all-prevailing intercession, "that whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, he may give it you."
I question whether, in the whole compass of scripture, a verse can be found more copious in its contents, respecting those momentous doctrines of our most holy faith, than this now before us. What I propose from it, as God the Spirit shall be pleased to enable me, is simply this; to show you that THE WHOLE SUM AND SUBSTANCE OF OUR REDEMPTION, FROM BEGINNING TO END, IS INCLUDED IN THIS FREE, SOVEREIGN, AND UNMERITED CHOICE OF GOD IN CHRIST JESUS. This is the leading doctrine insisted upon in the text, and all the other parts naturally arise out of it. To this, therefore, alone I shall limit your present attention.
In the accomplishment of this purpose, the arrangement of my discourse will be, in the first place, to establish the certainty of the doctrine: and then, secondly, to point to the practical effects which flow from it. And if God the Holy Ghost shall be graciously pleased (which I most humbly implore) to be our teacher in confirming the truth of the doctrine, by a personal application of it to our hearts, we shall be enabled to assume the language of the apostle, which he used to the church of the Thessalonians upon the same occasion, and say as he did, "we are bound to give thanks always 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." (2 Thess. 2:13)
In pursuit of the first object I proposed, which is to prove the truth of our blessed Lord's declaration in the text, "Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you," the best method, I humbly conceive, will be, by tracing effects to their cause, which will fully demonstrate that the first advance in the way of grace, evidently begins in God, and not in man. For if it can be shown, that such things as accompany salvation are altogether disproportionate to the powers of man, the inference will undeniably follow, that the appointment must be in a higher ordination, and that that ordination is of God. And I venture to believe, that in no one circumstance of life can this be more fully shown, nor perhaps equally, as in the subject now under consideration.
The scripture, in a tone of decision which admits of no appeal, awfully declares, that we are by nature, not only in a fallen state, but so totally ruined in all our faculties, that even the knowledge of divine things, much less a predilection for them, nature, untaught and unenlightened by an higher power, never could attain. And the apostle Paul, under the teachings of God the Holy Ghost, considers this point as a matter so certain and incontrovertible, that he sets it down as a fixed thing: "the natural man (says he) receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness unto him; neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned." (1 Cor. 2:14) And elsewhere he assigns the reason; "having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart." (Eph. 4:18) To suppose, therefore, that characters of this description should make the first advances in the renewed life towards God, would be as absurd as to imagine a dead body to arise by its own powers to all the exercises of animal functions.
Equally inconsistent is it with the divine glory, and altogether destructive of all the just conceptions we can form of the freedom and sovereignty of God's grace, to suppose that, though it be admitted God's choice is the first cause, yet that choice originated in the foreknowledge of God, that such as become the objects of his favor would, by their subsequent conduct, be found more deserving than others, and therefore God, foreseeing this, was directed in this predilection. This idea is perfectly suited to gratify man's pride, but becomes highly injurious to God's glory. And, by the way, my brother, let me beg of you to mark this down in the memorandums of your diary, as a never failing maxim, that whatever tends to inflate the mind with the least exalted notions of any thing good in itself, by so much robs God of his honor, and man of his happiness. Very sweet, indeed, I confess, is the reflection to the soul of the truly regenerate, when he can look back and consider the change wrought upon him, that "he who was once in darkness, is now light in the Lord." And still more pleasing will be the view, when he can trace the blessed effects of this change in his life, in the progressive path of that life "which shineth more and more unto the perfect day." (Prov. 4:18) But in every review of this kind, there is a voice which accompanies it, and which the truly gracious delights to hear, "Who maketh thee to differ from another, and what hast thou which thou didst not receive?" (1 Cor. 4:7) That God's choice will be followed with the gift of God's grace in the heart, is unquestionable; for he that saith, "I have chosen you," saith also, "I have ordained you, that ye shall go and bring forth fruit." But to fancy that this choice is the result of some supposed latent worthiness in the object, and not of God's free and unmerited love, is to invert the very order of things, and to make the effect precede its cause.
