The Ancient Faith
CALVINISTIC PROOFS EXAMINED
As the Bereans “were more noble than those in Thessalonica, in that they received the word with all readiness of mind, and searched the Scriptures daily, whether those things were so” (Acts xvii:11), even so we should search the Scriptures and receive the truth revealed in God’s word with that readiness of mind that has ever characterized His true and devoted followers. Let us, therefore, very carefully consider the Scriptures relied on to prove the doctrine in question.
Ananias said to Saul “The God of our fathers hath chosen thee.” Acts xxii:14. This shows that Paul was elected or chosen; but for what was he chosen? Perhaps we may learn what Ananias meant here by reference to what the Lord said to him when He sent him to Paul: “The Lord said unto him, Go thy way: for he is a chosen vessel unto me.” Chosen for what? “To bear my name before the Gentiles, and kings, and the children of Israel.” Acts ix:15. Before giving this instruction to Ananias, the Lord said to Paul: “I have appeared unto thee for this purpose, to make thee a minister and a witness both of these things which thou hast seen, and of those things in the which I will appear unto thee; delivering thee from the people, and from the Gentiles, unto whom now I send thee, to open their eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they 51 may receive forgiveness of sins, and an inheritance among them which are sanctified by faith that is in me.” Acts xxvi:16-18. Taking these Scriptures together, we see very clearly what the object of Paul’s election was; and his own salvation is not even mentioned in any one of the explanations given. He was elected to be a minister and a witness for Jesus, and to bear the gospel to the Gentiles; hence says he, “I speak to you Gentiles, inasmuch as I am the apostle of the Gentiles, I magnify mine office.” Rom. xi:13. Here, then, was the office to which he was elected; but even his election to the apostleship did not secure his final salvation, for he says, “I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway.” 1 Cor. ix:27. That Paul was not elected in Christ to salvation before the foundation of the world, is clearly shown by the fact that Andronicus and Junia were in Christ before him. Rom. xvi:7. ” And when the Gentiles heard this, they were glad, and glorified the word of the Lord: and as many as were ordained to eternal life believed.” Acts xiii:48. This is relied on to show that men are ordained to eternal life from before the foundation of the world, and that this ordination is an indispensable antecedent to faith. First, we beg permission to suggest that the translation of this verse, in the common version, is manifestly defective; but even in it there is not a word said about how long they were ordained to eternal life before they believed. That the ordination was from before the foundation of the world is assumption; nothing more. If men are ordained to eternal life before they believe, then they are in a state of condemnation, their ordination to the contrary notwithstanding; for the Lord said: “He that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God.” John iii:18. It is difficult to see how a man who is ordained to eternal life can, at the same time, be a condemned unbeliever. Not only are they in a state of condemnation, but this theory teaches that they do not believe, in order to their justification; for they were ordained to eternal life before they believed in the eternal life to which they were ordained. This is not only sustained by the common rendering of this verse, but it is made doubly obvious by the fact that the theory places the ordination before the beginning of time. On the contrary, there is not a truth in the Bible better established than that men are required to believe, that they may have eternal life: “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life.” John iii:16. When Jesus said, “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved” (Mark xvi:16), did He intend to teach that he that would believe and be baptized had always been saved? or when Paul said to the jailer, “Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ, and thou shalt be saved” (Acts xvi:31), did he mean to teach that he had always been saved, having been ordained to eternal life from before the foundation of the world? Absurd as this may appear, it must be true, or Calvinism must be false.
But there are other difficulties hanging about the common rendering of this verse. McGarvey, in his Commentary, has the following very pertinent remarks: “If it be true that ‘as many as were fore-ordained to eternal life believed,’ then there were none of the fore-ordained left in that community who did not believe. Hence all those who did not then believe, whether adults or infants, were among the reprobate, who were predestinated to everlasting punishment. Now, it is certainly most singular that so complete a separation of the two parties should take place throughout a whole community at one time.” Truly, this would have been a most singular circumstance — such a one, indeed, as no sane man can believe ever occurred; hence that the translation is defective is obvious, even to those who know nothing of the original; for a faithful translation of God’s word is always not only true, but perfectly consistent with itself. We have several translations of this verse, most of which substantially agree with the following version: “And the Gentiles hearing this rejoiced, and glorified the word of the Lord; and as many as were disposed for eternal life believed.” (Compilation from George Campbell, Macknight, and Doddridge, by A. Campbell.) This rendering is perfectly consistent with the facts and the general teaching of the Scriptures; and, better still, is faithful to the original, and at once removes all ambiguity from the passage.
“For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brethren. Moreover, whom he did predestinate, them he also called: and whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified.” Rom. viii:29, 30.
First it will be observed that all these verbs are in the past tense, and express actions perfected at the time the apostle wrote. Persons seem to understand the passage to mean that God foreknew and predestinated the elect before time began, perhaps from eternity, and calls and justifies them now in his good time, and will glorify them in heaven finally. This cannot be, for those of whom the apostle spoke were glorified at the time he wrote, and for the same reason it cannot apply to any who have lived since that time. The creed says: “God did, from all eternity, decree to justify all the elect; and Christ did, in the fullness of time, die for their sins, and rise again for their justification; nevertheless they are not justified until the Holy Spirit doth in due time actually apply Christ unto them.” Conf., chap. 11, sec. 4. Thus we see that Calvinists themselves have justification to take place in the life-time of the party justified. Hence, as those of whom Paul wrote were justified before that time, it cannot apply to any who have lived since, even according to the creed, but must apply to persons who had lived before the time he wrote. Hence the passage cannot come to the support of Calvinism at all. Here we could well afford to rest our examination of the passage, seeing it proves not the doctrine in question; but we will endeavor to find persons to whom the language of the apostle will correctly apply. It is not important to inquire when God knew the persons here mentioned — we grant that He knew them when He predestinated them to be conformed to the image of His Son; and this was done before they were called and justified: this is all that can be claimed — the question which concerns us more directly is, Who were these of whom Paul spoke as having been foreknown, predestinated, called, justified, and glorified prior to the time he wrote? While we look for an answer to this question, it may be well for us to bear in mind that God predestinated them to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the first-born among many brethren. The word conform means “to shape in accordance with; to make like; to reduce to a likeness or correspondence in character, form, manners, etc.”(Webster.) Then, to be conformed to the image of His Son is to be made like Christ, or in His image or likeness. Thus far all is plain.
Let us try again. Paul says: “The first man is of the earth, earthy; the second man is the Lord from heaven. As is the earthy, such are they also that are earthy: and as is the heavenly, such are they also that are heavenly. And as we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly.” 1 Cor. xv:47-49. Paul is here speaking of the resurrection of the body, and after directing the mind to the time of that event, he says: “As we have borne the image of the earthy, we shall also bear the image of the heavenly” — thus teaching clearly that the children of our heavenly Father wear the image of Adam through life, but will wear the image of Christ when raised from the dead and furnished with immortal bodies like His: “And it doth not yet appear what we shall be; but we know that when he shall appear we shall be like him; for we shall see him as he is.” 1 John iii:2. Though the image of Christ, in a certain sense, may have been begun in us when we put Him on by a birth of water and Spirit, yet it will never be complete until we are glorified with Him; and He was not glorified until after His death, resurrection, and ascension. John says, “The Holy Ghost was not yet given, because Jesus was not yet glorified.” John vii:29. This clearly implies that the Holy Ghost was given as soon as Jesus was glorified; and as the Holy Spirit was not given until the day of Pentecost, it follows that his glorification did not long precede that event. Therefore, those of whom Paul spoke were not only predestinated, called, and justified, but had also been raised from the dead, conformed to the image of Christ, and glorified prior to the time he wrote. This not only shows that the passage does not embrace all the elect, but it also shows that it did not refer to the apostles, as some suppose, for they were not all dead at that time, and hence could not have been then glorified. Then, when and where had any persons been raised from the dead to die no more prior to this writing by Paul? It could not have referred to Lazarus, Jairus’ daughter, and the widow’s son which were raised by Christ, for he was not the first-born among them, nor were they raised to glorification, but simply restored to life to live and die again.
