« AnteriorContinuar »
nally calls, in such a manner as to affect all their hearts. Nor should he on this account be charged with acting deceitfully; for, though his external call only renders those who hear without obeying it inexcusable, yet it is justly esteemed the testimony of God's grace, by which he reconciles men to himself. Let us observe, therefore, the design of the prophet in saying that God hath no pleasure in the death of a sinner; it is to assure the faithful of God's readiness to pardon them immediately on their repentance, and to shew the impious the aggravation of their sin in rejecting such great compassion and kindness of God. Repentance, therefore, will always be met by Divine mercy; but on whom repentance is bestowed, we are clearly taught by Ezekiel himself, as well as by all the prophets and apostles.
XVI. Another passage adduced is from Paul, where he states that “God will have all men to be saved;" () which, though somewhat different from the passage just considered, yet is very similar to it. I reply, in the first place, that it is evident from the context, how God wills the salvation of all; for Paul connects these two things together, that he “ will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth.” If it was fixed in the eternal counsel of God, that they should receive the doctrine of salvation, what is the meaning of that question of Moses; “ What nation is there so great, who hath God so nigh unto them as we have?" (0) How is it that God hath deprived many nations of the light of the gospel, which others enjoyed? How is it that the pure knowledge of the doctrine of piety has never reached some, and that others have but just heard some obscure rudiments of it? Hence it will be easy to discover the design of Paul. He had enjoined Timothy to make solemn prayers in the Church for kings and princes; but as it might seem somewhat inconsistent to pray to God for a class of men altogether past hope, for they were not only strangers to the body of Christ, but striving with all their power to ruin his kingdom; he subjoins, that “this is good and acceptable in the sight of God, who will have all men to be saved:” which only imports, that God has not closed the way
of salvation against any order of men, but has diffused his mercy in such a manner that he would have no rank to be destitute of it. The other texts adduced are not declarative of the Lord's determination respecting all men in his secret counsel; they only proclaim that pardon is ready for all sinners who sincerely seek it. (9) For if they obstinately insist on its being said that God is merciful to all, I will oppose to them, what is elsewhere asserted, that “our God is in the heavens, he hath done whatsoever he hath pleased.” (r) This text then must be explained in a manner consistent with another, where God says, “I will be gracious to whom I'will be gracious, and I will shew mercy on whom I will shew mercy.” (s) He who makes a selection of objects for the exercise of his mercy, does not impart that mercy to all. But as it clearly appears that Paul is there speaking, not of individuals, but orders of men, I shall forbear any further argument. It must be remarked, however, that Paul is not declaring the actual conduct of God at all times, in all places, and to all persons, but merely representing him as at liberty to make kings and magistrates at length partakers of the heavenly doctrine, notwithstanding their present rage against it in consequence of their blindness. There is more apparent plausibility in their objection, from the declaration of Peter, that “the Lord is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance." (0) But the second clause furnishes an immediate solution of this difficulty; for the willingness that they should come to repentance must be understood in consistence with the general tenour of Scripture. Conversion is certainly in the power of God;. let him be asked, whether he wills the conversion of all, when he promises a few individuals to give them “a heart of flesh,” while he leaves others with “ a heart of stone.” (u) If he were not ready to receive those who implore his mercy, there would indeed be no propriety in this address; “ Turn ye unto me, and I will turn unto you:” (a) but I maintain that no mortal ever approaches God without being divinely drawn. But if repentance depended'' on the will of man, Paul would not have said; “If God peradventure will give them repentance.' (y) And if God, whose (9) Psalm cxlv. 9. (r) Psalm cxv. 3. (8) Exod. xxxiii. 19. (?) 2 Peter üi. 9. (u) Ezek. xxxvi. 26. (x) Zech. i. 3. (y) 2 Tim. ii. 25. VOL. II.
