By Andrew Lee
Romans ii. 11.
"For there is no respect of persons with God."
The divine impartiality is often asserted in the holy scriptures; and the assertion coincides with our natural ideas of deity. The pagans indeed attributed to their Gods, the vices, follies and weaknesses of men! But the beings whom they adored were mostly taken from among men, and might be considered as retaining human imperfections,--Had unbiased reason been consulted to find out a supreme being, a different object would have been exhibited to view. But it is natural to mankind to fancy the deity such an one as themselves. The origin of many erroneous conceptions of the divinity may be found in the persons who entertain them. To the jaundiced eye, objects appear discolored. To a mind thoroughly depraved, the source of truth may seem distorted. Therefore the hope of the Epicure--therefore the portrait which some have drawn of the divine sovereign, rather resembling an earthly despot, than the Jehovah of the bible! YET God is visible in his works and ways. "They are fools and without excuse, who say, there is no God." And as far as God appears in the works of creation and providence, he appears as he is. Passion, prejudice, or depravity may disfigure or hide him; but as far as the discoveries which God hath made of himself are received, his true character is discerned.
Of this character impartiality constitutes an essential part. "God is a rock, his work is perfect; for all his ways are judgment; a God of truth, and without iniquity; just and right is he."
This representation agrees with reason. According to his sense of it, every man will subscribe it. Yet different apprehensions are entertained respecting the divine impartiality, as respecting every thing else. The ideas which some receive others reject as unreasonable. This is not strange. Minds differ, no less than bodies.
We propose, with deference, now to 'exhibit our views of this interesting subject, the divine impartiality', especially as it respects man.
This is the branch of divine impartiality referred to in the text, and commonly in the scriptures--'There is no respect of PERSONS with God'.
It is important that we form just apprehends on this subject. Mistakes might inspire groundless expectations, and occasion practical errors, dishonorable to God, and mischievous to man. But those which are just, have a tendency to produce sentiments of rational respect and reverence for the supreme Governor and to point to the way of peace and blessedness.
Impartiality doth not require an equality of powers or advantages --that creatures should in this view be treated alike, or made equal. Infinite wisdom and power are not restricted to a sameness in their plastic operations, or providential apportionments. Neither is this sameness the order of heaven.
The number of creatures is great. We cannot reckon them up in order; nor the different species. Among the myriads of the same species, are discriminations, sufficient to distinguish them from one another. We observe this in our race. And in the creatures beneath us. Among mankind these differences are most noticeable and most interesting. They relate to every thing which belongs to man--to the mind, and to the body, and to the powers of each--to the temper--appetites-- passions--talents--trials--opportunities, and means of information. There is in every respect an almost infinite variety--differences which run into innumerable particulars. Variety may be considered as a distinguishing trait in the works, and ways of God. And all is right. When we consider the hand of God and his providential influence in them, we seem constrained to adopt the language of the psalmist, "O Lord how many are thy works? In wisdom hast thou made them all: The earth is full of thy riches."
These are displays of divine sovereignty. They are beyond our comprehension. "We see, but we understand not." Of many things brought into being by divine efficiency, we know neither the design nor use-- can only say, "Thou Lord hast created all things, and for thy pleasure they are and were created."
The same observation is applicable to the different situations in which God hath placed creatures of the same class, and the different talents committed to them--God hath doubtless his reasons for these discriminations, but hath not revealed them.
By nothing of this kind is the divine impartiality affected; with none of them is it concerned. God is pleased to try some with ten talents, others with five, others with only one. That "so it seems good in his sight," is all we know about it; and all we need to know. Should we attempt to pry into it, the answer given by our Lord to an officious enquirer respecting another, might be applied--"What is that to thee?"
The divine impartiality is only concerned to apportion the rule of duty to the powers and advantages imparted, and to give to each one according to the manner in which he shall have conformed to the rule given to direct him, making no difference, other than they may have affected differently the parts assigned them, or had more or fewer talents.
If this definition of impartiality is just, we may infer that God requires of man only "according to that which he hath;" and that in the final adjustment nothing will be done by partiality, or preferring one before another.
