In discussing this subject I shall endeavor to show,
What the true doctrine of reprobation is not.
1. It is not that the ultimate end of God in the creation of any was their damnation. Neither reason nor revelation confirms, but both contradict the assumption, that God has created or can create any being for the purpose of rendering him miserable as an ultimate end. God is love, or He is benevolent, and cannot therefore will the misery of any being as an ultimate end, or for its own sake. It is little less than blasphemy to represent God as creating any being for the sake of rendering him miserable, as an ultimate end of His creation.
2. The doctrine is not, that any will be lost or miserable to all eternity, do what they can to be saved, or in spite of themselves. It is not only a libel upon the character of God, but a gross misrepresentation of the true doctrine of reprobation, to exhibit God as deciding to send sinners to hell in spite of themselves, or notwithstanding their endeavors to please God and obtain salvation.
3. Nor is this the true doctrine of reprobation, to wit: that the purpose or decree of reprobation is the procuring cause of the destruction of reprobates. God may design to destroy a soul because of his foreseen wickedness; but His design to destroy him for this reason does not cause his wickedness, and consequently does not prove his destruction.
4. The doctrine is not, that any decree or purpose of reprobation throws any obstacles in the way of the salvation of any one. It is not that God has purposed the damnation of any one in such sense as that the decree opposes any obstacle to the salvation of any soul under heaven.
5. Nor is it that any one is sent to hell, except for his own voluntary wickedness and ill-desert.
6. Nor is it that any one will be lost who can be induced, by all the means that can be wisely used, to accept salvation, or to repent and believe the gospel.
7. Nor is it, nor does it imply, that all the reprobates might not be saved, if they would but comply with the indispensable conditions of salvation.
8. Not does it imply, that the decree of reprobation presents or opposes any obstacle to their compliance with the necessary conditions of salvation.
9. Nor does it imply, that anything hinders or prevents the salvation of the reprobate, but their perverse perseverance in sin and rebellion against God, and their wilful resistance of all the means that can be wisely used for their salvation.
What the true doctrine of reprobation is.
The term reprobation, both in the Old and the New Testament, signifies refuse, cast away. "Reprobate silver shall men call them, because the Lord hath rejected them" (Jerem. 6:30). The doctrine is, that certain individuals of mankind are, in the fixed purpose of God cast away, rejected and finally lost.
This is a doctrine of reason.
By this is intended, that since the Bible reveals the fact, that some will be finally cast away and lost, reason affirms that if God casts them off, it must be in accordance with a fixed purpose on His part to do so, for their foreseen wickedness. If, as a matter of fact, they will be cast away and lost, it must be that God both knows and designs it. That is, He both knows that they will be cast away, and designs to cast them off for their foreseen wickedness. God can certainly never possess any new knowledge respecting their character and deserts, and since He is unchangeable, He can never have any new purpose respecting them.
Again, it follows from the doctrine of election. If God designs to save the elect, and the elect only, as has been shown, not for the reason, but upon condition of their foreseen repentance and faith in Christ, it must be that He designs, or purposes to cast away the wicked, for their foreseen wickedness. He purposes to do something with those whom He foresees will finally be impenitent. He certainly does not purpose to save them. What He will ever do with them, He now knows that He shall do with them. What He will intend to do with them He now intends to do with them, or He were not unchangeable. But we have seen that immutability or unchangeableness is an attribute of God. Therefore the present reprobation of those who will be finally cast away or lost, is a doctrine of reason.
