"According as he has chosen us in him, before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love; having predestinated us to the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he has made us accepted in the Beloved."--EPH. i: 4-6.
THE design of this discourse is to call attention to the teaching of the Bible on election, predestination, foreordination, and the foreknowledge of God. It is delightful to stand free from all creeds, theories, and embarrassing opinions of men, where one can look into the oracles of God simply with a view to understand them. In the present instance, there is nothing in the way to hinder the fullest and fairest investigation in determining what the Bible means by the important terms to be examined.
The terms predestination, foreordination, foreknowledge of God, election, determinate counsel, mystery, secret, and counsel of his will, are all Bible terms. A man of intelligence, in these matters, can not say he does not believe the doctrine of election, etc. Election is in the Bible; so is predestination. The same is true of foreordination, foreknowledge, etc. Whatever the Bible teaches by these terms is as true as what it teaches in any other terms, or on any other subject. But any man may say, in all good conscience, if he understands the subject, that he does not believe the following from the Presbyterian Confession of Faith:
"By the decree of God, for the manifestation of his glory, some men and angels are predestinated unto everlasting life, and others foreordained to everlasting death. These angels and men, thus predestinated and foreordained, are particularly and unchangeably designed, and their number is so certain and definite that it can not be either increased or diminished. Those of mankind that are thus predestinated unto life, God, before the foundation of the world was laid, according to his eternal and immutable purpose, and the secret counsel and good pleasure of his will, hath chosen in Christ, unto everlasting glory, out of his mere free grace and love, without any foresight of faith and good works, or perseverance in either of them, or any other thing in the creature as conditions or causes moving him thereunto; and all to the praise of his glorious grace." Con. of Faith, p. 18.
This, an intelligent man may say, he does not believe, or does not understand; but this is one thing, and the teaching of the Scriptures referred to, another and a very different thing. There is something in the Bible called "the foreknowledge of God." The question to solve is simply what is it? or what does it mean? This is the matter first to be settled.
"Foreknowledge" is to know before. But the word "know" is used in two senses in Scripture, as it is in our own time. When we say we know certain things, we mean that we are cognizant of them, or are informed of them. We speak of certain things which we know, or concerning which we have information, in contradistinction from certain things of which we are not informed. In this sense there is nothing which the Infinite One does not know; in this sense he knows every thing. The apostles said of the Savior that he knew all things. The Almighty Father saw the end from the beginning. Nothing is hid from the omniscient one. In this sense there is neither foreknowledge nor after-knowledge with God. The word know is not used in this sense where we find the word foreknow or foreknowledge. When we read "known to God are all his works," the import is not simply that he is acquainted with all his works, or cognizant of them, for, in that sense, he knows every thing. The sense is, "approved of God are all his works." Another passage of the same kind is, "The Lord knows them that are his." If the word "know" were here used in the common acceptation, you might respond that the Lord knows them that are not his also. There are none whom he does not know in this sense. The Lord is not only cognizant of them that are his, or acquainted with them, but the Lord approves them that are his, as he does not approve them that are not his. The same is true of the words "Depart, you workers of iniquity; I never knew you." He surely did not mean I never was acquainted with you, but I never acknowledged or approved you as I have those that are mine. When the Lord speaks of knowing certain things, it is not in contradistinction from things with which he is not acquainted, or of which he is not informed, but sometimes in contradistinction from things which he has not made known, and sometimes things which he has not approved. When God looked down on the works of creation, he saw that they were good, or approved them, or rather made known his approval in pronouncing them "very good."
