"If Christ did not die for the sins of all men, how am I to know He died for me — that He was my Substitute? And how am I to know that my very sins are forgiven, to be remembered no more?"
"Is there unrighteousness with God? God forbid. For he saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion." Rom. 9:15.
It is not, for the sake of controversy, or to examine or defend human opinions on this deeply interesting subject, that we take it up; but with a sincere desire to help perplexed souls. A few days ago we received a letter from such an one, and as it is a fair sample of the effect of mere doctrinal teaching, we will give extracts. The writer says, "I have been greatly distressed about 'election.' I know I am a sinner, and as such quite undone and lost, and that there is nothing in me to recommend me to God I want to be saved. I am often in great fear lest the Lord should come for His people, and leave me behind. I know that the Bible says, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ to be saved, but I have heard it said, that it is not scriptural to say that Christ died for the sins of all men; and if He did not die for all, how can I believe He died for me? Because it is no use to believe — I could not believe without a firm foundation for faith to rest upon; I mean, if He did not die for me, how could I believe it? If you knew how very anxious I am, I think you would feel for me, and try to answer me What I want to know is this — how can persons know that the Lord Jesus Christ died for them personally, when there is nothing in them to make it likely? As I write, I feel how hopeless it is to try any more. I cannot help feeling in despair about it, because I have gone on so long, and have years ago professed to be a Christian I fear I am like the ground spoken of in Hebrews 6, that only bears 'thorns and briars.' If you think there is, any hope for me, do try and help me."
Is it not most sad for a person to go on in this, state of perplexity year after year? It is not often we meet with the same depth of anxiety, but this letter truly expresses the perplexity of great numbers. We are convinced that the root of all this, confusion of mind and distress of soul, is occupancy with self. Here is evidently a quickened soul, finding nothing but thorns and briars in the flesh, or old self. Not one bit of good in self that could have been a motive for Christ to die for. However painful it may be, this lesson must be learnt; sooner or later the quickened soul must be brought to say, "I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) dwelleth no good thing; for to will is present with me, but how to perform that which is good I find not." And there is no help found for the flesh in scripture; so we cannot help the writer of the letter; it is not, Who shall help me? but, "O wretched man that I am! who shall deliver me from the body of this death?" The Lord Jesus is not revealed as the helper of the flesh, but as the complete Deliverer, bringing us into a new creation, giving us eternal life, a new nature, and the Holy Ghost. (Compare Rom. 7:18-24 with chapter 8:1-4.)
Before we look at the important subject of "Election," we feel it would be well to examine the difficulties of the writer. We believe it is a sure mark of the work of the Holy Spirit to be able truly to say, "I am a sinner, undone and lost." Can the reader say this, whether of sinful self or religious self? Have you tried, until you are undone, lost? This is a fearful word, yet it was for such alone that Jesus died. He "came to seek and to save that which was lost." "For when we were yet without strength, in due time Christ died for the ungodly." The joy of Jesus is this, "I have found my sheep which was lost." If, then, the writer of the letter, or the reader of this paper, has discovered that he is lost, ungodly, without strength, then it is clear from scripture that Jesus died for you; He came to seek and to save you.
We will pass over for the moment "other things, such as strong Calvinists hold," which had always been such a hindrance. More of this by-and-by. Most assuredly the Lord Jesus is coming to take His people, and no pen can describe how terrible it will be to be left behind. With such a certainty, believing the scriptures which announce the coming of the Lord, we do not wonder at those words, "I want to be saved." These are not the words of the self-righteous, or of the careless professor, or the language of the infidel; clearly not. But, reader, can you say they are your words? The Lord is certainly coming quickly to take His people — He says so. Can you say, with the writer of the letter, "I want to be saved. I am often in great fear lest the Lord should come for His people, and leave me behind"? If you know you are saved, you cannot say so: your privilege is to wait for Him from heaven. Do you say, I do not know I am saved, and I do not want to be, and I am not afraid to be left behind? Then really you are self-righteous, careless, or an infidel. But to return to the letter.
The writer says, "I know that the Bible says, Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ to be saved." The scripture says this, "Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved." (Acts 16:37.) It is not enough to know that the Bible says so; the devils know that well enough, and the infidel knows that. But does the writer know that God says so — that it is God speaking to us in the Bible? Now, if God says so, is it not true? Then if you believe on the Lord Jesus Christ as a lost sinner, God speaks to you; He says you shall be saved. Do you doubt Him? The jailor understood it to mean just what God said, and he was baptized at once. He raised no questions; "he rejoiced, believing in God with all his house." If he believed and rejoiced, why should you doubt?