The doctrine of reprobation is not the election of a part of mankind to damnation, in the same sense that the elect unto salvation are elected to be saved. The latter are chosen or elected, not only to salvation, but to holiness. Election, with those who are saved, extends not only to the end, salvation, but also to the conditions or means; to wit, the sanctification of the Spirit, and the belief of the truth. This has been shown. God has not only chosen them to salvation, but to be conformed to the image of His Son. Accordingly, He uses means with them, with the design to sanctify and save them. But He has not elected the reprobate to wickedness, and does not use means to make them wicked, with the ultimate design to destroy them. He knows, indeed, that His creating them, together with His providential dispensations, will be the occasion, not the cause, of their sin and consequent destruction. But their sin and consequent destruction are not the ultimate end God had in view in their creation, and in the train of providences that thus result. His ultimate end must in all cases be benevolent, or must be the promotion of good. Their sin and damnation are only an incidental result, and not a thing intended as an end, or for its own sake. God can have no pleasure, in either their sin or consequent misery for its own sake; but on the contrary, He must regard both as in themselves evils of enormous magnitude. He does not, and cannot therefore elect the reprobate to sin and damnation, in the same sense in which He elects the saints to holiness and salvation. The elect unto salvation He chooses to this end, from regard to, or delight in the end. But the reprobate He chooses to destroy, not for the sake of their destruction as an end, or from delight in it for its own sake; but He has determined to destroy them for the public good, since their foreseen sinfulness demanded it. He does not use means to make them sinful, or with this design; but His providence is directed to another end, which end is good; and the destruction of the reprobate is, as has been said, only an incidental and an unavoidable result. That is, God cannot wisely prevent this result.
This is the doctrine of revelation.
That this view of the subject is sustained by divine revelation, will appear from a consideration of the following passages:
"And in very deed for this cause have I raised thee up, for to shew in thee My power, and that My name may be declared throughout all the earth" (Exodus 9:16).
"Every one that is proud in heart is an abomination to the Lord; though hand join in hand, he shall not be unpunished" (Prov. 16:5).
"And he said unto them, unto you it is given to know the mystery of the kingdom of God, but unto them that are without, all these things are done in parables: That seeing they may see, and not perceive, and hearing they may hear and not understand, lest at any time they should be converted, and their sins should be forgiven them" (Mark 4:11-12).
"For the scripture saith unto Pharaoh, even for this same purpose have I raised thee up, that I might shew My power in thee, and that My name might be declared throughout all the earth. What if God, willing to shew His wrath, and to make His power known, endured with much long-suffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction. And that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had before prepared unto glory. Even us, whom He hath called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles?" (Romans 9:17, 22-24).
"Examine yourselves, whether ye be in the faith; prove your own selves; know ye not your own selves, how that Jesus Christ is in you, except ye be reprobates? But I trust that ye shall know that we are not reprobates" (2 Cor. 13:56).
"But these as natural brute beasts, made to be taken and destroyed, speak evil of the things that they understand not; and shall utterly perish in their own corruption" (2 Peter 2:12).
"Have I any pleasure at all that the wicked should die? saith the Lord God; and not that he should return from his ways, and live? For I have no pleasure in the death of him that dieth, saith the Lord God, wherefore turn yourselves, and live ye?" (Ezek. 18:23, 32).
"Say unto them, as I live, saith the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live; turn ye, turn ye, from your evil ways; for why will ye die, O house of Israel?" (Ezek. 33:11).
"The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some men count slackness, but is long-suffering to us ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance" (2 Peter 3:9). These passages when duly considered are seen to teach:
1. That some men are reprobates, in the sense that God does not design to save, but to destroy them, and,
2. That He does not delight in their destruction for its own sake; but would prefer their salvation, if under the circumstances in which His wisdom has placed them, they could be induced to obey Him.
3. But that He regards their destruction as a less evil to the universe, than would be such a change in the administration and arrangements of His government as would secure their salvation. Therefore, for their foreseen wickedness and perseverance in rebellion, under circumstances the most favorable to their virtue and salvation, in which He can wisely place them, He is resolved upon their destruction; and has already in purpose cast them off for ever.
Why sinners are reprobated or rejected.
This has been already substantially answered. But to avoid misapprehension upon a subject so open to cavil, I repeat:
1. That the reprobation and destruction of the sinner is not an end, in the sense that God delights in misery, and destroys sinners to gratify a thirst for destruction. Since God is benevolent, it is impossible that this should be.
2. It is not because of any partiality in God, or because He loves the elect, and hates the reprobate, in any sense implying partiality. His benevolence is disinterested, and cannot of course be partial. 3. It is not from any want of interest in, and desire to save them, on the part of God. This He often affirms, and abundantly attests by His dealings with them, and the provision He has made for their salvation.
