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SermonIndex.net : Christian Books : Chapter V. The Dispensation Of The Divine Favours Reconciled With The Goodness Of God.

A Theodicy Or Vindication Of The Divine Glory by Albert Taylor Bledsoe

Chapter V. The Dispensation Of The Divine Favours Reconciled With The Goodness Of God.

O God, whose thunder shakes the sky,
Whose eye this atom globe surveys,
To thee, my only rock, I fly;
Thy mercy in thy justice praise.

Then why, my soul, dost thou complain?
Why drooping seek the dark recess?
Shake off the melancholy chain,
For God created all to bless. -- CHATTERTON.

In the preceding part, we considered the doctrine of predestination, under the name of necessity, in its relation to the origin of evil. We there endeavoured to show that it denies the responsibility of man, and makes God the author of sin. In the present part, it remains for us to examine the same doctrine in relation to the equality of the divine goodness. If we mistake not, the scheme of predestination, or rather the doctrine of election, which lies at its foundation, is, when rightly understood, perfectly consistent with the impartiality and glory of the goodness of God. On this subject we shall now proceed to unfold our views in as orderly and perspicuous a manner as possible.

Section I.

The unequal distribution of favours, which obtains in the economy of natural providence, consistent with the goodness of God.

It has been thought that if the goodness of God were unlimited and impartial, the light and blessings of revelation would be universal. But before we should attach any weight to such an objection, we should first consider and determine two things.

First, we should consider and determine how far the unequal diffusion of the light of revelation has resulted from the agency of man, and how far from the agency of God. For, if this inequality in the spread of a divine blessing has sprung in any degree from the abuse which free, subordinate agents have made of their powers, either by active opposition, or passive neglect, it is in so far no more imputable to a want of goodness in the Divine Being than is any other evil or disorder which the creature has introduced into the world. In so far, the glory of God is clear, and man alone is to blame. It is incumbent upon those, then, who urge this objection against the goodness of God to show that the evil in question has not resulted from the agency of man. This position, we imagine, the objector will not find it very easy to establish; and yet, until he does so, his objection very clearly rests upon a mere unsupported hypothesis.

Secondly, before we can fairly rely upon the objection in question, we should be able to show, that the agency of God might have been so exerted as to spread the light of revelation further than it now extends, without on the whole causing greater evil than good. Light or knowledge, it should be remembered, is not in itself a blessing. It may be so, or it may not; and whether it be a blessing or a curse depends, not upon the beneficence of the giver, but upon the disposition and character of the recipient. Before we should presume to indulge the least complaint, then, against the goodness of divine providence, we should be able to produce the nation, whose character for moral goodness and virtue would, on the whole, and in relation to its circumstances, have been improved by the interposition of God in causing the light of truth to shine in the midst of its corruptions. But we are manifestly incompetent to deal with a question of such a nature. Its infinite complication, as well as its stupendous magnitude, places it entirely beyond the reach of the human mind. So manifold and so multiform are the hidden causes upon which its solution depends, that general principles cannot be brought to bear upon it; and its infinite variety and complication of detail must forever baffle the intellect of man. Hence, an objection which proceeds on the supposition that this question has been solved and determined, is worth nothing.

But, for the sake of argument, let us suppose that the unequal diffusion of religious knowledge has proceeded directly from the agency of God. Still the objection against his goodness, in regard to the dispensation of light, would be no greater than in relation to all the dispensations of his favour. All the gifts of Heaven -- health, riches, honour, intelligence, and whatever else comes down from above -- are scattered among the children of men with the most promiscuous variety. Hence, the unequal distribution of the blessings of the gospel, or rather of its external advantages, is so far from being inconsistent with the character of God, that it is of a piece with all his other dispensations: it is so far from standing out as an anomaly in the proceedings of the Divine Being, that it falls in with the whole analogy of nature and of providence. Hence, there is no resting-place between the abandonment of this objection, and downright atheism.

Let us see, then, what force there is in this objection, when urged, as it is by the atheist, against the whole constitution and management of the world. It proceeds on the supposition, that if light and knowledge, or any other natural advantage, were bestowed upon one person, it would be bestowed upon all others, and upon all in precisely the same degree. According to his view, there should be no such thing as degrees in knowledge, and consequently no such thing as self-development and progress. To select only one instance out of many: the atheist objects, that it is not worthy of infinite wisdom and goodness to provide us with so complicated an instrument as the eye, as a means of obtaining light and knowledge. Why could not this end be attained by a more simple and direct method? Why leave us, for so great a portion of earthly existence, in comparative ignorance, to grope out our way into regions of light?