"But," says the writer, "I have heard it said that it is not scriptural to say that Christ died for the sins of all men, and if He did not die for all, how can I believe He died for me?" &c. It is perfectly true the scriptures never speak of the death of Christ as the substitute, or for the sins of all men. Yet this was no hindrance to the apostles proclaiming the gospel of forgiveness of sins unto all, with the assurance of God that all who believe are justified from all things. There can be no question that this was the character of the gospel Paul preached. He so preached to the multitude at Antioch. "Be it known unto you therefore, men and brethren, that through this man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins: and by him all that believe are justified from all things." (Acts 13:38.) Here, then, is a distinct message, direct from God, of forgiveness of sins to all men, through the death and resurrection of Jesus. And the question is simply this — Do you believe God? If so, it is most certain that you are justified from all things — you are accounted righteous before God. And you know it is so, for God says it.
But you say, "How am I to know personally that Christ was the Substitute for my sins? If He were not the Substitute of all men, how am I to know that He was so for my sins?" We will tell you shortly; only mark first, if the scriptures did teach that He was the Substitute of all men, you would be far more uncertain; for it is evident many are not saved, and therefore, if He had been the Substitute of all, and yet many of these were for ever lost, then His dying for your sins would have been no security of your salvation, for after all you might be lost. Surely the scripture truth is better, that "Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many" — "having obtained eternal redemption for us." And that "by one offering he hath perfected for ever them that are sanctified." God says, "And their sins and iniquities will I remember no more." (Heb. 9, 10.) Thus the scripture doctrine of the one sacrifice of Christ for the sins of many has secured for them eternal redemption, whilst the human doctrine that Christ was the substitute (or sacrifice) for the sins of all, secures nothing! And hence all the make-weights of sacramental and ritualistic religion of men.
Much of this doctrinal confusion arises from not seeing the order and distinction of propitiation and substitution. On the day of atonement the order was this: first, the blood sprinkled on the golden mercy-seat; then, afterwards, the sins of the people put upon the substitute. Propitiation first, then substitution; both, doubtless, pointing to the one sacrifice of Christ. But the first thing to be secured was the righteousness of God in shewing mercy. How could He be a just God and a Saviour? Now, as the victim must be killed, and its blood brought into the most holy, and sprinkled on the mercy-seat before God, so Jesus glorified God by His death. His blood was thus brought before God — sprinkled before Him. "Whom God hath set forth to be a propitiation [or mercy-seat], through faith in his blood, to declare his righteousness for the remission of sins that are past, through the forbearance of God: to declare, I say, at this time his righteousness: that he might be just, and the justifier of him which believeth in Jesus." (Rom. 3:25, 26.) Now in this aspect Christ died for all; so that mercy and forgiveness is proclaimed to all. It is of immense importance to see this, "even the righteousness of God, which is by faith of Jesus Christ, unto all, and upon all, them that believe, for there is no difference." (Rom. 3:22.) This is important foundation truth. Such is the value of the atoning death of the Lord Jesus, that the mercy-seat is open to all, without any difference; and God is just, and the Justifier of all that believe. The efficacy of that atonement, even the righteousness of God, is upon all who believe. God is righteous, is just, is glorified in meeting all, for there is no difference, at that propitiatory mercy-seat. There is no uncertainty about this as to the propitiation. "He is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for the whole world." (1 John 2:2.)
Before, then, we go on to the death of the Lord Jesus as our Substitute, do we own the deep need of that atoning death, to maintain the glory and righteousness of God, in proclaiming mercy to all? And, further, this mercy-seat is open to all, without any difference — the propitiation for the whole world. These are the very words of Jesus: "Thus it is written, and thus it behoved Christ to suffer, and to rise from the dead the third day; and that repentance and remission of sins should be preached in his name among all nations, beginning at Jerusalem." So far, then, all is clear: the righteousness of God is revealed in the glad tidings of God to every sinner on earth, for also as to them there is no difference, for all have sinned, and come short of the glory of God. Is the writer of the letter a sinner? Then clearly the righteousness of God proclaims forgiveness of sins to you. Do you believe God? Has this amazing love of God in the gift of His Son, that death on the cross as the propitiation for the whole world, and pardon through that precious blood — oh, has this goodness of God led you to repentance? Have you come, as a lost, undone sinner, to that mercy-seat open to all? Do you believe God? Then God says you are "justified from all things." How simple! Are you a sinner? Then forgiveness is proclaimed to you. Do you believe it? If you believe God, you may now go on to the second aspect of the death of Christ, and there see Him, the Substitute of His people, bearing their sins in His body on the cross.
