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by the Rev. H. C. G. Moule, M.A.Principal of Ridley Hall, and formerly Fellow of Trinity College, Cambridge.

Author of "Veni Creator: Thoughts on the Holy Spirit of Promise," etc.
Revised edition [[third edition, Feb., 1890]]
London: Hodder and Stoughton
27, Paternoster Row.


The Doctrine of God (continued).

The Doctrine of the Father

On this most sacred region of truth much is best said under the Doctrine of the Son, and that of the Spirit. The study of Their revealed glory, aways related to that of the Father, who is Their fountain, best illustrates His. And thus, on the other hand, the Christian will always aim, not occasionally, but in deep purpose, in the study of Them, to study Him. All we know of Them is revealed, ultimately, "to the glory of God the Father" (Phil. ii. 11).

With this resolve we consider here, briefly, and only in some respects, what the Scriptures say of His will and work.

Creation.—In a sense special and supreme He is the Creator; "the Father Almighty, Maker of Heaven and Earth." Through the Son, by the Spirit, Creation was, and is. But in Their operation, the Father of the Son, the Giver of the Spirit, works His will, realizes His idea. Thus ultimately to Him, in a sense not of separation from Their work, but of operation through it, is due Creation, in its scriptural sense; that is, the willing of the finite into being, with the absolutely free volition of Infinite <31/32> Power and Goodness. We repeat it (above, pp. 18, 19), that nothing less or other than this is the Scripture view of the relation of Creation to God. It is not coeval with Him, nor necessary to Him, nor an emanation of Him. It is altogether contingent upon His will, so that He would not have been less Himself had it never been. It is observable in this connexion that Scripture never calls the Eternal Father the Father of the Cosmos, of the Universe; a term which might have favoured the thought of emanation, and perhaps suggested a co-eternity. He who is eternally the Father of the Son is freely and absolutely the Maker of the world. Finite being had a true beginning, at His fiat, however indiscoverable to us the distance of its date is. And Creation, as being thus the product of His mere will, is ever viewed in Scripture as wholly in His hands. It presents no difficulties to Him, as if matter, or finite being, were an alien something in His way. Nothing but sin is seen in Scripture as related so to God (below, p. 80).

Redemption.—It is out of the Father’s Love, for the Father "is Love " (see 1 Joh. iv. 8, 9, 16, and the context), that the whole Redemption flows (Joh. iii. 16, vi. 38; Rom. iii. 21-26, viii. 32; Eph. iii. 3-12; 1 Pet. i. 3, 21; 1 Joh. iv. 9, etc.). Nothing is more unscriptural than any shadow of the thought that the Son is more merciful than the Father; that the Son interposed to make the Father willing to spare and save. Our Second Article (and so the Trent Catechism, Pars i., c. v., Qu. xiv.) says that the Son was sacrificed "that He might reconcile His Father to us"; and the purport of this phrase, though not the phrase, is fully scriptural. But the meaning is not that the Atonement induced the <32/33> Father to have mercy, but that it liberated, so to speak, His mercy by satisfying His law. As Creator He loves His creatures. As Lawgiver and Judge He is the adversary of the law-breaker, pending vindication and satisfaction. But He Himself provided the sacred Satisfaction; "He spared not His own Son" (Rom. viii. 32). The satisfaction was eternally necessary, demanded by no mere exigencies of government, but by His own Nature, which alone is exigency to God. But His own uncaused Love found and gave it, in "sending" the Only Begotten, whose own free, divine, and blessed love, while indeed His own, is also of the Father; for the Son, in all He is, is "of the Father alone."

Thus the Father "loved the world;" a phrase to be read with unreserved adoration and thanks. It is a revealed truth that "His tender mercies are over all His works" (Psal. cxlv. 9); and that particularly He "loveth man as man" (Tit. iii. 4). Nothing must be allowed to negative this truth, or put it into the background. And accordingly "He willeth that all men should be saved" (1 Tim. ii. 4); "He willeth not that any should perish" (2 Pet. iii. 9); "as He liveth, He hath no pleasure in the death of him that dieth" (Ezek. xviii. 32, xxxiii. 11).

"We give Him thanks for His great glory," in which the central and intense light is Love. Infinitely unlike the Abyss of the Gnostic, or the unknowable Absolute of a modern philosophy, He is Love. To know Him, the Fount of Deity, by His Spirit, through His Son, is to touch nothing less than the perfectly tender and responsive Original of all personality, all love; paternal in a sense truly <33/34> akin to, while infinitely transcending, the paternity of man’s heart.