Let us look further, then, for we have not yet found persons to whom the passage can apply. “And the graves were opened; and many bodies of the saints which slept arose and came out of the graves after his resurrection, and went into the holy city, and appeared unto many.” Matt. xxvii:52, 53. These persons were raised from the dead to die no more, but to be glorified with their risen Lord. We have seen that those of whom Paul wrote were predestinated to be conformed to the image of His Son, which image, if we are correct, was perfected when they were glorified. Then, for what were they thus to be conformed to the image of His Son? “That he might be the firstborn among many brethren.” When was He the first-born among many brethren? Certainly, it was not when He was born in the flesh, for many were thus born before Him; nor was He the first-born of water, for many were baptized by John before Him. Paul says He is “the firstborn from the dead.” Col. i:18. Then He was the first-born from the dead of the many brethren who came from their graves after His resurrection; and hence these were they who were predestinated to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the first-born from the dead among them. Of these it may be correctly said that they had been foreknown, predestinated, called, justified, and glorified, at the time Paul wrote; but we know of no others of whom this may be truly said. Are we asked who these were? we answer that, as no inspired writer has given their names in this connection, of course we do not know their names; but we do know that He was the first-born from the dead among those who came from their graves after His resurrection: hence our argument is complete with or without their names. We think it likely, however, that they were Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, and the patriarchs and prophets of former times. That these were foreknown, called, and predestinated to the work assigned them, may be seen in the language of God to one of them. Jeremiah said: “The word of the Lord came unto me, saying, Before I formed thee in the belly I knew thee; and before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee, and ordained thee a prophet unto the nations.” Jer. i:4, 5. Those of whom Paul spoke were fore-known — Jeremiah was foreknown; those were predestinated –Jeremiah was ordained; those were called — Jeremiah was called. “The Lord said unto me, Say not, I am a child: for thou shalt go to all that I shall send thee, and whatsoever I command thee thou shalt speak. Be not afraid of their faces: for I am with thee to deliver thee, saith the Lord. Then the Lord put forth his hand and touched my mouth. And the Lord said unto me, Behold, I have put my words in thy mouth. See, I have this day set thee over the nations, and over the kingdoms, to root out, and to pull down, and to destroy, and to throw down, to build and to plant.” Ver. 7-10. Then he was not only foreknown, predestinated, and called, but sanctified, too, and qualified for the work assigned him; hence he needed only to be justified in his obedience (which doubtless he was), raised from the dead, and glorified with Christ, to fill to repletion the character of those of whom Paul spoke. Does anyone doubt that he was one of them? then let him show to whom the language in question will more fitly apply, and we will acknowledge the favor.
We come next to examine the ninth chapter of Paul’s letter to the church at Rome, in which he discusses the abrogation of the Jewish polity, and the election of a new people upon the principle of faith in Christ and obedience to His laws. The Jews, as we have seen, had been the only acknowledged family or people of God for many ages past; but in the fullness of time God broke down the middle wall of partition between Jew and Gentile and offered salvation to every creature, among all nations, who would accept it on the terms proposed; hence when the parents of Jesus brought Him into the temple, good old Simeon took him up in his arms and said, “A light to lighten the Gentiles, and the glory of thy people Israel.” Luke ii:32. Paul says this: “In other ages was not made known unto the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit: that the Gentiles should be fellow heirs and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel.” Eph. iii:5, 6.
This extension of gospel privileges to persons so long regarded unworthy, very naturally excited the pride and envy of those accustomed to the exclusive enjoyment of such distinguished honors and privileges; hence they declined to enjoy salvation for no other reason than that the Gentiles were made fellow heirs with them. They refused to recognize the fact that “there is no difference between the Jew and the Greek: for the same Lord over all is rich unto all that call upon him.” Rom. x:12. They failed to see that the salvation of the Gentiles did not lessen the chances of the Jews; hence Paul quotes the language of Moses as applicable to them: “I will provoke you to jealousy by them that are no people, and by a foolish nation I will anger you.” Rom. x:19. The election contemplated in the gospel was offered to the Jews first, and some embraced it and were content to become the elect of God; not as Jews by natural birth, but as Christians by a birth of water and Spirit. These Paul calls “The election,” in opposition to those who made themselves reprobate by refusing the “election of grace,” and adhering to their former election as the descendants of Abraham; hence “the election hath obtained it, and the rest were blinded.” Rom. xi:7. “Not as though the word of God had taken none effect. For they are not all Israel, which are of Israel.” Rom. ix:6. The election of a new church composed of Jews and Gentiles was not contrary to the promises of God to Abraham, saying, “I will establish my covenant between me and thee, and thy seed after thee, in their generations, for an everlasting covenant; to be a God unto thee, and thy seed after thee.” Gen. xvii:7. God gave them very clearly to understand that the perpetuity of their covenant relation to Him depended on their obedience; hence said He, “If ye will obey my voice indeed, and keep my covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto me above all people.” Ex. xix:5. Hence when they ceased to obey Him, His promises to them were at an end; hence Paul asks, “hath God cast away his people? God forbid.” Rom. xi:1. If they were lost at all, it was their own fault. But even so, “For they were not all Israel, which are of Israel.” Many of the descendants of Jacob had already fallen. The greater part of the ten tribes that were carried into captivity never returned to be again united to the Israel of God. Hence this passage not only shows the rejection of the unbelieving Jews to be no infraction of God’s promises to Abraham, but it shows the doctrine of eternal unconditional election to be false, for we have seen that all the children of Israel were once the elect of God; but when Paul wrote, many who were of Israel were not Israel, because they had fallen on account of their own wickedness.