It is, therefore, very clear that when the Scriptures speak of "the foreknowledge of God," they do not mean simply that with which he was before acquainted. This falls far short of the meaning. They mean more than this. Let reference, then, be made directly to the law and to the testimony. "Him being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, you have taken, and, by wicked hands, have crucified and slain." Acts ii: 23. In this passage there are two of the strongest expressions of this kind found in the Bible, viz., "the determinate counsel" and "the foreknowledge of God." What is the import, or what did the apostle mean by these terms? The following passage, from the same apostle, on the same subject, is a clear and complete explanation of the words just quoted: "But those things which God before had showed by the mouth of all his holy prophets, that Christ should suffer, he has so fulfilled." Acts iii: 18. It will be readily seen that what is called "determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God," in the second chapter, is here called "those things which God before has shown by the mouth of all the holy prophets," in the third. This defines the foreknowledge of God to be that which he had before shown by the prophets, in contradistinction from that which he had not before shown by the prophets. The following, from Paul, throws some additional light on the same point: "The Scripture, foreseeing that God would justify the heathen through faith, preached before the Gospel to Abraham, saying, 'In thee shall all nations be blessed.'" Gal. iii: 8. Now, it is self-evident that precisely the same that is meant by "foreknowledge," in the passage previously referred to, is meant by "foreseeing" in the one last quoted. What is meant, then, by "the Scripture foreseeing?" Is it not God foreshowing in the Scripture, or showing by the mouth of the prophets? Another Scripture, of the same nature, says: "He has concluded all under sin, that the promise by faith of Jesus Christ might be given to them that believe." Gal. iii: 22. This conclusion is foreknowledge of God, or God's conclusion before made known, through the prophets, that all are under, and that the promise to Abraham, by the faith of Jesus Christ, might be given to them that believe.
The eternal purpose of God contained Christ, the Gospel, the plan of justification for the heathen through faith. The same was embodied in the promise made to Abraham, and confirmed by an oath. This was followed in after ages by many predictions, all, in one way or another, bearing on the great purpose of God to give this glorious system to man. In the New Testament frequent reference is made back to the purpose, the promise, the predictions of the prophets; and the knowledge thus communicated before is called the foreknowledge of God, in contradistinction to what was afterward fully unfolded and developed to the world by the apostles. This foreknowledge, determinate counsel, mystery, or secret, had in it Christ, the Gospel, the Church, justification of the heathen through faith, making the Gentiles members of the same body and partakers of the promise in Christ by the Gospel. This was the grand secret, hid in God for ages, and not made known to the sons of men as it is now revealed to the apostles and prophets by the Spirit. It was concerning this the prophets "inquired and searched diligently, who prophesied of the grace that should come to us: searching what, or what manner of time the Spirit of Christ which was in them did signify, when it testified beforehand the sufferings of Christ, and the glory that should follow. To whom it was revealed, that not to themselves, but to us they did minister the things that are now reported to you by them that have preached the Gospel, with the Holy Spirit sent down from heaven; which things the angels desire to look into." 1 Pet. i: 10, 12. It was this same great secret that was before the mind of the apostle to the Gentiles when he concluded his letter to the Church in Rome in the following words: "Now to him who it of power to establish you according to my Gospel, and the preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery, which was kept secret since the world began, but now is made manifest, and by the Scriptures of the prophets, according to the commandment of the everlasting God, made known to all nations for the obedience of faith." Rom. xvi: 25, 26. The Gospel preached by Paul, the preaching of Jesus Christ, and the revelation of the mystery are the same. It was a secret, but is now revealed; it was hid, but is now brought out; it was in the purpose of God, the promise, in prophecy, or foreknowledge, but is now embodied in a complete revelation of the Gospel to the world. The eternal purpose of God was to publish the Gospel of Christ to the nations of the earth. The promise contained the same thing--the Gospel in promise. The prophecies contain the same, with much more said about it, and the Gospel now contains the same, fully developed and published to the world.
The next thing in order will be to decide who the persons were, spoken of in the text, chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world. They were elect; God's elect. There is no use in caviling; the word "world," here, is not age. It is the material world. These persons were chosen in Christ before the founding of the material world, or before bringing order out of chaos. There are two questions to decide concerning these persons: Who were they? What were they chosen or elected for? They are not named in the whole passage, but simply referred to as "us," and "we." These pronouns occur a number of times between the third and thirteenth verses. No man understands the reading who does not know who is meant by these words. The matter in hand, then, is to find out who is meant by these two little words "us" and "we." Four different theories have been advocated, as now recollected. These must each, in return, receive attention.
1. Some Universalists have maintained that the words "us" and "we," here, mean all mankind, and that all mankind were chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world. But this can not be, for certain things are said of them that can not be said of all mankind. It will not do to say that he "has made all mankind accepted in the Beloved." Universalists do not believe this themselves. They only claim that he will do this and not that he has done it, much less that he has "predestinated all mankind to the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself," or that "all mankind have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins." It is not true that he had "abounded toward all mankind in all wisdom and prudence," nor that he had "made known to all mankind the mystery of his will." It is not true of all mankind that they had, in Paul's time, "obtained an inheritance," nor that all mankind "should be to the praise of his glory who first trusted in Christ." If all mankind first trusted in Christ, who trusted in Christ last, or afterward? At the thirteenth verse, the apostle says, "In whom you also trusted, after that you heard the word of truth, the Gospel of your salvation; in whom also, after that you believed, you were sealed with that Holy Spirit of promise." How could the apostle say that all mankind had "first trusted in Christ," and, in the next breath, addressing the disciples in Ephesus, say, "In whom you also trusted?" "Also trusted," as well as whom? The saints in Ephesus also trusted in Christ, as well as all mankind. According to this, the saints in Ephesus were no part of "all mankind," but all mankind first trusted in Christ and then the saints in Ephesus also trusted in Christ. This is simply absurd.