Is He accordingly the Father of every human being, so that each can say, as such, "I am a child of God"? If by Fatherhood is meant the divine side of that profound and tender relation which must exist between the all-loving Creator and His rational moral creature, made in His image (below, p. 157), and capable of true love to Him and an eternal likeness to Him, then the Father is Father of universal Man. Yet the use of the terms of proper Fatherhood to describe this relation is not fully in accord with Scripture. A few passages appear to look the other way; especially Luke iii. 38; Acts xvii. 28, 29. But it is plain that in Scripture the words Father, Son, Child, etc., in this connexion, tend habitually to refer, not to nature, but to grace; not to creation, but to redemption, and especially to adoption and regeneration; not to Adam, but to Christ; not to the world, but to the Church. See, out of a great mass of Scripture evidence, Matt. v. 9, xiii. 43; Joh. i. 12, viii. 42 ; Rom. viii, 14, 15, 17, 21, ix. 7; Gal. iv. 5, 6 ; Eph. i. 5, v. 1; 1 Joh. iii. 1, 2, 9, 10, v. 1; and cp. Deut. xiv. 1; Psal. ciii. 13; Isai. lxiii. 16. The "Lord’s Prayer" (Matt. vi. 9) was expressly taught to "His disciples" (Matt. v.1, and cp. 45). Along with this reference of the words Father and Son, goes the truth of the absolute and universal need of Regeneration (Joh. i. 13, iii. 3, 5, 7; 1 Pet. i. 23; 1 Joh. iii. 9, iv. 7, v. 4, 18; cp. 2 Cor. v. 17; Gal. vi. 15), in order to right relations with God. This new birth, along with the kindred revelation of the adoption of grace, is in Scripture the foreground aspect of the whole subject of Divine Fatherhood. <34/35> Compared with this Fatherhood, under which we become "partakers of the divine nature" (2 Pet. i. 4), the Fatherhood of Creation appears rather as a profound relation analogous to the paternal idea than as Fatherhood in its proper meaning, which demands a true and proper impartation of nature.

Thank God, the circle of the true Fatherhood, immovable in its holy limits, is graciously open to faith. "Whosoever will" is welcome to step into it, met by a divine embrace, in the name of the Only Begotten and infinitely beloved Son of God, "Firstborn among many brethren" (Rom. viii. 29).

These reflections lead us to the revealed action of the Eternal Father in the provision made for the redemption, salvation, and glorification of the Church (on the Doctrine of the Church see further below, p. 202, etc.). The gift of the redeeming Son is the act of the Father’s supreme love. And thus, through the Son, One with Himself, the Father also redeems (so often in the Old Testament; e.g. Isai. lxiii. 16); whether Redemption is taken in its larger and potential sense, of full provision for deliverance, or in its (much more frequent) actual sense, of accomplished deliverance, the experienced rescue of its objects from condemnation and from the power of sin. [1] But more particularly it is the Father who "lays on" the Son "the iniquities <35/36> of us all" (Isai. liii. 6), and who, on the other hand, "justifies," or pronounces accepted, all who are found united to the Son in faith by the Spirit (see Rom. iii. 24, 26, 30, iv. 5, viii. 30, 33, and see further below, p. 183). It is He who "adopts" (Rom. viii. 15; Gal. iv. 5; Eph. i. 5) these same persons to be His children, as members of His Son (see just above, p. 34), thus meeting with an act of sublimely legal acceptance His concurrent gift of new birth and new creation. He sends and gives not only the redeeming Son, but the regenerating Spirit, by whom our will, understanding, and affections are so dealt with that the man, coming in willing faith to the Son, receives the mystery of regenerate life in Him (see Luke xi. 13; Joh. i. 13 with iii. 8, xiv. 16, 26; Rom.v. 5; 1 Pet. i. 2; cp. Joh. vi. 44, 45). Thus, ultimately, it is the Father who gives the regenerate life, "calling" the soul into it, with a "call" which not only proclaims, but actually, without the least violation of the will, prevails. [2] Those thus "called" and "justified" by the Father are by Him "kept" (Joh. xvii. 11, 15; 1 Pet. i. 5), and "sanctified" (Joh. xvii. 17); and finally "glorified" (Joh. xvii. 24; Rom. viii. 30); "to the praise of the glory of His grace" (Eph. i. 6).

These revelations lead up to the revelation of an Election, or Choice, on the Father’s part, with a view to this call, justification, and glorification. On this great mystery we speak with humble reserve and reverence. It has been and is an occasion of even agonizing perplexity to many hearts dear to God. <36/37> A very few steps of thought into it bring us to a stand, on the brink of the unknown. And every inference upon it needs always to be governed and qualified by the unalterable facts that the Lord’s tender mercies are over all His works, that He willeth not the death of a sinner, that God is Love. Never for a moment is God either unmerciful or unjust. Never does He magnify one of His attributes at the expense of another. Yet in the revelation of His ways we must be prepared for phenomena which, at least at present, are to us absolutely mysterious; for instance, for actions of His will as He is Sovereign, and as He is His own eternal End, and as He is Infinite, which we cannot formally harmonize with His explicit assurances and proofs of pure and universal Love.

Such insoluble elements are inherent in all thought on the action of the Infinite on the finite. Our thought must very often come to its end when we have to study, e.g., the use of means by infinite Will, the action in time of the Eternal, the relations between us who become and Him who is "I am."