In the eye of reason, there is no end to this kind of objecting; and it only stops where the shallow conceit, or wayward fancy, of the objector is pleased to terminate. It is very easy to ask, Why a Being of infinite goodness did not confer light and knowledge upon us directly and at once, without leaving us to acquire them by the tedious use of the complicated means provided by his natural providence. But the inquiry does not stop here. He might just as well ask, Why such a Being was pleased to confer so small an amount of light upon us, and leave us to acquire more for ourselves? Why not confer it upon us without measure and without exertion on our part? The same interrogation, it is evident, may be applied to every other blessing, as well as to knowledge; and hence the objection of the atheist, when carried out, terminates in the great difficulty, why God did not make all creatures alike, and each equal to himself. On the principle of this objection, the insect should complain that it is not a man; the man that he is not an angel; and the angel that he is not a god. Hence, such a principle would exclude from the system of the world everything like a diversity and subordination of parts; and would reduce the whole universe, as a system, to as inconceivable a nonentity as would be a watch, all of whose parts should be made of exactly the same materials, and possessing precisely the same force and properties.

In every system, whether of nature or of art, there must be a variety and subordination of parts. Hence, to object that each part is not perfect in itself, without considering its relations and adaptation to the whole, is little short of madness. And what heightens the absurdity in the present case is, that the parts which fall under observation may, for aught we know, possess the greatest perfection which is consistent with the highest good and beauty of the whole.

If God has endowed man with the attributes of reason and speech; if he has scattered around him, with a liberal hand, the multiplied blessings of life; if, above all, he has made him capable of eternal blessedness, and of an endless progress in glory; this should warm his heart with the most glowing gratitude, and tune his tongue to the most exalted praise. And the man, the rational and immortal being, whose high endowments should lead him to murmur and repine at the unequal dispensations of the divine bounty, because God has created beings of a higher order than himself, and placed them in a world where no cloud is ever seen, and where no sigh is ever heard, would certainly, to say the very least, be guilty of the most criminal ingratitude. Reason and conscience might well cry out, Shall the thing formed say to Him who formed it, Why hast thou made me thus? And God himself might well demand, Is thine eye evil, because I am good?

The case is not altered, if we suppose that the divine favour is unequally bestowed upon different individuals of the same species, instead of the different orders of created beings. The same principle of wisdom and goodness, as Butler remarks, whatever it may be, which led God to make a difference between men and angels, may be the same which induces him to make a difference between one portion of the human family and another -- to leave one portion for a season to the dim twilight of nature, while upon another he pours out the light of revelation. The same principle, it may also be, which gives rise to the endless diversity of natural gifts among the different individuals of the same community, as well as to the different situations of the same individual, in regard to his temporal and eternal interests, during the various stages of his earthly existence. And if this be so, we should either cease to object against the goodness of God, because the same powers and advantages are not bestowed upon all, or we should adopt the atheistical principle, in its fullest extent, which has now been shown to be so full of absurdity.

But although we cannot see the particular reasons of such a diversity of gifts, or how each is subservient to the good of the whole; yet every shadow of injustice will disappear, if we consider that God deals with every one, to use the language of Scripture, |according to what he hath, and not according to what he hath not.| His bounty overflows, in various degrees, upon his creatures; but his justice equalizes all, by requiring every one to give an account of just exactly as many talents as have been committed to his charge, and no more.

In this respect, all the dispensations of divine providence are clearly and broadly distinguished from the Calvinistic scheme of election and reprobation. According to this scheme, the reprobate, or those who are not objects of the divine mercy, have not, and never had, the ability to obey the law of God; and yet they are condemned to eternal death for their failure to obey it. This is to deal with them, not according to what they have, but according to what they have not, and what they could not possibly have. Hence, to reason from one of these cases to the other, from the inequality of gifts and talents ordained by God to a scheme of election and reprobation, as Calvinists uniformly do, is to confound all our notions of just dealing, and to convert the rightful sovereignty of God into frightful tyranny. The perfect justice of this remark will, we trust, be made to appear the more clearly and fully in the course of the following section of the present work.

Section II.

The Scripture doctrine of election consistent with the impartiality of the divine goodness.

We have seen that the election of a nation to the enjoyment of certain external advantages, or the bestowment of superior gifts upon some individuals, is not inconsistent with the perfection of the divine goodness. Beyond the distinctions thus indicated, and which so clearly obtain in the natural providence of God, it is believed that the Scriptural scheme of election does not go; and that the more rigid features of the Calvinistic scheme of election and reprobation can be deduced from revelation only by a violent wresting and straining of the clear word of God. Let us see if this assertion may not be fully established.

The ninth chapter of the Epistle to the Romans, it is well known, is the portion of Scripture upon which the advocates of that scheme have chiefly relied, from Augustine down to Calvin, and from Calvin down to the present day. But, to any impartial mind, we believe, this chapter will not be found to lend the least shadow of support to any such scheme of doctrine. We assume this position advisedly, and shall proceed to give the reasons on which it is based.

