« PreviousContinue »
heart, and suited to humble man; and when it has its proper effect, and is cordially received, this pride is slain and relinquished; and what God, by Isaiah, foretold should be the effect of it, takes place in a very sensible, conspicuous degree. "The lofty looks of man shall be humbled, and the haughtiness of men shall be bowed down, and the Lord alone shall be exalted in that day." (Isa. ii. 11, 12.) Therefore, humility, in opposition to pride and self-exaltation, was frequently men tioned by our divine Teacher, as essential to a Christian; and he often said, "Every one that exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted." (See Matt. xviii. 4; xxiii. 12. Luke xiv. 11; xviii. 14.) And the apostle James says to sinners, "Humble yourselves in the sight of the Lord, and he shall lift you up." (James iv. 10.)
This is an evidence, among others, that the doctrine of elec tion is a doctrine of the gospel, in that it coincides, in this respect, with all the peculiar doctrines of divine revelation, in being suited to humble the pride of man, and exalt the sovereign grace of God; and, therefore, must be agreeable to the heart of every humble Christian. In this view, it is no won der that it should be so strongly opposed and rejected with great abhorrence and confidence by men, with all the other most humble doctrines of the gospel, and a scheme of sentiments be introduced in their room, which are really subversive of the gospel, and suited not to abase, but to flatter and gratify the pride of man, according to which he has something which he did not receive, even true virtue and holiness, the highest excellence and glory of man; and by this has made himself to differ from others, without any special distinguishing influence of God; and in this respect is independent of him, which he therefore ascribes not to the grace of God, but to himself, and glories in it. The following sentence of St. Paul is levelled at this pride and haughtiness of man, and if properly regarded, sufficient to demolish it. "Who maketh thee to differ from another? And what hast thou that thou didst not receive? Now if thou didst receive it, why dost thou glory as if thou hadst not received it?" (1 Cor. iv. 7.)
The humbling doctrine of election may be, indeed, abused, and so improved as to gratify the pride of man, while it is not really understood, nor in truth cordially received. A man may be led to conclude, even from the pride of his heart and without any reason, that he is elected to salvation, and herein distinguished by God from most others; and this may be very pleasing to his pride, while he does not understand, and in his heart admit, the only ground of this distinction, when made by God. And he, at bottom, feels as if he was distinguished from
others, and had received this peculiar favor out of respect to some good thing in him, by which he differed from others; or he attends only to the distinction itself, without considering the ground of it, and is pleased with this, and becomes a zealous, proud advocate for the doctrine of election. Therefore, many of the opposers of this doctrine suppose, that all who are advocates for it are pleased with it only from selfishness and pride, because they consider themselves as the elect of God, and hereby distinguished and favored above others. And there is, perhaps, no other way for pride to account for it, or to be reconciled to it. The true Christian receives it as glorious to God, and exalting sovereign grace and humbling man, while he considers himself as infinitely guilty and vile, and wholly lost in his sins, and if he be saved, it must be by the distinguishing, sovereign grace of God, who has mercy on whom he will have mercy, according to his decree of election, which affords the only ground of hope to man.
II. What has been said in this section on the doctrine of particular election, may serve to discover and state the character of a true Christian, so far as his views and exercises relate to this doctrine and those connected with it.
1. This is not a discouraging doctrine to him, nor disagreeable, though he do not know that he is a Christian, or is elected to salvation, but has great and prevailing doubts of this. He knows that if he were left to himself, he should not determine the point in his own favor, but his impenitent, unbelieving heart would reject Christ, and he go on to destruction. That he is wholly dependent on God for salvation, and if he do not determine in his favor, and have not elected him to salvation, and do not distinguish him from others by granting him those influences and that renovation which they who perish have not, he shall not be saved, but perish forever. Therefore, the doctrine of election can be no matter of discouragement to him; it cannot render his case worse than it would be if none were elected; for then he could have no hope of salvation, and the only hope he can have is grounded on this doctrine, and that he may be one of the elect. And his hope rises or sinks according to the evidence he has of this, by perceiving himself to be the subject of the regenerating, sanctifying influences of the Holy Spirit, or the contrary.
2. The true believer is pleased with being entirely dependent on God for his salvation, and that he should determine whether he shall be saved or not; and does not desire that he himself or others should be saved in any other way, but according to the eternal purpose of God. It is most disagreeable to him that any creature should determine this, in any one in
stance. He knows it belongs to God to decide this important matter; that he has a right to do it, and he only is able to determine it perfectly right, agreeable to infinite wisdom and goodness, so as shall be most for his glory, and promote the interest of his kingdom. He is pleased that, in this way, God is exalted in the exercise of sovereign grace, and the sinner humbled, and the most important interest forever secured and promoted in the best manner. He desires no other salvation for himself or others, but that which is the free gift of God and the fruit of his electing love, and which infinite wisdom sees will be most for the glory of God, and the general good; and that without knowing whether his salvation be consistent with this or not, and whether he be one of the elect or not.
3. All the Christian's prayers and devotions are upon this plan, and agreeable to this doctrine. They contain in them either an express or implicit acknowledgment of his entire dependence on God for salvation, and every thing for which he prays or gives thanks, and that all the good he desires must be the fruit of the determination of him who changes not in his purpose and design, and express, or imply, an unconditional, implicit resignation to his wise and holy will.