2. Some have supposed that the words "us" and "we" mean the Jews. But this is equally absurd. It will not do to say that "he has chosen the Jews in him before the foundation of the world, that the Jews should be holy and without blame before him in love;" nor that "he has predestinated the Jews to the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself;" nor that he "has made the Jews accepted in the beloved;" nor that "the Jews have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins;" nor yet that "he has made known to the Jews the mystery of his will;" nor had the Jews "obtained an inheritance" at the time Paul wrote this letter. Yet these things were true of the persons of whom the apostle was speaking.
3. The Calvinists think the words "us" and "we," from the fourth to the thirteenth verse, mean all the saints--their elect. Can what Paul says here be said of all the saints? Certainly not. Were all the saints "blessed with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ" when Paul wrote this? Certainly not, for millions of them were not yet born. Nor were all the saints "predestinated to the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself," nor had all the saints received "forgiveness of sins" at the time of this writing, nor were they "accepted in the beloved." It is not true that he "abounded to all the saints in all wisdom and prudence" at the time of this writing, nor that he "had made known to them the mystery of his will," nor that they had "obtained an inheritance," but all these statements were true of the persons of whom Paul was speaking. It is not true that all the saints "first trusted in Christ," but these persons "first trusted in Christ," and the apostle adds, verse thirteenth, "In whom you also trusted after you heard the word of truth." In whom you also trusted as well as whom? If he meant all the saints before, he means now that the saints at Ephesus also trusted in Christ, as well as all the saints. This makes nonsense of it.
4. Who, then, does the apostle mean by the words "us" and "we," from the fourth to the thirteenth verse? We have seen that the language can not apply to the Jews, to all mankind, or all the saints. To whom, then, can all this language be applied? It can be applied to the apostles and prophets of the New Testament, and nobody else. The apostles and prophets were "blessed with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ." They were "chosen in him before the foundation of the world, that they should be holy and without blame before him in love." He had "predestinated them to the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself," and he had, when Paul wrote, "made them accepted in the beloved." They had, when Paul wrote, "redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins," and he had "abounded toward them in all wisdom and prudence." He had, when Paul wrote, "made known to them the mystery of his will," and they "had obtained an inheritance." They did "first trust in Christ;" and when the Ephesians heard the word of truth, the Gospel of their salvation, they "also trusted" in him, as well as the apostles and prophets. The apostles and prophets were chosen in him before the foundation of the world, and are the "us" and "we" of whom the apostle speaks, from verse three to verse thirteen--the elect of this passage.
As further evidence of the correctness of this, refer to the ninth verse. Here the apostle says, "Having made known to us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure, which he had purposed in himself." The word "us" here means the same persons of whom he had been speaking all along, and says, "Having made known to us the mystery." The mystery was made known to the same persons "chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world." Who, then, were these persons to whom he made known the mystery? Turn to Ephesians iii: 3-5, where he says, "By revelation he made known to me the mystery, as I wrote before in few words, whereby, when you read, you may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ; which in other ages was not made known to the sons of men, as it is now revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit." The "us," then, of chapter 1, verse 9, are the "apostles and prophets," chap. iii: verses 3-5. These apostles and prophets, then, to whom he made known the mystery, are the elect--the persons chosen in him before the foundation of the world.