This was typified by the people's goat, the people's substitute. Read Leviticus 16:20-22. The sins of the people are transferred to the goat — all the iniquities of the children of Israel are laid on him — and the goat bears them away, to be remembered no more. Now it is clear that if the, Lord Jesus thus bore the sins of all men; or, if all the sins of all men were laid upon Him, and borne away, to be remembered no more, then all men would be saved. But the scripture never says so. As in the type the substitute bearing away sins was limited to the children of Israel, so the true substitution of Jesus is limited to those who believe and are saved. "He was wounded for ourtransgressions, he was bruised for ouriniquities." His "blood was shed for many." "So Christ was once offered to bear the sins of many." Thus, whilst the death of Christ, as the propitiation, is for the whole world, and God is infinitely glorified in proclaiming mercy to all, and there are no bounds to His love in the gift of His Son, that whosoever believeth should be saved; yet, as Substitute, the sins of all men were not laid on Him and therefore it does not follow that all will be saved.
We now take up the writer's inquiry, "If Christ did not die for the sins of all men, how am I to know He died for me — that He was my Substitute? And how am I to know that my very sins are forgiven, to be remembered no more?" This being settled, the way will be clear for the full consideration of the important subject of Election.
We have seen that on the day of atonement one goat typified the death of Christ, meeting the righteousness of God, and glorifying Him in shewing mercy to the whole world; and the other goat, Jesus, the Substitute of His people's sins. The glory of God has surely the first place, and then the sinner's need is fully and for ever met. The scriptures speak of Jesus as the propitiation for the whole world, and also the bearer of the sins of many; the righteousness of God set forth in that propitiation in Romans 3:21-26; the substitution of Jesus for His people's sins in Romans 4:24, 25; and the effect of knowing and believing this in Romans 5:1-3. We have also seen that the mere human tradition that Jesus died for the sins of all men gives no comfort, for all men are not saved. Then the solemn inquiry is this — How am I to know that Jesus died for my sins?
The answer is in these words, "But for us also, to whom it (righteousness) shall be imputed, if we believe on him that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead; who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification." (Rom. 4:24-25.)
Righteousness is declared to be imputed unto us, if we believe God, or, believing God, who raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead. We observe, even here, it is God revealed to our souls to faith, God who raised up Jesus. We can never know that our sins are forgiven by looking at Jesus on the cross now: He is not now on the cross. If He be on the cross now, there is no forgiveness. Satan knows this, and therefore multiplies pictures and images of Jesus on the cross. He has died once on the cross, or there could be no salvation. But if He is not risen from the dead, your faith is vain, and ye are yet in your sins. With a Christ on the cross there could be no salvation. Now, who gave His Son? God. Who provided the Lamb, the atoning propitiation? God. Who so loved the world? God. Who has accepted the one sacrifice? God. Who raised the Holy, Righteous One from the dead? God. Who proclaims forgiveness of sins through that glorified Christ? God. Who declares all that believe are justified? God. Who is the Justifier, that raised up Jesus our Lord from the dead? God. If you believe God, then it is most certain that you are one whose sins Jesus bore on the cross once, but who can die and suffer for them no more. God has declared them put away as to any charge on you again, or on Him who bore them in His own body on the tree. If you believe God, then, you say, looking up at that Man in the glory, "Who was delivered for our offences, and was raised again for our justification." Jesus, the Substitute; Jesus risen, the Representative. As a believer you can now see your sins were transferred to Jesus when He was delivered for our offences, and as the goat bare them away no more to be brought back, so Jesus was raised from the dead, and our sins can no more be laid to our charge; thus, accounted righteous on the principle of faith, we have peace with God. The believer knows this is true of him individually, because it is true of all who believe God, and therefore must be true of him.
Some of our readers may say, This is hardly what we expected, it seems to us like setting aside Election. Indeed it is not. If, instead of reasoning, we simply bow to scripture, we shall find these two things run on together — man's responsibility and God's sovereignty.
On God's part infinite wrath against sin, and infinite love to the sinner, have been revealed in the death of Jesus. "In this was manifested the love of God toward us, because that God sent his only-begotten Son into the world, that we might live through him The Father sent the Son to be the Saviour of the world." (1 John 4:9-14. Read also John 3:14-16.) Is not God's love toward the world fully declared by the Lord Jesus? He must be lifted up, as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, "that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life." These are the words of Him who cannot lie — who is the truth. This, then, was God's distinct purpose in the propitiation of the Lord Jesus. The bitten Israelite had not to inquire, How am I to know that Moses lifted up the serpent personally for me? No; for it came to pass that whosoever looked, lived. Is it not even so of Jesus, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have eternal life?