Here we have such necessary mystery specially around us. In Scripture, we find an element of unexplained divine will and choice regarding the actual participants in salvation. We carefully say, "an element." The sacred thing in question is not the ruling truth of the Gospel. It does not hold there the place of Incarnation, Atonement, or Regeneration. But it is there. See in particular Rom. viii. 28, 29, 30, 33; Eph. i. 4; 2 Thess. ii. 13; 1 Pet. i. 2. See Rom. ix. 6-25 for a strong assertion of the principle of an inscrutable action of the will of God in choice; action based not on caprice, or mere force (God forbid!), but on relations <37/38> between Creator and creature which lie beyond us. See 2 Tim. i. 9 for a similar aspect of this truth; that this action of His will is "not according to our works;" not to be accounted for by anything of merit in the objects of it. With this compare such Old Testament passages as Deut. vii. 7, 8, ix. 4, 6, where the choice of Israel to peculiar blessings is described as similarly sovereign. With this again compare Rom. xi. 2,,where this sovereign resolve and choice is called "foreknowledge;" an indication of the meaning of that word in still deeper connexions (Rom. viii. 29 ; 1 Pet. i. 2; and cp. Acts ii. 23). See further Rom. xi. 5-7. Another aspect of the same truth appears in 1 Cor. i. 27, 28. In that passage the Apostle speaks of a special and distinguishing divine action on human hearts, not to be accounted for by anything in them, but just such as to illustrate the triumph of grace over sin. See, on this side of the subject, the passages where the Christian is taught to refer every link of his salvation to the will and gift of God (1 Cor. iv. 7; Eph. ii. 8) ; and where the Father is seen as "giving" to the Son those who actually "hear the voice" of Christ and receive "life eternal" from Him (Joh. vi. 37, x. 29, xvii. 2, 3, 6, 9, 11, 12, 24).

This work of electing grace is consistently assigned to the Eternal Father. In a very few passages (see Joh. vi. 70, xiii. 18, xv. 16, 19; Acts i. 2, 24, ix. 15, and cp. Joh. v. 21), the Son is seen to "choose." But in most of these passages the reference is rather to work and privilege than to acceptance and holiness. And in Joh. v. 21 the context explicitly connects the choice of the Son with that of the Father as with its eternal basis.

The language of Joh. xvii. (and vi. and x.), just <38/39> referred to, leads to the doctrine of the relation of the Father to the Son in the work of the salvation of the Church. With this we close the treatment of this aspect of the doctrine of grace, and then append some remarks on questions of detail, and on history.

Nothing shines more radiantly in the New Testament than the eternal love of the Father for the Son (Joh. i. 18, v. 20, xvii. 24, etc.). The Son is "His well-beloved" (Mark xii. 6), "in whom He is well pleased" (Matt. iii. 17), whom it is His eternal will to "glorify" (Joh. xvii. 5; Eph. i. 10, 11; Phil. ii. 9-11; Col. i. 16-18). So here, not only is the Son the one infinitely meritorious Sacrifice, and Risen King and Head of the Church, but in the antecedent work of covenant and choice, it is with Him that we see, as through a cloud of light, the Father dealing. "In Him" the saints were "chosen, before the foundation of the world" (Eph. i. 4); "through Him predestinated to the adoption of sons" (ibid., 5); "in Him," in the same premundane purpose, "made an inheritance" (ibid., 11). "In Him," in the same purpose, they "received grace" (2 Tim. i. 9), "according to" which, and not to their "works," they are "called" and "saved" in time. To the Son the Father "gave" them; a phrase plainly of like reference. Their "predestination" is, "to be conformed to the likeness of the Son" (Rom. viii. 29); "to be holy and without blame before the Father in love" (Eph. i. 6), as accepted in the Son. Accordingly, when the process descends from eternity to time, they are actually united by the Spirit (1 Cor. vi. 17 ; Eph. iv. 4) to Christ, as limbs to Head (1 Cor. xi. 3; Eph. i. 22, iv. 15, v. 23; Col. i. 18, ii. 19); so joined to Him that He and they are one "Christ" (1 Cor. xii. 12 ; cp. Gal. <39/40> ii. 20). They are "in His hand," and "in His Father’s hand," so that "no one can pluck them out" (Joh. x. 28, 29). The issue is that they are "glorified together with" the Son (Rom. viii. 17); "in Him" (2 Thess. i. 12); "obtaining His glory" (ibid., ii. 14); "being with Him, beholding His glory (Joh. xvii. 24).

Through the whole plan and process, from "before the world was," we see the Eternal Father loving the Son with immeasurable love, conducting Him to a peculiar and supreme glory as Lamb, Priest, King, Head, Bridegroom, of the Church, ordaining Him to be not only Head and Bond of Creation (Col. i. 17), but, far more prominently, the one Fountain—for the New Creation, for man regenerate, for the Church—of "all spiritual blessing" (Eph. i. 3), of "eternal life" (1 Joh. v. 11). Union with the Son, true and vital, after the order of grace, not nature, is the one indispensable way of acceptance, peace, holiness, power, and final glory. Towards this union with Him of those whom the Father has "given" Him, all the processes of providence and grace converge, under the Father’s will (Rom. viii. 28). The construction of the Church in Christ, the glorification of Christ in the Church, and of Himself in that fact (John xvii. 1), is the central thing in the Father’s will and ways (Eph. ii. 7, iii. 11, etc.).