The opposers of this doctrine, in heart and words, do often really acknowledge it in words, in their prayers to God for salvation, etc.; but the real Christian does it with his heart. He may, indeed, through the prejudices of education, or otherwise, by not understanding the doctrine in theory, and entertaining wrong conceptions of it, and of other points which are connected with it, be led to oppose it in speculation; but so far as his heart is renewed, all his religious exercises and devotions are agreeable to the doctrine of election, and an acknowledgment of it; and so far as it appears that any person is at heart an enemy to that doctrine, there is just so much evidence that he is an enemy to him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will.
Whether any of the redeemed arrive to perfect Holiness in this Life.
THAT no man, whatever his advantages and attainments may be, does arrive to sinless perfection in this life, seems to be clearly asserted in a number of passages of Scripture. Solomon says, "There is no man that sinneth not. There is not a just man upon earth that doeth good, and sinneth not.
Who can say, I have made my heart clean, I am pure from my sin?" (1 Kings viii. 46. Ec. vii. 20. Pr. xx. 9.) These are strong expressions, asserting that there is no man on earth. so perfect as to be wholly without sin. Job says, "If I say I am perfect, it shall also prove me perverse." (Job ix. 20.) How could his saying he was perfect, prove him to be perverse, unless it be on this ground, that no man is perfect in this life? This being certain, if a man say he is perfect, it proves that he is deceived, and knows not the truth, and therefore is not a good man. The apostle Paul, who probably was the holiest man that ever lived, declares he was not perfect. "Not as though I had already attained, or were already perfect; but I follow after, if that I may apprehend that for which also I am apprehended of Christ Jesus. Brethren, I count not myself to have apprehended; but this one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind, and reaching forth unto those things which are before, I press toward the mark, for the prize of the high calling of God in Christ Jesus." (Phil. iii. 12-14.) And he gives such a particular and sad description of his own sinfulness, in his letter to the church at Rome, that many who are strangers to the corruption of the human heart, and the great degree of sin attending true Christians, and their keen sensibility of it, cannot believe that he means there to describe his own exercises and character, or those of any Christian. (See Rom. vii. 14-24.) And this same apostle represents all Christians as in a state of warfare, by reason of evil inclinations and lusts in their hearts, which oppose that which is the fruit of the Spirit in them, and prevents their doing what they would. "The flesh lusteth against the spirit, and the spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary the one to the other, so that ye cannot do the things that ye would." (Gal. v. 17.) To will was present. When they look forward, they wished actually to do and be all that which Christianity dictates, and of which they could have any idea; but when they came to act, they always fell short, and sinful inclinations prevented their doing as they desired, and defiled their best exercises.
The apostle James testifies to the same truth. He says of himself, and of all Christians, that in many things they all offended. (James iii. 2.) And the apostle John says, "If we say we have no sin. we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us." (1 John i. S.) Here it is not only asserted that every Christian is attended with sin in all he does in this life, but that it is so evident to the real Christian, and so much his sensible burden and unhappiness, that it is certain that he who says, or thinks he has no sin, is not only greatly deceived, but is a stranger to real Christianity, and knows not the saving truth.
These passages of Scripture are decisive, and prove that it is made certain, by a divine constitution, that no man shall be without sin in this life; for these are declarations from God of this truth. Solomon could not say, "There is no man that sinneth not," "There is not a just man upon earth that doeth good, and sinneth not," if there were not a divine constitution which rendered it certain that the most righteous and best of men are not without sin in this life; for this is affirmed of man,― of every man in this world, in every age of it, from the beginning to the end of it. How could the apostle Paul say to a Christian church, "The flesh lusteth against the spirit, and the spirit against the flesh; and these are contrary the one to the other, so that ye cannot do the things that ye would,” — and how could the apostles John and James say, "If we say we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us," "In many things we all offend,”—if this were not true of all, and common to all Christians at all times? It is impossible they should say this under inspiration, were there not a known constitution of Heaven, that no man should be free from sin in this life. Therefore, these declarations demonstrate that there is such a constitution,—that God has determined, and made it known, that no man shall live in the body without sinning.
Hence we may be certain that when the apostle John says, "Whosoever abideth in him, sinneth not: whosoever sinneth hath not seen him, neither known him,”. "Whosoever is born of God doth not commit sin, for his seed remaineth in him; and he cannot sin, because he is born of God," (1 John iii. 6,9,) - he does not mean to assert that every true Christian, or any one of them, is free from sin in this life, for then he would expressly contradict himself in this same letter; but his meaning in the last-quoted passages must be, that he who is born of God, and united to Christ by faith, does not sin as others do, or as he did before he was born of God. He no longer lives in sin, and makes it his trade and business, as the unregenerate do, but lives a holy life, devoted to Christ, though attended with much imperfection and sin. If this be not his meaning, which is a natural and easy one, he not only contradicts what he had said in the words quoted from the first chapter, by asserting that Christians may live without sin in this world, but asserts that every one that is born of God does not, from that time, commit one sin, or have the least degree of sin in his heart or conduct; which few or none of those who have made use of these passages, to prove Christians may be perfectly holy in this life, do believe is true; so that these words prove too much, or nothing at all for them.