4. But the reprobates are reprobated for their foreseen iniquities:
"And even as they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient" (Romans 1:28).
"Who will render to every man according to his deeds: To them who, by patient continuance in well-doing, seek for glory, honor, and immortality, eternal life; But unto them that are contentious, and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath; Tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that doeth evil, of the Jew first, and also of the Gentile; But glory, honor, and peace, to every man that worketh good; to the Jew first, and also to the Gentile: For there is no respect of persons with God" (Romans 2:6-11).
"Behold all souls are Mine; as the soul of the father, so also the soul of the son is Mine: the soul that sinneth, it shall die. Yet say ye, Why? Doth not the son bear the iniquity of the father? When the son hath done that which is lawful and right, and hath kept all My statutes, and hath done them, he shall surely live. The soul that sinneth, it shall die. The son shall not bear the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son: the righteousness of the righteous shall be upon him, and the wickedness of the wicked shall be upon him" (Ezek. 18:4, 19-20).
"For we must all appear before the judgment-seat of Christ, that every one may receive the things done in the body, according to that he hath done, whether it be good or bad" (2 Cor. 5:10).
"Be not deceived, God is not mocked: for whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap" (Gal. 6:7).
"Knowing that whatsoever good thing any man doeth, the same shall he receive of the Lord, whether he be bond or free" (Eph. 6:8).
"Knowing that of the Lord ye shall receive the reward of the inheritance: for ye serve the Lord Christ" (Col. 3:24).
"And, behold, I come quickly; and My reward is with Me, to give every man according as his work shall be" (Rev. 22:12).
"Reprobate silver shall men call them, because the Lord hath rejected them" (Jerem. 6:30).
These passages show the teachings of inspiration on this subject. Be it remembered, then, that the reason why any are reprobated, is because they are unwilling to be saved; that is, they are unwilling to be saved on the terms upon which alone God can consistently save them. Ask sinners whether they are willing to be saved, and they all say, yes; and with perfect sincerity they may say this, if they can be saved upon their own terms. But when you propose to them the terms of salvation upon which the gospel proposes to save them; when they are required to repent and believe the gospel, to forsake their sins, and give themselves up to the service of God, they will with one consent begin to make excuse. Now, to accept these terms, is heartily and practically to consent to them. For them to say, that they are willing to accept salvation, while they actually do not accept it, is either to deceive themselves, or to utter an infamous falsehood. To be willing is to accept it; and the fact, that they do not heartily consent to, and embrace the terms of salvation, is demonstration absolute, that they are unwilling. Yes, sinners, the only terms on which you can possibly be saved, you reject. Is it not then an insult to God for you to pretend that you are willing? The only true reason why all of you are not Christians, is that you are unwilling. You are not made unwilling by any act of God, or because you are reprobate; but if you are reprobate, it is because you are unwilling.
But do any of you object and say, why does not God make us willing? Is it not because He has reprobated us, that He does not change our hearts and make us willing? No, sinner, it is not because He has reprobated you; but because you are so obstinate that He cannot, wisely, and in consistency with the public good; take such measures as will convert you. Here you are waiting for God to make you willing to go to heaven, and all the while you are diligently using the means to get to hell yes, exerting yourself with greater diligence to get to hell, than it would cost to insure your salvation, if applied with equal zeal in the service of your God. You tempt God, and then turn round and ask Him why He does not make you willing? Now, sinner, let me ask you, do you think you are a reprobate? It so, what do you think the reason is that has led the infinitely benevolent God to reprobate you? There must be some reason; what do you suppose it is? Did you ever seriously ask yourself, what is the reason that a wise and infinitely benevolent God has never made me willing to accept salvation? It must be for one of the following reasons. Either:
(1.) He is a malevolent being, and wills your damnation for its own sake; or:
(2.) He cannot make you willing if He would; or
(3.) You behave in such a manner in the circumstances in which you are, that, to His infinitely benevolent mind it appears unwise to take such a course as would bring you to repentance. Such a change in the administration of His government as would make you willing, would not, upon the whole, be wise.