But the apostle vindicates the justice of God in rejecting the unbelieving Jews by showing that many of the children of Abraham were not embraced in the promise of God to him at first. Said he: “Neither, because they are the seed of Abraham, are they all children” — for then the descendants of Abraham by Hagar and Keturah would have been included — “but, in Isaac shall thy seed be called. That is, they
which are the children of the flesh, these are not the children of God: but the children of the promise are counted for the seed. For this is the word of promise, At this time will I Come, and Sarah shall have a son.” Rom. ix:7-9. The children of Abraham by Hagar and Keturah were children of the flesh, but God saw fit to promise him a son by him wife Sarah, when she was past age, through whom all the families of the earth were to be blessed in Jesus Christ; hence, in due time, Isaac, the child of promise, was born, in whom Jesus, the promised seed of Abraham, was called. But the calling of Jesus through the line of Isaac did not consign the descendants of Abraham by Hagar and Keturah to endless punishment; nor were their chances for heaven diminished by this election of Isaac. Jacob had twelve sons, which became the heads of twelve tribes; but God saw fit to call Jesus the promised seed of Abraham, through the tribe of Judah, Jacob’s fourth son by Leah. Now, will anyone assume that calling the Messiah through the line of Judah consigned all the others to endless punishment? If not, why should the descendants of Abraham be regarded as eternally lost because they did not come through the family of Isaac? God never promised Abraham that He would unconditionally save or damn anyone. He promised him a son by Sarah, and He gave him Isaac. He promised to multiply his seed until they should become numerous as the stars of heaven or the sand upon the sea-shore, and He did it. He promised to give his seed the land of Canaan for a possession, and He did this also; but they forfeited it by their rebellion against Him. He promised that through his seed all the families of the earth should be blessed in Jesus Christ; but when Jesus came, according to the promise, they wanted to appropriate the blessing to themselves, to the exclusion of the Gentiles: hence they were seeking to thwart the very promise of God to Abraham which they thought was made void by carrying it into effect. “And not only this; but when Rebecca also had conceived by one, even by our father Isaac (for the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that calleth;) it was said unto her, The elder shall serve the younger. As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.” Rom. ix:10-13. That we may understand this passage, it may be well to call the reader’s attention to the fact that there are two quotations in it which should not be blended.
One quotation is from Genesis, and was spoken before Jacob and Esau were born; the other is from Malachi, and was spoken long after they were both dead. Before the children were born, it was said to their mother, “the elder shall serve the younger;” but in the next verse is a quotation from Malachi, where it is written, “Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.” By blending these quotations, God is made to say that He loved Jacob and hated Esau before they were born; or had, either of them, done good or evil. This is doing great injustice to the record. Let us see what was said of them before they were born: “And Isaac entreated the Lord for his wife, because she was barren: and the Lord was entreated of him, and Rebekah his wife conceived; and the children struggled together within her, and she said, If it be so, why am I thus? And she went to inquire of the Lord. And the Lord said unto her, Two nations are in thy womb, and two manner of people shall be separated from thy bowels; and the one people shall be stronger than the other people; and the elder shall serve the younger.” Gen. xxv:21-23. Here is what was said before Jacob and Esau were born, and we find not a word about hating Esau and loving Jacob in the whole narrative.
But as Paul said it was so written, we may expect to find it somewhere; hence let us try again: “The burden of the word of the Lord to Israel by Malachi: I have loved you, saith the Lord. Yet ye say, Wherein hast thou loved us? Was not Esau Jacob’s brother? saith the Lord: yet I loved Jacob, and I hated Esau, and laid his mountains and his heritage waste for the dragons of the wilderness.” Mal. i:1-3. This was said about fourteen hundred years after Jacob and Esau were both dead; hence it cannot prove that God loved or hated either of them before they were born. But both passages refer to Jacob and Esau as the representatives of the two nations which descended from them; hence the language of God to Rebekah: “Two nations are in thy womb, and two manner of people shall be separated from thy bowels; and the one people shall be stronger than the other people; and the elder shall serve the younger.” Please note the fact that it is not said “the one man shall be stronger than the other man,” but” one people shall be stronger than the other people.” Nor was it said the elder man shall serve the younger man; on the contrary, the inference is clear that the people who should descend from the elder were to be subject to the descendants of the younger. This passage was never fulfilled in the person of these two brothers. Esau never did, as an individual, serve Jacob; on the contrary, Jacob feared Esau, and came much nearer serving him. When Jacob, at the suggestion of his mother, fraudulently obtained his father’s blessing, which was intended for Esau, the anger of the latter was kindled against his brother: “And Esau hated Jacob because of the blessing wherewith his father blessed him: and Esau said in his heart, The days of mourning for my father are at hand; then will I slay my brother Jacob. And these words of Esau, her elder son, were told to Rebekah: and she sent and called Jacob, her younger son, and said unto him, Behold, thy brother Esau, as touching thee, doth comfort himself, purposing to kill thee. Now therefore, my son, obey my voice; and arise, flee thou to Laban my brother to Haran; and tarry with him a few days, until thy brother’s fury turn away; until thy brother’s anger turn away from thee, and he forget that which thou hast done to him.” Gen. xxvii:41-45. Jacob fled to Padan-aram, and there remained twenty years in the service of Laban, at the end of which he returned with two wives, two concubines, eleven sons and great wealth. “And Jacob sent messengers before him to Esau his brother, unto the land of Seir, the country of Edom. And he commanded them, saying, Thus shall ye speak unto my lord Esau; Thy servant Jacob saith thus, I have sojourned with Laban, and stayed there until now; and I have oxen, and asses, and flocks, and
menservants and womenservants, and I have sent to tell my lord, that I may find grace in thy sight. And the messengers returned to Jacob, saying, We came to thy brother Esau, and also he cometh to meet thee, and four hundred men with him Then Jacob was greatly afraid and distressed: and he divided the people that was with him, and the flocks, and herds, and the camels in two bands; and said, If Esau come to the one company, and smite it, then the other company which is left shall escape.” Gen. xxxii:3-8. Here we find that, in place of Esau serving Jacob personally, Jacob feared Esau greatly — called him his lord, and himself the servant. In his distress, he prayed God thus: “Deliver me, I pray thee, from the hand of my
brother, from the hand of Esau: for I fear him lest he come and smite me, and the mother with the children.” Ver. II. He also sent messengers with presents to give Esau, that he might buy his favor if possible. Then it is evident that neither Jacob nor Esau was mentioned under any personal consideration, but only as the representatives of the nations which should descend from them respectively; nor was there anything in the love of God for one, or in His hatred of the other, which could affect the eternal destiny of either. It is quite certain that all of Jacob’s posterity were not saved, and it is equally certain that all of Esau’s posterity were not lost. Indeed, it cannot be shown that even Esau himself was eternally lost. He was wicked when he sold his birthright, and is called a “profane person” for so doing. It is also certain, that he was wicked about the time of his father’s death, for we have seen that he would have killed Jacob had he not fled to the land of Padan-aram; but that he remained wicked as long as he lived is by no means certain. True, Paul says that, “When he would have inherited the blessing, he was rejected: for he found no place of repentance, though he sought it carefully with tears.” Heb. xii:17. It was in his father that he found no place of repentance, and not in himself. He could not induce his father to revoke the blessing conferred upon Jacob, although fraudulently obtained. When Esau met Jacob returning from Padan-aram, “Esau ran to meet him, and embraced him, and fell on his neck, and kissed him: and they wept.” Gen. xxxiii:4. Here we find that all his anger toward his brother had disappeared; and they lived in friendship ever afterward, as far as we know. “By faith Isaac blessed Jacob and Esau concerning things to come.” Heb. xi:20. If the reader will examine these blessings, he will find that there was not a word about eternal life or eternal death in either of them. They pertained to national and temporal affairs entirely. To Jacob, Isaac said, “See, the smell of my son is as the smell of a field which the Lord hath blessed: therefore God give thee of the dew of heaven, and the fatness of the earth, and plenty of corn and wine: let people serve thee, and nations bow down to thee: be lord over thy brethren, and let thy mother’s sons bow down to thee: cursed be every one that curseth thee, and blessed be every one that blesseth thee.” Gen. xxvii:27-29. To Esau, Isaac said: “Behold, thy dwelling shall be the fatness of the earth, and of the dew of heaven from above; and by thy sword shalt thou live, and shalt serve thy brother: and it shall come to pass when thou shalt have the dominion, that thou shalt break his yoke from off thy neck.” Gen. xxvii:39, 40.
