God is Sovereign in Election
THE GOSPEL MESSENGER—JANUARY 1914
The scriptures teach that salvation is by grace, and this matter is so presented as to heighten and intensify the idea of grace “to the praise of the glory of his grace.”—Eph. i. 6.
Paul was not content to use the word “grace” alone, but he adds words to it to heighten our ideas of it. Our salvation honors and glorifies his grace. To have the highest ideas of grace we must regard man as “exceeding” sinful; our opinion of grace will agree with our views of sin.
“He to whom most is forgiven will love most.” The same is in the words, “But God, who is rich in mercy, (Eph. ii. 4), for his great love wherewith he loved us, even when we were dead in sin.” “Rich in mercy” indicates great sinfulness, and so do the words “dead in sin,” and we can not regard the mercy of God as great in our salvation unless we regard our sinfulness as great too.
“That in the ages to come he might show the exceeding riches of his grace in his kindness toward us through Christ Jesus.” We live “in the ages to come” and the “exceeding riches of his grace” are apparent to us; and in all the ages, to time’s end, men will admire the exceeding riches of his grace, and I think that in eternity each one will stand as an exhibition of the exceeding riches of his grace. Let us remember that the phrase, “the exceeding riches of his grace,” means our exceeding sinfulness; and, as our conceptions of his grace grow higher, and broader and deeper, so our views of the sinfulness of man will be enlarged and we will understand the reason of the cry, “God be merciful to me a sinner!” “O wretched man that I am!”
Salvation is not a debt that God owes to us; and, in bestowing it on us he is not paying a debt he owes us. “It is not of works;” “Not by works of righteousness which we have done, but according to his mercy he saved us.” He may withhold it entirely, and leave all to perish in their sins. “It is lawful for me to do what I will with my own.”—Matt. xx. 15. If the Lord owes man salvation the case would be different; but we have no claim on the Lord arising from any cause. If any reason can be found why we should be saved, either from our obedience or on account of our origin or any other cause, then the “exceeding riches of his grace” would fade away. He may leave us to perish in our sins, and yet be just and good.
IF, salvation is wholly of grace, then God is entirely sovereign in bestowing it on men. “I will have mercy” on whom? “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion,” This is the language of one who understands the whole situation, and who deals with it. If man had any claim on God this language would not have been used. He stands in the place of a criminal who had forfeited every right. “It is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy.”
In human governments one who is guilty of treason is entirely at the mercy of the government. The government is not bound to give him a “chance”; perhaps no government on the earth is bound to give its criminals a chance to escape. Such a claim in favor of the sinner would dim the luster of the grace of God in salvation. “It is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy.”
There is no reason for the division of sin into “mortal” and “venial”. “As many as are of the works of the law are under its curse; for it is written, Cursed is every one that continueth not in all the things written in the book of the law to do them.” “He that keepeth the whole law, yet offends in one point, is guilty of all.”
In God’s providence we find that all are liable to death at any moment, and this is a part of the penalty.
“Should sudden vengeance seize my breath, I must pronounce thee just in death.”
And, if part of the penalty is now due, all is due, and nothing keeps the sinner out of ruin but the mercy of God. God is sovereign in all the steps of that grace “that bringeth salvation.” “At the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of things in heaven, and things in earth, and things under the earth, and every tongue shall confess.”
The reader, I trust, can recall a time when he learned that his condemnation was just.
The Lord intends we shall love the doctrine of grace, and see that grace alone will save us, and we can only see this by seeing our deep sinfulness.
The Quakers held that Christ died for all the race, and that the Spirit is given to all men sufficient for their salvation if they will improve it, and sufficient to justify God in their condemnation if they reject it (Hassell’s History, page 519). Wesley held the same view—that a sufficient measure of the Spirit is given to all men “to clear God in their condemnation.” This position is held by many. It supposes the atonement and operation of the Spirit to be as necessary to the condemnation of the wicked as they are to the salvation of sinners. If so, it proves that we are not justly condemned until Christ redeemed us, and until the Spirit strives with us. To be free from just condemnation is a good condition to be in, and it is to need no Savior.
As I see it, the whole plan of salvation contemplates mankind as “condemned already,” and justly so, too. “He gave himself for our sins that he might deliver us from this present evil world.” “Even as Christ also loved the church and gave himself for it; . . . that he might present it to himself . . . not having spot,” etc.
