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but the special grace of God, made the Jews for so many generations to differ from the idolatrous gentiles ?
I have already alluded to the case of the penitent thief. This man, for aught that appears, was as deeply involved in guilt as his comrade who hung suspended on the other side of the cross of Christ. They were both malefactors ; they were both thieves ; and, as it appears by the united testimony of two evangelists, they were both revilers of the blessed Jesus. One, however, of these vile men repented and was pardoned, just before the mouth of the bottomless pit had closed upon him. But he would not have repented, if he had not been created anew by the power of God. This was an act of rich grace; it was manifestly free, discriminating, and sovereign.
The present Article is manifestly in harmony with the one which immediately precedes it. Under that Article we saw that regeneration is a moral change of a radical nature, wrought by the mighty agency of God's holy Spirit, in the hearts of creatures altogether unlovely and ill-deserving. Surely no one who sees the correctness of that representation of the regenerating change, can oppose the doctrine of the present Article.
If we place the present Article beşide the sixth and seventh, no disagreement can be seen. The sixth shows that we have liberty to offer the blessings of salvation to all such as will accede to the terms on which it is offered. Were men willing of themselves to accept this offer (as they generally are to accept advantageous offers in relation to earthly good) there would be no room for the exercise of special and sovereign grace, except in determining for what rebels an atone. ment should be provided, and, among such as should have the provision made for them, who should be favored with the joyful news. But under the seventh Article we were presented with the most appalling proof of the fact, that all men, in their natural state, are disposed obstinately and perseveringly to reject the terms on which the offer of salvation is made them. Here then there is not only room, but absolute necessity for the exercise of special, sovereign grace, even among those for whom the provision is made, and to whom the word of this salvation is sent.
This Article does not disagree with the fifth. The atonement, though infinite, does not of itself remove sin from any heart. It gives the unregenerate no claim upon God to save one of them ; but it prepares the way for a consistent exercise of his grace in recovering to holiness and blessedness any sinner of the human race, whose salvation will do more, than his deserved punishment, to glorify his great name and promote the schemes of his benevolence.
If the fourth Article is correct; if men are rebels, entire and volun. tary rebels against the government of God, they can merit nothing but his displeasure. If he has favors to bestow on creatures of our char. acter, he must surely have an undoubted right to bestow them according to his own good pleasure. When we take a view of the fourth Article
in connection with the third, it makes the doctrine of discriminating grace appear consistent and glorious. By transgression we have become obnoxious to the curse of the law, even that law which is holy, just, and good. And the curse of this law is nothing less than eternal death. The singing angels are under this dreadful curse. He who is inflicting this punishment on them, would be just were he to inflict it on us. As he could be under po obligation, in point of justice, to pro. vide a way of escape from a deserved punishment, he can be under none to interpose and effectually prevent us from rejecting it; as we are obstinately inclined to do.
The present Article is in harmony with the first and second of our series. In those two Articles we were led to contemplate the being and perfections of God; also his works of creation and providence, by which he designs to make the best display of his infinite glory. And the doctrine of sovereign grace in renewing the hearts of men, is pecu. liarly full of God and his glory. It is in reference to the new creation that he says, “This people have I formed for myself, they shall show forth my praise." I know there are some who, from an apparent regard to the character of the Holy One, conceal his sovereignty in the exercise of his grace. But that he feels himself under no obligation to such friends, for being so tender of his character, may be inferred from the answer which he gave to Moses' request, to be shown his glory. From this answer we learn, that he himself considers his grace, even that which is special and sovereign, not only to consist with his glory, but to be pre-eminently that display of it' which proves him to be rich in goodness.
Ex. xxxiii. 18, 19.