Now we find no allusion to the final salvation or condemnation of either, in these blessings; but it is easy to see that they are connected with the purpose of God as expressed to their mother: “The one people shall be stronger than the other people; and the elder shall serve the younger.” See the same thought in Jacob’s blessing. “Let people serve thee, and nations bow down to thee: be lord over thy brethren, and let thy mother’s sons bow down to thee.” In Esau’s blessing we have still the same: “By thy sword shalt thou live, and shalt serve thy brother.” Thus we see, in these blessings, the servitude spoken of before the birth of the children, which was never fulfilled in them, but was fulfilled in their posterity. That the language, “Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated,” was intended to apply to the two nations, Israel and Edom, represented by Jacob and Esau, is evident from the language of the context from which Paul made the quotation: “Was not Esau Jacob’s brother? yet I loved Jacob, and hated Esau, and laid his mountains and his heritage waste for the dragons of the wilderness. Whereas Edom saith, We are impoverished, but we will return and build the desolate places.” Mal. i:24. Here the prophet uses the term Edom,
the name of the nation which descended from Esau, and the plural pronoun we, agreeing with it, to designate the same people hated and punished by the Lord. Hence when the Lord, by his prophet, said, long after both men were dead, “Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated,” He was speaking of Israel and Edom as nations, but not of Jacob and Esau as individuals. It may not be out of place here to remark that the term hate, is sometimes used in the sense of loved less — to regard with less favor; e.g.: “And when the Lord saw that Leah was hated, he opened her womb: but Rachel was barren. And Leah conceived, and bore a son; and she called his name Reuben: for she said, Surely the Lord hath looked upon my affliction; now therefore my husband will love me. And she conceived again, and bore a son; and said, Because the Lord hath heard that I was hated, He hath therefore given me this son also: and she called his name Simeon.” Gen.xxix:31-33. Here it is said that Jacob hated Leah; but by an examination of the preceding verse, it will be seen that nothing more is meant by it than that she was loved less than Rachel. “He loved also Rachel more than Leah, and served with him yet seven other years.” Ver. 30.
Another example may be found in the language of the Saviour: “If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he can not be my disciple.” Luke xiv:26. This is a pretty hard sentence — that, to be a disciple of the Lord, a man must not only hate all his kindred, but he must also hate his own life; but when we have the same thought in different language, it is quite plain: “He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.” Matt. x:37. Then, when God said, “I loved Jacob, and I hated Esau,” if we interpret the passage in the light of this definition, the thought is that He loved the children of Israel more than Edom, the descendants of Esau. “What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God” in rejecting the unbelieving Jews? “God forbid for; for he saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.” Verses. 14, 15. There was no injustice on the part of God in rejecting the unbelieving and rebellious Jews. As a Sovereign, He had a right to dictate terms of mercy to those who would become subjects of His kingdom. These terms were first offered to and rejected by the Jews; hence the apostle appealed to the declarations of God to Moses, their own lawgiver, to show them that God had always shown mercy to whom He would, and upon just such terms as pleased Him. At a very early period in Jewish history God gave them to know the terms upon which they might remain the recipients of His mercy. Said He: “I the Lord thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate me; and showing mercy unto thousands of them that love me and keep my commandments.” Ex. xx:5, 6. Then God will visit iniquity upon those who hate Him, because they hate Him; and He will show mercy to those who love Him, because they love Him. “He that covereth his sins shall not prosper: but whoso confesseth and forsaketh them shall have mercy.” Prov. xxviii:13. Hence we find that God’s mercy is not dispensed according to eternal and immutable decrees, but he that will confess and forsake his sins shall have mercy. Peter tells us of a people “which had not obtained mercy, but now have obtained mercy.” 1 Pet. ii:10. Then they did not obtain mercy in a decree made before time began. Jesus said, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.” Matt. v:7. And James says, “He shall have judgment without mercy that hath showed no mercy.” Jas.ii:13. Hence the Calvinist, who imagines himself one of the chosen few to whom God hath shown mercy from before the foundation of the world, and is unwilling that the mercies of God extend to all men, may thus bring upon himself judgment without mercy. “So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy.” Rom. ix:16. It is possible that this verse alludes to the blessing conferred by Isaac upon Jacob. Isaac willed that Esau, the first-born, should have the blessing; Esau ran for the venison with which to secure it; nevertheless Jacob obtained it. The blessing, as we have seen, was not a personal one, but pertained to Jacob’s descendants, and had no reference to eternal salvation, but conferred temporal blessings only. Hence it can yield no support to the theory in question. It is true, as shown in another part of the argument, that Jacob was elected to be the seed of Isaac, through whom Christ should come — but this was before Jacob and Esau were born — that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of Him that calleth. Neither the purchase of his brother’s birthright, nor the blessing conferred by his father, had anything to do with this election. “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.” Rom. ix:17. Now, are we to understand by this that Pharaoh was one of the eternally reprobate, and that God foreordained the wickedness of his nature and the hardness of his heart? Is this the thought? Let us go back to the Scriptures from which Paul quoted, and see how this is: “For this cause have I raised thee up, for to show in thee my power, and that my name may be declared throughout all the earth.” Ex. ix:16.
Now, is there one word in the context about eternal unconditional election and reprobation? or is there any thing about election at all? It is said that God raised up Pharaoh that He might show His power in him; but who did He not raise up for this purpose?
The same might have been truly said of Moses, in whom His mighty power was exhibited in the destruction of the Egyptians and the salvation of the children of Israel, yet I suppose no one will insist that he was raised up eternally reprobate. God commanded Pharaoh to let his people go, but he persistently refused to obey God; hence God overruled his rebellion to His own glory. Even so God offered salvation to the Jews, upon condition that they would believe and obey the gospel. Like Pharaoh, they rebelled against Him; hence He exhibited his power in their destruction as a nation, that his name might be glorified in all the earth. But surely this can not prove that they were eternally reprobate, for they had been God’s elect or chosen people
up to that time. Not only so, but salvation upon the terms of the gospel was first offered to them; and surely God did not offer them a salvation which was never intended for them, and which He had unchangeably ordained that they should reject.
But we are told that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart: “Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth.” Rom. ix:18. Are we to understand by this that God created Pharaoh with a stubborn and rebellious heart, and promoted a spirit of wickedness in him by the plagues inflicted upon him? If so, all the threatenings of God were but temptation to evil; yet James says, “Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God, for God can not be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man; but every man is tempted when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed.” Jas. i:13,14. The mercies and blessings of God tend always to harden or soften the hearts of those who receive them. If rightly appreciated, they tend to awaken a sense of gratitude in the heart; but if abused, they tend to harden the heart. When the hand of affliction falls heavily upon us, we are either wilted into submission to God’s will, or, as in time of war, we become hardened until some care no more for the life of a man than for the life of a beast. Thus it was with Pharaoh: when the hand of affliction was upon him, he would promise to let the people go; but as soon as the affliction was withdrawn, the spirit of rebellion revived: “When Pharaoh saw that there was respite, he hardened his heart and hearkened not unto them, as the Lord had said.” Ex. viii:15. “And Pharaoh hardened his heart at this time also, neither would he let the people go.” Ver. 32. “And when Pharaoh saw that the rain and the hail and the thunders were ceased, he sinned yet more, and hardened his heart, he and his servants.” Ex. ix:34. Then it can only be said that God hardened Pharaoh’s heart because He sent afflictions upon him which he abused to the hardening of his own heart.