Now, in the interpretation of any instrument of writing, it is a universally admitted rule, that it should be construed with reference to the subject of which it treats. What, then, is the subject of which the apostle treats in the ninth chapter of Romans? In regard to this point there is no dispute; and, to avoid all appearance of controversy in relation to it, we shall state the design of the apostle, in this part of his discourse, in the words of one by whom the Calvinistic scheme of election is maintained. |With the eighth chapter,| says Professor Hodge, in his Commentary on the Epistle to the Romans, |the discussion of the plan of salvation, and its immediate consequences, was brought to a close. The consideration of the calling of the Gentiles, and the rejection of the Jews, commences with the ninth, and extends to the end of the eleventh.| Thus, according to the author, |the subject which the apostle had in view,| in the ninth chapter, is |the rejection of the Jews, and the calling of the Gentiles.| Now, if this be his subject, and if the discussion of the plan of salvation was brought to a close in the eighth chapter, how can the doctrine of election and reprobation, which lies at the very foundation of, and gives both shape and colouring to, the whole scheme of salvation, as maintained by Calvinists, be found in the ninth chapter? How has it happened that such important lights have been thrown upon the plan of salvation, and such fundamental positions established in relation to it, after its discussion has been brought to a close? But this only by the way; we shall hereafter see how these important lights have been extracted from the chapter in question.

The precise passage upon which the greatest stress is laid seems to be the following: |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.| Now, the question is, Does this refer to the election of Jacob to eternal life, and the eternal reprobation of Esau; or, Does it refer to the selection of the descendants of the former to constitute the visible people of God on earth? This is the question; and it is one which, we think, is by no means difficult of solution.

The apostle was in the habit of quoting only a few words of a passage of the Old Testament, to which he had occasion to refer; and in the present instance he merely cites the words of the prophecy, |The elder shall serve the younger.| But, according to the prophecy to which he refers, it was said to Rebecca, |Two nations are in thy womb, and two manner of people shall be separated from thy bowels; and the one people shall be stronger than the other people, and the elder shall serve the younger.| Nothing can be plainer, we think, than that this prophecy relates to the descendants of Jacob and Esau, and not to the individuals themselves.

This view of the above passage, if it needed further confirmation, is corroborated by the fact that Esau did not serve Jacob, and that this part of the prophecy is true only in relation to his descendants. Thus the prophecy, when interpreted by its own express words, as well as by the event, shows that it related to |two nations,| to |two manner of people,| and not to two individuals.

The argument of St. Paul demands this interpretation. He is not discussing the plan of salvation. The question before him is not whether some are elected to eternal life on account of their works or not; and hence, if he had quoted a prophecy(207) from the Old Testament to establish that position, he would have been guilty of a gross solecism, a non sequitur, as plain as could well be conceived.

For these reasons, we think there can be but little doubt with respect to the true meaning of the passage in question. And besides, this construction not only brings the language of the apostle into perfect conformity with the providence which God is actually seen to exercise over the world, but also reconciles it with the glory of the divine character.

In regard to the meaning of the terms loved and hated, used in the prophecy under consideration, there can be no doubt that the interpretation of Professor Hodge is perfectly just. |The meaning is,| says he, |that God preferred one to the other, or chose one instead of the other. As this is the idea meant to be expressed, it is evident that in this case the word hate means to love less, to regard and treat with less favour. Thus in Gen. xxix, 33, Leah says, she was hated by her husband; while, in the thirtieth verse, the same idea is expressed by saying, Jacob 'loved Rachel more than Leah.' Matt. x, 37. Luke xiv, 26: 'If any man come to me, and hate not his father and mother,' &c. John xii, 25.|

No one will object to this explanation. But how will the language, thus understood, apply to the case of individual election and reprobation, as maintained by Calvinists? We can see, indeed, how it applies to the descendants of Esau, who were in many respects placed in less advantageous circumstances than the posterity of Jacob; but how can God be said to love the elect more than the reprobate? Can he be said to love the reprobate at all? If, from all eternity, they have been eternally damned for not rendering an impossible obedience, should we call this a lesser degree of love than that which is bestowed upon the elect, or should we call it hate? It seems, that the commentator feels some repugnance at the idea of setting apart the individual, before he has |done either good or evil,| as an object of hate; but not at all at the idea of setting him apart as an object of eternal and remediless woe!

|It is no doubt true,| says Professor Hodge, |that the prediction contained in this passage has reference not only to the relative standing of Jacob and Esau, as individuals, but also to that of their descendants. It may even be allowed that the latter was principally intended in the communication to Rebecca. But it is clear: 1. That this distinction between the two races presupposed and included a distinction between the individuals. Jacob, made the special heir to his father Isaac, obtained as an individual the birthright and the blessing; and Esau, as an individual, was cut off.|