Let us advance one step higher in the argument, in confirmation of this doctrine, and observe, that the term grace becomes at once the most decided proof of the whole. For, in fact, it loses its very name, if there be an atom of supposed merit in the receiver it ceases then to be a gratuitous act; but, on the contrary, it partakes of the nature of a reward. "If it be of works (saith an apostle) then is it no more of grace, for otherwise grace is no more grace." (Rom. 11:6) Nay, so far are the highly favored objects of this bounty from being considered as contributing, in the smallest degree, to the reception of it, that they are beheld, not barely as undeserving, but ill-deserving; not simply as unworthy of mercy, but worthy of punishment. Grace, therefore, signifies an act of unmerited clemency, bestowed upon a set of creatures who in the very moment of receiving it are justly deserving God's displeasure.
You will immediately perceive, from this statement, how impossible it is, consistently with God's glory, for man to assume any merit to himself respecting his salvation, either in the original appointment, or in the after stages of grace. For, if I fancy myself, even in the smallest possible degree, to have merited divine favor, the very character of grace loses its name. But if (as is really the case) I see myself in the very moment of becoming the object of this distinguishing mercy, both in the first manifestations of it, and in all the after periods of life, as singled out from the throng of my fellow creatures, all alike unworthy, and all equally undeserving; such views of grace will then afford proper ideas of what it really is, and compel the heart of every one, who is conscious of being the happy partaker of it, to cry out with the astonished disciple, "Lord, how is it that thou hast manifested thyself to me, and not unto the world?"
But it would be to leave the subject unfinished were we to rest here, without connecting with it some other delightful properties which belong thereto. The fact once admitted, that all our mercies originate in this predilection of grace, it must immediately follow, that as nothing new or undetermined could at any period arise in the divine mind, which had not existed there before, every appointment concerning salvation must have been formed in the eternal and unchangeable purposes "of God in Christ Jesus, before the world began." (1 Tim. 1:9) Hence, therefore, a door of the most important nature is at once thrown open by the discovery of this leading truth; and all those sweet and precious doctrines of the Father's mercy, the Redeemer's love, and the Spirit's grace, are unfolded to view, and brought forward with a strength of testimony that may indeed, astonish the mind, but which nothing can refute.
Sceptics may question, and impiously arraign both God's wisdom and his goodness. But my province is not to answer the angry accusations of the ungodly, but to satisfy the humble enquiries of the just. The apostle hath drawn a beautiful model for imitation in this particular, which may serve as a guide for every one who supposes himself called upon to make reply to the presumptuous reasoning of the unhumbled mind. He borrows a figure from common life, of the potter exercising power over "the same lump of clay, to make one vessel unto honour, and another to dishonour," (Rom. 9:21) and takes occasion therefrom to show that He who hath made all things, and "for whose pleasure they are and were created," hath an unquestionable authority to do what he will with his own; and to strike dumb, in everlasting silence, the profane tongue, which might be prompted to go further, and demand a reason; every thing is referred to his will who hath appointed all, and terminates in this: "shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?" (Gen. 18:25)
If I have said enough to answer the first point which I proposed from this subject, I come now to the second. Having, I hope, fully ascertained the certainty of the doctrine, to this will very properly succeed the effects arising out of it.
Some have thought that the doctrine is in itself so ill calculated to induce any holy effects, that it throws to the ground the whole system of religion and morality. And others have gone so far as to insist upon it, that an attention to the means of grace is superseded thereby, and becomes unnecessary. You will hear men of this complexion, not unfrequently, demanding of what use can be the practice of any religious or moral duty? For if a man be chosen in Christ, he is eternally safe, let him do what may; if he be not, he is sure to be lost, let him do what he can. But these are rather the sayings of light and inconsiderate persons, than the sober and godly reflections of the wise and serious. I venture to assert, that of all subjects tending, under God's grace to induce the greatest attainments in godliness and virtue, the doctrine of being chosen in Christ to salvation and happiness is the highest and the best. And, moreover, I hope that before the subject is finished, I shall be able to prove to the clearest demonstration, that no possible argument is of equal force with this, to form the mind to the exercise of all those christian graces, which unquestionably are among the truest evidences of the renewed life.
A few observations on this branch of our subject will set the matter in a clear point of view.