The death of Christ was necessary to the salvation of sinners, but it was not necessary to the just condemnation of sinners.
In the salvation of sinners, God manifests the riches of his mercy and grace; but mercy and grace are not necessary to the condemnation of sinners.
If the salvation of sinners is by grace, it must be sovereign, or God must be sovereign in it. He would be just to have all under the law to perish forever; and he may do as he pleases in the matter. We cannot understand the “riches of his grace” until we see sin in its true light.
The work of the Spirit in us is not the payment of a debt to us, nor is it designed to clear God in our condemnation. “I am persuaded that he which hath begun a good work in us, will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ.” “Every one that hath heard or learned of the Father cometh unto me.” If the operation of the Spirit is necessary to the condemnation of sinners, then some would not “come to me” who hear or learn of the Father, but would remain in sin and be justly condemned on account of the gracious work of the Spirit.
If the law of our land required the prison doors to be left open, and that the prisoner should have a chance to escape before he could be justly hung, and that at last he should be hung for not leaving the prison when he had chance to do so, it would illustrate the matter.
What are the rights of a criminal? What rights does the sinner have above or beyond the criminal in our courts? Surely our attitude before God should not be that of a claimant, but of a criminal—”God, be merciful to me a sinner;” “If thou wilt, thou canst make me whole,” were the words of the leper.
The operation of the Spirit is not to pay a debt, but it is to ‘~Reprove [convince] the world of sin.” It is the work of the Spirit to convince men of sin and of their just condemnation, and so prepare them to receive with gratitude the forgiveness of their sins—to prepare them to love the doctrine of grace.
Not only does the Spirit show men their sins—as the woman who said, “Come see a man that told me all things that ever I did,” and Joseph’s brethren thought of their cruel treatment of Joseph as they stood before him in Egypt—but the Spirit also reveals to us the sinfulness of our nature. “God, be merciful to me a sinner.” This man smote upon his breast as he had a sickening view of his sinfulness of nature, that he was “by nature a child of wrath.” It is hard to tell which distresses us most, our actual sins, or our strong bias to sin. But under the operation of the Spirit we see both our sins and sinfulness of nature, and that reveals God’s mercy in our salvation. We are not wondering how God can be just in our condemnation, but how can a just and holy God save one so vile and sinful as I?
The lessons taught by the Spirit make the sum of Christian experience; and those who are under conviction can tolerate the humbling doctrine of the sovereignty of God in the salvation of sinners. “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have corn passion.” These words teach that God acts sovereign in the matter. No one can direct or control the mercy of God, or in any degree determine the course of the mercy of God. Were it left to the control of men, then such evil wretches as Saul of Tarsus, or the thief at Christ’s side on the cross, or the woman at the well of Samaria would have been left out, and many poor sinners who have felt justly condemned have been glad that God is sovereign in salvation. “Where sin abounded, grace did much more abound;” and the mercy of God rises above the mountain of our sins. It is sweet to know that where sin abounds, there grace much more abounds. He to whom most is forgiven will love most. More love to God, more gratitude springs from the heart of one who realizes the justice of God in his condemnation.
The Savior said, “Many widows were in Israel in the days of Elias; but unto none of them was Elias sent, save unto Sarepta, a city of Sidon, unto a woman that was a widow. And many lepers were in Israel; and none of them was cleansed, saving Naaman the Syrian.”—Luke iv. 25-27. This is a strong statement of the sovereignty of God; and they in the synagogue were filled with wrath as tie spoke these words, and they sought td kill him. A proud heart can not endure the sovereignty of God in salvation; but one humbled before God can trust his eternal all to a sovereign God.
The riches of the mercy of God in our salvation will be more conspicuous if we consider what we are saved from. Paul taught so as to emphasize the doctrine of mercy and Grace. If we minimize the doom of the wicked, and set out that the final punishment of the impenitent is only temporal and of short duration, we will make out of this that our salvation is correspondingly small. If there is no hell, then we are not saved from hell, and if there is no eternal punishment for sin, then we are not saved from eternal punish-men t.
