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THERE is no truth more evident than that God must ever act consistently with Himself; and as Revelation makes known to us the nature and purposes of God, and His dealings with His creatures, it is equally obvious that the Bible must be in perfect harmony with God and with itself. If we enter on an examination of this holy book in the right spirit and with adequate means for understanding it, we need have no fear of the result. If we desire to arrive at the truth, it is above all things necessary that we should as far as possible lay aside prejudice, and be willing to have our previous notions corrected. We should read and study the Scriptures with the simple object of learning what they were designed to teach us, and scrupulously avoid putting upon what we read a construction of our own, which is inconsistent with either the meaning of a particular passage or with the general testimony of the whole Bible.
All eminent teachers have felt and acknowledged the necessity of a harmony in the Scriptures, and have therefore endeavoured to make theology a system, whose several parts might form one consistent whole. It is evident, however, that it is only truth that can be perfectly and invariably consistent with itself. A system founded in error must be one that consists not of parts, but of pieces that cannot be adapted to each other so as to form one compact and living unity. A religious system whose parts can harmonise, and whose unity can be complete, must begin and end with God, who is harmony itself and unity itself. It must be founded upon and pervaded by those two universal truths respecting the Divine Being—that God is One, and that He is Love. [Enl. Series.- No. 108, vol. ix.]
These are the two grand truths of the Bible, and the origin of all religion, theoretical and practical. And since these are the truths of the Bible itself, the Bible, if it is of God, cannot contain anything that comes into conflict with them. If God is one, there must be perfect harmony among His attributes, and absolute perfection in His operations. As God is Love, there can be no attribute in His nature that is not in harmony with love, no purpose that does not originate in it, no act that does not embody it. Whether we regard God as the Creator or as the Governor of the universe, as the Redeemer or Sanctifier of men, His love must be the moving cause. If it can be truly said of the húman attribute, how much more may it be said of the Divine, that “Love seeketh not her own"? In all that God has done, and in all that He does, His love is the love of others, not of Himself. What, indeed, can God desire for Himself? What, then, can He do for His own sake? If all that exists in creation, and all that can ever exist, as the orderly result of creation, has eternally and infinitely existed in God Himself, what can He derive for Himself from creation? It can add nothing to His fulness, to His glory, to His blessedness.
Why, then, should God create ? Because it is the very nature of love to have objects to love, and to desire to raise them to a participation in its own happiness. If that traditionary saying of the Lord's is true of men, how much more must it be true of God, that “it is more blessed to give than to receive"? The only purpose that God could have in creating the universe was to confer a measure of His own happiness on the beings whom He created. The human race are those for whom creation exists, and the human race exist for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. The only purpose God could have in creation was to bestow on man a happy immortality-to raise out of the human race a heaven, where created beings might live for ever in the enjoyment of His love and blessedness. This end of God in creating man must enter into all the means which are employed to accomplish that end. His providence and grace, His redemption and salvation, what are they but the means by which Divine Love carries out its beneficent purpose? If this is the case, the Divine Word can contain nothing that is in the least degree inconsistent with them. Predestination and election cannot be incon. sistent with infinite and impartial love; yet predestination and election are plainly taught in the Bible. But then we must understand them in a way that prevents them from clashing with the other, and especially with the fundamental, principles of the Bible. We cannot at the same time consistently maintain, or really believe, that God is infinite and impartial Love, and yet has chosen a few out of the human race, and left all the others to perish. We cannot at one and the same time believe that God's love provided and offers salvation to the whole world, and yet that only a part of the world can be saved.
The principle of necessary harmony in the Scriptures, and of the necessary inviolability of the essential and central truths of religion, must, I presume, be admitted by every one. Supposing, therefore, that predestination and election, or any other subordinate doctrine, did not admit of an exposition that would bring them into perfect harmony with those great truths respecting the nature, purposes, and operations of God that form the very foundation of all religion, we must not invalidate the greater by the less. The proper proceeding in such a case is to admit that there is a difficulty. But a difficulty does not of necessity imply a contradiction. The difficulty is not in the subject itself, but in our limited capacities, which prevent us from seeing clearly that which in itself is clear. Nature, that lies open to our senses, has difficulties, but these arise from our partial knowledge of her facts, or our false interpretation of her phenomena. All difficulties with regard to the truths and doctrines of the Scriptures have the same origin; and all that we have to do in such cases is diligently to inquire, or patiently to wait for further light.
These remarks are not intended to be understood as an admission that there is any unconquerable difficulty on the subject of election. They are rather designed to impress the conviction that if predestination and election, by whoever held, cannot be seen to harmonise with impartial love, some misgiving should be felt as to the soundness of the view respecting them.