Now, would it not be most monstrous to say that man is not responsible to believe God? What, not to believe such revealed love, and forgiveness of sins preached through Jesus?
But can the grace of God toward all men, and Election, both be true? Certainly, and equally true, because both are revealed in the word of God. The supper was a great supper, and many were bidden; all refused, and made their excuse — not one accepted; but all were not compelled to come in. Here is the whole question in this well-known parable. (Luke 14:16.)
The fact is, man is so desperately wicked, that left to his own free choice, he will not believe God; he will not come to the great supper of God's salvation; he will not receive Christ as his Saviour. God did not make him so. Man's condition is the result of his own sin. He believed Satan, and disbelieved God. However light man may make of sin, his own condition of hatred to God is the proof of the terribleness of sin. It would enlarge our subject beyond our limits, or we might see how, when the world had become utterly corrupt before God, when left to itself, that but one family was saved in the ark. We might then see how man's free choice built its tower of Babel, and, though they were dispersed, they soon sank into idolatry and wickedness. Then, how God took out one man, and said, I will bless this man Abram. Neither would it be possible to deny that God made him the father of the elect nation of Israel. Strange to say, no one seems to deny this, or that there are elect angels. What men do so hate is the election of the predestined children of God.
We will come, then, to the teaching of the New Testament on this subject. As we said, man left to his own free, natural choice, will not have Christ. He must be born again. This was found to be so, even of Israel, in the most favourable circumstances. God sent His Son to His own elect nation, to those whose prophets had foretold Him; and what do we read? "He came unto his own, and his own received him not; but as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name. Which were born, not of blood, nor of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God." (John 1:11-13.) Man has thus been tested. God was in Christ, inviting man reconciling, not imputing trespasses unto them, but they received him not. Nay, from the manger to the cross, man's hatred and rejection grew worse and worse. And the new birth by the Spirit explains how any believed on Him, and were saved. By man's free, natural choice, not one received Him, though, on God's part, all was infinite love and grace.
Jesus, in the midst of rejection, had perfect rest of heart in the Father's will. What words are these? — "All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in nowise cast out." (John 6:3.7) Again, "No man can come to me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him; and I will raise him up at the last day Every man, therefore, that hath heard, and hath learned of the Father, cometh unto me.?" "My Father, which gave them me, is greater than all; and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father's hand." "As thou hast given him power over all flesh, that he should give eternal life to as many as thou hast given him." "I pray not for the world, but for them which thou hast given me, for they are thine." What calm repose in the midst of such billows of human hatred and rejection! He knew the righteous Father, and He knew that not one of those the Father had given Him would be lost.
Are not both things, then, equally true — that all that the Father gives to Him shall come to Him, and also, he that cometh to Jesus shall in nowise be cast out? The gospel is thus freely preached to all — "That through this man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins; and by him all that believe are justified from all things," &c.; then we read, "and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed." (Acts 13:38, 39, 48.) Why should we take one of these truths, and not the other? or, why should we seek to alter either? Some would say, Do not preach the gospel to all, only to the elect. Paul preached it to all alike, and declared that all who believe are justified. Others would alter the latter, and say, As many as believe are then ordained to eternal life. But it is not so; "As many as were ordained to eternal life believed." Surely we have no right to alter God's word to suit human opinions. And yet there is nothing to hinder a truly anxious soul, for forgiveness is preached to all, and all who believe are justified; and further, they have clearly been ordained to eternal life, for none else will believe — none else will come to Him that they might have life.
God now commands all men everywhere to repent. (Acts 17:30.) Men will not either believe what God says, or repent. If God had therefore left the matter in uncertainty, so to speak, to man's free choice only, and man so desperately wicked that he will not have the salvation of God, then evidently none would have been saved. If we turn, however, to some verses expressly concerning God's elect, we shall find that this is not, and cannot be, the case.
Let us carefully note that it is not a question of persons merely, but that God had a most wonderful purpose. "For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the first-born among many brethren." Is not this wondrous, that out of a world which has killed the Holy One, and rejected the very mercy of God, and when He might justly have left all to perish everlastingly, that God has taken out of them those whom He foreknew, and predestinated them to such glory as to be conformed to the image of His Son? Surely this must astonish angels. Thus, after man's rejection, we have salvation absolutely of God. The source entirely of God. "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." (Rom. 8:29, 30.) To accomplish this purpose of infinite grace He spared not His own Son. "Who shall lay anything to the charge of God's elect? It is God that justifieth." This amazing truth bows the heart in profound worship. What a golden chain — predestinated, called, justified, glorified! All of God — accomplished by the death and resurrection of His own Son. "Who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died, yea, rather that is risen again," &c. What a joy to know that God is thus for us, and that He cannot change!
