By John Kershaw
It will be seen from the following narration that when I first heard of "election" I was upon "Old Covenant" ground. One Sunday evening I went with my father and my mother's brother to the Independent meeting place in Rochdale to hear Mr. Roby of Manchester [the minister under whose preaching John Warburton was blessed]. As we returned home, these two old pilgrims were wonderfully pleased with the sermon, saying that he had preached the doctrine of election very clearly and strongly. Election was evidently the joy and rejoicing of their souls, sweeter to their taste than honey or the honeycomb.
I wondered what this "election" could be that they were so delighted with. I could not at that time make free to ask what it meant, the next day I went to the house of a cousin, who had formerly lived with my father, and was a member of the Baptist church at Rochdale under the pastoral care of Mr. Littlewood, for the purpose of inquiring as to this important subject. When I got to his house, he was just taking down his basket to go to the market, and I went with him. As we were walking towards the town, I said, "Last night you heard Mr. Roby." "Yes," he replied, "and a very good sermon he preached." As we were going home, I then said, "Your father and mine were well pleased that he had been, as they termed it, exceedingly strong and firm upon the doctrine of election, and I am come on purpose to ask you what this 'election' means."
He said, "Do you not recollect that in the New Testament you read of the elect, and, 'that no flesh shall be saved, but for the elect's sake' (Matthew 24:22); 'And if it were possible, the false Christs and prophets would deceive the very elect'? (Matthew 24:24; Mark 13:22); 'And shall not God avenge His own elect, which cry day and night unto Him, though He bear long with them?' (Luke 18:7;): 'Who shall lay anything to the charge of God's elect?' (Romans 8:33); 'Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father' (1 Peter 1:2); 'That the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of Him that calleth' (Romans 9:11); 'Even so then at this present time also there is a remnant according to the election of grace' (Romans 11:5); 'But the election hath obtained it, and the rest were blinded' (Romans 11:7); 'Knowing, brethren beloved, your election of God' (1 Thessalonians 1:4); 'And God will send His angels, with a great sound of a trumpet, and they shall gather together His elect from the four winds, from the one end of heaven to the other' (Mark 13:27)."
"Yes," I said, "I have read all these texts many times but I did not know what they meant, and I wish you would explain them." He answered, "The elect are God's people that He hath loved and chosen in Christ from before the foundation of the world, and ordained them unto eternal life and salvation through Christ. He hath done this according to His good will and sovereign pleasure, as He saith to Moses, 'I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and compassion on whom I will have compassion.' "So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy' (Romans 9:15-16). Thus, you see, it is those whom He has loved and chosen and ordained to eternal life that will be saved, and none else; as Paul says in Romans 11:7: 'But the election hath obtained it, and the rest were blinded.'"
As I looked at the doctrine as thus laid down, I shall never forget the hatred and indignation that rose up in my carnal heart against it. I said within myself, "It is the most unjust, unreasonable doctrine that ever could be broached. I may read and pray, and go to the chapel, and do all the good I can, and if I am not elected, be lost after all. It does not even give a man a chance to be saved. I neither can nor will believe this election."
Just as I was about to open my mouth against it and utter with my lips the horrid feelings of my heart, this thought came into my mind: "There must be something in this election that I do not yet understand, for if there be two good men in this country, living to God and for another world, it is my father and my uncle, and they glory in it. Mr. Roby is a good minister of Jesus Christ, and highly esteemed, and he believes it and preaches it too. I will say nothing against it till I know more about the matter," Thus I was mercifully prevented from lifting up my voice against the God glorifying, soul-humbling and heart-enlarging doctrine of election.
There is no branch of divine truth left upon record that has been so bitter and galling to my mind as God's election; yet I can truly say that there is no doctrine recorded in all the Bible that has been so sweet and blest to my soul. But more of this anon.
My cousin saw that I was much confounded and perplexed in my mind about it, and spoke very kindly to me, saying he was sorry I did not hear Mr. Gadsby the other day at Manchester, as he opened it up so clearly and proved it from the Word of God that there were thousands of God's elect unborn, that lay in the loins of their ancestors, that must be brought into existence, called by grace and landed safe in glory, and that when the Lord had gathered in the number of His elect, the world would be at an end.
There appeared something so solemn in this statement that it rather tended to fill my mind with awe. He told me if I would go again to his house he would lend me a book which would fully and clearly explain these things, and he wished me to read it carefully over and make it a matter of prayer to the Lord to guide and direct me into the truth. He, moreover, exhorted me, in reading, to have my Bible by me and examine by it the proofs that the author brought forward.
I had no rest in my spirit until the book was in my possession. It was Elisha Coles on God's Sovereignty. I began to read, and prayed to be guided right, referring to the proofs in the Word of God, and such light shone into my mind that I was astonished. I saw that election shone like a sunbeam from Genesis to Revelation, and many were the hours that I spent in this manner. Like the noble Bereans, I searched the Scriptures daily, and found that election was the solemn truth of God and can never be overthrown either by men or devils. And one strong proof of its divine authenticity is that the carnal proud heart of fallen, sinful man hates it and fights against it, as mine did.