1. We are led to remark on the importance of distinguishing be. tween God’s benevolence and grace: while the one must be unlimited, the other may be restricted. His benevolence extends to all his crea. tures, whether they need his grace or not; and to all such as need his grace, whether they become actual recipients of it or not. Though the holiness of God makes it necessary that his good will should extend to all his guilty creatures, fallen angels as well as fallen men, still it leaves him at full liberty to be gracious to whom he will be gracious. Justice is one display of benevolence, and grace is another : therefore punishment is inflicted, or pardon dispensed, according to the bearing which it is seen each will have on the interests of the moral system. " The Lord is good unto all, and his tender mercies are over all his works.” The displays of his grace would be as universal as the ex: ercise of his benevolence, were it not the tendency of such a general display of grace to relax the reins of righteous government, and eclipse the glory of the Supreme King. Is it not easy to see, in case an atone. ment had been provided for all apostates; or, in case all for whom such a provision is made, were to have their salvation secured by it, that such an extensive system of grace would have a tendency to ex. cite doubts concerning either the natural or moral perfection of God? The proclaiming a universal amnesty to all his revolted subjects, would seem to imply a conviction, either that his laws were too rigid to be obeyed, or that his arm was too weak to punish such a multitude of revolters. The plan which has been adopted, of providing an atonement for one world of apostates, in distinction from another; and of exercising special and sovereign grace among those for whom this provision has been made, commends itself to our understanding, as a plan that guards against the dangerous consequences which would naturally result from the extension of pardon to all transgressors.
2. They who oppose the doctrine of this Article, are opposing facts as well as texts. From the beginning down to the present time, one has been taken and another left; and in many instances the one who has been taken has been to all appearance the most unlikely to become the subject of divine grace. When the whole company of the redeem. ed shall be brought together in the kingdom of their Father, they will all be ready to ascribe their salvation to the distinguishing grace of God. That great multitude who will be gathered into the fold of Christ during the millenium, will be prepared to give God the glory of making their period of probation so mercifully to differ from that of others. To the question, Who maketh thee to differ from another ? every ransomed soul will readily respond, “ By the grace of God I am what I am.”
3. Hostility to the sovereignty of grace is most unreasonable ; since it is hating God for his GOODNESS. “ Is thine eye evil because I am good ?” will forcibly apply to every man who is found caviling at this doctrine. On supposition, that God did something for Abel which he did not for Cain-something which justice laid him under no obligation to do for either; that he did something for Jacob that he did not for Esau ; and something for the penitent Thief which he did not for his fellow; how unreasonable it must have been for Cain and Esau and the impenitent thief to have been displeased with him on this ac. count? It would be nothing else than being displeased with him for doing good; for if he had not conferred a special favor on their fel. lows, it is implied, that the ground of their objection would not have existed. Should those who live before and after the millenium, mur. mur against God, on account of the very peculiar favor he confers on those who are privileged by living in that period, would it not be finding fault with him for doing good? The opposition which this doctrine excites, wherever it is proclaimed, and especially where it is confirmed by actual displays of discriminating grace, is among the most striking proofs that men hate God; and that they hate him for possessing that character in which he glories. If we are disgusted with that feature of his character, which (as we have seen) he consid. ers as excelling in glory, can we be in a state of preparation to enjoy God?
4. This doctrine furnishes great encouragement to pray for the conversion of sinners; and even for such as are stout-hearted, and far from righteousness. In prayer we make our application to Him whose right it is to dispense grace, and who has power to quicken whom he will.
He has taken the mercy seat, and waits to receive such peti. tions as we shall present in our own behalf, and in behalf of our friends and fellow sinners. The more enlarged views we can get of the great. ness of his power and grace, the more prepared shall we be to open our mouth wide, and pour out our hearts in humble prayer before him.
5. At the close of these remarks, I would say to the individual who is wishing to get rid of the doctrine of this Article, You know not what you do. You would fain flee out of the hand of a sovereign God; but were you able to do it, where would you flee for help? If you remain in your present state, you must die; if you go any where for help but to God, it will be in vain. Fall into his hands, without waiting to know what will be the result of it. He is holy, just and good. In his sovereign grace there is hope for a sinner, a great sin. per; yea, even for the chief of sinners.
THE GRACE OF GOD, DISPLAYED IN RENEWING THE HEARTS OF BINNERS, IS IN ACCORDANCE WITH THE PURPOSE OF ELECTION.