Nothing can separate us from His eternal love in Christ Jesus. But does not this imply that God has predestinated some to be lost? Certainly not. There is no such thought in scripture. The reason why some perish is their own deliberate rejection of the truth. Scripture is quite plain and clear on both these points.
First, as to them that perish, it is, "because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved." (2 Thess. 2:10, and read carefully the context.) Could words be plainer than these? If the reader shall perish everlastingly, then remember, it is because you received not the love of the truth. Yes, God is love, and you would not believe Him. You may ask, But if I am saved, is the reason as distinctly stated? Indeed it is; these are the words, "Because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth." (2 Thess. 2:13.) Thus all supposed merit is taken from man. If left to his own free choice, he deliberately rejects and despises the gospel of God; and the reason why any are saved, is the sovereign choice of God. Such is the distinct teaching of the word of God, whether we believe it or not.
We are very sorry that such dreadful things have been said as those the writer of the letter refers to. There is no such thought in scripture as that God had created some that He might be glorified in their destruction. As to such cases as, "Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated," and the hardening of Pharaoh's heart we will look at these presently, if the Lord will. No doubt very erroneous things are said about such scriptures. In the meantime we fail to see how the truth of God's abounding, sovereign, electing grace can, for a moment, discourage an anxious thirsty soul, for to such the gospel of God's free, present, and eternal forgiveness is preached. And God declares all that believe are justified from all things. The whole world still rejects Jesus, as they did at the Jews' feast in John 7; but did He not, on the last day, that great day of the feast, stand up in the midst of the rejecters, and cry? Yes, Jesus "cried, saying, If any man thirst, let him come unto me and drink." Yes, in the midst of the rejection of this day also, if there he only one man that thirsteth, there is the evidence; yes, if this is the reader's case, there is the evidence of the Spirit's work in your soul. It is the work of the Holy Ghost to create this thirst for Jesus. Come, then, to His bosom; oh, yes, Come to me, He says, and drink. And this is not all: "He that believeth on me, as the scripture hath said, out of his belly shall flow rivers of living water." (John 7:3, 8.)
We will now examine some scriptures concerning which strange mistakes have been made. (Rom. 9-11.) These chapters are given to explain what appears like a contradiction. The present dispensation of the grace of God, which makes no difference between Jews and Gentiles, would seem to those ignorant of dispensational truth as a contradiction to the abounding national promises to Israel, in the books of Moses, the Psalms, and the prophets. All are now found guilty, both Jews and Gentiles; and the righteousness of God is revealed to all alike in the gospel. These chapters explain that this is only for a time. And more, that God is now acting in sovereign, electing grace; and not only so, but that He has done so from the beginning.
No one can deny that it was an act of sovereign choice when God called Abram, and said unto Him, I will bless thee. So again, "In Isaac shall thy seed be called." God did choose Isaac; He did not choose Ishmael. These are undeniable facts. This is still more distinctly stated as to Jacob and Esau. Let us read the verse carefully. It is sometimes said that it was written before they were born, that God hated Esau, and loved Jacob; but this is not so. "But when Rebekah also had conceived by one, even by our father Isaac (for the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God, according to election, might stand, not of works, but of him that calleth); it was said unto her, The elder shall serve the younger; as it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated." It was said unto her — unto Rebekah — The elder shall serve the younger. (See Gen. 25:23.) But it was more than thirteen hundred years after this that it was written, even in the very last prophet, Malachi, "as it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated." Surely God's love to Jacob did not lessen the wickedness of Esau in despising his birthright. Now what is there for man to carp at here, except his own ignorance? How often has this scripture ignorantly (it may be) been misquoted as though it was written before Esau was born, that God hated him, but, when examined, it is found to be altogether different. This does not deny, or alter the fact, that all the natural seed of Abraham were not called to inherit the blessing. Ishmael was not chosen, Isaac was: "In Isaac shall thy seed be called." So Jacob, being unborn, was elected to the blessing. These are simple facts, and to deny the sovereign right of choice to God, would be to set aside God altogether. Equally true is it that the Spirit of God, writing about these two men as men, and their posterity, hundreds of years after, one of whom greatly valued the blessing, and the other most shamefully despised it, says distinctly that God did not approve of or love these two men both alike.