This may all be perfectly true; it is certainly nothing to the purpose. It is true, that Jacob was made the special heir to his father; but did he thereby inherit eternal life? The distinction between him and Esau was undoubtedly a personal favour; the very fact that his descendants would be so highly blessed, must have been a source of personal satisfaction and joy, which his less favoured brother did not possess. But was this birthright and this blessing the fixed and irreversible boon of eternal life? There is not the least shadow of any such thing in the whole record. The only blessings, of a personal or individual nature, of which the account gives us the least intimation, either by express words or by implication, are like those with which God, in his providence, still continues to distinguish some individuals from others. They are not the gift of eternal life, but of certain external and temporal advantages. Hence they throw no light upon the Calvinistic scheme of election and reprobation. To make out this scheme, or anything in support of it, something more must be done than to show that God distinguishes one nation, or one individual, from another, in the distribution of his favours. This is conceded on all sides; and has nothing to do with the point in dispute. It must also be shown, that the particular favour which he brings home to one by his infinite power, and which he withholds from another, is neither more nor less than the salvation of the soul. It must be shown, that the mere will and pleasure of God makes such a distinction among the souls of men, that while some are invincibly made the heirs of glory, others are stamped with the seal of eternal death. The inheritance of Jacob, and the casting off of Esau, were, so far as we can see, very different from the awful proceeding which is ascribed to God according to the Calvinistic scheme of election and reprobation.

The same remark is applicable to other attempts to show, that God's favour was bestowed upon Jacob, as an individual, in preference to Esau. |As to the objection,| says Professor Hodge, |that Esau never personally served Jacob, it is founded on the mere literal sense of the words. Esau did acknowledge his inferiority to Jacob, and was postponed to him on various occasions. This is the real spirit of the passage. This prophecy, as is the case with all similar predictions, has various stages of fulfilment. The relation between the two brothers during life; the loss of the birthright blessing and promises on the part of Esau; the temporary subjugation of his descendants to the Hebrews under David; their final and complete subjugation under the Maccabees; and especially their exclusion from the peculiar privileges of the people of God, through all the periods of their history, are included.| Suppose all this to be true, what relation has it to the election of some individuals to eternal life, and the reprobation of others?

We shall not dwell upon other portions of the chapter in question; for, if the foregoing remarks be just, it will be easy to dispose of every text which may, at first view, appear to support the Calvinistic doctrine of election. We shall dismiss the consideration of the ninth chapter of Romans with an extract from Dr. Macknight, who, although a firm believer in the Calvinistic view of election and reprobation, does not find any support for his doctrine in this portion of Scripture. |Although some passages in this chapter,| says he, |which pious and learned men have understood of the election and reprobation of individuals, are in the foregoing illustration interpreted of the election of nations to be the people of God, and to enjoy the advantage of an external revelation, and of their losing these honourable distinctions, the reader must not, on that account, suppose the author rejects the doctrines of the decree and foreknowledge of God. These doctrines are taught in other passages of Scripture: see Rom. viii, 29.| Thus this enlightened critic candidly abandons the ninth chapter of Romans, and seeks support for his Calvinistic view of the divine decrees elsewhere.

Let us, then, proceed to examine the eighth chapter of Romans, upon which he relies. The words are as follow: |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. 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.| We need have no dispute with the Calvinists respecting the interpretation of these words. If we mistake not, we may adopt their own construction of them, and yet clearly show that they lend not the least support to their views of election and reprobation. |As to know,| says Professor Hodge, |is often to approve and love, it may express the idea of peculiar affection in the case; or it may mean to select or determine upon.| These two interpretations, as he truly says, |do not essentially differ. The one is but a modification of the other.| |The idea, therefore, obviously is, that those whom God peculiarly loved, and by thus loving, distinguished or selected from the rest of mankind; or, to express both ideas in one word, those whom he elected he predestinated, &c.| Thus, according to this commentator, those whom God elected, he also predestinated, called, justified, and, finally, glorified.

Now, suppose all this to be admitted, let us consider whether it gives any support to the Calvinistic creed of election. It teaches that all those whom God elects shall be ultimately saved; but not one word or one syllable does it say with respect to the principle or ground of his election. It tells us that God, in his infinite wisdom, selects one portion of mankind as the objects of his saving mercy, -- the heirs of eternal glory; but it does not say that this selection, this approbation, this peculiar love, is wholly without foundation in the character or condition of the elect. It tells us that God has numbered the elect, and written their names in the book of life; but it does not tell us that, in any case, he has taken precisely such as he has left, or left precisely such as he has taken. The bare fact of the election is all that is here disclosed. The reason, or the ground, or the principle, of that election is not even alluded to; and we are left to gather it either from other portions of Scripture, or from the eternal dictates of justice and mercy. Hence, as this passage makes no allusion to the ground or reason of the divine election, it does not begin to touch the controversy we have with theologians of the Calvinistic school. Every link in the chain here presented is perfect, except that which connects its first link, the election to eternal life, with the unconditional decree of God; and that link, the only one in controversy, is absolutely wanting. We have no occasion to break the chain; for it is only to the imagination that it seems to be unconditionally bound to the throne of the Omnipotent.