Could not these be predicated of the supreme governor, we would not attempt to vindicate his character as an impartial being. The latter we conceive chiefly respected in the text. Shall treat of each briefly.
That God requires of man only "according to that which he hath," is equally the language of reason and revelation. Our Savior teacheth, that the divine rule will be the same, in this respect, as that which governs good men--"Unto whom much is given, of him shall much be required; and to whom men have committed much, of him will they ask the more."
The apostle had a particular reference in the text to the decisions at the great day, when "everyone must give account to God, and receive the deeds done in the body"--and insists that the situation in which each person had been placed, and the rule given for his direction will then be brought into the reckoning, and that each one will be judged, and his state determined by the law, under which he had lived and acted during his probation. This is the spirit of the context from verse six to the sixteenth, inclusive. "Who will render to every man according to his deeds: To them who by a patient continuance in well doing, seek for glory, and honor and immortality, eternal life: But to them that are contentious, and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath; tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that doeth evil; of the Jew first, and also of the Gentile: But glory, and honor, and peace, to every man that worketh good; to the Jew first, and also to the Gentile. 'For there is no respect of persons with God'. For as many as have sinned without law, shall also perish without law; and as many as have sinned in the law shall be judged by the law. For not the hearers of the law are just before God, but the doers of the law shall be justified. (For when the Gentiles which have not the law, do by nature the things contained in the law, these having not the law, are a law unto themselves; which shew the works of the law written in their hearts, their conscience also bearing witness, and their thoughts the mean while accusing, or else excusing one another.) In the day when God shall judge the secrets of men, by Jesus Christ, according to my gospel."
This whole paragraph is an illustration of divine justice and impartiality as exercised toward mankind. It shows that they are here for trial--that those who act uprightly will meet the divine approbation, and be rewarded with eternal rewards; but that a contentious disregard of duty, and willful continuance in known wickedness will be the object of divine indignation, which will occasion tribulation and anguish that in the decisions at the great day, family and national distinctions will be disregarded--that it will be required of every one according to the talents committed to him, and no more, whether he be Jew or Gentile.
Some have doubted whether those left to the light of nature could possibly meet the divine approbation and find mercy with God; or were not doomed without remedy to suffer the vengeance of eternal fire. This we apprehend to be here determined. "Those who have not the law, may do by nature, the things contained in the law; and the doers of the law shall be justified."
By "doing the law," no more is intended than acting sincerely, according to the light imparted. Perfect obedience is not attainable by imperfect creatures--cannot therefore be here intended by the apostle. His evident meaning is, that sincerity is accepted of God, and rewarded with the rewards of grace, and equally of the Gentile, as of the Jew; 'for there is no respect of persons with God'.
Adults, privileged with gospel light, must believe and obey the gospel. To them is that declaration addressed--"He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned." This hath no relation to those who have not the means of faith. "What the law saith, it saith to those who are under it." The same is true of the gospel.
The equal justice of God in giving to every one according to his works, or to his improvement of talents, is the spirit of the text and context, and of many other scriptures. Yea, this one of those great truths which are borne on the face of revelation--"If ye call on the Father, who, 'without respect of persons', judgeth every man according to his works, pass the time of your sojourning here in fear."
Some objections to the preceding definition of divine impartiality are subjoined, with very brief replies.
It is said "We must be born again or we cannot see the kingdom of God," and regeneration is the work of God, or effect of divine influence.
That necessary change, is indeed the work of God, but not to the exclusion of human cooperation. The holy spirit strives with all who have the means of grace. None are wholly destitute of supernal influences--of awakenings and convictions, or devoid of power to cherish or to resist them. This is intimated in the warnings to beware of grieving or quenching the spirit. Could men only oppose divine influence in renovation, they would never be exhorted of God "to make themselves new hearts, and turn themselves that they may live." *
* Ezekiel xviii. 31.
But natural men are said to be "dead in sin"--and can the dead do aught which tends to their own resurrection?
The renewed are said to be "dead to sin"--Can they do nothing which tends to wickedness?+ Metaphors must be understood with latitude. We should involve ourselves in many absurdities, by always adhering to the literal sense of those used in scripture. Were we to adhere in all cases to the literal sense, we should believe Christ to be a rock, a door, a vine, and receive the Romish doctrine of transubstantiation.
