« السابقةمتابعة »
generate life (whether it be short or protracted,) he is nothing bettered as to the state of his heart, but is more rapidly than ever before actually growing worse. When I say he is growing worse, I do not refer to the exterior of his conduct, which may be much improved. And by the influence of such hopes and fears as are perfectly selfish, he may be prevented from driving away serious reflections, and from quenching the Spirit in that aggravated sense in which it is sometimes done : but in no sense does even the awakened sinner surrender his heart to God. This strong hold of his rebellion he is still fortifying. Into this, as into their citadel, his external sins seem to have retreated, as if to concentrate their force to resist divine government. It now be comes manifest by actual experiment, as well as by divine testimony, that the heart is desperately wicked, and will never submit, unless con. quered by superior strength. Just at this interesting crisis the grace of regeneration is given. And how could the pure sovereignty of the gift be more remarkably displayed? A blessing is bestowed which is infinite-unmerited-unpromised. God had before this made rich provision for the salvation of guilty men, and proffered pardon to such as would return. The convicted sinner, after examining the state of the controversy between himself and his Maker, and the terms of reconciliation, refused to become reconciled on such terms, and was about to lose the proffered blessing forever. Here divine mercy inter. poses, and does that for him to which he has no claim in any way, either by merit or by promise; a heart is given him to accept that which he had before wickedly refused, and which he would have continued to refuse, had it not been for this merciful interposition.
Well might the apostle say to men who had been recovered from this hateful, yet voluntary bondage, “ By grace are ye saved, through faith ; and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God. Not of works, lest any man should boast: for we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works.” Eph. ii. 8—10. How expressly does he exclude every unregenerate doing and feeling from having any influence in procuring the change, when he tells us that every thing in us, having the nature of goodness, is subsequent to the new creation ; and is its effect, not its cause. If sinners, to the very last moment of their unregeneracy, are what the apostle supposed them to be, entirely depraved and rebellious, God can be under no obligation to them. They lie at the disposal of his sovereign pleasure. He has explicitly informed them, that on their acceding to the gracious proposals he makes, he will forgive their sins : but so long as they do not accede, he is under no obligation to them. At this juncture, all their hope must be derived from the disclosures he has made of his benevolent feel. ings towards his enemies in general, and his readiness to impart to them, when the interests of the universe will not be injured by it, that grace which will produce in them a willingness to accede to the terms of reconciliation.
God does not make a revelation to any individual among the unre. generate, that it is his intention to effect a change in his heart in par. ticular : but he makes known his intention to do such a work among those of his character. This he does when he says, “I will
pour my Spirit upon thy seed, and my blessing upon thine offspring. -One shall say, I am the Lord's, and another shall call himself by the name of Jacob.” Isa. xliv. 3—5. Again, “ I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh, and will give you a heart of flesh.” But all this, he would have them to understand, is a display of rich sovereign grace. “ Not for your sakes do I this, saith the Lord God, be it known unto you : be ashamed and confounded for your own ways, 0 house of Is. rael.” Ezek. xxxvi. 26, 32.
Sovereignty, in relation to this subject, implies not only God's right to withhold regenerating grace at his pleasure, but also his right, and his ability, to bestow it on whom he pleases. His own declaration is, “ I will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.” Ex. xxxiii. 19. He does not ask permission of his other subjects, nor of the rebel him. self, whether he may show mercy to him. When he was about to show mercy to Saul of Tarsus, in transforming him into the divine im. age, he did not ask leave of good or evil angels, of good or evil men, nor of Saul himself; but according to his own good pleasure he transformed this most violent persecutor into the chiefest of the apostles, that he might make him a striking monument of his rich grace. It is true that the apostle tells us, he was not disobedient to the heavenly vision. But what prevented his disobedience to it? It was manifestly the power of renewing grace. God is the Potter, and we are the clay
- he marred clay in his hand; and when any one undergoes a renovation of mind, he is made another vessel, as it seemeth good to the Potter to make it. Jer. xviii. 4. God not only raiseth up the dead and quickeneth them, but he quickeneth whom he will. His declaration is, “ I will work, and who shall let it?” And again, “ Is anything too hard for the Lord ?” John v. 21. Isa. xliii. 13. Gen. xviii. 14.