It is in this connexion that we find the provision of salvation presented as a Covenant made between the Father and the Son. (See Gal. iii. 17 ; Eph. ii. 12; Heb. vii. 22, viii. 6, ix. 15, xii. 24, xiii. 20; cp. Mal. iii. 1.) This side of Scripture truth (below, p. 102) calls for careful study if we would see the indicated symmetry of the plan of grace. What <40/41> the matter of the Covenant is appears from, e.g., Heb. x. 16, 17 (cp. Jer. xxxi. 33, 34). It is a magnificently full acceptance, and then (second in idea, though not necessarily in time) an "inscription" of the will of God "on the heart and on the mind." [3] It is Justification and Sactification, to use familiar terms. It is divine release from the guilt of sin, and from its power (see also 2 Cor. iii. 6-8). Now this, in explicit statements, and in wider indications also, is presented in Scripture as secured under eternal promise by the Father to the Son, for His members, out of the free will of divine love, and under the holy condition of the finished work of the Son, whose Blood of Atonement is "the Blood of the Covenant" (Matt. xxvi. 28; Mark xiv. 24; Luke xxi. 20; 1 Cor. xi. 25; Heb. ix. 15-22, xiii. 20). The Son, our blessed Representative in this supreme matter, triumphing as Man over sin and death, is, in the Father’s plan and will, the Trustee and Depositary, for His members, of "pardon, holiness, and heaven;" He "is made unto us, of God (the Father), wisdom, even righteousness, and sanctification, and redemption" into glory (1 Cor. i. 30). Potentially, in the sense of undistributed grace, He is all this for man. Actually, in the sense of distributed grace, He is this for His "members," His limbs, His body. And they are those designated Rom. viii. 28, 29. They are men "chosen out," "called out," "not according to their works" (2 Tim. i. 9 ; cp. Eph. ii. 8-10), but according to the purpose of Him (the Father) who <41/42> worketh all things after the counsel of His own will"

(Eph. i. 11).

Thus, with the symmetry of an eternal plan, "all things" concur for the fulfilment of the Father’s will, in the glorification of the Son, and of His members in Him, and of Himself in all. From this sublime point of view rays of relation traverse the whole region of salvation. Nothing is vague, contingent, variable. The will is divine, and so is the foreknowledge (that is, foredecision: see above, p. 38) and the provision for the actual full "spiritual blessing" of its objects. The same "determinate counsel" (Acts ii. 23) of the Father "chooses" the true Church, "calls" member after member in, and has also provided, in the sacrifice and triumph of the Head, for the actual acceptance and new life of every member.



Remarks on Certain Details.

Cautions for the Study of the Doctrine of Election.

(1) The divine Choice is presented in Scripture, like other spiritual truths, never in vacuo. It is not an abstract problem, a mere instance of Infinite Will as such, still less the result of a necessity inherent in things. It is connected, on the one hand, with the will of a God who gives otherwise magnificent proof that He is All-Good, All-Kind; on the other hand, with the fact, not of mere creaturehood, but of sin. The mankind contemplated is not mankind simply as God’s work, but as God’s work <42/43> perverted from God’s will. Even in Rom. ix. it is plain that the fact of sin in the creature is in view; while the creature is enjoined to be silent before the Creator, not because He is merely strong, but because He, as Creator, is, by a deep necessity, beyond the creature’s full comprehension as to the whole relations of His ways.

(2) In Scripture the divine choice does not work through force upon the will. "He enforceth not the will" (Westminster Confession, ch. iii., § 1). It is as certain from Scripture as from our intuitions that man’s will is a reality, and is truly free. In its every act it really expresses personal choice, and is not the mere result of material circumstances. A strong drift of modern thought favours "necessitarianism," under which, in effect, man’s will is but a phantom, and our consciousness that "we might have chosen otherwise" an illusion. Scripture says nothing of the kind. It appeals everywhere to the will as a true centre of free though finite causation. What it does put before us is the mystery and fact of the Supreme Will, in its absolute and all-embracing freedom, dealing with all things from the eternal centre, so that finite personalities shall all have free play in genuine volition, and so that evil and its results are wholly of the creature, and not of God, and yet that in the summing up of things God shall be seen to have carried out His most holy will in the sum of all events.

(3) The divine choice is so presented in Scripture as to produce certain definite moral impressions. It is not a problem thrown before the disputant, but a fact presented to the convinced conscience, and then to the believing heart. To the awakened conscience it says, "Sinful man has no right to divine mercy; do you own this for yourself?" "And where that is owned, the truth has done one side of its work—the work of Rom. ix. To the believing heart it says, first, "Who maketh thee to differ?" (1 Cor. iv. 7), and then, "All things work together for good to them that love God, to them that are called according <43/44> to His purpose" (Rom. viii. 28). And so the truth does the other side of its work—the work of Rom. viii.

(4) The doctrine of the divine choice is not the scriptural foreground, and certainly not the scriptural total, of the doctrine of salvation. There are other sides of truth, so presented as to be in their turn taken as they stand. Scripture isolates for treatment truths which converge in experience. The divine choice, isolated for study, stands out real, sovereign, unalterable, persevering; realizing with divine efficacy the symmetry and detail of a divine plan. On the other hand, the Christian’s need to watch and pray, and the perfect reality of the risk of ruin otherwise, and the necessity of missionary and other labour in order that the divine plan may be carried out (2 Tim. ii. 10), are just as little to be explained away. As a fact of spiritual experience, no man can use the doctrine of a divine choice in order to give himself comfort during one moment’s willing sin, without obscuring his every evidence of grace.