The apostle Paul, after directing an animated discourse to the church at Philippi, in which he had been insisting, with great earnestness, on some of the leading doctrines of the gospel, makes this as the immediate and unavoidable inference of the whole. "Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever things are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever things are of good report: if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, think on these things." (Phil. 4:8) Hence, nothing can be more evident than that the apostle considered a clear apprehension of the great blessings of redemption, and a conscious sense of being personally interested in them, as the most powerful of all arguments to an holy life and conversation. And, indeed, if it can be supposed that such motives should fail, every inferior consideration must prove ineffectual.
Let us examine this claim, under each of the great branches of duty which constitute the devout and social obligations, either as it concerns our deportment towards God, our neighbor, or ourselves.
As it concerns our duty towards God. No appeal to the heart, surely, can be equal to this. For if a conscious sense of having become the distinguished object of divine favor, when every thing on our part justly made us the object of divine vengeance; if amidst the shipwreck of human nature, you, my brother, behold yourself as one brought to shore by an omnipotent arm, while the dead bodies of thousands are floating before you; if, in direct opposition to all your rebellion, ingratitude, and disobedience, God hath saved you, and called you with an holy calling: what shall I say? If, while God says, "I knew that thou wouldest deal very treacherously, and wast called a transgressor from the womb;" (Isa. 48:8) and yet, notwithstanding all this, for "his great love wherewith he hath loved you, even when you were dead in sin, he hath quickened you together with Christ;" (Eph. 2:5) can the imagination form to itself any one argument like this, to stimulate to godliness and virtue? And will any one venture to suppose that the mind which is dead and insensible to such a claim as this would be alive to any other?
Consider the subject also in another relation, as it concerns the duty we owe our neighbor. That the apostle Paul thought the distinguishing mercy of God to be the strongest persuasive in the mind, to lead to the practice of all the obligations between man and man, is evident; for, upon a remarkable occasion, (while exhorting the Colossians to such duties) he enforces their observance from this very cause: "Put on (says he) as the elect of God, bowels of mercies, kindness, humbleness of mind, meekness, long-suffering." (Col. 3:12) As if the consciousness of being so chosen, and so distinguished by divine mercy, impelled the heart to the observance of all tenderness and compassion. And the apostle urges yet further, that in the unavoidable offenses of life, which from the frailty of our poor fallen nature, after all endeavors to the contrary, will come; believers, of all men, are called upon "to forbear one another, and to forgive one another, even as God, for Christ's sake, hath forgiven them." (Col. 3:12,13) And who is there that can arise from before the mercy-seat, under a deep sense of being remitted ten thousands talents, and can go forth, and take a fellow sinner by the throat, for the payment of an hundred pence? Surely the unanswerable appeal of the apostle can never cease to vibrate in the ear of every one who hath heard and known the joyful sound: "beloved, if God so loved us, how ought we also to love one another!" (1 John 4:11)
And in respect to the blessed effects which a just sense of being chosen in Christ is calculated to produce in the heart, as to the duty we owe ourselves; it is a well known character, and, in fact, the truest evidence that the work of grace is begun in the soul, that "they that are Christ's have crucified the flesh, with its affections and lusts. For if any man be in Christ, he is a new creature." (Gal. 5:24; Col. 5:17)
I challenge the whole world, therefore, to bring forward such motives as these, and which naturally, (or rather I should have said graciously) spring out of this doctrine, for reforming the heart, and regulating the morals of mankind.
But though I contend that these considerations are superior to every other, to induce such a train of conduct in the heart of man, yet I am free to confess, that neither these considerations, nor any other, are in themselves of sufficient influence to give a new tide and current to the affections. It must be God "who worketh in us both to will and to do of his good pleasure." (Phil. 2:13) All our sufficiency is from him. But, herein lieth the excellency of our present doctrine. For it is a circumstance intimately connected with our subject, and which I particularly beg none will overlook, that the exercise of those christian graces does not depend upon the fickle purpose of man, but on the unchangeable love of God. Remember the text. He that chooseth his people ordaineth them also to bring forth fruit: and the same grace which appoints, affords power to perform. The charter of grace runs in these words: "I will give them one heart, and one way, that they may fear me for ever. 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 heart, that they shall not depart from me." (Jer. 32:39,40) Here, then, lies the security, and which no other source beside can give. God undertakes for the accomplishment of the whole, in answering both for himself and for his people. I will not, saith God, and they shall not.