It will not be disputed, that to human view some sinners are less likely to receive the grace of regeneration than others. They who have resisted all the influence of a religious education, and have held on in their course of wickedness until old age, exhibit peculiarly affecting indications of final reprobation; and yet some even of this class are saved. Manasseh, the son and successor of the good Hezekiah, is a striking example of this sort. He filled up the greater part of a long life in a course of high-handed rebellion against the God of his father; and yet he did not die until sovereign grace had transformed his heart. 2 Chron. xxxiii. 1–13. What class of sinners appear more hopeless than felons, those wicked men who, by their crimes against human society, have forfeited their life or their liberty; and yet some even of this class become stars in the crown of the Redeem.
When from the cross he went to Paradise, he took with him a felon, who expressed no repentance for all his crimes, until the very last sands in his glass were running. When his ill-improved probation was just closing, mercy interposed, and the brand was plucked out of the fire.
Were the majority of the saved to be taken from these classes of sinners, its influence on the cause of morals would be unfavorable ; but some cases of this kind have a very happy effect; since they clear. ly show salvation to be of grace-free, sovereign, and invincible Such striking instances are well adapted to excite our confidence in God, as having power sufficient to transform the hearts of the most obstinate
among his foes; and grace enough to do it, whenever the welfare of the moral system presents no obstacle in his way. The doctrine, which is the subject of this Article
, is not of human origin, but is clearly taught in the word of God. We do not pretend that the scriptures furnish every term we make use of in explaining it. God is not in the scriptures called a Sovereign; but he is called “ a King," "the great King,” “the only Potentate," " the Majesty on high ;” and these words are synonymous with Sovereign. God is king over all the earth, and in this character it is that we hear him say concerning his revolted subjects, “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy.” Mercy bestowed or withheld according to the pleasure of the sovereign, is sovereign mercy. And concerning the Supreme King it is said, in relation to the transformation of the human charac. ter, ** He hath mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth.” God is represented as willing (i. e. choosing) to make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, while he shows his wrath and makes his power known on the vessels of wrath which are fitted to destruction. Rom. ix. 18—23. The saving discoveries of his divine glory he hides from the wise and prudent, and reveals them unto babes: and this he does because it seems good in his sight. All men are by nature ignorant of God. Through the blindness of their heart, they can not see the beauty of his moral perfection. This blindness he either removes, or suffers it to remain, according to his wise and holy pleasure. It is an indubitable fact, that some of the children of men, in distinction from others, are born of God. And how can they who experience this great mercy account for it any more consistently than by saying, with the apostle, “ Of his own will begat he us with the word of truth, that we should be a kind of first fruits of his creatures?"
There seems to be much in the scriptures to support the doctrine of distinguishing grace, dispensed at the sovereign pleasure of the Supreme King: and what is there to contravene it?
Sorne imagine our doctrine is set aside by such general invitations and encouragements as these : “ Come unto me all ye that labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.” Him that cometh unto me I will in no wise cast out." Such general invitations, however, do not militate at all against our doctrine. Special grace does not stand opposed to a general offer; nor does it give the least uncertainty to the salvation of any of those who accept that offer. It is not a prerogative which is claimed, even by divine sovereignty, to make any discriminations between those sinners who accept the gospel invita. tion.
But do not the scriptures tell us that God is no respecter of persons ? They do. Peter, when he had arrived at the house of a gentile con. vert
, said, “ Of a truth I perceive that God is no respecter of persons." Acts x. 34. This, with its kindred texts, is, I believe, made a princi. pal weapon in opposing the doctrine of the present Article. But what led Peter to perceive that God was no respecter of persons ?
Was it because he saw that he had never done anything more for the Jews than for the gentiles? Does not Paul, in answer to the question, “What advantage hath the Jew?” say, “ Much every way?" Does
“ He showeth his word unto Jacob, his statutes and judgments unto Israel : he hath not dealt so with any nation ?” And does not God himself say, “ You only have I known of all the families of the earth ?” If doing more for one portion of the human race than for another, subjects to this imputation, then the apostle, the psalmist, and God himself, all unite to establish the point, that He is a respecter of persons. If the conferring of a favor on one individual, by passing over others equally in need, be called a respecting of persons, then Christ preached in its favor in his sermon at Nazareth. Luke iv. 25—27. But by recurring to the passage in which Peter declares his conviction that God was no respecter of persons, we find the thing that produced such conviction, was this: he perceived that in every nation, the man who feared God and wrought righteousness, was accepted of him. He saw that character was the thing which God respected, and not the person ; so that neither gentilism nor uncircumcision was any bar to the acceptance of the sincere worshiper. In approving or disapproving of men, accepting or rejecting their services, their character and that of their services, is the only thing which is taken into the account. Their persons are not thought of; whether they be Jews or gentiles, white or black, learned or ignorant, rich or poor. None of these things will be at all considered, in making the division between those who will stand on the right and those who will stand on the left hand of the Judge at the last day; and this will constitute the highest possible proof that God is no respecter of persons.