(5) Scripture asserts with loving iteration that the Eternal Father who chose, no less than the Eternal Son who suffered, "willeth not the death of a sinner," "willeth that all men should be saved" (1 Tim. ii. 4). His solemn warnings and most tender invitations are divinely sincere. The feeblest stirring of the human soul towards Him, we may be very sure, is met with a willingness and warmth of attention past our thought. Never, in His holy Word, is the Gospel presented as a message whose scope the messenger is to limit to the "foreknown." The Christian preacher is not only to uphold Christ before men, but to "pray men, in Christ’s stead, be ye reconcile to God" (2 Cor. v. 20).

To refuse to do so is to forget that Scripture deals, for us, with the sublime truths of the will of God under the limits always imposed on thought and its expression, whenever thought touches upon dealings between the Finite and the Infinite. At that mysterious line of contact, as we have seen already, there tend to occur to the human mind <44/45> apparent contradictions, in which the contrasted statements are each a known truth, a fact, not an illusion, while yet the relation between them is unknown, and perhaps knowable only to the Eternal Mind, to Him to whom Time, for example, is related as it is not to us. Under such contradictions falls the truth that the same Eternal Person who "willeth not the death of a sinner," "worketh all things according to the counsel of His own will," and, among all things, the retributory death of the sinner.

(6) It is only to illustrate this to say that the scriptural Christian should be, and will be, "a Calvinist on his knees, an Arminian on his feet." For himself and for others he will pray to, and trust in, a God who has all wills in the hand of His will. To himself and to others he will appeal as to those whose wills and responsibilities are realities indeed. Not that truth lies equally in the systems associated with the names of Calvin and Arminius. But there is that in Scripture which responds from its depths to emphatic points in both. And the full secret of the harmony lies with God.

(7) Here best a few words may be said on the question of the purposed scope of the Lord’s Atonement. Was its benefit intended for every human being equally, or for man actually and ultimately regenerate only, the chosen Church? For the former view appear, e.g., Isai. liii. 6 (?); Joh. i. 9; 1 Tim. ii. 6; 1 Joh. ii. 2 ; and cp. 2 Cor. v. 19; also, Rom. xiv. 15; 1 Cor. viii. 11. For the latter appear, e.g., Joh, x. 15, with 26, 29; Eph. v. 25-27; and all passages which limit the actual benefits of the Atonement to the sphere of union with Christ by faith, taken with the truth of God’s never-disappointed purposes (Eph. i. 11, etc.). It is plain that on the whole the atoning work appears as not only competent to procure and secure salvation, but as efficaciously doing so. And indeed nothing, from the divine view-point, is loose and contingent; all is within a covenant.

But are we not entitled here also to read the lesson of <45/46> parallelism, of apparent contradiction? We are on the border-line where the Eternal touches the temporal, the Infinite the finite. The actual issues of salvation and redemption most surely and exactly realize the eternal purpose, and as it were define it. From this point of view the purpose of the Atonement is limited within the vast (Rev. vii. 9) circle of the true Church. Yet, on the other hand, Scripture not only expressly testifies (as above) to a universal "gracious aspect" of the Atonement, but, by its appeals and invitations, takes such an aspect for granted, in the sense not only of an ample provision, but of a divine willingness and love in offer. The mystery, and at the same time the indication of where the unknown solution lies, resides in the relations of Infinite and finite. The Eternal, as the Eternal, purposes and carries out; as the Eternal condescending to gracious relations with the temporal, He invites all to a full and actual provision.

(8) The Perseverance of the Saints.—As we are here concerned with divine plan rather than human action, let us rather say, the Perseverance of God. Now here, too, the principle of apparent contradiction enters. Scripture abounds with assurances of perseverance (see Joh. x. 28 for most explicit words) and an exulting anticipation of it, as an element of experience (Rom. viii. 31-9; 1 Pet. i. 8, 9), and with warnings and cautions of the deepest earnestness (e.g., 1 Cor. viii. 11, ix. 27 [4]). In a sense, both sides of its language have to be adopted heartily, by the teacher dealing with concrete experiences. But the Scripture evidence as a whole goes for the permanence, in the plan of God, of the once-given "eternal life." As <46/47> we patiently compare the Scriptures on the two sides, we shall be struck with the mass, and emphasis, of the positive statements. It is as if the positive side conveyed a ruling spiritual principle,—the negative, a warning not to distort or divorce it; the positive, an assurance for the Christian as such,—the negative, a caution to the man as such not to delude himself about his Christianity, above all, not to allow anything to palliate a moment’s sin. It is remarkable that in the divinely-chosen biographies of Scripture no person appears who, at one time certainly a saint of God, at a later time was certainly a lost man.

(9) Is grace, in any sense of the word, ever finally withdrawn? Yes, if by grace is meant any free gift of God tending to salvation, or more specially any action of the Holy Spirit tending in its nature thither. Spiritual knowledge and light, alarming intuition into judgment, pleasing intuition into the beauty of holiness, are given where, through the sinner’s fault, no salvation results (Acts xxiv. 25, with Joh. xvi. 8). A certain special connexion with Christ may be given, and lost (Joh. xv. 6). But if by grace is meant the dwelling and working of God in the truly regenerate, there is no indication in Scripture of the withdrawal of it. The opposite is powerfully indicated (Joh. x. 28; cp. xvii. 2, 3, 24). Nowhere occurs the thought of the mortification or amputation of a true limb of the mystical Head.