Now, which of these do you think it is? You will not probably take the ground that He is malevolent, and desires your damnation because He delights in misery; nor will you, I suppose, take the ground that He could not convert you if He would, that is, if He thought it wise to do so.
The other, then, must be the reason, to wit: that your heart, and conduct, and stubbornness, are so abominable in His sight, that, every thing considered, He sees that to use such further means with you as to secure your conversion, would, on the whole, do more hurt than good to His kingdom. I have not time at present to agitate the question whether you, as a moral agent, could not resist any possible amount of moral influence that could be brought to bear upon you, consistently with your moral freedom.
Do you ask how I know that the reason why God does not make you willing is, that He sees that it would be unwise in Him to do so? I answer, that it is an irresistible inference, from these two facts, that He is infinitely benevolent, and that He does not actually make you willing. I do not believe that God would neglect anything that He saw to be wise and benevolent, in the great matter of man's salvation. Who can believe that He could give His only-begotten and well-beloved Son to die for sinners, and then neglect any wise and benevolent means for their salvation? No, sinner, if you are a reprobate, it is because God foresaw that you would do just as you are doing; that you would be so wicked as to defeat all the efforts that He could wisely make for your salvation. What a variety of means He has used with you. At one time He has thrown you into the furnace of affliction; and when this has not softened you, He has turned round and loaded you with favors. He has sent you His word, he has striven by His Spirit, He has allured you by the cross; He has tried to melt you by the groanings of Calvary; and tried to drive you back from the way to death, by rolling in your ears the thunders of damnation. At one time clouds and darkness have been round about you; the heavens have thundered over your head; divine vengeance has hung out, all around your horizon, the portentous clouds of coming wrath. At another time mercy has smiled upon you from above like the noonday sun, breaking through an ocean of storms. He urges every motive; He lays heaven, earth and hell, under perpetual contributions for considerations to move your stony heart. But you deafen your ears, and close your eyes, and harden your heart, and say, "Cause the holy one of Israel to cease from before us" (Isaiah 30:11). And what is the inference from all this? How must all this end? "Reprobate silver shall men call them, because the Lord has rejected them" (Jerem. 6:30).
When sinners are reprobated.
1. In respect to the act of casting them off, they are cast away only when, and not until, the cup of their iniquity is full.
2. In respect to the purpose of reprobation, they are in the purpose of God reprobated or rejected from eternity. This follows irresistibly from the omniscience and immutability of God. He has certainly and necessarily had from eternity all the knowledge He ever can or will have of the character of all men, and must have designed from all eternity all things respecting them which He ever will design. This follows from His unchangeableness. If He ever does cast off sinners, He must do it designedly or undesignedly. He cannot do it without any design. He must therefore do it designedly. But if He does it designedly, it must be either that He eternally entertained this design, or that He has changed. But change of purpose or design is inconsistent with the moral immutability of God. Therefore, the purpose of reprobation is eternal; or the reprobates were in the fixed purpose of God cast off and rejected from eternity.
Reprobation is just.
Is it not just in God to let men have their own choice, especially when the highest possible motives are held out to them as inducements to choose eternal life? What! Is it not just to reprobate men when they obstinately refuse salvation when every thing has been done that is consistent with infinite wisdom and benevolence to save them? Shall not men be willing to be either saved or lost? What shall God do with you? You are unwilling to be saved; why then should you object to being damned? If reprobation under these circumstances is not just, I challenge you, sinner, to tell what is just.
Reprobation is benevolent
It was benevolent in God to create men, though He foresaw that they would sin and become reprobate. If He foresaw that, upon the whole, He could secure such an amount of virtue and happiness by means of moral government, as to more than counterbalance the sin and misery of those who would be lost, then certainly it was a dictate of benevolence to create them. The question was, whether moral beings should be created, and moral government established, when it was foreseen that a great evil would be the incidental consequence. Whether this would be benevolent or not, must turn upon the question, whether a good might be secured that would more than counterbalance the evil. If the virtue and happiness that could be secured by the administration of moral government, would greatly out measure the incidental evils arising out of a defection of a part of the subjects of this government, it is manifest that a truly benevolent mind would choose to establish the government, the attendant evils to the contrary notwithstanding. Now, if those who are lost deserve their misery, and bring it upon themselves by their own choice, when they might have been saved, then certainly in their damnation there can be nothing inconsistent with justice or benevolence. God must have a moral government, or there can be no such thing as holiness in the created universe. For holiness in a creature is nothing else than a voluntary conformity to the government of God.