Having now ascertained who these elect persons were of whom the apostle had been speaking, the next thing in order will be to ascertain what they were elected, or chosen in him, for. Were they elected for their own happiness and glory or for the benefit of others? Were they elected simply to eternal life themselves, or as instruments through whom others were to be benefited? The ground here maintained is, that their election had no more in it for them, in the world to come, than for any other persons of their time or any future time. They were not elected simply for their own sakes, but for the benefit of the world. What, then, were they chosen or elected for? Paul answers: "For this cause, I Paul, the prisoner of Jesus Christ for you Gentiles, if you have heard of the dispensation of the grace of God which was given to me toward you." What was this dispensation given to Paul? It was the dispensation belonging to this election. He proceeds: "How that by revelation he made known to me the mystery, as I wrote above (chapter i: 9), in few words, whereby, when you read, you may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ, which in other ages was not made known to the sons of men, as it is now revealed to his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit, that the Gentiles should be fellow-heirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the Gospel." What was all this for? He proceeds "Whereof," or, for this purpose, "I was made a minister," or one of the elect, "chosen in him before the foundation of the world." "To me," says he, "who am less than the least of all saints, is this grace given." What grace? The grace of election, of being chosen in Christ, to the apostolic office. What was this given for? He proceeds: "That I should preach among the Gentiles the unsearchable riches of Christ; and to make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery, which from the beginning of time has been hid in God, who created all things by Jesus Christ." He still proceeds further, unfolding the purpose of this election to the apostolic office: "To the intent," or for the purpose, "that now to the principalities and powers in heavenly places might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God, according to the eternal purpose which he purposed in Jesus Christ our Lord." This passage most clearly and explicitly sets forth the object of the election of which the apostle had been speaking. The grace of election, of being chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world, was to preach the Gospel; to unite the Jews and Gentiles in one body, and to make all men see, or to make a revelation to the world. They were chosen in Christ, as the agents or instruments, through which God would reveal his will to man and found the new institution. This election had something in it, not merely for the elect themselves, but for all mankind. They were "chosen in Christ," "predestinated," and the "grace given them," that they should be instrumental in blessing the world with a full revelation of the mystery--the Gospel.
"But," says a man, "I will go to the seventeenth chapter of John, and find the persons that were given to Christ; they were the elect." That is so. But the same two things must be ascertained, as in the other case: 1. Who were the elect? 2. What were they elected for? Who, then, were the persons given to Christ, as set forth in John xvii: 2-20? Were they all mankind? Certainly not; for in verse sixth he says he gave them "out of the world." They were not all the world, but out of the world. Were they all the saints? Manifestly not, for he says, verse 11 and 12: "Holy Father, keep through shine own name those whom thou hast given me, that they may be one as we are. While I was with them in the world, I kept them in thy name." They were not all the saints, for he "was with them in the world," and he was not with all the saints in the world. But he proceeds: "Those whom thou gavest me I have kept, and none of them is lost but the son of perdition, that the Scripture might be fulfilled." From this passage, it is learned that one of those given to him, or one of the elect, was lost. The Calvinistic idea of the elect is, that they can not be lost; but here we have the clear concession that one of them was lost. This one was Judas. He was one whom Jesus had chosen, and one whom the Father gave him, and was lost. Why was he lost? On what ground was he lost? The following passage informs us: "And they prayed and said, Thou, Lord, who knowest the hearts of all men, show which of these two thou hast chosen, that he may take part of this ministry and apostleship, from which Judas by transgression fell, that he may go to his own place." Acts i: 24. This settles the question, touching the ground on which he was lost; he was lost, or he fell by transgression. But now the question rises, What was he given to Christ for? Was it for his own happiness, for his eternal glory? Certainly not. What, then? For the ministry and apostleship?? "This ministry and apostleship" from "which Judas by transgression fell." Matthias was elected to take "part of this ministry and apostleship." No doubt, from other considerations, he was finally lost, but that is not what is meant here. He was given to Christ; was one of the chosen to the ministry, the apostleship, and from this ministry and apostleship he fell and was lost. Paul was also one of the elect, was under the necessity of having an eye to his conduct, lest having "preached the Gospel to others, he himself should be a castaway." 1 Cor. ix: 27. If, then, one of the elect, one of the chosen, one given to Christ, "by transgression fell and was lost" from that to which he was elected, and another one of the elect had to labor to keep his body in subjection, lest having "preached the Gospel to others, he himself should be a castaway," it would be well for others, even if they could prove that they are elected, not to rely too confidently on their election to save them. They, too, might fall by transgression and be lost.