In the same way it may be said that the gospel hardens men now. It is preached to them as the power of God to salvation, if they will accept it; but, rejecting it, they become hardened, until they can resist the most stirring appeals to which mortals can be subjected in this life. Hence said the apostle: “To the one we are the savor of death unto death; and to the other the savor of life unto life. And who is sufficient for these things?” 2 Cor. ii:16.
We think it possible for men to continue in rebellion against God until they pass entirely beyond the reach of all the agencies of the gospel by which God proposes to save them. Such were some of the Jews in Paul’s day: “Because that when they knew God, they glorified him not as God, neither were thankful, but became vain in their imaginations, and their foolish heart was darkened. Professing themselves to be wise, they became fools; and changed the glory of the incorruptible God into an image made like to corruptible man, and to birds and to four-footed beasts, and creeping things. Wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness, through the lust of their own hearts, to dishonor their own bodies between themselves; who changed the truth of God into a lie, and worshiped and served the creature more than the Creator, who is blessed forever. Amen. For this cause God gave them up unto vile affections.” Rom. i:21-26. Thus we see that God gave them up to uncleanness and vile affections, not because they were eternally reprobate, and He had predestinated them to be wicked, and created vile affections within them, but because of their own willful and persistent rebellion against Him. Paul speaks of him whose “coming is after the working of Satan, with all power and signs, and lying wonders, and with all
deceivableness of unrighteousness in them that perish; because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved. And for this cause God shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie: that they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness.” 2 Thess. ii:9-12. God sends men strong delusions, not because they were eternally reprobate, and predestinated to wickedness and destruction, but because they receive not the love of the truth, that they might be saved. And though many are thus deluded and hardened in falsehood, infidelity, and crime, it is the result of their own wickedness, and not because of any eternal and immutable decree against them. They “walk in the vanity of their mind, having the understanding darkened, being alienated from the life of God, through the ignorance that is in them, because of the blindness of their heart: who, being past feeling, have given themselves over to lasciviousness, to work all uncleanness with greediness.” Eph. iv:17-19. Here were persons whose hearts were harder than that of Pharaoh, for he could feel even to the last chastisement laid upon him; but these were past feeling, and completely given over — not by any eternal decree, but they had given themselves over to the service of Satan. “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 show his wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much longsuffering 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 afore prepared unto glory, even us, whom he hath called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles.” Rom. ix:20-23. Here the apostle has reference to the language of God to the prophet concerning the potter, and the clay that was marred in his hand while attempting to make a vessel of it.
Let us go back and see what was originally taught by it, and then we may be better prepared to understand Paul’s use of it: “The word which came to Jeremiah from the Lord, saying, Arise, and go down to the potter’s house, and there I will cause thee to hear my words. Then I went down to the potter’s house, and, behold, he wrought a work on the wheels; and the vessel that he made of clay was marred in the hand
of the potter; so he made it again another vessel, as seemed good to the potter to make it. Then the word of the Lord came to me, saying, O house of Israel, can not I do with you as this potter? saith the Lord. Behold, as the clay is in the potter’s hand, so are ye in my hand, O house of Israel. At what instant I shall speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom, to pluck up and to pull down, and to destroy it; if that nation against whom I have pronounced, turn from their evil, I will repent of the evil that I thought to do unto them. And at what instant I will speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom, to build up and to plant it, if it do evil in my sight, that it obey not my voice, then I will repent of the good wherewith I said I would benefit them.” Jer. xviii:1-10.
Here we find that this parable was used concerning the nation or kingdom of Israel: “As the clay is in the potter’s hand, so are ye in my hand, O house of Israel.” But are we taught that nations and kingdoms are eternally and unconditionally ordained to prosperity or destruction? Surely, no language could have been employed which would teach more clearly the opposite. Though God may have spoken against a nation or kingdom to destroy it, yet if it turn from its wickedness for which it was condemned, He will turn from the evil which He said He would bring upon it. And though He may have spoken in favor of a kingdom or a nation to build and to prosper it, yet if it do evil, then He will turn from the good wherewith He said He would benefit it. True, the figure shows that God had the power to bless and prosper a nation, or to pluck up and destroy it — and who doubts this? — but the figure also shows that He will exercise His power in the salvation or destruction of nations, as they obey or rebel against Him, and not according to eternal decrees. The house of Israel as a nation and kingdom failed to accomplish the object designed in its creation, and hence was marred in the hand of the Potter. He therefore gave it a less honorable form, but did not cast it away entirely. They were captured, carried into Babylon, and there remained as slaves and captives in a strange land for seventy years. This they might have averted by turning from their wickedness; for God said, as we have already quoted, that “if that nation against whom I have pronounced, turn from their evil, I will repent of the evil that I thought to do unto them.” They did not turn away; hence the threatened punishment came upon them. But it did not amount to their destruction. It was corrective as well as punitive, and brought them to repentance in Babylon; hence the Potter took the vessel that had been seventy years in dishonor, and made it again a vessel unto honor by restoring the Jews to their nationality.
The reader would do well to bear in mind that a vessel in dishonor is not necessarily a vessel of wrath fitted to destruction; for it may yet turn from its wickedness and be made a vessel unto honor. But at the time the apostle wrote, the Jewish kingdom had not only been marred in the hand of the Potter, but it was fast approaching the condition of a vessel of wrath fitted to destruction. The prophet gave a most appalling picture of the punishment which threatened them and very soon came upon them: “Thus saith the Lord, Go and get a potter’s earthen bottle, and take of the ancients of the people, and of the ancients of the priests, and go forth unto the valley of the son of Hinnom, which is by the entry of the east gate, and proclaim there the words that I shall tell thee.” Jer. xix:1, 2. After recounting the wickedness of which they had been guilty, he pronounces their doom as follows: “Therefore, behold, the days come, saith the Lord, that this place shall no more be called Tophet, nor The valley of the son of Hinnom, but The valley of slaughter. And I will make void the counsel of Judah and Jerusalem in this place; and I will cause them to fall by the sword before their enemies, and by the hand of them that seek their lives: and their carcasses will I give to be meat for the fowls of the heaven, and for the beasts of the earth. And I will make this city desolate, and a hissing: every one that passeth thereby shall be astonished and hiss because of all the plagues thereof. And I will cause them to eat the flesh of their sons and the flesh of their daughters, and they shall eat every one the flesh of his friend in the siege and straitness, wherewith their enemies, and they that seek their lives, shall straiten them. Then shalt thou break the bottle in the sight of the men that go with thee, and shalt say unto them, Thus saith the Lord of hosts, Even so will I break this people and this city, as one breaketh a potter’s vessel, that can not be made whole again: and they shall bury them in Tophet, till there be no place to bury.” Jer. xix:6-11. While God was bearing with these vessels of wrath fitted to destruction, Christ came, as the promised seed of Abraham, their father, in whom all the families of the earth were to be blessed but the Jews were unwilling that all families of the earth should enjoy salvation with them: hence the apostle alludes to the potter and the clay to teach them that when their government was marred in his hand, it was his prerogative to make of it just such government as pleased him. As the stubbornness and rebellion of the Jews caused them to be carried into Babylon, so their remaining stubbornness and rebellion prevented them from uniting with the Gentiles in forming one grand spiritual family most honorable of all others; hence, at the destruction of Jerusalem by Titus and his army, their nationality was literally destroyed, as predicted by the Lord through Jeremiah, and enforced by breaking the potter’s earthen bottle into fragments, which could never be united again. While the material was clay it could be given another form when marred in the hand of the potter, but after it became an “earthen bottle” and was broken, the wreck was complete: “Even so will I break this people and this city, as one breaketh a potter’s vessel, that can not be made whole again.”
