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REMARKS ON A PASSAGE IN GISBORNE'S ESSAYS.
I LATELY read, with much pleasure, the greater part of Mr. Gisborne's Essays; but one passage struck my mind with great surprise, on which I could not forbear noting down a few remarks.
He there states the difference between the Calvinists, and those who reject their system, in these terms.
“ It is solely the question, Whether God has been pleased to determine and decree to save certain individuals, and those selected by eternal and sovereign predestination ? Or, By moral power bestowed through grace in Christ, has thought fit to place salvation actually and unequivocally within the attainment of every man.” P. 185.
I immediately asked, What are his ideas of moral power ? How is this bestowed by grace in Christ?
If by grace, he means free, sovereign favor, would God have been just in withholding it?
If it be in Christ, was God under obligation to bestow Christ? or would he not have been just, if he had never sent his Son to save sinners from condemnation ?
What ideas are included in the position of " salvation being actually and unequivocally within the attainment of
every man.” ?
Does he mean every man in the world, including all sorts of Pagans, Mahometans, and the most ignorant Papists?
Or, every man in England, the children of the most ignorant, illiterate, and profligate, included ?
As to his statement of Calvinism, my only objection is to its brevity. In God's determining to save any individuals, we include his determination to bring them to the knowledge of the truth, to give them genuine repentance and vital faith, to write his law on their hearts, and put his Spirit within them; to inspire them with godly fear, that they may not depart from him ; and if, in any measure, they do so for a season, to visit their transgressions with a rod, and their iniquities with stripes; and to keep them by his mighty power, through faith, unto salvation. We believe the elect of God were chosen in Christ, before the foundation of the world, not because the divine being foresaw that they would be, of their own accord, but that they might be, by the influence of his grace, holy and blameless before him in love: that they were predestinated to be conformed to the image of his Son. Can this tend to licentiousness?
I conceive, that Mr. Gisborne fully admits the doctrine of the atonement. But surely, if all mankind were so guilty as to need the interposition of a Mediator of infinite dignity; and if it were necessary that this Mediator should become a surety, and a sacrifice for sin ; that so God might declare his righteousness as well as his grace, in the very act of forgiveness; and if God has provided for himself a Lamb.; and his own incarnate Son is the Lamb of God, who taketh away the sin of the world ; then must this have been the highest act of sovereignty of which we can form a conception. And surely, if God has done this, he will not leave it to chance, nor to the will of man, whether Christ shall have any souls to be the reward of his obedience unto death.
As God was not bound to provide a Saviour for any part of our race, so it appears by fact, that he did not think himself bound to send the word of reconciliation to all nations at
And shall we presume, that he sent the gospel to the British isles, so long before he sent it to the isles of Japan, because our ancestors, whether Britons, Saxons, Danes, or
Normans, were better than the ancestors of the Japanese ? or because he saw, that the mongrel descendants of the former tribes would be more ready to receive it, than the unmixed posterity of the latter? It is certain, that our Lord did not think the inhabitants of Chorazin, Bethsaida, and Capernaum, among whom he personally published the gospel, and wrought so many wonderful works, to be more worthy than the inhabitants of Tyre and Sidon, or even of Sodom and Gomorrah.
We most readily admit, that wherever the gospel comes, and is faithfully published, one sinner that hears it, has as good a warrant to apply to the Saviour as another. The call of the gospel is addressed to sinners, described only by their wants and miseries. Ministers are bound to “ preach the gospel to every creature ;" “ warning every man, and teaching every man, in all wisdom, that they may present every man perfect in Christ Jesus; whereunto they should also labor, striving according to the energy of him who worketh powerfully in them, with might.”
But, while we thus endeavor to “compel them to come in,” how many of the decent and apparently well-disposed, “ make light” of the gracious invitation! Though there is nothing to prevent their acceptance of it, but their own voluntary negligence, their want of reverence for the Master of the feast, their want of relish for the blessed provision, their ignorance of their own real circumstances, their pride, their love of sin, and inordinate attachment to this present evil world.