As this passage, then, determines nothing with respect to the ground or reason of election, so we have as much right to affirm, even in the presence of such language, that God did really foresee a difference where he has made so great a distinction, as the Calvinists have to suppose that so great a distinction has been made by a mere arbitrary and capricious exercise of power. That we have a better reason for this position than our opponents can produce for theirs, we shall endeavour to show in the ensuing section.

Section III.

The Calvinistic scheme of election inconsistent with the impartiality and glory of the divine goodness.

Having seen that the unequal distribution of favours, which obtains in the wise economy of Providence, distinguishing nation from nation, as well as individual from individual, is not inconsistent with the perfection of the divine goodness; and having also seen that the Scripture doctrine of election makes no other distinctions than those which take place in the providence of God, and is equally reconcilable with the glory of his character, we come now to consider the Calvinistic scheme of election and reprobation. We have shown on what principles the providence of God, which makes so many distinctions among men, may be vindicated; let us now see on what principles the Calvinistic scheme of election and reprobation seeks to justify itself. If we mistake not, this scheme of predestination is as unlike the providence of God in its principles as it is in the appalling distinctions which it makes among the subjects of the moral government of the world.

|Predestination,| says Calvin, |we call the eternal decree of God, by which he has determined in himself, what he would have to become of every individual of mankind. For they are not all created with a similar destiny; but eternal life is foreordained for some, and eternal damnation for others. Every man, therefore, being created for one or the other of these ends, we say, he is predestinated either to life or to death.|(208) Again: |In conformity, therefore, to the clear doctrine of Scripture, we assert, that by an eternal and immutable counsel, God has once for all determined, both whom he would admit to salvation and whom he would condemn to destruction.|(209)

The doctrine of predestination is set forth in the Westminster Confession of Faith, in the following terms: |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 men and angels, thus predestinated and foreordained, are particularly and unchangeably designed; and their number is so certain and definite, that it cannot be either increased or diminished.|

|Those of mankind that are 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 or 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.|

|As God hath appointed the elect unto glory, so hath he, by the eternal and most free purpose of his will, foreordained all the means thereunto. Wherefore, they who are elected, being fallen in Adam, are redeemed by Christ, are effectually called unto faith in Christ by his Spirit working in due season; are justified, adopted, sanctified, and kept by his power through faith unto salvation. Neither are any other redeemed by Christ, effectually called, justified, adopted, sanctified, and saved, but the elect only.|

|The rest of mankind, God was pleased, according to the unsearchable counsel of his own will, whereby he extendeth or withholdeth mercy as he pleaseth, for the glory of his sovereign power over his creatures, to pass by, and to ordain to dishonour and wrath for their sin, to the praise of his glorious justice.|

The defenders of this system assume the position, that as |by Adam's sin the whole human race became a corrupt mass, and justly subject to eternal damnation; so that no one can blame God's righteous decision, if none are saved from perdition.|(210) Augustine expressly says: |But why faith is not given to all, need not move the faithful, who believe that by one all came into condemnation, doubtless the most just; so that there would be no just complaining of God, though no one should be freed.| And again: |The dominion of death has so far prevailed over men, that the deserved punishment would drive all headlong into a second death likewise, of which there is no end, if the undeserved grace of God did not deliver them from it.|(211) Such is the picture of the divine justice, which the advocates of predestination have presented, from the time of Augustine, the great founder of the doctrine, down to the present day. It surely furnishes a sufficiently dark background on which to display the divine mercy to advantage.

We are told, however, that we should not judge of the proceeding of God, according to our notions of justice. This is certainly true, if the divine justice is fairly represented in the scheme of predestination; for that is clearly unlike all that is called justice among men. If God can create countless myriads of beings, who, because they come into the world with a depraved nature, and |can do nothing but sin,| he regards with such displeasure, as to leave them without hope and without remedy; and not only so, but dooms them to eternal misery on account of an unavoidable continuance in sin; it must be confessed, that we should not presume to apply our notions of justice to his dealings with the world. They would more exactly accord with our notions of injustice, cruelty, and oppression, than with any others of which we are capable of forming any conception.

But, if we are not to decide according to our notions of justice, how shall we judge, or form any opinion respecting the equity of the divine proceeding? Shall we judge according to some notion which we do not possess, or shall we not judge at all? This last would seem to be the wiser course; but it is one which the Calvinists themselves will not permit us to adopt. They tell us, that the predestination of the greater part of mankind to eternal death is |to the praise of God's glorious justice.| But how are we to behold this glorious manifestation of the divine justice, if we may not view it through any medium known to us, or contemplate it in any light which may have dawned upon our minds?