But to return to John 17, please examine carefully and see if you can decide who were given to Christ. The Lord proceeds, verse 20: "Neither pray I for these alone, but for them also who shall believe on me through their word, that they all may be one; as thou? Father, art in me, and I in thee, that they also may be one in us; that the world may believe that thou hast sent me." This passage refers to three classes: 1. Those given to Christ, to whom he here does not confine his prayer, and through whose word others are to believe. 2. Those who should believe through their word. 3. The world, whom he desired to be convinced, by the union of the believers. The first class are the elect, the chosen, or the apostles, who were to preach the Word. The second class, the saints, or those made believers by hearing the words of the apostles. The third class, the unbelieving world, whom he desired to be influenced to believe by the union of the saints, or the believers.
The position is not here taken, and will not be anywhere in this discourse, that no elect is mentioned in Scripture but the apostles and prophets of the New Testament. The position here taken is, that the apostles and prophets of the New Testament are the elect of Eph. i: 4-12 and John xvii: 2-20. Having now determined, beyond dispute, that the apostles and prophets are the persons here spoken of as given to Christ, chosen in him before the foundation of the world--the elect; and that this choice of God, or election, is to the prophetic and apostolic office, not for their own benefit or happiness, but as the instruments through whom God would reveal his will, make known the unsearchable riches of Christ, make all men see the wisdom and goodness of God are exhibited in this election, and none of that crude theory called Calvinism, or Augustinism, is found in it, or having any footing. It was a wise and benevolent purpose of God to elect those persons, or choose them in Christ for this great and good object, and all men have reason for thankfulness and gratitude to God for this election, but not for the Calvinistic theory of election. In view of all this, the apostle exclaims: "O, the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out! For who has known the mind of the Lord? or who has been his counselor? or who has first given to him, and it shall be recompensed to him again? For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: to whom be glory forever." Romans xi:3 3-36.
But other important passages must be considered. Some man exclaims, "Does not the Scripture say, 'Jacob have I loved, and Esau have I hated?' and was not this written before these two sons were born, and consequently before they had done any good or evil?" The words "Jacob have I loved, and Esau have I hated," are Scripture, but they were not written before Jacob and Esau were born. This passage is found in Rom. ix: 13, as quoted by Paul from Mal. i: 2, 3, and was written only three hundred and ninety years before Christ. The language "Jacob have I loved, and Esau have I hated," as we have it in the old English style, does not express the meaning of the original well. The full force of the original, as may be shown by any amount of authority, is, "Jacob have I respected, and Esau have I slighted." In what, then, did the Lord respect Jacob and slight Esau? Did he elect Jacob to eternal glory and reprobate Esau to eternal damnation? Certainly not. There is not a word of this kind in the language of the prophet, nor in the comment of Paul on it. It will be seen by reference to the genealogy, as recorded by Luke, that the Lord's genealogy is traced from Joseph up, through Jacob, to Abraham, or, indeed, to Adam; and, by reference to Matt. 1, that the genealogy is traced down from Abraham, through Jacob, to Christ. Esau being the first-born, or the elder son, it was his right by birth, or he had the birthright to be enrolled in the lineage, which was the lineage of Christ. But the Lord slighted him in striking his name out of this lineage, and respected Jacob in enrolling his name in the sacred line, in which the blood of Jesus was to flow. But this was not done by an immutable and an arbitrary decree. Esau was free, and acted as freely and voluntarily as any man ever acted in bartering away and selling his birthright to Jacob. This is clear from Heb. xii: 18, where Paul says, "Lest thereby any fornicator or profane person, as Esau, who, for one morsel of meat, sold his birthright." The birthright, to be enrolled in the genealogy, was his; but he sold it, lost it, and could not get it again, not on account of any previous immutable decree, but by his own free and voluntary act. It was not eternal life he had lost, nor was the birthright lost by an unconditional, immutable, and an eternal decree, but by his own voluntary act. The very first sight of this case, as set forth in Scripture, demolishes a principal item in Calvinistic election. Their idea is, once in election, or, which is the same, in grace, always in grace. Esau was born elect, or with a birthright, and Jacob was born non-elect, or without a birthright; and Esau, born elect, lost the election, and Jacob, born non-elect, gained the election, retained it, and his name stands enrolled, and will so stand, among the elect in the genealogy of our Lord till the last trumpet shall sound.