But not withstanding this was said of the people and the city, it took individuals, collectively considered, to make up the people; hence said the apostle: “What if God, willing to show his wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much longsuffering 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 afore prepared unto glory, even us, whom he hath called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles? As he saith also in Osee, I will call them my people, which were not my people; and her beloved, which was not beloved. And it shall come to pass, that in the place where it was said unto them, Ye are not my people; there shall they be called the children of the living God.” Rom. ix:22-26. Thus, the apostle most clearly proves to the Jews, by quotation from their own prophets, that the Gentiles, who had not been God’s people, were to become the children of the living God. Hence the argument can not apply to individuals only as making up the classes of which the apostle spake. Surely, we can not be mistaken here. But suppose we are, and the apostle intended to make a personal application of the argument, what then? Will the parable of the potter and the clay, thus applied, prove the Calvinistic theory of unconditional election and reprobation?
Let us see. If the clay marred in the hand of the potter, it was not because he designed it to be so, for he intended to make a good vessel of it. Even so God wills not the death of any, but that all come to repentance and live. Calvinists teach, that the non-elect were vessels of wrath from before the beginning of time; were never designed for any thing else — nay, were unchangeably ordained to dishonor and wrath. Again: The potter did not make a vessel that he might destroy it himself. If the clay so marred in his hand that it was not fit for the more honorable vessel at first designed, he worked it over and made of the same lump another vessel of less value; but it was nevertheless made for use or sale, not that he might himself destroy it. But, according to the theory in question, God, the great Potter, made the non-elect to be vessels of wrath, and fitted them for destruction, that He might exhibit His power in their destruction — this being the object of their creation. Once more: When the lump of clay marred in the hand of the potter, so that it would not make a vessel unto honor, as first contemplated, he worked it over and made of the same lump another vessel as it pleased him. The theory will not allow the purposes of God to fail; on the contrary, they insist that his vessels always come out just as He designed them. If so, the clay never mars in His hand, and hence there is no fitness in the parable. Indeed, they seem to have two lumps — one elect, and the other reprobate; and if the clay came from the elect lump, it can not make a reprobate vessel, for not an atom of that elect material can be lost: on the contrary, if the clay came from the reprobate lump, no mechanical skill can work it over and make an elect vessel of it. The theory makes every man elect or reprobate from before time began, and he must so remain while eternity endures. Therefore the parable will not fit Calvinism anywhere.
After mentioning many vices to be avoided, Paul says: “In a great house there are not only vessels of gold and of silver, but also of wood and of earth; and some to honor and some to dishonor. If a man, therefore, purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel unto honor sanctified and meet for the master’s use, and prepared unto every good work.” 2 Tim. ii:20, 21. He speaks of “the house of God” as the “church of the living God.” 1 Tim. iii:15. Then in the church or house of God there are vessels comparable to gold and silver, wood and earth; some more and some less honorable, while others are a disgrace to the cause they profess to love. And Paul here clearly shows that this difference is made, not by an immutable decree of God, but by the parties themselves: “If a man therefore purge himself from these” — not if God purge him, but if he purge himself — “he shall be a vessel unto honor.” But let us pursue the apostle’s argument. He says, “Even so then at this present time there is a remnant according to the election of grace.” Rom. xi:5. As there had been seven thousand men, in the days of Elias, who had not bowed the knee to the image of Baal, even so there was still a remnant when Paul wrote who had accepted salvation upon the terms of the gospel of the grace of God, and these are they of whom he spake, saying, “Israel hath not obtained that which he seeketh for, but the election hath obtained it, and the rest were blinded.” Ver. 7. This remnant of Israel who accepted salvation upon gospel terms are denominated the election, and the rest were blinded; that is, all Israel except this remnant elected to salvation. Now, are we to conclude that those who were blinded were eternally reprobate? Before any one so affirms, let him remember that Israel was once God’s elect people, and he must be prepared to show how they became reprobate after having been eternally, immutably, and unconditionally elect, according to his theory.
Leaving Calvinism to grope its way out of this difficulty as best it can, let us go on to see whether or not it is possible for these reprobates to become elect again. In the 8th verse we learn that God gave these reprobates “the spirit of slumber, eyes that they should not see, and ears that they should not hear.” In the 9th verse, Paul quotes David thus “Let their table be made a snare and a trap, and a stumbling block, and a
recompense unto them; let their eyes be darkened, that they may not see, and bow down their back always.” Please remember that this was all said of those who were not of the election of grace, but were reprobates. Now let us read on “I say then, Have they [these reprobates] stumbled that they should fall? God forbid: but rather through their fall salvation is come unto the Gentiles, for to provoke them to jealousy. Now if the fall of them [Then they were not eternally reprobate, else they could not have fallen] be the riches of the world, and the diminishing of them [The creed says they can neither be increased nor diminished] the riches of the Gentiles; how much more their fullness? For I speak to you Gentiles, inasmuch as I am the apostle of the Gentiles, I magnify mine office: if by am means I may provoke to emulation them which are my flesh, and might save some of them [the reprobates]. For if the casting away of them be the reconciling of the world, what shall the receiving of them [reprobates] be, but life from the dead?” Ver 11-15. Then comes the figure of the olive-tree, showing that the Jews, or natural branches, were broken off because of their unbelief, and the Gentiles were grafted in. But even they must be faithful; for said he: “If God spared not the natural branches. take heed lest he also spare not thee. Behold therefore the goodness and severity of God: on them which fell, severity; but toward thee, goodness, if thou continue in his goodness: otherwise thou also shalt be cut off. [Ah, how can they be cut off if the number of the elect can neither be increased nor diminished?] And they also, if they abide not still in unbelief shall be grafted in; for God is able to graft them in again.” Ver. 21-23. Thus reprobate Israel may again be elect if they will: “For I would not, brethren, that ye should be ignorant of this mystery, lest ye should be wise in your own conceits, that blindness in part is happened to Israel [those not elect], until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in. And so all Israel shall be saved.” Vers. 25, 26. Is it possible that these blinded reprobates may yet be saved? They may be saved, if Paul is good authority: “For as ye [Gentiles] in times past have not believed God, yet have now obtained mercy through their [Jews] unbelief; even so have these also not believed, that through your mercy they [reprobate Jews] also may obtain mercy. For God hath concluded them all in unbelief [What for? That he might damn them all? No, but] that he might have mercy upon all.” Ver. 30-32. Where, then, is the eternal decree of unconditional election and reprobation? Well may the apostle exclaim, “O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out” only as He has revealed them.