+Romans vi. 2. 11.
But is not "every imagination of the thoughts of sinners hearts," said in scripture to "be only evil continually?"
Such is said to have been the state of antediluvian sinners, when the spirit had ceased to strive with them, agreeably to the threatening.*
* Genesis vi. 3.
It is a representation of the last grade of human depravity; but not applicable to every natural man. Those who are unrenewed are not all equally depraved. Some "are not far from the kingdom of God."--In some are things lovely in the Savior's eyes. "Then Jesus, beholding him, loved him." +
+ Mark xii. 24. x. 21.
It is further asked, Whether every motion toward a return to God, is not the effect of divine influence? And whether divine influence doth not necessarily produce effect?--We answer,
To suppose man not capable of acting, but only of being acted on, or acted with, is to exculpate his enmity against God, and opposition to his law and gospel. To suppose his enmity and opposition to be the effect of divine influence, is to excuse them. Blame rests with the efficient. The creature cannot be culpable, because he is what God made him; or while he remains what he was made of God. To denominate either temper or conduct morally good or evil, consent is necessary, to suppose consent, in the creature, to be the effect of almighty power operating upon it, nullifies it to the creature, in a moral view. The work of God cannot be the sin, or holiness, of the creature.
But depravity and wickedness are wrong, and criminal, apart from all consideration of their source--they are so in themselves.
They cannot therefore be from God, but must have some other source. The creature which vitiates another, is viewed as culpable, though it only tempts to wickedness, which is all a creature can do to vitiate another, and leaves the tempted ability to retain integrity; what must then be our views of a being whom we conceive to produce the same effect 'by an exertion of Almighty power'?--"God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man," Is it then supposeable that he can produce it by direct efficiency?
But suppose him to produce it, Suppose it to derive immediately from him. Is its nature altered? Is it less criminal or odious?
God forbid that we should make the supposition! It is a compound of absurdity and blasphemy! As well may we suppose the sun to diffuse darkness! They "trusted in lying words, who said of old, We are delivered to do abominations." We fear the Lord; "and will ascribe righteousness to our Maker."
But doth not God choose some to eternal life, and to this end bring them into his kingdom, and leave others to perish in their sins?
God chooseth those who hear his voice, and cherish the divine influences, and leaves those who refuse his grace and grieve his spirit. "Behold, I stand at the door and knock; 'if any man hear my voice, and open the door', I will come in to him, and sup with him, and he with me. Every one that asketh receiveth; hath that seeketh, findeth; and to him that knocked it is opened," Asking is antecedent to receiving; seeking, to finding; and knocking is the work of those yet without. When trembling, astonished Saul, of Tarsus enquired, "Lord, what wilt thou have me to do?" he was directed by one sent of Christ--"The Lord said to Annanias, Arise--go--enquire--for one called Saul of Tarsus: 'For, behold, he prayeth'."
It is further asked, Whether God doth not act as a sovereign, in his choice of those whom he sanctifies and saves?
God acts as a wise and impartial sovereign. God is not a sovereign in the sense in which most earthly monarchs are so. Whim, caprice, passion, prejudice often influence their preferences of some to others. Not so the divine sovereign. There are reasons for all his discriminations. They may be veiled at present from our view; but will one day appear--"The day will declare them," and justify God in them.*
*1 Corinthians iii. 13.
But the elect, it is said, "are chosen from the foundations of the world; before they have done either good or evil."
Election is indeed, "according to foreknowledge." "Whom God did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son."
But God could not foreknow, say some, how a free moral agent would act, unless he had first determined how he should act!
'A free moral agent, all whose volitions and actions, are fixed by an immutable decree'! We are ignorant how God knows, or how he foreknows. Perhaps past and future relate only to creatures, Every thing may be present to the divine mind--with God there may be 'an eternal Now'. "Beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day." Much which is known to us, is locked up from creatures below us--they can form no ideas about it. Still less do we know of God, or the manner of the divine perceptions. The distance between God and us, is infinitely greater than between us and creatures of the lowest grade. It is therefore impossible for us to make deductions from the divine perceptions, or determine any thing about them. When tempted to it we should remember the caution given by Zophar,--"Canst thou by searching find out God? Canst thou find out the Almighty to perfection? It is high as heaven; what canst thou do? deeper than hell; what canst thou know?" *
* Job xi. 7, 8.
