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it over as if we were afraid of it, or as if we thought the inspired writers had erred in ever bringing it before our eyes. Now that it lies clearly in our way, we will proceed to give it the attention it deserves. We will consider it, I. In a general view
The Scripture continually represents God as having ordained every thing from before the foundation of the world
[St. James, before the whole college of apostles at Jerusalem, declared this as a truth unquestionably acknowledged by them all; “Known unto God are all his works, from the beginning of the world." But, if they were known to him, they must be certain : and, if they were certain, it must be because he had ordained them so to be. Hence even the salvation of his people is said to be in consequence of his having elected them in Christ Jesus before the foundation of the world, and predestinated them to the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself. In this he is represented as acting solely according to his own sovereign will, for the praise of the glory of his own grace, in conformity with his own eternal counsels: and all who finally obtain an inheritance in heaven, are said to have been“ predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will, that they should be to the praise of his glorya.”
Now to conceal, or to explain away, such expressions as these, is certainly not right. That they involve many difficulties, is true ; but there are difficulties also on that side of the question which denies the existence of God's decrees: and it is far safer and better to receive with humility the declarations of God which we cannot fully comprehend, than to set ourselves determinately against them, and to impose on them a sense which they were obviously not intended to bear. The man that receives them with childlike simplicity, cannot doubt their general import, though he may doubt respecting inferences which may appear to be deducible from them.]
His decrees, to whatever they relate, are unchangeable
[This also is plainly and strongly declared in the Holy Scriptures. He has confirmed his word with an oath, on purpose that“ the immutability of his counsel may be known.” If his purposes were changed, it must be either through the inward operation of his own mind, or through the outward operation of something else upon him: but in his own mind he
c Acts xv. 18. d Eph. i. 4, 5, 6, 9, 11, 12. e Heb. vi, 17.
is altogether unchangeable ; as he has said, “ I the Lord change notî:” and St. James says, that “ with him is no variableness, neither shadow of turning 8" Nor can he be wrought upon by any thing from without: he cannot be deceived by subtlety; for “ there is no wisdom, nor understanding, nor counsel against the Lordh." nor can he be constrained by force ; for“ he doeth according to his will in the armies of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth; nor can any stay his hand, or say unto him, what doest thoui?” In a word, “ He is not a man that he should lie, or the son of man that he should repent: hath he said, and shall he not do it? hath he spoken, and shall he not make it goodk?" Yes, “His counsel shall stand; and he will do all his pleasurel." “ He is in one mind, and who can turn him m?" "His counsel standeth for ever, and the thoughts of his heart to all generationsn.”]
Whatever difference of opinion may exist about the abstract question of the immutability of God's decrees, there will be found little difference about it, II. In reference to the particular points specified in
the contextIt is the practical use of this subject that renders it so interesting to the Church of God: and it is in that view only that we wish to impress it on our minds. It is introduced by the prophet in reference to two points: 1. The deliverance of God's people,
[The state of the Jews in Babylon was as hopeless as could well be conceived: but God foretold their deliverance from it, and their restoration to their own land; and that, though captives, and grievously oppressed, “they should take them captives whose captives they were, and should rule over their oppressors." This God declared to be irreversibly decreed.
Now the same is true respecting the deliverance and salvation of all the Lord's people, in every age and quarter of the world. As the Jews were his elect, so is there now a remnant according to the election of gracep;" a people whom he has given to his Son, and to whom, as viewed in him, he gave a promise of eternal life, before the world began"." Now these he will search out, wherever they are, even amongst the remotest Gentiles&: and in due time he will call them by
f Mal. iii. 6.
& Jam. i. 17.
h Prov. xxi. 30.
his grace', and bring them to the saving knowledge of his truth'. These also will he keep, and not suffer so much as one of them ever to be lost. For their full and complete salvation God has made abundant provision in his word. If ever they should perish, it must be through their own departure from him, or through their being wrested out of his hands, or by his casting them off: but on all these heads he has revealed his immutable purpose and decree. Is it apprehended that they will depart from him? He will “ put his fear in their hearts, that they may not do soy." Is it feared that either men or devils may wrest them from him? He assures us that “none shall pluck them out of his hands?," separate them from his lovea.” Is it supposed possible that he himself may cast them off and forsake them? He gives the fullest possible assurance to them all, that he will not do sob; that "not one of his little ones shall perish";" and that, however sifted, “not the smallest grain among them shall ever fall to the ground." Their state may appear distressing, and even desperate, for a time; but God will not abandon them to themselves e ; for “ all his promises to them are yea and Amen in Christ Jesus'.'] 2. The destruction of his enemies
[Babylon, just previous to its destruction, seemed capable of defying all its enemies: but it was destroyed, precisely at the time, and in the manner, and by the person, that had been foretold two hundred years before. Thus, how secure soever God's enemies at this day may think themselves, they shall assuredly perish at the appointed time.