Indeed, although the defenders of this doctrine often declare that the predestination of so many men and angels to eternal misery, displays the justice of God in all its glory; yet their own writings furnish the most abundant and conclusive evidence, that they themselves can see no appearance of justice in such a proceeding. On various occasions they do not hesitate to tell us, that although they cannot recognise the justice of such a proceeding, yet they believe it to be just, because it is the proceeding of God. But how can that be a display of justice to us, which, according to all our notions, wears the appearance of the most frightful injustice? Calvin himself admits, that the justice of God, which is supposed to be so brightly displayed in the predestination of so many immortal beings to endless woe, is, in reality, therein involved in clouds and darkness. Yet he does not fail to deduce an argument in its favour from |the very obscurity which excites such dread.|(212)

It seems clear, that if the divine justice is really displayed in the punishment of the reprobate, it would have been exhibited on a still more magnificent scale by the condemnation of the whole human race. For, according to Calvinism, all were equally deserving of the divine displeasure, and the saved are distinguished from the lost only by the election of God. Hence, this scheme shows the justice of God to be limited, or not displayed on so grand and imposing a scale as it might have been; that is to say, it shows the justice of God to be less than infinite. But if such be the justice of God, we certainly should not complain that it has been limited by his mercy; we should rather rejoice, indeed, to believe that it had been thereby entirely extinguished.

Notwithstanding the claims of divine justice, all were not reprobated and doomed to eternal death. A certain portion of mankind are elected and saved, |to the praise of his glorious grace.| Now, it is conceded by Calvinists, that |all the circumstances which distinguish the elect from others are the fruit of their election.|(213) This proposition is deduced by a Calvinistic divine from the |Westminster Confession of Faith.| It is also conceded, that if the same grace which is given to the elect, should be bestowed upon the reprobate, they also would be saved.(214) Why, then, is it not bestowed? Why this fearful limitation of the divine mercy? Can the justice of God be manifested only at the expense of his mercy, and his mercy only at the expense of his justice? Or, is the everlasting mercy of God, that sublime attribute which constitutes the excellency and glory of his moral nature, so limited and straitened on all sides, that it merely selects here and there an object of its favour, while it leaves thousands and millions, equally within its reach, exposed to the eternal ravages of the spoiler? If so, then are we bound to conclude, that the mercy of God is not infinite; that it is not only limited, but also partial and arbitrary in its operation? But such is not the mercy of God. This is not a capricious fondness, nor yet an arbitrary dictate of feeling; it is a uniform and universal rule of goodness.

To select one here and there out of the mass of mankind, while others, precisely like them in all respects, are left to perish, is not mercy; it is favouritism. The tyrant may have his favourites as well as others. But God is not a respecter of persons. If he selects one, as the object of his saving mercy, he will select all who stand in the like condition; otherwise, his mercy were no more mercy, but a certain capricious fondness of feeling, unworthy of an earthly monarch, and much more of the august Head and Ruler of the moral universe.

These views and feelings are not peculiar to the opponents of Calvinism. They exist in the bosom of Calvinists themselves; only they are so crushed beneath a system, that they cannot find that freedom of development, nor that fulness of utterance, which so rightfully belongs to them, and which is so essential to their entire healthfulness and beauty.

We shall give only one illustration of the justness of this remark, although we might produce a hundred. After having endeavoured to vindicate the mercy of God, as displayed in the scheme of predestination, Dr. Hill candidly declares: |Still, however, a cloud hangs over the subject; and there is a difficulty in reconciling the mind to a system, which, after laying this foundation, that special grace is necessary to the production of human virtue, adopts as its distinguishing tenet this position, that that grace is denied to many.|(215) Notwithstanding his most elaborate defence of predestination, he may well say, that |a cloud still hangs over the subject,| and darkens the mercy of God.

Some of the stereotyped attempts of Calvinists to escape from the cloud which hangs over their doctrine are too weak to deserve a serious refutation. We are often asked, for example, if God may not do what he pleases with his own? Most assuredly he may; but does it please him, according to the high supralapsarian notion of Calvin, to create myriads of men and angels, to the end that they may be eternally damned? Does it please him, according even to the sublapsarian scheme, to leave the great mass of mankind in the helpless and forlorn condition in which they were born, without assistance, and then subject them to eternal misery, because they would not render an obedience beyond their power? Truly, the sovereign Creator and Ruler of the world may do what he pleases with his own; but yet we insist, that it is his supremest pleasure to deal with his creatures according to the eternal principles of justice and mercy.