"Is there unrighteousness with God? God forbid. For he saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion." Can anything be more blessed than this? Man will have no mercy on himself. Man goes marching to everlasting woe. Thousands around us may be seen doing this — old and young. It is a dreadful fact. What, that tottering old man, just about to pass for ever from this scene, with eternity before him, has he no compassion on himself? No, none. He spurns and rejects the love of God. He will have the world; he will have sin. His whole will is against God. "So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy." This is grace, the free favour of God. He sheweth mercy to the man that has no mercy for himself. It is not man, the sinner, that chooses God, but God that chooses the sinner. There can be no question as to this, even as Jesus said to His disciples, "Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen you." (John 15:16.) What a spring of everlasting joy to our souls then! It is God that showeth mercy. Dear christian reader, ponder this well. Thus in every way it is not what we are to God; neither is it our willing, or running, for our running is only to do evil. (Rom. 3:10-19.) It is God that sheweth mercy to whom He will shew mercy, or all must perish. No man is found that has mercy on his own soul. God hath chosen those who never would have chosen Him. Oh, the riches of His grace! He hath chosen us when obstinate, ignorant, hell-deserving sinners; and as objects of His mercy, has brought us into His everlasting favour.
Yes, the objector may say, but this scripture not only says, "Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy," but it also says, "and whom he will he hardeneth." What about Pharaoh? As this is a butt against which the infidel knocks his poor head, let us carefully examine what is written concerning Pharaoh. "For the scripture saith unto Pharaoh, Even for this same purpose have I raised thee up, that I might shew my power in thee, and that my name might be declared throughout all the earth." Who was this Pharaoh that was raised up to such world — wide notoriety, and on whom fell so heavily the judgment of God? For it is indeed written of him that God hardened his heart; and whom He will He hardeneth. One verse of scripture will bring this man in his true character before us. "And Pharaoh said, Who is the Lord, that I should obey his voice to let Israel go? I know not the Lord, neither will I let Israel go." (Ex. 5:2.) Here, then, we have a bold infidel king who defies the living God, who lifts up his voice and puny arm to resist God in the deliverance of His chosen people. Was God unrighteous in punishing this daring rebel against His government and authority? Would it even be consistent for any earthly government to tolerate such a daring rebel? Now, what, sheer ignorance it is, to make a difficulty about the punishment of this blasphemer against God! And mark, the Pharaohs were the most cruel despot, the world ever saw. One was the wholesale murderer of babes. Oh, those cruel words of his! "If it be a son, then ye shall kill him." (Ex. 1:16.) Was it not in righteousness that God destroyed such human monsters? "God heard their groaning." "And the Lord said, I have surely seen the affliction of my people which are in Egypt, and have heard their cry by reason of their taskmasters; for I know their sorrows, and I am come down to deliver them," &c. (Chap. 3:7.) What a record of the kindness of God in delivering from the cruel oppressor; and yet the natural man sees nothing in God to admire!
We are ashamed to give an illustration, the thing is so plain; but suppose an infidel blasphemer were to get such power in any country, that he openly defied the government of that country, and he and his followers went about slaying every male infant in the land; would there be loud complaint if that government destroyed such a monster? Not only did one murder the infants of Israel, but the other rejected the message of God. It is not a little remarkable that these are the exact sins also of many at this day. They too have given up the Lord Jesus to be crucified; and more, have rejected the message of God. They, too, are given up for the present to hardness of heart. It was not for that awful murder: for that cross which manifested man's deepest wickedness, brought out God's richest grace — free, full, everlasting forgiveness to those who had put to death the Lord Jesus. They would not believe the message of mercy. No, after such wickedness, they went about to establish their own righteousness!!
But what is the meaning of God hardening the heart of Pharaoh? We shall understand this better by turning to another Pharaoh that is about to appear in this world, and to the certain doom of the many Pharaohs of that day; nay, do not such Pharaohs already abound? The daring wickedness of this coming wicked one will be terrible, "who opposeth and exalteth himself above all that is called God." (Read 2 Thess. 2:4-12.) Oh, how many shall be deceived by him! and just as Pharaoh rejected the message of God, so do these; and "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 a lie: that they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness."
Thus God hardens the heart, gives it up to strong delusion; and why? Because His message of love has been rejected. This is a solemn question for the times in which we live. Are there not many would-be Pharaohs? Plainly this world is as guilty of the murder of Jesus as Pharaoh was guilty of the murder of the infants. Are there not many who are saying, "Who is the Lord, that I should obey his voice? I know not the Lord." Is not this the very sin that marks these last days? Disputing the authority of the word of God; and this is equally true of the infidel and the professedly religious. The infidel so hates the truth, that he would destroy it if he could. And, oh, how many secretly say, Who is the Lord that I should obey His word? — we will not hear Him, but we will hear what we call the church! We will not believe the free forgiveness of our sins through the blood of Jesus. We will not believe that His one sacrifice for ever perfects those that are sanctified by His one offering; but we will have priests of our own, who shall again continually offer sacrifices that can never take away sins. Yes, all this terrible wickedness is after Pharaoh. Who is the Lord that we should hear His words? This religious rejection of the truth is growing stronger, and will end, as foretold, in everlasting destruction.