I can see nothing in the words of Peter repugnant to the doctrine of distinguishing grace, nothing which intimates that it would be wrong for God to give greater privileges to some than to others; or that it would be a blot on his holy character, were he to incline the hearts of some to improve their privileges, while others are left to wonder and perish. The words of Peter have no reference to the grace
of God, by which the characters of men are transformed, but to his acceptance of them after the transformation has been effected.*
“ The discouraging nature of this doctrine leads us to doubt whether it can be true; and if true, whether it should be exhibited.” But why should it be thought a discouraging doctrine ? Does it stand in the door-way, to keep out the invited guests who are pressing to the marriage supper? By no means. This is not the character of the doctrine. Never did it throw a straw in the way of such a guest. Sovereignty does not stand in the door to hinder those who are entering; or to determine which of the willing guests shall be admitted to the table; it rather goes out into the highways to compel them to come in, who were passing by Mercy's door, refusing her kind invi. tations to a feast of love. Here sovereignty makes such discriminations as are dictated by infinite wisdom ; in consequence of which a
Some may say,
Respecting, regarding, and accepting of persons, are scriptural phrases of the same import. They always, whether applied to God or men, imply the judging and treating of persons according to their personal and circumstantial distinctions, rather than ac. cording to their characters; but they do not appear to be designed to give the least intimation that God can not effect a change in ihe heart of any sinner at his pleasure, without its laying him under obligation to do the same for every other sinner. See 2 Chron. xix. 7. Prov. xxiv. 23. Rom. ii
. 11. Eph. vi. 9. I Pel. i. 17. Mall. xxi. 16. Deut. x. 17. Job xiii. 10; xxxii. 21; xxxiv. 19. Prov. xviii. 5. Luko 11. 21.
mukitude of wretched sinners will come to the feast, whom mere invi. tations would never have influenced to come. And is such a doctrine discouraging ? Let a man once be convinced that the carnal mind is the very mind which he himself possesses, and he will cease to view the sovereignty of grace as presenting an obstacle in the way of his salvation.
As a knowledge of the miraculous power of Christ, gave the man who had the withered hand encouragement to make the attempt to stretch it forth, when he had received a command to do it, so will a knowledge of the sovereignty of divine grace, be made use of by the Holy Spirit, to prevent the deeply convicted sinner from falling into a state of despair ; and to prevent his entire neglect of those means which, in the hand of God, are of great importance to his salvation. This allusion to the case of the withered hand, I trust, will lead no one to suppose I design to represent the sinner's impotence to be of a similar nature ; so as to furnish the least excuse for his spiritual inactivity. As to the nature of the impotence in the two cases, there is an entire difference, one being involuntary and the other voluntary ; therefore, while one is innocent, the other is criminal. But in the two cases there are points of resemblance which are worthy to be noticed. 1. In both cases, while the impotence remains, they are required to act in obedience to the will of God. 2. In each case, the only hope that such acting will be the result of the requirement, is made to depend on the interposition of divine power. 3. It will also apply to both cases, that the only way it can be known that this divine power has interposed, is by an actual obedience to the command. In neither case, therefore, is there any room for saying, that all creature effort is useless. That which is self-sufficient is discouraged in both cases; since the power to cause successful effort is of God. The man who had the withered hand was required immediately to stretch it forth ; but this very requirement evidently implied his obligation to depend on the power of Christ to enable him to do it: and though the sinner is required to make himself a new heart, that is, to put forth new and holy affections, without waiting to know whether he shall receive power from on high to prepare him to do it, he is at the same time manifestly under obligation to make his first, as well as every subsequent effort, in dependence on God to render it successful. See Mark iii. 1-5.
The history of divine grace, as far as it is given in the word of God, (and I might add, in all the records of the church,) coincides with what has been said concerning the sovereignty displayed in its bestowment. Divine grace, through a Saviour's righteousness, commenced its reign in the family of Adam. Cain and Abel were brothers; both born after the moral likeness of their apostate parents. Until Abel was made a subject of regeneration, he must have been as entirely depraved as his brother. How special and sovereign was the grace, which prepared him to offer unto God a more acceptable sacrifice than Cain. Esau and Jacob were not only brothers, but twins; yet Jacob was loved and Esau hated. God displayed the sovereignty of his grace in the difference which he made between these two brothers personally ; and still more in the difference he made between their respective descendants ; both as to the privileges and character that they possessed. What,