Since the penalty of the law, although infinite, under the wisest possible administration of moral government, could not secure universal obedience; and since multitudes of sinners will not be reclaimed and saved by the gospel, one of three things must be done; either moral government must be given up; or the wicked must be annihilated, or they must be reprobated and sent to hell. Now, that moral government should be given up, will not be pretended; annihilation would not be just, inasmuch as it would not be an adequate expression of the abhorrence with which the divine ruler regards the violation of His law, and consequently it would not meet the demands of public justice. Now, as sinners really deserve eternal death, and as their punishment may be of real value to the universe, in creating a respect for the authority of God, and thus strengthening His government, it is plain that their reprobation and damnation is, for the general good, making the best use of the wicked that can be made.
Doubtless God views the loss of the soul as a great evil, and He always will look upon it as such, and would gladly avoid the loss of any soul, if it were consistent with the wisest administration of His government. How slanderous, injurious, and offensive to God it must be, then, to say, that He created sinners on purpose to damn them. He pours forth all the tender yearnings of a father over those whom He is obliged to destroy. "How shall I give thee up, Ephraim? How shall I deliver thee, Israel? How shall I make thee as Admah? How shall I set thee as Zeboim? My heart is turned within me, My repentings are kindled together" (Hosea 11:8). And now, sinner, can you find it in your heart to accuse the blessed God of a want of benevolence? "O ye serpents! Ye generation of vipers! How can you escape the damnation of hell?" (Matt. 23:33).
How it may be known who are reprobates.
It may be difficult for us to ascertain with certainty in this world, who are reprobates; but there are so many marks of reprobation given in the Bible, that by a sober and judicious investigation, we may form a pretty correct opinion, whether we or those around us are reprobates or not.
1. One evidence of reprobation is a long course of prosperity in sin. The Psalmist lays it down as such in: "When the wicked spring as the grass, and when all the workers of iniquity do flourish, it is that they shall be destroyed forever" (Psalms 92:7). God often gives the wicked their portion in this world, and lets them prosper and wax fat like a stalled ox, and then brings them forth to the slaughter. "The wicked are reserved unto the day of wrath" (2 Peter 3:7).
When therefore you see an individual for a long time prospering in his sins, there is great reason to fear that man is a reprobate. In this passage inspiration assumes the truth of the distinction between evidence and proof. The Psalmist does not mean to be understood as affirming a universal truth. He did not intend, that prosperity in sin was proof conclusive that the prosperous sinner is a reprobate. But the least that could have been intended was, that such prosperity in sin affords alarming evidence of reprobation. It may be called presumptive evidence.
2. Habitual neglect of the means of grace is a mark of reprobation. If men are to be saved at all, it is through the sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth; and it will probably be found to be true, that not one in ten thousand is saved of those who habitually absent themselves from places where God presents His claims. Sometimes, I know, a tract, or the conversation or prayer of some friend, may awaken an individual, and lead him to the house of God; but, as a general fact, if a man stays away from the means of grace, and neglects his Bible, it is a fearful sign of reprobation, and that he will die in his sins. He is voluntary in it, and he does not neglect the means of grace because he is reprobated, but was reprobated because God foresaw that he would take this course. Suppose a pestilence were prevailing, that was certain to prove fatal in every instance where the appropriate remedy was not applied. Now, if you wished to know whose days were numbered and finished, and who among the sick were certain to die with the disease, if you found any among them neglecting and despising the only appropriate remedy, you would know that they were the persons.