Primitive Baptists have ever held that there is a hell and an eternal punishment for sin. “These shall go away into everlasting punishment, and the righteous into life eternal,” Here the duration of the “punishment” is the same as the duration of the “life eternal.” To hold that such a punishment would be too long or too severe would minimize sin; and in proportion as. we minimize sin, we minimize the mercy and grace of God in our salvation from sin. If we would take care of the doctrine of grace we must not go about to apologize for sin; for in this way we destroy the idea of mercy, and make salvation from sin a debt.
The Catholics talk of their purgatory for some, and their “limbo” for others. One branch of the Universalists talk of a redemption from hell—a period when they will have suffered enough to atone for their sins. In this way they make our salvation a little thing; for, if we, in time, or in the world ~to come, suffer- for our own sins, this leaves the work of Christ in our salvation little or nothing.
Sin against God cannot be little unless God be little. If sin be measured by the greatness of God, what punishment would it deserve? If sin, when imputed to Christ, entailed on his death, the cruelest possible, what can we expect it to bring on the finally impenitent?
When Jesus bore our sins, he was crucified; the earth quaked, and the sun itself was darkened. What he suffered we would have suffered if he had not died for us. “He that spared not his own Son” will he spare others if he refuse to spare his own Son?
The law of God was satisfied by the death of Christ; the infinite excellence and worth of Christ gave his offering a value that atoned for the sins of his people.
He paid all the debt we owe; but the finally impenitent have no such excellence of person as he had.
How long will the finally impenitent suffer if they pay off—their debt of sin entirely? When would their sufferings satisfy the law, and meet its utmost demands? Or must we expect the law to be relaxed or its justice suspended? It is easier for heaven and earth to pass away than for one jot or tittle of the law to pass away unfulfilled.
Let us not forget what we are saved from. We are saved from the love of sin, from the dominion of sin, and from the curse due sin, and this is to be saved from hell and eternal punishment. And what are we saved to? “I reckon that the suffering of this present time are not worthy to be compared with the glory that shall be revealed in us.” When we consider what fallen sinners we were: hateful and hating one another—what our hearts and lives were, and what we justly deserved at the hand of a just and holy God, and what must have been the riches of his grace to pity and save us by the death of his Son, then we will have some idea of the riches of his grace and mercy in our salvation. And when we review all the precious words that tell us what heaven is—its bliss and endless delights, we will have a little understanding of the mercy of God in our redemption and salvation.
Old Baptists will never leave their old views, stated and restated as the centuries have gone by. They believe that Christ saves his people from hell and eternal punishment. They believe that God’s mercy and grace were and are displayed in the highest degree possible in our salvation; and they will still believe that the wicked “shall be turned into hell with all the nations that forget God;” and when men apologize for sin by urging that eternal punishment is too severe and extreme, they will still inquire for “the old paths.”
Let no periodical, which maintains the annihilation of the wicked be patronized by any Primitive Baptist; and let no professed preacher who advocates this satanic heresy be suffered to speak in any of our churches (Matt. xxv. 41; Rev. xiv. 9-11; xx. 10; xxi.8). As Brother Oliphant well says, such a heresy makes little or nothing of sin, little or nothing of the Most Holy God who perfectly hates sin, and little or nothing of the infinite atonement of Christ for our sins. The admission of one heresy tends to produce canker (or gangrene or death) in the whole body of sound doctrine (2 Tim. ii. 17). —S. Hassell
“Thy will be done in earth as it is in heaven.”
We are taught in many places to be submissive to the will of God. We never enjoy the religion of Christ more than when we are fully submissive to the will of God. The Lord has a will concerning the salvation of sinners, and had a will concerning it before time. The will of God determines who shall be saved, or the will of man determines it. It is not of the will of the flesh, nor of the will of man, but of God.” We are not left to uncertainty as to this matter. It is fitting that this matter should be entirely with him for several reasons.
It was the Lord that died the death of the cross to save sinners. He shed his own precious blood to save sinners, and here is one reason why this matter should be decided by him. Another reason is heaven is his—all his, every mansion there belongs to him; and we concede that men may do what they please with their own; and if men may, now much more the Lord! His wisdom and power fit him to decide this matter more than any other being. If any of earth’s millions have any claim, or can show any reason why they should be included, the case would be different, but if no one has such a claim it appears that he may do as he will with his own, and so give it to whom he will.