(10) To close; the practical solution of many spiritual problems lies in the fact that revealed truths, dark and bright alike, are never rightly studied apart from a view of the Real Personality of God. Solvitur ambulando cum Deo. This is eminently true in the matter of Assurance, whether of present acceptance and divine life, or of final glory. This the Christian will enjoy both the more warmly and the more lawfully the more he actually deals, not only with the promises, but with the Promiser. In adoring intercourse with Him, through His Son, in His Spirit, it shall be delightfully possible to enjoy without <47/48> misgiving the certainty of present spiritual life and its development in glory, and, as a deep element in the joy, to be on the one hand calmly sure that His tender mercies are over all His works, and that in every step of His ways He is both just and merciful, and on the other hand to recognize, with "sweet, pleasant, and unspeakable comfort" (Art. XVII.), that the individual believing soul is the object of a totally unmerited, divinely free, and tenderly special love and call, and of an almighty "keeping, unto salvation ready to be revealed in the last time"(l Pet. i. 5). In this adoring communion with God, the man thus believing will find in his humble assurance the very opposite of a contraction of sympathies and efforts. If it is indeed God in Christ whom he thus knows, trusts, and worships, the joy of possession will by its very nature ask to be communicated. The man will "yield himself" in deep peace to be an implement in the hands of his immeasurably gracious Father, who "so loved the world that He gave His only-begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish, but have everlasting life." He will be, if true to his belief, at once humble and strong, deeply yet wakefully at rest, "at leisure from himself" to be God’s means of good for others, as He, sovereign in wisdom, love, and power, shall choose.


The Doctrine of Election: Various Theories:

Sketch of the History of Opinion.

Very various theories of this great mystery have been held in the Church. We give a very brief enumeration.

(1) National Election.—The Scripture doctrine has been explained as meaning a sovereign choice of nations, or races, to light and privilege. Such election—in the case of the Jews at least—there is. But the theory cannot satisfy such passages as Joh. xvii., Rom. viii.

(2) Ecclesiastical Election.—It is held, much more widely, that the chosen are, in effect, the members of the Church, <48/49> explained as the community of the baptized. On the surface, Scripture gives much support to this; e.g., St Peter (i. 1, 2) addresses the Christian body in Asia Minor as "elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father." But here arise great questions connected with the word "Church" (see further below, p. 202, etc.); particularly, whether an address to a community in such cases does not inevitably assume its ideal, and not necessarily its concrete and individual, condition. As to the fact of baptism, no reserves would need to be made. But not so as to the reality of faith, hope, and love in a given individual. Yet the whole community is addressed as believing, hoping, and loving. So with the choice of God. If it was a choice "unto salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and faith in the truth" (2 Thess. ii. 13), there would be need, in order to know that any given member of the given community was the object of it, to ascertain the reality of his faith and sanctification. Rom. viii. 33 plainly identifies the chosen with the justified. But the justified are the truly believing (Rom. v. 1). Certainly such passages as Joh. xvii., Rom. viii., indicate by their very tone and manner a mystery and glory in the choice of God ranging above observable organization, however sacred. They point direct, not only to opportunity or privilege, but to glory.

(3) Conditional Election.—Under this are grouped all views which regard election as to life eternal, but as going upon a personal difference, in some sense antecedent, between the chosen and others. The chosen man is thus the man who is foreseen as about to believe, to submit to Christ, and whose difference from others is simply that he has not resisted the common grace. As one form of statement puts it, God graciously chose believers, as a class, to life eternal: whoever, making use of grace, entered that class, became ipso facto one of the chosen. Such statements have a manifest side of truth. God "enforceth not the will;" the believer "wills" to come to Christ as genuinely <49/50> as the unbeliever "wills not" to come. But we think that the view fails to harmonize with Scripture in one crucial point. It fails to do what the Scripture doctrine of election manifestly aims to do, to emphasize the guilty impotence of man and the mystery of the ways of grace. Practically, it makes man, not God, the chooser. It may be fairly put somewhat thus: God has in His sovereign wisdom appointed faith in Christ to be the way of life; He has provided means whereby faith in Christ is in the power of all fallen human beings; those men who choose to exercise it place themselves on the register of life. But is such a statement true to that side of Scripture truth which exalts the wonder of any given salvation? We think not. But it is with that side only that the doctrine of election is concerned. The other limb of the "contradiction" (p. 44) stands untouched; "God willeth all men to be saved." But this limb must be untouched too, if we would be true to Scripture. It must be owned a mystery whose explanation and harmony lie within the secret things of God.

The conditional theory has been held by Christians who hold the necessary perseverance of the saints, and by Christians who deny it. In the first case, the truly believing and the elect would always be identical terms, and persons; in the second case they would not.