Thus not a sentence of God's word shall fail. It is most blessedly true that He hath mercy on whom He will have mercy; and it is also solemnly true that whom He will He hardeneth. Ah, should a careless despiser of His grace read this, beware lest He take you away with His stroke! Remember, it is not God electing you to be lost, but your own wilful, wicked determination to reject His truth. And before you lay down this paper, the church of God may be taken away, and you may be left to be given up to strong delusion to believe a lie. Nay, take care that you are not even now believing a lie. Oh, how long has God borne with the wilful wickedness of man in mercy! as it is written, "What if God, willing to shew his wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much long-suffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction, and that he might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which he had afore prepared unto glory." Thus the despising, defiant Pharaohs prepare themselves for everlasting woe, and God deals with them as they deserve in righteousness. If He dealt with all personally in righteousness, all must be lost. But He can, yes, does, exercise His blessed prerogative, "He hath mercy on whom he will have mercy."
And mark, it is not written that He makes one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour. It is an ignorant, if not worse, mistake to say so. What is written is this, that He is sovereign, that is, that He hath power to do so — hath right to do so. Now, is it not evident, as we are all by nature rebels, sinners, rejecters of God, and despisers of His grace, that if God left us all to our own free will, and dealt with us as we deserve in absolute righteousness, we should all have perished, and thus Christ would have died in vain? Surely, then, it should bow every believer's heart in worship, that "He hath mercy on whom he will." Oh, how blessed! when we should never have chosen God, God hath chosen us in Christ before the world began.
We now turn to the word of God, and our inquiry is this: To what hath the Father in eternity chosen us in Christ? To what is the church elected? That the election of the church was in the beginning in eternity is most certain from scripture. "But we are bound to give thanks alway to God for you, brethren, beloved of the Lord, because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation, through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth; whereunto he called you by our gospel, to the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ." (2 Thess. 2:13, 14.)
Thus the ultimate purpose of God was, that these chosen ones should obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. What a salvation! What a purpose! Chosen from the beginning. The Holy Ghost, the blessed One by which they were sanctified, as to the new birth, separation to God, and growth in grace — "Through sanctification of the Spirit, and belief of the truth."
It may be asked, How could the apostle thus give thanks for these Thessalonian believers? How did he know their election of God? He tells us "Knowing brethren, beloved, your election of God. For our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power, and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance And ye became followers of us, and of the Lord, having received the word in much affliction, with joy of the Holy Ghost." (1 Thess. 1:5, 6.) Further marks of their election of God were found in that the word of the Lord was spread abroad by them, and they were turned to God from idols, to serve the living and true God; and to wait for His Son from heaven. Here were the proofs of their election of God. Beloved reader, can you say it is so with you? Has the gospel that Paul preached ever come with power to your soul? You will find the gospel that he preached to them in Acts 17:2-4. Has the Holy Ghost ever made known to you the deep need of the death and resurrection of the Lord Jesus? The blessed news that through Him is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins — that all who believe God are justified from all things? Have you received the word with joy of the Holy Ghost? Have you cast in your lot with the Lord's people, following the Lord as they did? Is that word of the Lord so precious to you, that it is your delight to be making it known all around? Have you been turned to God from all the idols to which your heart once clung, to serve the living and true God, and to wait for His Son from heaven? If you can say, through the amazing grace of God, and by the power of the Holy Ghost, all this is true of you, then these are the same marks as those by which Paul knew their election of God.
All this is so entirely contrary to the natural man, that it must be of God. You would, like the world around, have refused to have received the love of the truth, that you might be saved, if God had not from the beginning chosen you to salvation. To God be all the praise; to you rest and peace. Before we look at the purpose of God expressly as to the church, we will turn to another scripture that may give strength and comfort to the individual believer.
We will take a scripture in that epistle which describes man's utterly lost and guilty condition before God, and also treats especially of the righteousness of God in the sinner's redemption through the blood of Jesus, and His complete justification by His resurrection from the dead.