The doctrine, which is the subject of the present Article, has been thought to be peculiarly difficult to be understood. Let this circum. stance excite us to examine it with peculiar attention, praying that we may be directed by the clear light of God's word. Surely it behooves those who read, as well as him who writes, to desire to know what God has said on this subject. A day is coming when both must meet in the presence of their common Judge. . Then must the writer give an account for every sentiment he communicates, and the readers for the manner in which they receive his communications. The same divine standard should regulate him in writing, and them in reading. If it should so be, that this disputed doctrine has heretofore been mis. understood by any of us, let us remember, that to continue under such mistake can be of no advantage to our immortal interests.
Election and predestination, as used in the scriptures, are of similar import. They relate to the eternal purpose of God concerning the holiness and blessedness of a part of his intelligent creatures, in distinc. tion from that part which will forever be sinful and wretched. The holy angels are called " the elect angels,” to distinguish them from the angels which kept not their first estate. 1 Tim. v. 21. But these terms most commonly apply to men, and they imply God's purpose concerning the salvation of such as will be recovered from the ruins of the fall by Jesus Christ.
All Christian denominations, Universalists excepted, believe that a part only of our fallen race will actually be saved :. and it must be granted by all, that those who shall at length be brought to heaven, will be the very ones whom God chose, all things considered, to save. But very different opinions are entertained concerning the cause of their being chosen unto salvation. These opinions are, however, capable of being reduced to two classes ; for we must all make election either conditional or unconditional. That which is conditional, assumes; that the choice of God is determined by something preferable in the character of the elect, or in foresight of their better improvement of the same means of grace : but that which is unconditional, supposes the divine choice to have fixed on the persons of the elect-it also suppo. Res that all which is really excellent in their character, together with their better improvement of the means of grace, is to be considered as the effect, and not the cause of their gracious predestination.
Among the gifts of God's common providence, some are bestowed on conditions, and others without conditions. In promising to bestow the fruits of the field, God requires its cultivation as a requisite condi. tion : “ In the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat thy bread.” Gen. üi. 19. But the revolution of day and night, summer and winter, and the assu. rance we have that the earth shall not again be deluged with water, are blessings which are suspended on no conditions to be performed by us.
In the kingdom of grace, as well as that of providence, some gifts are bestowed without conditions. The atonement, that unspeakable gift, is one of this class. Irrespective of any good thing to be done by our first parents or any of their children, God declared his purpose to give the woman a seed which should bruise the head of the serpent. The result of this gift, in the rescue of an innumerable multitude from the dominion of the god of this world, is no less unconditional than the atonement itself. The Redeemer has a sure promise, in consideration of what he himself has done, that he shall see of the travail of his soul --that his people (his by his Father's gift,) shall be willing in the day of his power.
On the promise of his Father, and not on the will of rebellious men, he makes his dependence for the continuation of his kingdom on earth.
It is this promise which emboldens him to say, “ All the Father giveth me shall come to me.
There are other blessings of grace which are suspended on condi. tions to be performed by us. The gardon of sin is suspended on the condition of our repentance; deliverance from the curse of the law, on our acceptance of the atonement. It is as true of those whom the Father has given to his Son, as of any others, that except they repent they will perish ; except they believe they will be damned. But even their repentance and faith are secured to their Redeemer by a cove. nant, the blessings of which rest on His faithfulness, and not on their own.
To me it would seem no more proper to say, that the rection of grace depends on conditions to be performed by sinful men, than to say the same concerning the atonement. But in saying it is without con. ditions, we do not mean that they who were chosen in Christ will be saved, whether they repent and believe, or remain impenitent and un. believing. Their being ordained to eternal life, includes their repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ, together with every thing else which is necessary to their salvation. But what we maintain is this ; that while it is proper to say, God forgives sin. ners on condition of their exercising repentance and faith, it is im. proper to represent their election as resting on such conditions, or on any other conditions which they themselves fulfil.