But it was said to the mother of these children, before they were born, "the elder shall serve the younger." Rom. ix: 12, and Gen. xxv: 23. This did not mean that the elder shall be eternally lost, nor that the younger shall be eternally saved, nor did this find its fulfillment in the persons, or in the life-time of these two children, nor for hundreds of years after their day. As an evidence. of this, you will notice, that after Jacob had served his twice seven years for Rachel, and become quite wealthy, and when he was on his return to his own country, he learned that he was about to meet Esau, at which he was alarmed, and sent presents to appease Esau's wrath, for fear he might suffer from him. He feared that Esau might remember the little transaction about the birthright when they were boys. This circumstance shows that Esau was no servant of Jacob at the time they here met, but was the more powerful man, and that Jacob feared him. But, by attention to the language, it will be seen that the language does not say, nor imply, that the servitude was to be in Esau's own person. The Lord said, "Two nations are in thy womb, and two manner of people shall be separated from thee; and the elder shall be stronger than the other people; and the elder shall serve the younger." Gen. xxv: 23. This was a prediction to ancient Rebecca touching two nations and two manner of people that were to descend from her, or from her twins, not yet born--Jacob and Esau--the descendants of the latter designated "the elder," and the descendants of the younger designated "the younger," in the brief and very elliptical prediction.
These two nations were, in course of time, respectively called Jacob and Esau, or Israel and Edom; and when the Lord uttered the words, Mal. i: 2, 3, "Jacob have I loved, and Esau have I hated," he alluded to the two nations, called Jacob and Esau, or Israel and Edom, and not to the two men, Jacob and Esau, in their own persons. Israel he had respected, in making them the elect, through whom the Messiah was to come, and passing the sacred genealogy through them, and slighted Edom in not passing the sacred line through them, and they finally became servants of Israel. The transaction about selling and purchasing the birthright is not merely an amusing story, about two boys, to entertain children, but apparently an unimportant transaction between two boys that had a divine purpose in it, and turned the line of our Lord's genealogy from the course it was apparently about to take through the nation of Edom, and running down through long and eventful centuries, in the nation of Israel, from whom our Lord came. This is the election here, and there is no other in this transaction.
"But," says a man, "the Scripture says, 'Has not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel to honor and another to dishonor?' Are we not clay in the hands of the potter? Is not the Lord the potter? Are we not merely passive in his hands? Will he not make us, then, as seems good in his sight? Paul, Rom. ix: 21, alludes to this figure, as found Jer. xviii: 1-10. The Lord is the potter. The people of whom he is speaking are the clay in his hands, and he has power to make them vessels of wrath or of honor, as seems good to the potter to make them. The prophet says: 'The word which came from the Lord to Jeremiah, saying, Arise, and go down to the potter's house, and I will cause thee to hear my words. And I went down to the potter's house, and, behold, he wrought a work on the wheels. And the vessel he made of clay was marred in the hands of the potter; so he made it again another vessel, as seemed good to the potter to make it. Then the word of the Lord came to me, saying, O house of Israel, can not I do with you as this potter? saith the Lord. Behold, as the clay is in the potter's hand, so are you in my hand, O house of Israel.'" Jer. xviii: 1-4. It occurs sometimes, when the potter is turning a vessel on the wheel, that it mars or breaks in his hand. When it does this, what is the cause of it? Is it because he wills or decrees it? Is it because he desired it to break in his hand? Surely not. It is contrary to his will. Why, then, does it break in his hand? Because the clay is not good. The failure is not in the will or decree of the potter, but in the bad clay, that can not be made into a good vessel. But the potter has the power, when the clay is bad and breaks in his hand, to make it over again, as seems good to the potter to make it, into another vessel, a coarser and rougher vessel, for some less honorable purpose. With this explanation, please hear the words of the prophet, and try to learn the reason why the Lord makes some vessels to honor and others to dishonor; for he has the power and will make some vessels to honor and some to dishonor. The Lord says, "At what instant I shall speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom, to pluck up, and to pull down, and to destroy it; if that nation, against whom I have pronounced, turn from their evil, I will repent of the evil I thought to do to them." Please, notice this language carefully. If what? "If that nation, against whom I have pronounced, turn from their evil, I will repent of the evil I thought to do them." It turns on their behavior. The Lord has the power, and if they turn from their evil, he will turn away his wrath. But, now, hear the Lord state the other side: "At what instant I shall speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom, to build and to plant it; if it do evil in my sight, that obey not my voice, then will I repent of the good wherewith I said I would benefit them." What is the ground here on which he will refuse to benefit them? What is the contingency? If what? "If it do evil in my sight, that obey not my voice, then will I repent of the good wherewith I said I would benefit them." What does the whole matter turn on? On the obedience or disobedience of a nation. If it disobeys the voice of God and does evil in his sight, he will make it a vessel to dishonor, or utterly overthrow it. If it shall do good, obey his voice, he will raise it up, and make it a vessel to honor.