3. Those who have grown old in sin, are probably reprobates. It is a solemn and alarming fact, that a vast majority of those who give evidence of piety, are converted under twenty-five years of age. Look at the history of revivals, and see, even in those that have manifested the greatest power, how few aged persons have been converted. The men who are set upon the attainment of some worldly object, and determined to secure that before they will attend to religion, and yield to the claims of their Maker, expecting afterwards to be converted, are almost always disappointed. Such a cold calculation is odious in the sight of God. What! Take advantage of His forbearance, and say, that because He is merciful you will venture to continue in sin, till you have secured your worldly objects, and worn yourself out in the service of the devil, and thus turn your Maker off with the jaded remnant of your abused mortality! You need not expect God to set His seal of approbation upon such a calculation as this, and suffer you at last to triumph, and say, that you had served the devil as long as you pleased, and got to heaven at last.
4. Absence of chastisements is a sign of reprobation. God says in the epistle to the Hebrews: "My son, despise not thou the chastening of the Lord, nor faint when thou art rebuked of Him; for whom the Lord loveth He chasteneth, and scourgeth every son whom He receiveth; if ye endure chastening, God dealeth with you as with sons; for what son is he whom the Father chasteneth not; but if ye be without chastisement, whereof all are partakers, then are ye bastards, and not sons" (Heb. 12:8).
5. When men are chastened and not reformed by it, it is a mark of reprobation. A poet has said, "When pain can't bless, heaven quits us in despair." God says of such, "Why should ye be stricken any more? Ye will revolt more and more" (Isaiah 1:5). When your afflictions are unsanctified, when you harden yourselves under His stripes, why should He not leave you to fill up the measure of your iniquity?
6. Embracing damnable heresies, is another mark of reprobation. Where persons seem to be given up to believe a lie, there is solemn reason for fearing that they are among that number upon whom God sends strong delusions, that they may believe a lie, and be damned, because they obey not the truth, but have pleasure in unrighteousness. Where you see persons giving themselves up to such delusions, the more certainly they believe them, the greater reason there is for believing that they are reprobates. The truth is so plain, that with the Bible in your hands, it is next to impossible to believe a fundamental heresy, without being given up to the judicial curse of God. It is so hard to believe a lie, with the truth of the Bible before you, that the devil cannot do it. If therefore you reject your Bible, and embrace a fundamental falsehood, you are more stupid and benighted than the devil is. When a man professes to believe a lie, almost the only hope of his salvation that remains, is, that he does not cordially believe it. Sinner, beware how you trifle with God's truth. How often have individuals begun to argue in favor of heresy, for the sake of argument, and because they loved debate, until they have finally come to believe their own lie, and are lost for ever.
1. To the idea that God rejected the reprobate for their foreseen wickedness, it is replied that "The Lord hath made all things for Himself; yea, even the wicked for the day of evil" (Prov. 16:4), teaches another doctrine; that this passage teaches, that God made the reprobates for the day of evil, or for the purpose of destroying them.
To this I reply, that if He did create them to destroy them, or with a design when He created them to destroy them, it does not follow that their destruction was an ultimate end, or a thing in which He delighted for its own sake. It must be true, as has been said, that He designed from eternity to destroy them, in view, and in consequence, of their foreseen wickedness; and of course, He designed their destruction when be created them. In one sense then, it was true, that He created them for the day of evil, that is, in the sense that He knew how they would behave, and designed as a consequence to destroy them when, and before, He created them. But this is not the same as His creating them for the sake of their destruction as an ultimate end. He had another and a higher ultimate end, which end was a benevolent one. He says "I have created all things for Myself, even the wicked for the day of evil" (Prov. 16:4), that is, He had some great and good end to accomplish by them, and by their destruction. He foresaw that He could use them for some good purpose, notwithstanding their foreseen wickedness; and even that He could overrule their sin and destruction to manifest His justice, and thus show forth His glory, and thereby strengthen His government. He must have foreseen that the good that might thus, from His overruling providence, result to Himself and to the universe, would more than compensate for the evil of their rebellion and destruction; and therefore, and upon this condition, He created them, knowing that He should destroy and intending to destroy them. That destruction was not the ultimate end of their creation, must follow from such scriptures as the following:
"Say unto them, As I live, saith the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live: turn ye, turn ye, from your evil ways; for why will ye die, O house of Israel?" (Ezek. 33:11).
"Have I any pleasure at all that the wicked should die; saith the Lord God; and not that he should return from his ways and live?" (Ezek. 18:23).