Whether Mr. Gisborne will allow of any immediate and powerful influence of God upon the will of man, or admit that he does more to draw one sinner to the Saviour than another, I am not quite sure; yet I should strongly hope that he would not deny this. As to myself, I confess, that I should give up my ministry in despair, if I did not hope for such an influence to attend it. Certainly I dare not ascribe my coming to Christ for salvation to any thing else, but God's effectually drawing me to him. And if God has a right to select the very worst sinner who shall hear the next sermon I preach, to be a monument of the power of his
grace; and to leave sonae to their own evil choice, for whose conversion I might feel a peculiar concern, on account of acquaintance with their relatives, or of their own amiable dispositions, shall I dare to find fault with this procedure ? Or ought any one else to presume to say, of the God of all grace, that his ways are not equal ? He that neglects the great salvation, in the way that is least disrespectful, has no ground to lay the blame of his folly on God! His sin is exceedingly great, in that he will not lay to heart the truths he dares not deny; and he deserves that God should say of him, 'He is joined unto idols, let him alone.' But while I exceedingly admire a thousand passages in a celebrated Arminian poet, I cannot forbear being shocked at one sentiment he has expressed.
"God but persuades, almighty man decrees.” Into such impiety and blasphemy has an antipathy to Calvinism driven some !
We believe, that man is so guilty, that he could never have been saved from condemnation, without an almighty Saviour. We believe also, that he is so depraved, that he could never have been brought back to God, but by the agency of an almighty Sanctifier. It is not enough, to insure his salvation, that God should provide a Saviour; should reveal a method of salvation worthy of all acceptation; should command, invite, and beseech him to be reconciled. Man will not obey the call, unless it is applied to the heart, by him that can raise the dead. But we believe, that God can effectually turn to himself, the most stupid, hardened, refractory sinner in the world. We believe he has a right to exert this efficacious influence on whom he will, and that he had a right to choose before-hand, yea, even from eternity, in what cases it should be exerted.
But now let us examine the opposite scheme.
Does he mean a virtuous inclination ? a penitent, obedient disposition? Or, is it some occult, undefinable power of doing what many never think of, and which they never make the least attempt to exert?
How is this bestowed by grace? Does he mean by grace,
sovereign kindness, which God might have withheld, without any impeachment of his justice, or even of his essential goodness ?
What is this power, beyond the gift of reason and consciousness, or whatever is essential to responsibility ? Would man have been a proper subject of moral government, accountable to the Supreme Being for his conduct and disposition, without this moral power as it is termed ?
How is it by grace in Christ?
Surely if it be in Christ, it must be of grace, in our sense of the term. For dare any one say, that God was under any obligation to send his only-begotten Son to die for sinners ? It would be shocking to suppose, that God had once enacted a law so severe, that justice required he should provide a Saviour, to give men a second chance of escaping its penalty !
I dare say, Mr. Gisborne is not aware that he uses this phrase by grace in Christ, to save appearances of denying the fall, and the just condemnation of sinners; or to avoid the semblance of Pelagian self-sufficiency. But it seems to me, that some secret influence has had an effect on his mind, arising from an idea that the law was hardly vindicable, or that mankind, in their present state, could not be required to comply with its demands.
Why was the atonement of Christ necessary ?
Was it to prevent God's being dishonored by punishing sinners ?
Or, to prevent his being dishonored in pardoning them ? I am fully convinced the latter is the true reason.
I trust, Mr. Gisborne dares not allow himself to think the former.
What does Mr. Gisborne mean, by God having "placed salvation actually and unequivocally within the attainment of every man.” ?
That the gospel may, and ought to be preached to every man, we gladly allow.
That the worst of sinners, who hear the gospel, are invited to apply to Christ, for a free and full salvation, we also strenuously maintain.