It seems to me that one cause of the apparent inconsistency of God's election with God's love has arisen from confounding two different kinds of election, and from making that absolute which is conditional.
In Scripture, election is presented under two distinct forms, general and particular, national and individual. General election is the selection of a people or nation for a particular purpose, which places them in a certain position and gives them certain privileges, but does not determine their individual destiny. Thus the Jews, as a people, were elected to form a visible church, but they were not individually elected to eternal life; for every individual Jew, notwithstanding the general election, had to work out his own particular salvation; and many of those who were of the election never entered into the kingdom of heaven. When the Lord came into the world, the Jews, as a people, lost their election, and the Gentiles were elected in their place; but neither did this election secure to the Gentiles individually a state of future happiness. The
general election merely places in the hands of those who are the subjects of it the Oracles of God, and makes them the members of the visible church. It does not make them the members of the inward invisible church: this can be effected only by regeneration. Men, therefore, by natural birth
be the members of the outward church and the subjects of general election ; but it is only by spiritual birth that they can be the members of the inward church and the subjects of particular election.
In the general election of a people to form a visible church, there is nothing of Divine partiality. A people is not elected simply for its own sake, but for the sake of the whole race. It is necessary for the welfare of the human race that a church should exist somewhere in the world; for the church is to the human race what the heart and lungs are to the human body-centres of life by which the whole system is maintained. By electing one people, God does not reject all the others; but on the contrary, establishes in the midst of them a centre of light and influence by which all may be benefited and saved. Such are the nature and purposes of general or national election. And this is the election treated of by St. Paul in the 9th chapter of Romans, where it is said of Jacob and Esau, "for the children being not yet born, neither having done 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 Rebecca, The elder shall serve the younger." This did not mean the election of Jacob to eternal life, and the reprobation of Esau to eternal death. It did not refer to them personally. Jacob and Esau were the fathers and the representatives of the Jews and the Gentiles. The election of Jacob was the choice of him and his posterity to form an external church, and a promise was given to Esau that, after having served Jacob, he should break his yoke from off his neck—a promise that was fulfilled when, at the Lord's coming, the visible church was transferred froin the Jews to the Gentiles.
Besides this general election there is a particular election; and this is an election to eternal life. General election is independent of conditions on the part of those who are chosen. God, who knows what people is the fittest for His beneficent purposes, makes the election, and there is no necessary choice on the part of those who are selected. But in particular or individual election the case is entirely different. Men are not chosen to eternal life by an eternal decree, independent of their own choice and faithfulness; nor are any foreordained to eternal death without any reference to their own conduct. Election in individual cases is not arbitrary but conditional. Men are not good because they are elected, but they are elected because they are good. Their election
is not the cause but the effect of their own choice and persevering pursuit of eternal life. Those who are so frequently spoken of as “ the elect,” when election is understood in the particular sense, are none other than such as have been chosen to eternal life because they have, by a faithful use of Divine means, become prepared for eternal life. These are they who have made their calling and election sure.” And the exhortation of the Apostle Peter to “ give all diligence to make sure our calling and election,” is an absolute proof that the apostles held individual election, like individual salvation, to be entirely conditional. It could, in their view, be secured only by diligence, and would be lost by neglect.
It is no doubt true that God, as the Omniscient, knows, and from eternity knew, who would and who would not secure their election; and when Peter addresses the strangers scattered throughout Pontus and other places as “elect according to the foreknowledge of God,” he only expresses a necessary truth; and no argument can be drawn from his language in favour of partial and unconditional election, any more than in favour of the absolute and unconditional fixedness of all acts and events, because they already exist in the foreknowledge of God. If this were the case, there would be no difference between foreknowledge and predetermination; and man would be alike destitute of spiritual and natural freedom.
Divine foreknowledge and human freedom are in no way inconsistent with each other. To foresee what man will choose, and to determine that he shall choose it, are two entirely distinct things. To be elect according to God's foreknowledge of what men will be, and to be elected by an eternal decree, without any respect to man's will to good or evil in his life, as the predestinarians express it, are as different as a merciful providence and an inexorable fate. When election and predestination are founded upon foresight, there is nothing arbitrary or unconditional in them. Men are left as free to act as if God did not know what a day would bring forth; while it secures to him the providential care which a prescient God is alone able to bestow.
It is deserving of remark, that while the Scriptures may seem to teach that some have been decreed to eternal life, there is not even the appearance of their teaching that any are decreed to eternal death. There is only one kind of predestination mentioned in Scripture, and that is predestination to life. “ Whom He did foreknow He also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of His Son." So that the Divine decree, if there were one, would be only on the side of ivine benevolence and of human happiness. That those who are not foreordained to life are foreordained to death is an inference of man, but