He says, “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy.” We are not permitted to point to any as too bad—too vile—for his mercy. We read of some of the worst that were favored. “He to whom most is forgiven will love most.” Here is one result of the salvation of the chief of sinners; they “will love much.” “I came not to call the righteous, but sinners. Those who feel that they are poor, vile sinners, will lose nothing by this whole matter being left to the Lord.
Who can say that more would be saved it was left to the will of man? Or who can say certainly that any would have been saved if all had been left to the will of men? If the sinner is to decide whether he will be saved, he must do so while he is a sinner—while he is “dead in sin,” and who can say that such a sinner would ever so choose?
And if sinners, dead in sins, would never make such a choice and yet the whole scheme of salvation should be left to depend on them, what a great failure it all would be! If the design of God is his own glory in the salvation of sinners, would his glory be more secure if all were left to depend on man? Each one of us knows something of our proneness to go astray—to forget God and all our duties to him. Is it best for us that all be left to ourselves?
“What was there in you that could merit esteem, or give the Creator delight?
It was even so, Father, you ever must say, Because it seemed good in his sight.”
It becomes us to say in this matter, “Thy will be done in earth as it is in heaven.”
If it were the will of God to save all the race, we would not find fault; but if God’s object is his own glory, who can certainly say that this end would be better secured in this way.
The justice of God as well as his mercy is important. If all were left under the law and under its curse, then the justice of God would be sure, but not his mercy; so, if all were redeemed and saved, his mercy would have been seen, but not his justice.
It will appear that God is in earnest about the salvation of his people if we consider all that he has done to secure it. “He spared not his own Son;” “How shall he not with him freely give us all things?” Who can answer this question? God certainly thought of this and of all necessary to bring it about long before time.
He has “prepared” a place for us. The great wedding supper is prepared. The robes, the mansions—all prepared for the redeemed. But, if it all depends on their choice of God, see how great a failure it would be!
In free governments, like ours, we find that the elect is inferior to the elector. The people are the elector, and the elect take the place of servants. So in the matter in hand; God is never called the “elect,” but he is often represented as choosing or electing, and we are over and often presented as the “elect” or the “chosen.” To mage all depend on the sinner’s choosing God is to invest this order, and make the sinner sovereign and God dependent.
The Lord is the sovereign of the universe. He holds the keys in his own hands, and does his pleasure in the whole matter.
A sovereign is one that is supreme in power, without a rival, and God is sovereign in this sense. There is none, above him to whom he must give account—none able to interfere with what he does. In the nature of things there can be but one real sovereign. There cannot be two or more beings with infinite power. “All power, both in heaven and in earth, is in his hands,” There can be but one being in the universe that can do, as he will in all things. “All nations before him are as nothing, and they are counted to him less than nothing and vanity.” “To whom then will ye liken God?” “Behold the nations are as a drop of the bucket, and are counted as the small dust of the balance.” He cannot be defeated or discouraged or surprised. Sin does not exist in spite of him. His purposes are not frustrated by it. He suffered it to enter, not because he must do so. He willingly suffered it to be. Sovereignty is not the only quality he possesses. He is just and holy and wise. He is not a tyrant nor cruel, nor unreasonably severe. “In him is no darkness at all;” sin is not from him as a cause. He does not use his power to make his creatures sinful; sin is traceable to man. “By the disobedience of one man sin entered into the world.
It is not unjust in God to make a world in which sin is possible, nor cruel nor unkind in him to do so. Something within us teaches that the blame of it is ours. We need no one to tell us that sin is ours. When Paul said, “Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel to honor and another to dishonor?” he did not mean that God made some men sinful, or more sinful than others. He was speaking of man as sinful altogether, all the clay of the same lump. Even the saints at Ephesus were once the children of wrath—even as others—all the same lump of clay; and, as the potter may do as he will with the clay, so God may do as he will with sinful man. “As the father raiseth up the dead and quickeneth them, even so the Son quickeneth whom be will.”