Here it is found that man is saved and justified on the ground of the free favour of God. Now, from such a company, where all were alike guilty, what a revelation of infinite grace is this! "For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the first-born among many brethren." This was the predestined thought of God — I will have a company out of that world of vile sinners, who shall be like my Son. He shall be the first-born among them; yes, they shall be conformed to the image of my Son! (See Rom. 8:29-39.) And let it not be surmised that this means that God predestined them after they believed the call, or because they believed it. No, that would be no predestination, as is further shewn in the next verse, that the predestination surely was before the call. "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." Now bear in mind, that if God had dealt in righteousness personally with every one of these, they must, as enemies, ungodly, and despisers of God, have perished everlastingly. All, therefore, was pure grace to these. "He hath mercy on whom he will have mercy." "What shall we say to these things; if God be for us, who can be against us?" Yes, if such a God as this be for us — "He that spared not his own Son, but delivered him up for us all who shall lay anything to the charge of God's elect? It is God that justifieth; who is he that condemneth? It is Christ that died," &c. Let us pause, and contemplate God predestinating poor ungodly sinners to be conformed to the image of His Son — even now accounted righteous before Him without condemnation. To accomplish this in righteousness, He spared not His own Son. Nothing can separate us from such love as this. Shall we say it is dangerous for the believer to be acquainted with all this?
We will now turn to another epistle, where the church of God is especially revealed; and that, not only what it will be, but what it is even now, seen in its heavenly character. "Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ." (Eph. 1:3.) What a rebuke to unbelief is this statement! How clear, present, and certain! What a bright contrast with the dark human thought that we shall only get to know at the day of judgment whether we shall obtain such heavenly blessings! Yes, it is all ours now. The Father of our Lord Jesus Christ hath blessed us thus in the heavenlies in Him. And mark, all this is according to plan and purpose. "According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world." Have you ever thought of these words? How far do they take us back? Are we chosen in Christ because of something in our own history or circumstances? No, farther back. We were chosen in Him before the formation of this world in its present state, and before the introduction of sin. Farther back still. When were the foundations of the world laid? We read, "In the beginning God created the heaven and the earth." What vast ages this may have, been before the six days' formation of this earth for man, we know not. Men, with all their learning, can only measure time; they have no language to explain eternity: that laying of the foundations — that creation of the heaven and the earth — in that vast unknown, "in the beginning." Yet the heavenly blessing of the church is, "according as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world." Men love to speculate about past ages, but here is no room for speculation, but the distinct revelation, that the church, that we who have redemption in Christ through His blood, were chosen in Him before those ages began.
Further, notice, this is not so much a question of the election of persons, though it surely is that, for what would the church, the body of Christ, be, without persons, individual members of that one body? But this wondrous epistle reveals what God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, in eternity chose us to and for.
"That we should be holy, and without blame before him in love," none but God could have conceived such a thought, yet was it His pleasure in eternity! How soon will it be realised in all its fulness by us, even as we are seen by Him now in the Beloved! "Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself." Surely every sentence is full of infinite love. What a contrast to the blessing of Israel as a nation on earth! We were thus predestinated to the higher relationship "of children." Do our souls enter into this, that God would have us in the blessed relationship of children, and "according to the good pleasure of his will"? How sweet it was to Jesus to reveal the Father's joy in receiving His long-lost son, in that precious parable of the prodigal son! Oh, that this short paper may be used, to lead the "children" to meditate on every sentence of this chapter. Think that the place given us is "to the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the Beloved. In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace."
Yes, when God is known, then we see how suited to Him is the infinite extent of His grace. The free favour of God, in every sense, is altogether beyond all human thought. We can only understand it by seeing where Christ is, and what is His future glory; and then the overwhelming thought that we are in Him, and all is ours. Yes, all is so suited, so worthy of God. "Who hath saved us, and called us with an holy calling, not according to our works, but according to his own purpose and grace, which was given us in Christ Jesus before the world began." (2 Tim. 2:9.) Oh, do we believe these weighty, soul-sustaining words? Let not Satan be listened to for a moment that if we believe these plain statements of God's blessed word that we have been predestinated to such unspeakable blessings in Christ before the world began, then it implies that others have been predestinated to be damned. No, no, there is not such a thought in the holy word of God: we have seen that their everlasting judgment is "because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved." This is as clear as that our salvation, vast and wonderful as it is, is "because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation." (2 Thess. 2:10-13.)
Oh, how sad that so many should deny the grace of God, the free, unmerited favour of God, in thus choosing us in Christ from eternity! Be it remembered, that if He had left us to our own free choice, all must have been lost, since all in their natural state reject the grace of God. Man in his natural unbelief will seek to be saved by his own works, will gladly accept any false religion of ritualism and ceremonies. He will seek and go about to establish his own righteousness when he has none. But if the writer of the letter, or the reader of this paper, has been led, as a lost and guilty sinner, to accept Christ, and to believe God, who raised Him from among the dead, then rest assured that you were chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world, to be holy, and without blame before Him in love. Thus may our hearts rest in the eternal love of God in Christ, from which nothing can separate us.