His power is infinite, we admit, nay, we joyfully believe; but yet it is not a power which works according to the lawless pleasure of an unmitigated despot. It moves within a sphere of light and love. God's infinite wisdom and goodness superintend and surround all its workings; otherwise its omnipotent actings would soon carry the goodly frame of the world, together with all the blessed inhabitants thereof, into a state of utter confusion and chaotic night; leaving occasion for none, save the blind idolaters of power, to exclaim, |May he not do what he pleases with his own?|

We are also told, that |God is under no obligation to his creatures.| Supposing this to be true, (though true most certainly it is not,) yet does he not owe it to himself -- does he not owe it to the eternal principles of truth and goodness -- does he not owe it to the glory of his own empire over the world -- to deal with his rational and immortal creatures, otherwise than according to the dark scheme of Calvinistic predestination? Nay, is it not due to the creature himself, that he should have some little chance or opportunity to embrace the life which God has set before him? Or, in default of such opportunity, is it not due to him that he should be exempt from the wages of the second death?

Confessing the wisdom and justice of predestination, as maintained by themselves, to be above our comprehension, the Calvinists are accustomed to remind us of the littleness, the weakness, and the blindness of the human mind, and how dangerous it is for beings like ourselves to pry into mysteries. We are aware, indeed, that our faculties are limited on all sides, and that we are exceedingly prone to assume more than belongs to us. We are not sure that the human mind, so little and so assuming, appears to any very great advantage in its advocacy of the Calvinistic scheme of predestination. This scheme is not only found in the ninth chapter of Romans, by a strange misapprehension of the whole scope and design of the apostle's argument, but, after having based it upon this misinterpretation of the divine word, its advocates persist in regarding all opposition to it as an opposition against God. As often as we dispute the doctrine, they cry out, |Nay, but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God?|

This rebuke was well administered by St. Paul. He applied it to those who, understanding his doctrine, did not hesitate to arraign the equity of the divine proceeding in the election of one nation in preference to another to constitute the visible Church on earth. This was not only to reply against God's word, but also against the manifest arrangements and dispensations of his providence. But it is not well applied by Calvinists, unless they possess an infallibility which authorizes them to identify their interpretation of the word of God with the word itself. It is not well applied by them, unless they are authorized to put themselves in the place of God. If they have no right to do this, we must insist upon it that it is one thing to reply against God, and quite another to reply against Calvin and his followers.

Section IV.

The true ground and reason of election to eternal life shows it to be consistent with the infinite goodness of God.

We agree with both Calvinistic and Arminian writers in the position, that no man is elected to eternal life on account of his merits. Indeed, the idea that a human being can merit anything, much less eternal life, of God, is preposterous in the extreme. All his gifts are of pure grace. The creation of the soul with glorious and immortal powers was an act of pure, unmixed favour. The duty of loving and serving him, which we are permitted to enjoy, is an exalted privilege, and should inspire us with gratitude, instead of begetting the miserable conceit that our service, even when most perfect, could deserve anything further from God, or establish any claims upon his justice. This view, which we take to be the true one, as completely shuts out all occasion of boasting as does the scheme of election maintained by the Calvinists.

It is objected, that God did not elect individuals to eternal life, because he foresaw that they would repent and believe; since repentance and faith themselves are the fruits of election. If this objection have any force, we are persuaded that it arises from an improper wording, or presentation, of the truth against which it is directed. We cannot suppose that God elected any one because he foresaw his good works, so as to make election to depend upon them, instead of making them to depend upon election. This does not prevent an individual, however, from having been elected, because God foresaw from all eternity that the influences attending upon his election would, by his own voluntary cooeperation therewith, be rendered effectual to his salvation. This is the ground on which we believe the election of individuals to eternal life to proceed. Accordingly, we suppose that God never selected, or determined to save, any one who he foresaw would not yield to the influences of his grace, provided they should be given. And we also suppose that such is the overflowing goodness of God, that all were elected by him, and had their names written in the book of life, who he foresaw would yield to the influences of his grace, and, by the cooeperation therewith, |make their calling and election sure.| This scheme appears to possess the following very great advantages: --

1. It does not give such a pervading energy to the operations of divine grace as to exclude all subordinate moral agency from the world, and destroy the very foundation of man's accountability.

2. It does not weaken the motives to the practice of a virtuous and decent life, by assuring the worst part of mankind that they are just as likely to be made the objects of the saving grace of God as any others. On the contrary, it holds out this terrible warning, that by an obstinate continuance in evil-doing, the wicked may place themselves beyond the effectual influences of divine grace, and set the seal of eternal death to their own souls.

3. It shows the mercy of God to be infinite. No one, except those who place themselves beyond the possibility of salvation by their own evil deeds, is ever lost. Hence, the mercy of God, which takes in all whose salvation is within the range of possibility, appears in full-orbed and unclouded splendour. It could not possibly appear greater, or more beautiful, than as it presents itself to our view in this scheme.

4. It shows the justice of God to be infinite. This, according to the above view, is neither limited by, nor does it limit, the mercy of God. It acts merely upon those who were not, and never could be made, the objects of mercy; and it acts upon these according to the full measure of their ill-desert, as well as according to the exigencies of the moral empire of God. It has no limits, except those which circumscribe and bound the objects of infinite justice.