But as the whole human race are sinners, deserving only of punishment, is not God at liberty to choose from among them, whom he pleaseth to sanctify and save, and pass by, and leave whom he pleaseth, to punish in their sins?
We have no claim on divine justice. All mankind might have been left to perish. But they are not thus left of God, He hath found a ransom; and offers salvation to all. No differences will be eventually made among men without reasons. And the reasons will be in them--'For there is no respect of persons with God'.
But suppose two persons to be equally guilty and deserving of condemnation, may not God make one of them a vessel of mercy, and the other a vessel of wrath? Would the latter have occasion to complain? Or could injustice be charged on God?
We should not dare to charge him with injustice, did we know such a case to happen--neither do we presume to determine what God hath aright to do. But we are sure that no such case ever will happen--that God will not make an eventual difference in those who are alike, for 'there is no respect of persons with God'.
Some may find mercy who may appear to us less guilty than some others who may perish in their sins. But it belongs not to us to estimate comparative guilt. It requires omniscience. "The judge of all the earth will do right."
Mankind are here on trial. Different talents are committed to them. God acts as a sovereign in apportioning betrustments, and will observe exact impartiality in adjusting retributions.
The idea of talents implies ability to improve them. Gospel applications speak such to be our state--they are adopted to no other state.
The fatalist, and those who conceive every human volition and action to be the effect of divine agency, have no rational motive, to do, or suffer for religion. "Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die."
However we may amuse ourselves with idle speculations, this life is approbation season.--Our use or abuse of the talents we possess will determine us to happiness, or misery, honor or infamy.
"All have sinned, and are guilty before God--In his sight shall no man living be justified"--our sole desert is punishment. But God hath had mercy on us--provided a Savior, and offers us salvation. The offer is universal--"Whosoever will let him come."
That 'there is no respect of persons with God', is alike the dictate of reason and revelation, We have only to act with integrity before God, relying, on his grace in Christ, and his grace will be sufficient for us.
The man who had the one talent, neglected it, under pretence that he served a hard master, who required things unreasonable and impossible --he was condemned; but 'only' for neglecting the talent which he possessed.
It is required of a man according to that which he hath--this he can render--the neglect will be fatal. We must all appear before the judgment seat of Christ, that we may receive the deeds done in the body, according to that which we have done, whether good or bad. For God will bring every work into judgment, with every secret thing, whether it be good or evil.
An unseen hand is constantly writing down our volitions and actions, to be reserved to judgment. Ere long the books will be opened, which will open every heart, and life. Not a circumstance which goes to constitute a state of trial, will be omitted--all will be brought into the reckoning, and serve to determine our eternal state.
That state will be determined by the use which we shall have made of life, and the advantages which we enjoyed in it. The divine impartiality will then appear--"The ungodly will be convinced of their ungodly deeds--and of their hard speeches, which they have spoken against God." None will complain of injustice--none of the condemned pretend that they receive aught, which others circumstanced as they were, and acting as they acted, would not have received from the hand that made them. "Every mouth will be stopped."
This, fellow mortals is our seed time for eternity. "Be not deceived; God is not mocked; for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also of the Lord, whether he be bond or free--every man shall receive his own reward, according to his own labor."
Not only the state into which we are to enter at death, but the rank we are to hold in it depend on present improvement. All the sanctified will be saved; all who die unrenewed will be damned. But there will be different grades, both in the upper and lower worlds. Of the saints, some "will be scarcely saved." To others "will be ministered an abundant entrance into the kingdom of Christ." There are also greatest and least in the kingdom of heaven. And among those exiled the world of light, differences will be made, suited to the different degrees of criminality. Capernaum will receive a more intolerable doom than Sodom.*
* Matthew xi. 23, 24.
All these discriminations will be built on the present life, and rise out of it. This will be so abundantly manifested, "when God shall judge the world in righteousness," that an assembled universe will confess, That 'there is no respect of persons with God'.