From all this, it is clear that it entirely depends on the clay, the house of Israel. Unless wicked nations turn from evil and obey the voice of God, they will be overthrown and made vessels to dishonor. The same is true of individuals as well as nations. This teaching is confirmed by Paul, 2 Tim. ii: 21: "If a man, therefore, shall purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel to honor, sanctified and fit for the Master's use, and prepared to every good work." This is as clear as language can be, showing that the whole matter of being a vessel to honor is conditional--that if a man shall purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel to honor. Men are not wicked because God makes them vessels to dishonor; but he makes them vessels to dishonor, because they are wicked, as a punishment. When God speaks to men, nations, and kingdoms, to pluck up and pull down, if they repent, obey his voice, turn from their evil, he will make them vessels to honor and fit for the Master's use. Let men, nations, and kingdoms, then, tremble before the majesty of heaven and earth.
But the Scripture says, "He will have mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardens." Certainly, the Scripture says so, and it is as unquestionably true as any thing ever uttered. The Lord will have mercy on some and harden others. This is divinely true. But there are several things not explained in this. 1. It is not explained whom God will have mercy on, and whom he will harden. 2. It is not explained why God will have mercy on some, nor why he will harden others. These are matters to be inquired into. On whom, then, will the Lord have mercy? Turn to Exodus xx: 5, 6: "Thou shalt not bow down thyself to them (images), nor serve them: for I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and fourth generations of them that hate me; and showing mercy to thousands of them that love me and keep my commandments." On whom will he have mercy? On them that love him and keep his commandments. Why will he have mercy on them? Because they love him and keep his commandments. On whom will he visit iniquity? On them that hate him. Why will he visit iniquity on them? Because they hate him.
Turn to Neh. i: 5, and hear the word of the Lord: "I beseech thee, O Lord God of heaven, the great and terrible God, that keepeth covenant and mercy for them that love him and observe his commandments." On whom will he have mercy? On them, that love him and keep his commandments. Why will he have mercy on them? Because they love him and keep his commandments. The whole matter turns on the character of men, and not on any immutable decree of God. Listen to the Savior, Matt. v: "Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy." They who are merciful themselves shall obtain mercy. The holy apostle says, "For he shall have judgment without mercy, who has showed no mercy." Jas. ii: 13. The man who is himself merciful, shall have mercy, and the man who has showed no mercy, or is unmerciful, shall have no mercy. The Lord will not have mercy on him. The Lord will have mercy on whom he will have mercy. This is decreed. When he tells whom he will have mercy on, it is on those that love him and keep his commandments; and when he explains whom he hardens, or makes vessels to dishonor, it is clearly seen that they are those who hate him and disobey his voice.
It should also be distinctly understood, that there are two senses in which God is said to do things: 1. When he does things directly, without any contingency. 2. Where he permits them to he done. In this latter sense he hardens men. In that sense he hardened Pharaoh. Hence you read in the Bible of Pharaoh hardening himself and of God hardening him. God only did by permitting it. Pharaoh did directly, by his own acts.
Listen to the word of the Lord once more: "The righteousness of the righteous shall he on him, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be on him. But if the wicked will turn away born all his sins that he has committed, and keep all my statutes, and do that which is lawful and right, he shall surely live; he shall not die. All his transgressions that he has committed, they shall not be mentioned to him; in his righteousness that he has done he shall live. Have I any pleasure at all that the wicked should die? saith the Lord God; and not that he should turn from his ways and live? But when the righteous turns away from his righteousness, and commits iniquity, and does according to all the abominations that the wicked man does, shall he live? All his righteousness that he has done shall not he mentioned; in his trespass that he has trespassed, and in his sins that he has sinned, in them shall he die." Ezek. xviii: 20-24. If any thing can he clearly stated, this passage states the case clearly, showing whom God will have mercy on, and who shall surely die. The man who turns from his sins shall surely live; he shall not die; but the man who turns away from his righteousness shall not live; he shall surely die. Such is the immutable decree of God touching those on whom he will have mercy, and those whom he will harden.