We come next to examine the same subject as taught in Paul’s letter to the Ephesians. Will the reader open the divine volume and very carefully read the letter from its beginning to the 6th verse of the fourth chapter, inclusive? We have not room to transcribe it all, but every word deserves to be indelibly written upon every human heart.
We will begin with that portion of it supposed to give support to the theory of unconditional election. The apostle says: “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ: according as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love: having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself, according to the good pleasure of his will, to the praise of the glory of his grace, wherein he hath made us accepted in the beloved: in whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace; wherein he hath abounded toward us in all wisdom and prudence; having made known unto us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure, which he hath purposed in himself; that in the fullness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him: in whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will: that we should be to the praise of his own glory, who first trusted in Christ. In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation.” Eph. i:3-13.
Without stopping to inquire after the meaning of the word world in the 4th verse, let us proceed to analyze the passage and see whether or not there is any thing like unconditional election in it: “According as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world.” Here we learn that certain persons were chosen in Christ before a certain time, but there is not yet a word as to whether they were chosen conditionally or unconditionally. This must be learned somewhere else. For what were they chosen? “That we should be holy and without blame before him in love.” This is the character to be worn by the persons chosen, and it clearly shows that the apostle was speaking of a class, and not of individuals as such. What more? “Having predestinated us unto the adoption of children by Jesus Christ to himself.” And how is it predestinated that children shall be adopted into God’s family by Jesus Christ? “According to the good pleasure of his will.” Then what is the good pleasure of his will in this matter? That the gospel shall be preached “among all nations, to every creature.” “He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned.” Mark xvi:16. Then it is the good pleasure of His will that every creature who will believe the gospel and be baptized shall be saved, and all who are thus saved are His children by Jesus Christ, through whom He gave the conditions of adoption.
This is all plain; let us go on: “Having made known unto us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure, which he hath purposed in himself.” And what is the mystery of His will thus made known? “That in the dispensation of the fullness of times he might gather together in one all things in Christ, both which are in heaven and on earth; even in him: in whom also we have obtained an inheritance, being predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will.” Now, if these persons were unconditionally and personally predestinated to this inheritance, then it follows that Universalism and not Calvinism gets the benefit of the quotation, for we have seen that He purposed to gather together all things in Christ — not the elect few, but all things. To whom was this made known, and what is the meaning of it? “By revelation he made known unto me the mystery, as I wrote afore in few words” – back yonder in the first chapter — “whereby, when ye read, ye may understand my knowledge in the mystery of Christ, which in other ages was not made known to the sons of men, as it is now revealed unto his holy apostles and prophets by the Spirit.” Eph. iii:3-5. To whom was this long-concealed mystery made known by the Spirit? His holy apostles and prophets.
Then they were the persons referred to by the pronouns we and us, from the 3d to the 12th verse inclusive) of the first chapter, to whom this mystery was made known, as Paul wrote afore in few words in the 10th verse of that chapter. And what was this long-concealed mystery? “That the Gentiles should be fellow heirs, and of the same body, and partakers of his promise in Christ by the gospel.” Eph. iii:6. Then these holy apostles and prophets were the persons chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world, that they as a class should be holy and without blame before Him in love; and though as a class they were of this character, yet as an individual, one of them betrayed the Lord for money. Does this prove the doctrine of unconditional election? That we may see, if possible, more clearly that the pronouns we and us in this context do refer to a particular class of persons of which Paul was one, and that the calling of these did not embrace all the elect as taught by Calvinists, we will pursue the connection a little further.
The apostle says, “That we should be to the praise of his glory, who first trusted in Christ.” Here is the same pronoun we, including Paul and others, to whom he referred as the called and predestinated, “who first trusted in Christ. In whom ye also trusted, after that ye heard the word of truth, the gospel of your salvation.” Vers. 12, 13. Now, if we who first trusted in Christ included all the elect, who were the ye who also trusted in him after they heard the gospel of their salvation? The apostles and prophets were of the Jews who first trusted in Christ, and the Ephesians were Gentiles. who also trusted in Him after they heard the gospel: “Wherefore remember, that ye being in time past Gentiles in the flesh, who are called Uncircumcision by that which is called the Circumcision in the flesh made by hands; that at that time ye were without Christ, being aliens from the commonwealth of Israel, and strangers from
the covenants of promise, having no hope, and without God in the world; but now, in Christ Jesus, ye, who sometime were far off are made nigh by the blood of Christ. For he is Our peace, who hath made both one, and hath broken down the middle wall of partition between us; having abolished in his flesh the enmity, even the law of commandments contained in ordinances for to make in himself of twain one new man [or church], so making peace; and that he might reconcile both unto God in one body by the cross, having slain the enmity thereby; and came and preached peace to you which were afar off, and to them that were nigh; for through him we both have access by one Spirit unto the Father.” Eph. ii:11-18.
Therefore, “keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace. There is one body [composed of Jews and Gentiles], and one Spirit, even as ye are called in one hope of your calling; one Lord [who died for both Jew and Gentile], one faith [common to Jew and Gentile], one baptism [enjoined upon all, for there is] one God and Father of all, who is above all, and through all, and in you all,” if Christians, whether
Jew or Gentile. Eph. iv:3-6. The next passage to which we are referred as proving eternal unconditional election is found, 2 Thess. ii:13, 14: “But we are bound to give thanks to God for you, brethren beloved of the Lord, because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation, through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth: whereunto he called you by our gospel, to the obtaining of the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
In examining this passage, it is important to inquire what beginning it was from which these persons were elected or chosen. Was it the beginning of eternity? Eternity had no beginning. Was it the beginning of time? Then the theory of eternal election is false, for time had a beginning, and is not eternal. As the election was through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth, it is impossible that the election could have antedated the belief of the truth through which it was effected. John says: “I write no new commandment unto you, but an old commandment which ye had from the beginning. The old commandment is the word which ye have heard from the beginning.” 1 John ii:7. And again: “Let that therefore abide in you, which ye have heard from the beginning.” Ver. 24. Now, what beginning was this? Surely, not the beginning of time, the beginning of the world, or any other time or thing which began before their birth, for this they “heard from the beginning.” Nor was it the beginning of the Christian dispensation, for it is most likely that none of them heard the gospel until long after that beginning. Then it was the beginning of their spiritual life — the time of their conversion. From that beginning they had heard the gospel — had the old commandment, and knew God; hence to this beginning the apostle undoubtedly refers; and we suppose Paul refers to the same beginning from which the Thessalonians were chosen to salvation through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth. Were we to say that the sheriff was elected through the votes of the people, no one would understand that he was elected before he received the votes of the people. When Paul said persons were “saved through faith” (Eph. ii:8), he certainly did not mean to teach that they were saved through faith before they had faith.