"The Lord is not slack concerning His promise, as some men count slackness, but is long-suffering to us ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance" (2 Peter 3:9).
"He that loveth not, knoweth not God, for God is love. And we have known and believed the love that God hath to us. God is love; and he that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him" (1 John 4:8, 16).
"But we see Jesus, who was made a little lower than the angels for the suffering of death, crowned with glory and honor; that He by the grace of God should taste death for every man" (Heb. 2:9).
2. Another objection to the doctrine of this lecture is founded on: "Nay, but O man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus? Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honor, and another unto dishonor? What if God, willing to shew His wrath, and make His power known, endured with much long-suffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction; and that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had before prepared unto glory" (Romans 9:20-23).
From this passage it has been inferred, that God creates the character and disposes of the destinies of both saints and sinners with as absolute and as irresistible a sovereignty as that exercised by the potter over his clay; that He creates the elect for salvation, and the reprobate for damnation, and forms the character of both so as to fit them for their respective destinies, with an absolutely irresistible and efficient sovereignty; that His ultimate end was in both cases His own glory, and that the value of the end justifies the use of the means, that is, of such means. To this I reply:
(1.) That it is absurd and nonsensical, as we have abundantly seen, to talk of creating moral character, either good or bad, by an irresistible efficient sovereignty. This is naturally impossible, as it implies a contradiction. Moral character must be the result of proper, voluntary action, and the moral character of the vessels of wrath or of mercy neither is, nor can be, formed by any irresistible influence whatever.
(2.) It is not said nor implied in the passage under consideration, that the character of the vessels of wrath was created, or that God had any such agency in procuring their character, as He has in forming the character of the vessels of mercy. Of the vessels of wrath it is only said they are "fitted to destruction," that is, that their characters are adapted for hell; while of the vessels of mercy it is said "which He had before prepared unto glory." The vessels of wrath are fitted, or had fitted themselves to destruction, under the light and influence that should have made them holy. The vessels of mercy God had, by the special grace and influence of the Holy Spirit, engaging and directing their voluntary agency, before prepared for glory.
(3.) But the lump spoken of in the text contemplates, not the original creation of men, nor the forming or creating in them of a wicked character. But it manifestly contemplates them as already existing as the potter's clay exists; and not only as existing, but also as being sinners. God may reasonably proceed to form out of this lump vessels of wrath or of mercy, as seems wise and good unto Him. He may appoint one portion to honor and another to dishonor, as is seen by Him to be demanded by the highest good.
(4.) The passage under consideration cannot, in any event, be pressed into the service of those who would insist, that the destruction of the reprobate is chosen for its own sake, and therefore implies malevolence in God. Hear what it says: "What if God, willing to show His wrath, and make His power known, endured with much long-suffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction; and that He might make known the riches of His glory on the vessels of mercy, which He had before prepared unto glory?" Here it appears, that He designed to show and make known His attributes. This cannot have been an ultimate, but must have been a proximate, end. The ultimate end must have been the highest glory of Himself, and the highest good of the universe, as a whole. If God willed thus to make known His holiness and His mercy, for the purpose of securing the highest good of the universe, who has a right to say, What doest Thou? or Why doest Thou thus?
3. Another objection is, if God knew that they would be reprobate or lost, why did He create them? If He knew that such would be the result, and yet created them, it follows that He created them to destroy them. I reply:
This objection has been already answered, but for the sake of perspicuity I choose here to answer it again.
From the admitted fact, that God knew when He created them just what their destiny would be, it does not follow that their destruction was the end for which He created them. He created them, not for their sin and destruction as an ultimate end, but for another and a good end, notwithstanding His foreknowledge of their sin and ultimate ruin.
4. It is further objected, that if God designed to make known His attributes, in the salvation of the vessels of mercy, and in the destruction of the vessels of wrath, He must have designed their characters as well as their end, inasmuch as their characters are indispensable conditions of this result.