(4) Election within Election.—It has been held that in Scripture the word "election" is, like many others, elastic; that all the baptized are chosen, but that the living and loving among them are chosen in an inner sense, whether the "choice" in their case be conditional or not. Or again, that all true believers are a chosen people, but that only some of them have a grace securing their final glory. These are the elect in the highest sense.

Here again are clear elements of truth. The merest external Christian membership is a grant of divine kindness; the most imperfect exercise of Christian conduct is an occasion for thanks to God. But the mystery <50/51> and greatness which the leading New Testament passages attach to the divine Choice, lead us deeper and higher for an adequate account of this side of truth. Abit in mysterium. It is only one side of the apparent "contradiction;" but one side it is. " The Son quickeneth whom He will" (Joh. v. 21); "All that the Father giveth Me shall come to Me …. and I will raise him up again at the last day" (vi. 37, 39).


History of Opinion.

(1) Second to Fourth Centuries.—No controversy about election appears in this period. And the then Church teachers, from Clement of Rome (cent. i.) downwards, emphasize earnestly and largely the freedom of the will, the autexousion of man. On the other hand, there are many references—e.g., in Ignatius (cent. i.)—to the glory of a divine election. Ignatius identifies the elect body with the baptized Church; but see above (p. 49) for remarks on inferences from this. And as to the assertion of the freedom of the will, it is to be noticed that such assertions were made mainly in the face of Rabbinic or pagan fatalism. In our time, the thoughtful Calvinist would be as earnest as his Arminian friend in vindicating the autexousion of the will against materialistic necessitarianism. [5] Yet he would reverently hold that wherever a will, as the free and true expression of a human personality, genuinely chooses Christ, it acts, in a very special sense, "according to the purpose of Him who worketh all things after the counsel of His own will."

(2) Fourth to Fifth Centuries (the age of Augustine).—This great saint (a.d. 354-430) was once a Manichean necessitarian. Convinced of sin, with deep intensity, he came to the feet of Christ. One great controversy of his life was with Pelagius, who practically asserted the sufficiency, for holiness, of the natural human will. This controversy occasioned Augustine’s full treatment of grace <51/52> and nature, and, in connexion, of divine sovereignty. True to the principle explained above (p. 43), he held firmly that the will is always the genuine unforced expression of the personality, but that God’s choice is sovereign, and His call effectual where He wills. Augustine’s position, as the first great patristic teacher in this direction, is largely explained by his spiritual history. It would seem that no previous great teacher, since the Apostles, had had his own soul so pierced by conviction of sin, and so filled with a sense of the wonder of mercy. And it is in the region of such convictions that the doctrine before us finds its moral response.

Augustine’s teaching was, in outline, this. Adam freely fell; God, for reasons good and wise, but hidden in Himself, willed to save some, not all, of Adam’s race. That salvation is within the visible Church alone. And of the baptized, regenerate, and godly, not all have the grace of perseverance, without which glory is not attained.

In the sternness of his views on Infant Salvation he clearly outruns Revelation. But the essential mental attitude of this great, tender-hearted, and heavenly-minded man was that of one who, in the awful light of personal conviction, had seen the fallen heart, and thus, with spiritually quickened insight, found (as it were) an element in Scripture less fully found before—the wonder and sovereignty of mercy.

(3) Fifth to Seventeenth Centuries.—The divine choice and its working was a subject of discussion all through the medieval times, in Western Christendom far more than in Eastern. The Easterns always tended to a view less stringent than Augustine’s, attributing on the whole to the human will, since the Fall, not only the freedom which lies in its being always the expression of unforced personal choice, but freedom in the sense of full moral ability to choose good, to choose God; that is, to love holiness, not only to approve it. In other words, liberty for the Latins <52/53> meant, in effect, self-determination, unforced from without; for the Greeks, balance between opposite choices. [6]

Of the Schoolmen, or Scholastics, of the West (cent. xii.-xiv.), who laboured to apply logical method to theology, many great representatives were Augustinian; e.g., Anselm, Lombard, Thomas Aquinas, Bradwardine. Others took a line almost, in some cases, Pelagian; e,g., John Duns Scotus, a Northumbrian monk. The Benedictine and Franciscan Orders followed the Thomist and Scotist systems respectively. Divergence of opinion on these points has been continuous in the Roman Church. At the Council of Trent (1546-1563) Augustinianism was practically reaffirmed, though a large party were for freer definitions. All rejected the doctrine of necessary final perseverance. The Jesuits, who are at present dominant in the Roman Catholic Church, favoured a semi-Pelagian doctrine. In 1640 Jansenius, Bishop of Ypres, published his Augustinus, a powerful restatement of strict Augustinianism. He attracted eminent followers, e.g., the Abbè de St Cyran, the theologian Antoine Arnauld, the great lay thinker Blaise Pascal, who powerfully attacked Jesuit theology and ethics in his brilliant Lettres Provinciales (1656-7), and, later, the expositor P. Quesnel. The Augustinus was censured by the Pope, 1642, and the Jansenists were ultimately repressed. They survive as a seceding community.