Of the people of God we have spoken as God's elect: but we are not therefore to imagine of God's enemies, that they have from eternity been doomed to destruction. No: though we maintain, and have not a doubt about, the doctrine of election, we do not believe the doctrine of absolute reprobation. It is true, we do not know where to draw the line so as to answer all the questions that may be asked. We acknowledge that we are ignorant, and contentedly ignorant, of many things relating to this mysterious subject : but, in our apprehension, God's oath, “ that he willeth not the death of any sinner, but rather that he should turn and live," is a satisfactory proof, that he has “not ordained any to wrath,” except as the fruit and consequence of their own wickedness. We apprehend that the true distinction between the elect and non-elect is marked with admirable precision by the Apostle Peter; who speaks of
t Ezek. xxxiv. 11–13. u Isai. lxv. 1. x John xvii. 12. y Jer. xxxii. 40.
2 John x. 27-29. a Rom. viii. 33-39. b 1 Sam. xii. 22. Heb. xiii. 5, 6. The Greek. c Matt. xviii. 14. d Amos ix. 9.
e Isai. liv. 7-10. f 2 Cor. i. 20.
the elect, as saved purely in consequence of God's eternal choice; but of others, as perishing purely through their own obstinate unbelief, to which God has irreversibly decreed a sentence of eternal condemnation. This is sufficiently plain, that, if God be true, the unrighteous, and unregenerate, can never enter into the kingdom of heaven". We are ready to think, that God will rescind his decrees in relation to this matter; but he will not: he will not from pity; for however we may knock, and cry, “ Lord, Lord, open to us!” he will not open the door; nor, when“ weeping and wailing and gnashing our teeth” with anguish, will he grant us so much as a drop of water at our request to cool our tongue.” Nor shall
be able to resist his will: for when he shall say, “Depart from me, ye cursed, into everlasting fire,” we cannot maintain our ground one moment; nor, if we call on the rocks and mountains to fall upon us, can they afford us the desired aid. Even in this life the infliction of punishment is sometimes irreversibly decreed; and much more shall it be in that day, when God will only laugh at our calamity, and execute upon us all the judgments which he has denounced against us'.] REFLECTIONS
1. On what a slender foundation are the hopes of the generality fixed !
[A strange idea pervades the great mass of the Christian world, that God will relax somewhat of his demands, and forbear to act agreeably to the strict tenour of his word: and, when we urge upon their consciences the strictness of his precepts, or the awfulness of his threatenings, they reply, ‘God is too merciful to act thus; we have no fear, but that he will relax somewhat of these things in the day of judgment.' Thus they hope that God's purposes shall change; and they contentedly rest their everlasting salvation on this ground. What an amazing infatuation is this! O, beloved, think well, ere you determine to venture your everlasting happiness on such a presumption as this. Know that, in so doing, you absolutely bar heaven against yourselves; and render it impossible for God himself to save you. True, he can work faith in your
hearts; but he can never save you in unbelief: “ he cannot deny himself;” and if you will not seek him in his appointed way of faith
8 1 Pet. ii. 7-9. The words in italics, ver. 8. should be omitted, and the word Oi be translated These. Then the contrast observable in that whole passage will be complete. There is a double antithesis : Υμίν ούν πιστεύουσιν---άπειθουσι δε
οι προσκόπτουσι- υμείς δε
See Doddridge's note on the place. h 1 Cor. vi.9. John iii. 3,5. i Prov. i. 24–31. Ezek. xxiv. 13, 14. VOL. VII.
and holiness, there "remains nothing for you but a fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, to consume youk."]
2. On what an immoveable foundation does the believer stand;
[You are fixed upon a rock, against which the gates of hell shall never prevail
. We suppose indeed that you are not affecting to trust in God, whilst you are negligent in the use of his appointed means: (that would be to trust, not in God, but in a presumptuous unfounded conceit of your own:) but, if you are “ fleeing to Christ for refuge," then are you safe in God's everlasting arms; and he desires that you should be assured of this: yea, it is for this very end that he has confirmed his promise with an oath, even that you might be assured of the immutability of his counsel, and be filled with the stronger and richer consolation! If a sense of your own weakness and unworthiness discourage you; then know that “God is able to perform all that he has promised," and that the consideration of his power and faithfulness is the very antidote which he himself has provided for all your fears m.]
k Heb. x. 26, 27. 1 Heb. vi. 17. m Isai. xlix. 24, 25.
GOD'S CHURCH AND PEOPLE SECURE. Isai. xiv. 32. What shall one then answer the messengers of the
nation? That the Lord hath founded Zion, and the poor of his people shall trust in it.
GOD is for the most part overlooked in the government of the world : and hence arise an overconfidence among some, and an undue timidity amongst others. But, if we viewed God as ordering and overruling every thing, even to the falling of a sparrow, we should undertake nothing ourselves without a direct reference to him; nor fear what was undertaken by others, whilst we had him for our protector. This is the great lesson which we are taught in the passage which we have now read. The context contains a prophecy respecting the fate of Palestine. The Philistines had been invaded and conquered by King Uzziaho; but in the days of Ahaz, Uzziah's son,
a 2 Chron. xxvi. 6.