I reply, that it is true, that the characters of both the vessels of wrath and of mercy must have been in some sense purposed or designed by God. But it does not follow that He designed them both in the same sense. The character of the righteous He designed to beget, or induce by His own agency; the character of the wicked He designed to suffer him to form for himself. He doubtless designed to suffer the one rather than to interfere, in such manner and form as would prevent sin, seeing as He did, that, hateful as it was in itself, it could be overruled for good. The other He designed to produce, or rather induce, both on account of the pleasure He has in holiness, and also for the sake of its bearings on the subject of it, and upon the universe.
5. To the doctrine of this lecture it is further objected, that if one is a reprobate it is of no use for him to try to be saved. If God knows what he will be in character, and designs his destruction, it is impossible that it should be otherwise than as God knows and designs, and therefore one may as well give up in despair first as last.
(1.) To such an objector I would say, you do not know that you are a reprobate, and therefore you need not despair.
(2.) If God designs to cast you off, though you cannot know this, it is only because He foresees that you will not repent and believe the gospel; or in other words, for your voluntary wickedness. He foreknows that you will be wicked simply because you will be, and not because His foreknowledge makes you so. Neither His foreknowledge respecting your character, nor His design to cast you off, in consequence of your character, has any agency in making you wicked. You are therefore perfectly free to obey and be saved, and the fact that you will not, is no reason why you should not.
(3.) You might just as reasonably make the same objection to every thing that takes place in the universe. Everything that did, or will, or can occur, is as infallibly known to God, as the fact of your wickedness and destruction is. He also has a fixed and eternal design about everything that ever did or will occur. He knows how long you will live, where you will live, and when and where you will die. His purposes respecting these and all other events are fixed, eternal, and unchangeable. Why, then, do you not live without food and say, I cannot make one hair black or white; I cannot die before my time, nor can I prolong my days beyond the appointed time, do what I will; therefore, I will take no care of my health? No this would be unreasonable.
Why not also apply this objection to everything, and settle down in despair of ever doing or being anything, but what an irresistible fate makes you? The fact is, that the true doctrine, whether of election or reprobation, affords not the least countenance to such a conclusion. The foreknowledge and designs of God respecting our conduct or our destiny, do not in the least degree interfere with our free agency. We, in every case, act just as freely as if God neither knew nor designed anything about our conduct. Suppose the farmer should make the same objection to sowing his seed, and to doing anything to secure a crop; what would be thought of him? And yet he might with as much reason, since he can plead the foreknowledge and designs of God, as an excuse for doing nothing to secure his salvation. God as really knows now whether you will sow and whether you will have a crop, and has from eternity known this, as perfectly as He ever will. He has either designed that you shall, or that you shall not, have a crop this year, from all eternity; and it will infallibly come to pass just as He has foreseen and designed. Yet you are really just as free to raise a crop, or to neglect to do so, as if He neither knew nor designed anything about it.
The man who will stumble either at the doctrine of election or reprobation, as defined and maintained in these lectures, should, to be consistent, stumble at everything that takes place, and never try to accomplish anything whatever; because the designs and the foreknowledge of God extend equally to everything; and unless He has expressly revealed how it will be, we are left in the dark, in respect to any event, and are left to use means to accomplish what we desire, or to prevent what we dread, as if God knew and designed nothing about it.
6. But it is objected, that this is a discouraging doctrine, and liable to be a stumbling-block, and therefore should not be inculcated. I answer:
(1.) It is taught in the Bible, and plainly follows also from the attributes of God, as revealed in the reason. The scriptures that teach it are not less likely to be a snare and a stumbling-block, than are the definition and explanation of the doctrine.
(2.) The proper statement, explanation, and defense of the doctrines of election and reprobation, are important to a proper understanding of the nature and attributes of God.
(3.) The scriptures that teach these doctrines are often subjects of cavil, and sometimes of real difficulty. Religious teachers should, therefore, state these doctrines and explain them, so as to aid the inquirer after truth, and stop the mouths of gainsayers.
(4.) Again, these doctrines have often been so misstated and perverted as to make them amount to an iron system of fatalism. Many souls have heard or read these perversions, and greatly need to be enlightened upon the subject. It is therefore all the more important, that these truths should find a place in religious instruction. Let them be understood, properly stated, explained, and defended, and they can no more be a stumbling-block, than the fact of God's omniscience can be so.