Finding that election was the truth of God, the question then with me was: "Am I one of them that the Lord hath loved with an everlasting and electing love, one that Christ has redeemed from amongst men by His blood?" I could not, however, find that evidence within me, that I was one of God's chosen people, which my soul longed for.
One night I went into the wood to pray that I might know my election of God. My mind was dark, hard, miserable and wretched. I feared lest I should be a reprobate. My carnal, wicked heart boiled with enmity and rebellion against God that ever He gave me a being; blasphemous thoughts against Him were working in my mind as I was kneeling before Him. I shuddered at what I felt, and as I went home that night the enmity of my carnal heart was so stirred up that I had even to lay my hand over my lips to keep these vile thoughts from breaking out in words. O, how my spirit sank!
I was ready to call myself a thousand bad names that ever I should have such feelings against God in whose hand my breath is, and against whom I have sinned and done evil in His sight, even as I could. Strange as this may appear, it was to teach me that God had neither loved nor chosen me because of my goodness, but for His great love wherewith He loved me, even when dead in trespasses and sin (Ephesians 2:4-5).
The Apostle Peter says, "Wherefore the rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure" (2 Peter 1:10). I was, however, led to see that if I could prove my effectual calling by grace, it was a true evidence of my election. I was, therefore, led to look "unto the rock from whence I was hewn, and to the hole of the pit from whence I was digged." I knew that it was not my own will nor power that had brought me out of the world of the ungodly for, instead of putting a helping hand to the work, I had long fought against Him.
Another question arose in my mind: "Why was it that the Lord singled me out from the rest of my father's house and from amongst my sinful companions?" It could not be because I was either better or more deserving than they, for I was one of the worst, but it was "the goodwill of Him that dwelt in the bush" that I should be effectually called and formed for Himself, to show forth His praise. I was led to ask myself what obligation had I laid the Lord under to save me - what demand had I upon Him for His mercy and favour. I felt in my inmost soul that I had no demand upon the Lord, that should the Lord mark my iniquities I could not stand before Him. I knew that He had not dealt with me after my sins, nor rewarded me according to my iniquities, and that it was of His mercies that I was not consumed and because His compassions fail not. Thus I found that He would be just and righteous in my condemnation. My mouth was stopped and I could say:
"Should sudden vengeance seize my breath
I must pronounce Thee just in death;
And if my soul were sent to hell,
Thy righteous law approves it well."
I felt that if I was saved, it must be "by grace are ye saved, through faith, and not that of yourselves; it is the gift of God; not of works, lest any man should boast" (Ephesians 2:8-9). Since this period the Lord has been graciously pleased at sundry times to shed His electing love abroad in my soul, and it has filled me with holy wonder that ever He should have thoughts of love and mercy towards such a vile wretch as myself. Many times, with sweet and solemn pleasure and tears of joy, have I united with the dear people of God at the Lord's Supper in singing the following lines:
"While all our hearts and all our songs
Join to admire the feast,
Each of us cry, with thankful tongues,
Lord why was I a guest?
"Why was I made to hear Thy voice,
And enter while there's room,
While thousands make a wretched choice,
And rather starve than come?
"'Twas the same love that spread the feast,
That sweetly forced us in,
Else we had still refused to taste,
And perished in our sin."
For many years past, when we have had an addition to our number, I have given out the hymn that contains the above verses.
When the Lord, by His Holy Spirit, says to the poor sinner, "I have loved thee with an everlasting love: therefore with loving kindness have I drawn thee," it draws him from sin to holiness, it enlarges his heart and his feet run with a sweet and solemn pleasure in the way of His commandments.
I am a witness for God that election, made known to a poor sinner, will never lead him to sin, but to love, honour and obey the Lord in the precepts and exhortations of His Word.
As it respects election not giving a man a chance to be saved, I have proved that had it been left to chance, as they call it, upon the ground of my own "free will," I should have been lost forever. My free will as a depraved sinner would have led me on in the broad and downward road that leads to destruction, and so would it have been with all Adam's fallen race. Not one soul would ever have been saved. It is the eternal purpose of God in our election, which He purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord, that inevitably secures the salvation of countless millions of Adam's fallen race: For whom He did foreknow, He also did predestinate to be conformed to image of His Son, that He might be the first-born among many brethren. Moreover whom He did predestinate, them He also called; and whom He called, them He also justified; and whom He justified, them He also glorified" (Romans 8:29-30).
This Scripture has, with great propriety, been called "The Golden Chain of Salvation," and is so firmly put together by our Triune Jehovah that one link of it can never be broken, either by men or devils, the world or sin, death or hell. Paul exults in this, saying, "Nay, in all these things we are more than conquerors, through Him that loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord" (Romans 8:37-39).