5. It not only shows the mercy and justice of God to be as great as can possibly be conceived, but it also shows the perfect harmony and agreement which subsists between these sublime attributes of the Divine Being. It marks out and defines the orbit, in which each revolves in all the perfection and plenitude of its glory, without the least clashing or interference with the other.

In conclusion, we would simply ask the candid and impartial reader, Does any dark or perplexing |cloud still hang over the subject?| Is |there a difficulty in reconciling the mind to a system,| which exhibits the character of God, and his government of the world, in so pleasing and so advantageous a light? Does not a system, which gives so glad and joyous a response to the demand of God, |Are not my ways equal?| recommend itself to the affections of the pious mind?

It very clearly seems to us, that, strong as are the convictions of Dr. Chalmers in favour of |a rigid and absolute predestination,|(216) his affections cannot always be restrained within the narrow confines of so dark a scheme. His language, in pleading for the universality of the gospel offer, contains, it seems to us, as direct, and pointed, and powerful condemnation of his own scheme as can well be found in the whole range of theological literature. |There must be,| says he, |a sad misunderstanding somewhere. The commission put into our hands is to go and preach the gospel to every creature under heaven; and the announcement sounded forth in the world from heaven's vault was, Peace on earth, good-will to men. There is no freezing limitation here, but a largeness and munificence of mercy boundless as space, free and open as the expanse of the firmament. We hope, therefore, the gospel, the real gospel, is as unlike the views of some of its interpreters, as creation, in all its boundless extent and beauty, is unlike the paltry scheme of some wretched scholastic in the middle ages. The middle age of science and civilization is now terminated; but Christianity also had its middle age, and this, perhaps, is not yet fully terminated. There is still a remainder of the old spell, even the spell of human authority, and by which a certain cramp or confinement has been laid on the genius of Christianity. We cannot doubt that the time of its complete emancipation is coming, when it shall break loose from the imprisonment in which it is held; but meanwhile there is, as it were, a stricture upon it, not yet wholly removed, and in virtue of which the largeness and liberality of Heaven's own purposes have been made to descend in partial and scanty droppings through the strainers of an artificial theology, instead of falling, as they ought, in a universal shower upon the world.|(217)

Is it possible, that this is the language of a man who believes that Heaven's purposes of mercy descend, not upon all men, but only upon the elect? It is even so. Boundless and beautiful as the goodness of God is in itself; yet, through the strainers of his theology, is it made to descend in partial and scanty droppings merely, and not in one universal shower. It is good-will, not to men, but to the elect. Such is the |chilling limitation,| and such the frightful |stricture,| on the genius of Christianity, from which, in the fervour of his imagination, the great heart of Chalmers burst into a higher and a more genial element of light and love.

Alas! how sad and how sudden the descent, when in the very next paragraph he says: |The names and number of the saved may have been in the view, nay, even in the design and destination of God from all eternity; and still the distinction is carried into effect, not by means of a gospel addressed partially and exclusively to them, but by means of a gospel addressed generally to all. A partial gospel, in fact, could not have achieved the conversion of the elect:| that is to say, though it was the design and destination of God from all eternity to save only a small portion of those whom he might have saved; yet he made the offer of salvation to all, in order to save the chosen few! And if he had not proclaimed this universal offer, by which |the largeness and munificence| of his mercy are made to appear as |boundless as space,| the elect could not have been saved! If so, is it the real goodness of God, then, or merely the appearance of universal goodness, that leadeth men to repentance?

|Any charm,| says he, |which there is in Christianity to recall or to regenerate some, lies in those of its overtures which are so framed as to hold out the offered friendship of God to all:|(218) that is, that although God intends and seeks to save only a few, he offers the same salvation to all, to give an efficacious charm to the scheme of redemption! Indeed, if the Calvinistic scheme of an absolute predestination be true, then we admit that there is a charm and a glory in the magnificent delusion, arising from God's offer of friendship to all, which is not to be found in the truth. But that scheme, as we have seen, is not true; and also, that the goodness of God is as boundless and beautiful in reality, as it could possibly be in appearance.

We agree with Dr. Chalmers, that the goodness of God should be viewed, not through the medium of predestination, but as it shines forth in the light of the glorious gospel. We agree with him, that |we ought to proceed on the obvious representations which Scripture gives of the Deity; and these beheld in their own immediate light, untinged by the dogma of predestination. God waiting to be gracious -- God not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance -- God swearing by himself that he has no pleasure in the death of a sinner, but rather that all should come unto him and live -- God beseeching men to enter into reconciliation, and this not as elect, but simply and generally as men and sinners; -- these are the attitudes in which the Father of the human family sets himself forth unto the world -- these the terms in which he speaks to us from heaven.| It is precisely in this sublime attitude, and in this transporting light, that we rejoice to contemplate the Father of mercies; and this view, it must be confessed, is wholly |untinged with the dogma of predestination.|

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