voice exhorts all men to repentance, did not draw the elect to it by the secret operation of his Spirit, Jeremiah would not have said; “Turn thou me, and I shall be turned; for thou art the Lord my God. Surely after that I was turned, I repented.”(2)
XVII. If this be correct, it will be said there can be but little faith in the promises of the gospel, which, in declaring the will of God, assert that he wills what is repugnant to his inviolable decree. But this is far from a just conclusion. For if we turn our attention to the effect of the promises of salvation, we shall find that their universality is not at all inconsistent with the predestination of the reprobate. We know the promises to be effectual to us only when we receive them by faith: on the contrary, the annihilation of faith is at once an abolition of the promises. If this is their nature, we may perceive that there is no discordance between these two things; God's having appointed from eternity on whom he will bestow his favour and exercise his wrath, and his proclaiming salvation indiscriminately to all. Indeed, I maintain that there is the most perfect harmony between them. For his sole design in thus promising, is to offer his mercy to all who desire and seek it, which none do but those whom he has enlightened, and he enlightens all whom he has predestinated to salvation. These persons experience the certain and unshaken truth of the promises; so that it cannot be pretended that there is the least contrariety between God's eternal election and the testimony of his grace offered to the faithful. But why does he mention all? It is in order that the consciences of the faithful may enjoy the more secure satisfaction, seeing that there is no difference between sinners, provided they have faith; and, on the other hand, that the impious may not plead the want of an asylum to flee to from the bondage of sin, while they ungratefully reject that which is offered to them. When the mercy of God is offered to both by the gospel, it is faith, that is, the illumination of God, which distinguishes between the pious and impious; so that the former experience the efficacy of the gospel, but the latter derive no benefit from it. Now this illumination is regulated by
(2) Jer. xxxi. 18, 19.
God's eternal election. The complaint and lamentation of Christ, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, how often would I have gathered thy children together, and ye would not;” (a) however they cite it, affords them no support. I confess, that Christ here speaks not merely in his human character, but that he is upbraiding the Jews for having in all ages rejected his grace. But we must define the will of God which is here intended. It is well known how sedulously God laboured to preserve that people to himself, and with what extreme obstinacy, from the first to the last, they refused to be gathered, being abandoned to their own wandering desires; but this does not authorise the ·conclusion, that the counsel of God was frustrated by the wickedness of men. They object, that nothing is more inconsistent with the nature of God than to have two wills. This I grant them, provided it be rightly explained. But why do they not consider the numerous passages, where, by the assumption of human affections, God condescends beneath his own majesty? He says, “I have spread out my hands all the day unto a rebellious people;” (6) early and late endeavouring to bring them to himself. If they are determined to accommodate all this to God, and disregard the figurative mode of expression, they will give rise to many needless contentions, which may be settled by this one solution, that what is peculiar to man is transferred to God. The solution, however, elsewhere stated by us, is fully sufficient; that though to our apprehension the will of God is manifold and various, yet he does not in himself will things at variance with each other, but astonishes our faculties with his various and “manifold wisdom,” according to the expression of Paul, till we shall be enabled to understand, that he mysteriously wills what now seems contrary to his will. They impertinently object, that God being the Father of all, it is unjust for him to disinherit any but such as have previously deserved this punishment by their own guilt. As if the goodness of God did not extend even to dogs and swine. But if the question relates to the human race, let them answer why God allied himself to one people as their Father; why he gathered even from them but a very small number, as the flower of them.
But their rage for slander prevents these railers from considering that God “maketh his sun to rise on the evil and on the good,” (c) but that the inheritance is reserved for the few, to whom it shall one day be said, “Come, ye blessed of my father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.” (d) They further object, that God hates nothing he has made; which though I grant them, the doctrine I maintain still remains unshaken, that the reprobate are hated by God, and that most justly, because, being destitute of his Spirit, they can do nothing but what is deserving of his curse. They further allege, that there is no difference between the Jew and the Gentile, and therefore that the grace of God is offered indiscriminately to all: I grant it; only let them admit, according to the declaration of Paul, that God calls whom he pleases, both of the Jews and of the Gentiles, (e) so that he is under no obligation to any. In this way also we answer their arguments from another text, which says, that “God hath concluded them all in unbelief, that he might have mercy upon all;" () which imports that he will have the salvation of all who are saved, ascribed to his mercy, though this blessing is not common to all. Now while many arguments are advanced on both sides, let our conclusion be to stand astonished with Paul at so great a mystery, and amidst the clamour of petulant tongues let us not be ashamed of exclaiming with him, “O man, who art thou that repliest against God?” For, as Augustine justly contends, it is acting a more perverse part, to set up the measure of human justice as the standard by which to measure the justice of God.
(c) Matt. v. 48. (el) Matt. xxv. 34. (e) Rom. ix. 24. (8) Rom. xi. 32.