The sovereignty of God in the salvation of sinners is here plainly stated. God is sovereign in the sense that he can and will do all his pleasure. Man in his fallen state has no claim upon him. He may do as he will with men. If we had any claim on him, the care would be different. When we insist that his grace is discriminating, that is, that it is bestowed on some and withheld from others as worthy—here we find the most opposition. If God’s mercy is applied to the worthy and deserving, and withheld from the worst and vilest, this would destroy the idea of discriminating grace. It would overthrow the sovereignty of God in salvation, and would encourage us to believe ourselves better than the lost, either by nature or practice, and this disagrees with the daily experience of God’s people. If none are lost but those more unworthy than yourself, then grace is not discriminating, nor is God sovereign in salvation.
Let us consider what is the condition of man, or what would be his state if there were no Savior. If he is not justly condemned aside from and independent of the gospel provision, he needs no gospel. If he is not justly condemned he needs no system of grace, and if he is in a state of just condemnation he deserves none.
It is popular to hold that the sinner cannot in justice be damned unless he is given a chance of salvation. Many take this view without thinking what is involved. It means that the sinner is not exposed to just condemnation, and, if so, he is in a good condition—to be free from condemnation is a safe and honorable state. But if it were conceded that the sinner is in a state of just condemnation, then he is not entitled to a chance, and so the gospel system is not designed to “clear God in the condemnation of man.” The whole of the gospel regards man as a criminal, and wholly at the mercy of God—to be disposed of as he will. It is urged that this view discourages men from serious thoughts and efforts. What is the use of care if it is all of God’s mercy, and especially if God’s purposes are fixed unalterably in the matter?
The best people believe that God certainly foreknows our last state, and if he does, it must be true that that state and end is certain to be as he foresees it will be; yet all this does not induce men to give up all devotion. The best people believe that the time of our death is known to God, and is therefore certain; yet we use care and remedies to preserve our lives. I will risk speaking for those who believe that God is sovereign in salvation. We are not discouraged by this view. We admit our unworthiness to be saved, and inability to bring about our salvation, and this fact does not discourage us. We know that our salvation is made sure either by our own efforts or by the action of God; and we feel far more secure to trust it all to God than to regard it as dependent on our own faithfulness. In fact we regard it as a comfortable view to those who “dare not trust in themselves” to consider that though their sins are as crimson or scarlet, yet there is hope in the sovereignty of God in salvation.
It is not discouraging to hold that there is no hope only in the mercy of God. We expect the work of grace to still go on in our midst. We expect to see our sons and daughters changed by the grace of God. It is not a little hope, to hope in the Lord; because God is great, so our hope is great. Election does not discourage the “poor in spirit,” or those who “hunger and thirst after righteousness.” We have not seen our names in God’s book, yet we are not discouraged by it. We depend on the Lord and feel that if our souls were sent to hell we have no other trust nor claim; and besides there is no one that certainly knows himself to be left out. However corrupt a man may be, yet no one can certainly say that he will be lost. The mercy of the Lord is great, and we have instances in the Bible of the chief of sinners being saved. Paul said, “If peradventure God will give them repentance;” we may say this of the corruptest man. When David prayed for his sick child, he said, “Who can tell what God will do?” Fix your mind on the vilest man you know and say of him, “who can tell what God, in his mercy, will do for that man?” He has done wonders for others in all ages and nations, and is still doing wonders among men.
The grace of God is active, at work, not waiting for the sinner to make the start. We expect sinners to be converted and saved all along the way; it is so now and ever has been so. Those who have sinful children may remember the Lord, and what he has done for others. Who can tell what mercies are in store for your sons? Who can tell but that their lips may yet praise the Lord?
The sovereignty of God in salvation encourages prayer for others. “To whom shall we go?” where shall we look, or to whom cry? He only can save. This does not nourish vice.
Men of corrupt minds and lives do not love this view nor believe it; and we may only reply: The view that it is for men to decide, and not the Lord, who shall be saved, is the view generally held by corrupt men. They hold that they have the casting vote on the matter, and are content in sin with this view. If we would so preach as to please the wicked, we must say that all is left to their decision and action—that they can decide the entire matter.
Paul believed this before he was converted, and believed the opposite afterward. It was after he was converted that he said: “Not of works;” “not by works of righteousness which we have done.” It is the doctrine of the believer. It tends to good in our lives. It nourishes trust in the Lord. It expects great things of the Lord; it affords solid grounds for our hope; it tends to obedience, and comforts those that should be comforted.