Does any one desire a fuller explanation touching the question whom the Lord will harden? Listen to the following: "Even him, whose coming is after the working of Satan, with all power, and signs, and lying wonders, and with all deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved. And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe the lie: that they all might be condemned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness." 2 Thess. ii: 9-12. The decree of God, then, is that he will have mercy on them who love him and keep his commandments, and harden those who hate him and receive not the love of the truth. Men are not, then, vile and sinful because God hardens them; nor do they refuse to receive the love of the truth because he hardens them, but he hardens them because they receive not the love of the truth--because they are vile and sinful. On the other hand, men are not good because God has mercy on them, but he has mercy on them because they love him, obey his voice, do those things that are pleasing in his sight.
"But I do not believe that men can fall from grace," says one. That may be. Men do not believe things that are true, in some instances. What say the Scriptures? "For it is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Spirit, and have tasted of the good word of God, and the powers of the world to come, if they shall fall away, to renew them again to repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put him to open shame." Heb. vi: 4-6. Certainly none but Christians, saints, those in Christ, in grace, have tasted the heavenly gift, partaken of the Holy Spirit, tasted the good word of God or the powers of the world to come. Yet Paul speaks of such, and of their falling away, as well as the impossibility of renewing them again to repentance.
Hear the apostle again: "For if we sin willfully after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remains no more sacrifice for sin." Heb. x: 26. Surely none but saints ever received the knowledge of the truth, and if such sin willfully, there remains no more sacrifice for sin. This shows that saints may sin, and that, too, so greatly as to lose their interest in the only sin-offering--the Lord from heaven.
The theory that men can not fall from grace is clearly contradicted and refuted by the closing words of the Book of God: "If any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things that are written in this book." Rev. xxii: 19. Certainly none but saints ever had a part in the book of life, and in the holy city, and most indisputably, if a man has his part taken out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, he is fallen and undone forever. But hear the apostle once more: "For I testify again to every man that is circumcised, that he is a debtor to do the whole law. Christ is become of none effect to you, whoever of you are justified by the law; YOU ARE FALLEN FROM GRACE." Gal. v: 3, 4. Here is an end to the controversy--a final settlement of the question.
Do you desire, then, the Lord to have mercy on you; that he may not harden you; send you strong delusions, and make you vessels of dishonor? Then remember his word, that he will have mercy on them that love him and keep his commandments; on them that are merciful, and that he will send strong delusion on those who receive not the love of the truth, but have pleasure in unrighteousness. As you desire that he may not make an example of you, as he did of Pharaoh of old, harden not your hearts against him, but receive the love of the truth, obey his voice, and he will have mercy on you. You may run and will, as Esau did, after he sold his birthright; but you must remember that it is God who shows mercy, and he has clearly defined that he will have mercy on the merciful--on them who love him and keep his commandments, and not on them who hate him and obey not his voice. You may will and run, argue and contend that God will save you; nay, more, that he will save all; but if you do not love God, and keep his commandments, he will not have mercy on you.
God has made you free, and says: "To whom you yield yourselves servants to obey, his servants you are to whom you obey; whether of sin to death, or of obedience to righteousness." Rom. vi: 16. "If I had not come and spoken to them, they had not had sin; but now they have no cloak for their sin." Again says the Lord: "If I had not done among them the works which none other man did, they had not had sin; but now have they both seen and hated me and my father." John xv: 22-24. The Lord does not say, "You could not come to me," but "you would not come to me that you might have life." The light has come into the world, and men choose darkness rather than light, because their deeds are evil.
"But," says a man, "does not Jesus say, 'No man can come to me, except the father who has sent me draw him?'" Yes, sir, he so says, and proceeds at once to tell how the father draws them. The next verse says: "It is written in the prophets, they shall be all taught of God. Every man, therefore, that has heard, and learned of the father, comes to me." John iv: 44, 45. The father taught them by the prophets; they heard and learned this teaching of the father by the prophets, and were thus drawn to the Savior.
"But, I do not believe any man can come till the Lord gives him power," says a man. To whom does the Lord give power? "As many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name." John i: 12. To whom gave he power? "To as many as received him"--"to them that believe on his name." He did not give to them the power to enable them to believe, or to receive him, but he gave those who received him and believed on his name power to become the sons of God.
The Lord cried over the devoted city: "O Jerusalem! Jerusalem! thou that killest the prophets and stonest those who have been sent to thee; how often would I have gathered thy children as a hen gathers her brood, but you would not." Here is the true reason why men are not gathered to the Lord: they will not be gathered.