Then, when the same apostle said that the Thessalonians were chosen through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth, he surely did not mean that they had been chosen from before time began, or at any time before they believed the truth and had their hearts purified by it. But we are referred to 1 Pet. i:2, where the apostle addresses his brethren as “elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit, unto obedience and sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ.” This election is according to the divine foreknowledge, not contrary to it. The whole scheme of redemption was in the mind of God before it was revealed to man. Therefore, when the conditions of salvation were embodied in the gospel and proclaimed to the world, they were presented just as they had existed in His mind before; hence, when any one complies with the conditions of salvation, he is elected according to the foreknowledge of God, because elected according to a plan previously known to Him. When we say of the governor that he was elected according to the constitution of the State, we do not mean that the constitution elected him, but that he was elected by a majority of the votes of the people, according to the provisions of the constitution, and not against its provisions.
So when any one obeys the gospel, he is elected according to the foreknowledge of God, because God foreknew the provisions of the gospel; but the foreknowledge of God did not elect him. Finally, we come to examine the last passage in the Bible which we have ever known brought to the support of unconditional election and reprobation: “The beast which thou sawest was, and is not; and shall ascend out of the bottomless pit, and go into perdition; and they that dwell on the earth shall wonder, (whose names were not written in the book of life from the foundation of the world,) when they behold the beast that was, and is not, and yet is.” Rev. xvii:8. It is the parenthetical portion of the quotation which is believed by some to give support to the doctrine in question. As there are persons here spoken of whose names were not written in the book of life from the foundation of the world, it is inferred that there are persons whose names were so written.
This, we admit, is a legitimate inference, but inferences rarely ever stop within proper bounds. It is further inferred that when a person’s name is written in the book of life, his interest in heaven is secure to him; hence there are those whose names were written in the book of life and made sure of heaven from the foundation of the world, without regard to any thing done by them, whether good or evil. This is not deducible from the language of the text, and is at war with the spirit of the whole Bible, which rewards or punishes man according to his works, and is most plainly contradicted in the same book from which the quotation is made. “He that overcometh, the same shall be clothed in white raiment; and I will not blot out his name out of the book of life, but I will confess his name before my Father, and before his angels.” Rev. iii:5. Now, let us apply the same rules of inference here that were admitted applicable to the other passage. As it is said of certain persons that their names were not written in the book of life, it is inferred that the names of others were so written: then when the Lord said of a certain character, “I will not blot out his name out of the book of life,” the inference is equally clear that the names of others would be blotted out of the book of life. From this conclusion there is no escape; hence the fact that the name of a person is written in the book of life is not conclusive proof that he will finally be saved in heaven. “For I testify unto every man that heareth the words of the prophecy of this book, if any man shall add unto these things, God shall add unto him the plagues that are written in this book: and if any man shall take away from the words of the book of this prophecy, God shall take away his part out of the book of life, and out of the holy city, and from the things which are written in this book.” Rev xxii:18, 19.
Then, a man may have a part in the book of life and yet so conduct himself that it may be taken away from him. Nor was this a new thought first revealed to John in the isle of Patmos; for when Aaron made the golden calf, and the children of Israel were threatened with destruction for worshiping it, Moses prayed the Lord to forgive their sin, and said: “If not, blot me, I pray thee, out of thy book which thou hast written. And the Lord said unto Moses, Whosoever hath sinned against me, him will I blot out of my book.” Ex. xxxii:32, 33. As sin or disobedience causes God to erase or blot out the names of persons from the book of life, and obedience causes their names to be retained or not blotted out (Rev. iii:5), is it not probable that obedience caused their names to be enrolled when first written in the book? “They that feared the Lord spoke often one to another, and the Lord hearkened, and heard it, and a book of remembrance was written before him for them that feared the Lord, and that thought upon his name.” Mal. iii:16. This book seems to have been written before the Lord for those who feared Him and thought upon His name. It will be observed that the names were written from, not before, the foundation of the world. Then, as persons have lived and feared the Lord, their names were inserted in God’s book. We do not suppose that God had a literal book in which the names of His people were written before or after the foundation of the world; but in the mind of God they are recognized as His from the time they bear His name and become obedient to His will. If God had a literal book in which the literal name of every person was written before time began, it follows that all parents and others concerned in giving children their names must have been inspired in order that they might give the child the name designed for it, otherwise they might miss the name occasionally. One thing is certain, however, whether the book be literal or figurative, viz: that names, though written in the book of life, are still liable to be blotted out of it; and surely, while the names of any persons remain written in the book of life, they are elect. Jesus said to his disciples, “Rejoice, because your names are written in heaven.” Luke x:20. Paul told his brethren that they had come “to the general assembly and church of the first-born, which are written in heaven.” Heb. xii:23. To another he said: “I entreat thee also, true yokefellow, help those women which labored with me in the gospel, with Clement also, and with other of my fellow laborers, whose names are in the book of life.”
Phil. iv:3. After John described the heavenly Jerusalem, he said: “There shall in no wise enter into it any thing that defileth; neither whatsoever worketh abomination, or maketh a lie: but they which are written in the Lamb’s book of life.” Rev. xxi:27. From all these quotations it is evident that, while the names of persons are written in the book of life, in heaven they are elect; but when their names have been so written and blotted out of the book of life, they become reprobates, and, unless reinstated, must be lost.
Therefore the number of the elect can be diminished, and hence the doctrine of eternal unconditional election and reprobation can not be true.
Now, we believe we have examined every passage of Holy Writ supposed to favor the doctrine of personal unconditional election and reprobation, and we feel sure that many readers will rejoice with us in the conviction that no such monstrous absurdity is taught in God’s holy word. We conscientiously believe it not only antagonistic to the teaching of the Bible, but contrary to the spirit and genius of the Christian religion, and at war with the love, mercy, and justice of God. He had the entire control of man’s creation, and certainly would not have created him, having unalterably consigned the greater portion of his posterity to eternal misery, dishonor, and wrath, for no fault of their own, or any thing in their power to prevent. How God could be glorified by the eternal punishment of man, in order to carry out a decree made by Himself before the creation of man, is a matter utterly incomprehensible to us. The doctrine makes God an embodiment of cruelty, tyranny, and oppression too horrible to contemplate; and we see not how any one who believes it can acceptably obey God. “He that cometh to God must believe that he is, and that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him.” Heb. xi:6. Do Calvinists believe that God will reward the reprobates, however diligently they may seek Him? How can he who believes himself either one of the elect or one of the reprobate, and that therefore there is nothing he can do that will in any way affect his salvation, ask such a question as. “What must I do to be saved?” (Acts xvi:30) or in faith obey any command as a condition of salvation? We speak with all due respect when
we say we think such a thing impossible until such persons can correct their faith on this subject. If we believed it, we would never make another effort to persuade any person to make his calling and election sure; because, if the doctrine is true, no effort which man can make in the way of obedience to God can in the least increase his chances for future bliss, or in any way change the final destiny of any one of Adam’s race.
Let us turn our backs upon the theory, and our eyes to the word of the Lord, and with hearts lifted in gratitude to God, seek to realize the grand truth perceived by Peter at the house of Cornelius — “that God is no respecter of persons: but in every nation he that feareth him and worketh righteousness, is accepted with him.” Acts x:34, 35.
[This if from The Gospel Plan of Salvation (1874). A special thanks to Lindsay England for her hard work in formatting this sermon.]