And what is the real matter of fact, as it is found in the experience of mankind? Look, I beg of you, abroad into the world, and see, whether among those who profess their conviction in this doctrine, they are at the same time less devout towards God, less just, or friendly to their neighbors; or whether they are immoral in themselves. You know the reverse to the case. For, if they are true to their principles, they are, on the contrary, "examples to believers, in word, in conversation, in charity, in spirit, in faith, in purity." (1 Tim. 4:12) They know, and their lives bear testimony to that knowledge, that "the grace of God, which bringeth salvation, hath appeared unto all men, teaching them that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, they should live soberly, righteously, and godly in the present world; looking for that blessed hope, and the glorious appearing of the great God and our Saviour Jesus Christ." And this is, and must be, the one uniform desire of their hearts, that "He who gave himself for them, that he might redeem them from all iniquity, might purify them unto himself, a peculiar people, zealous of good works." (Titus 2:12-14)
I have only, in conclusion, to beg of God the Spirit to make our subject profitable, both to saint and sinner, under blessed influence.
To the former, I would say, do not forget, my brother, to seek grace from God, upon every occasion in life, to accustom yourself to trace all your mercies up to this fountain head. Depend upon it, that you will find a double sweetness therefrom in every one of them. Even the most common providences will then appear to you not without some special commission from Him, whose wisdom is everlastingly employed for you, and whose faithfulness assures you, that "all things," how trifling soever they may seem or how unpromising soever they may appear, "work together for good to them that love God, and who are the called according to his purpose." (Rom. 8:28) And tell me, if you can, what life can be so pleasant, as that life of faith, which is for ever living on the unchangeable purposes of God in Christ, issuing, as they are, from an everlasting love, and manifesting themselves, in all the multiform methods of his grace?
As it is the divine favor, and not our merit, which directs God in the choice of his people, so is it, from the same free and sovereign cause all mercies flow. It is his grace, and not your worth, which hath fixed the bounds of your habitation. It is from the same grace that your lot is cast in this blessed land, where God is truly known. It is equally from the same predisposing grace that you are this day brought under a preached gospel. Is it not, then, reasonable to infer, that if so much grace hath been displayed in providing the means, the whole will be displayed in the accomplishment of the end? Ask your own heart a few questions. Do you bless God that you were born in those highly-favored climes where the pure gospel is preached? Is it a matter of thankfulness with you that you are brought under the sound of it this day? And would it be the joy of your heart "to know the truth, that the truth may make you free?" If your heart can truly say, "Yes," to these enquiries, depend upon it, though you know it not, you are not far from the kingdom of God. You see this day around you many who were once as you are, and who are now the happy partakers of God's unspeakable gift. You may behold them in the enjoyment of this rich mercy, reading their pardons on their knees in transports of rejoicing. Beg of God, then, to be made receivers of the same grace. Say to the Father of mercies, in that sweet scripture, "The companions hearken to thy voice, cause me to hear it." (Songs 8:13) In a word, let a man of this description make the same experiment in spiritual things, which is done in natural concerns. Suppose a company of beggars at the gate of a prince, waiting for a supply, without which they must perish for ever; and suppose, that he hath not only bestowed the mercy to thousands and tens of thousands, yet his bounty is not at all diminished, but remains the same, in an endless profusion; and suppose, moreover, that he hath caused it to be proclaimed, that "all that come he will in no wise cast out!" (John 6:37) Would any poor perishing creature depart while such a proclamation of mercy is sounding? Would he despair under such encouraging circumstances?
I add no more, but an earnest prayer, that God the Holy Ghost may awaken many a heart, and send home many an humble mind, under the pleasing assurance of being personally interested in the words of the apostle: "ye are a chosen generation, a royal priesthood, an holy nation, a peculiar people; that ye should shew forth the praises of Him, who hath called you out of darkness into his marvellous light; which in time past were not a people, but are now the people of God; which had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy." (1 Pet. 2:9,10)