The leaders of the Reformation were not agreed on the details of the doctrine of divine sovereignty. But they were, as a body, decided Augustinians in all main respects. [7] Perhaps their chief difference lay in their greater or less tendency to put the facts of sovereignty into the foreground, and to follow them logically into remoter conclusions. The Institutes (1536) of the great Frenchman John Calvin (1509-1564) do this certainly beyond Scriptural warrant; while in his admirable Commentaries, <53/54> written later, he shows a full sense of the solemn mysteries of the subject, and the desire to take practically the plain lines of revealed love and promise. With Luther (1483-1546) the subject lay more in the background, though he was an ardent disciple of Augustine. Melanchthon (ob. 1560) assures Calvin that his views, on the whole, are Calvin’s; still, Melanchthon certainly allowed more balance to the will of sinful man than Calvin did. Our great theologian Richard Hooker (1554-1600), who had before his luminous mind the Reformation literature, as well as the Patristic and Medieval, was an Augustinian,—indeed, a moderate Calvinist. [8] He puts the doctrines of personal election and perseverance always in proportionate connexion with other truths, as one convinced that they are present and important in Scripture, but not that they are the central and ruling revelation. He was the type of a large English school in the first half of the seventeenth century.

By the middle of cent. xvii. came a reaction from extreme Calvinism, bringing in a new dominant form of theology in the English Church. It may be called popularly Arminian, from James Arminius, of Leyden (1560-1609). It held, in effect, only a conditional and contingent election to life eternal. (See above, p. 49.) The divine fore-knowledge was not effectual fore-will. The ultimate account of salvation in any given case lay in the human will, choosing to come, determining to persevere. Most reverently and strongly Arminius emphasized the necessity of grace for salvation, and as the source of all good in man. But still, as no grace was in its nature certainly prevalent, the difference lay outside grace, and in the self-action of the will.

In such a statement lie large elements of Scripture truth. The will, and so the responsibility, are real indeed, in Scripture. But, on the other hand, the Arminian doctrine fails to give due place to the mysterious tone <54/55> of Scripture on divine sovereignty as one side of truth, and to the instinct of the convinced and pardoned man to recognize mere mercy in the whole saving process.

The Arminian controversy came to a sort of climax in the Synod of Dort (Dordrecht), in Holland, 1618. Representatives of Protestant churches, including the Anglican, met there, and the distinctive articles of Arminianism were finally censured. But the English delegates were more favourable than the continentals to a moderate positive statement.

Still in the seventeenth century, that acute thinker and saintly pastor, Richard Baxter (1615-1691), advocated a theory akin to that described above (p. 50) as election within election. Final perseverance was possible for all the regenerate, but was left contingent for all but an inner circle.

(4) Eighteenth Century.—In the great spiritual Revival in England, and New England, the controversy revived. The Wesleys (John, 1703-179l; Charles, 1708-1788) were decided Arminians; Whitefield (1714-1770) a moderate Calvinist; and so Doddridge, Venn, Newton, and Scott. Romaine and Toplady were strong Calvinists. [9] In New England, the great thinker and saint, Jonathan Edwards (1704-1758) wrote profoundly on the theology of the subject. With him, God’s Holiness and Supremacy were the possessing thoughts, for rapturous adoration at least as much as mental enquiry. He made, however, an undue application of metaphysical method, particularly in discussions on the will, and used arguments soon appropriated by non-Christian fatalism. The very nature of this range of truth, as presented in Scripture as a "part of the ways" of God, is a warning in this direction. All truths are connected in God, and so everything is, ultimately, an ordered system. <55/56> But Scripture continually warns us that in the matter of spiritual truths we inevitably "know in part." Thus the Christian student will always guard his use of revealed premises by revealed, rather than merely inferred, conclusions. <56>


[1] "God the Son hath redeemed me and all mankind" (Church Catechism). These words are referable to the kind, the genus. So has the Son of God dealt for and with that kind that it is restored, and more than restored, in Him, to acceptance and holiness, and that restoration is ready to be realized in any individual of it believing on Him. But actual, biographical "redemption" of the individual, if the Scripture use of the word "redeem" is observed, is not an accomplished fact till his incorporation into Christ by the Spirit, nor fully realized till resurrection (Rom. viii. 23).

[2] See, for this meaning of "call," e.g., 1 Cor. i. 23, 24. It is regular in the Epistles. In the Gospels the meaning is rather invitation successful or not (Matt. xxii. 14).

[3] From Jer. xxxi. it is plain that the grace of remission comes, in idea, first; then, the grace of the new "heart" on which "the law is written." The objects of the Covenant are morally transfigured, being freely welcomed (see further, p. 190).

[4] Heb. vi. 4-6, x. 26, 27, have struck deep into human hearts. Rightly, in the case of the man satisfied with himself and his light, and relaxing his watch. But in very different cases they have given an alarm surely not meant by their divine Author. In both the thought is of the possession of intense light, rather than divine life and love. Balaam’s story illustrates every detail of Heb. vi. 4-6.

[5] See Dr A.A. Hodge, Lectures on Theological Themes, p. 158.

[6] See Shedd, Hist. of Doctrine, ii., 60, etc.

[7] See Goode, Effects of Baptism, ch. iii., for a mass of evidence to this effect.

[8] See Mozley, Baptismal Controversy, note 38.

[9] For a deeply interesting comparison of views between a "moderate Calvinist" and a great Arminian leader (C. Simeon and J. Wesley) see Carus, Memoir of Simeon, ch. viii.


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