That to the height of this great argument,
I may assert eternal Providence,
And justify the ways of God with man. (Milton)
I believe that many who now have the “faith which works by love” may remember a time when the power of the Highest worked within them in a remarkable way; when the voice of the Lord brought the mountains low, broke all the rocks into pieces, and powerfully spread His love in their hearts by the Holy Spirit given to them. At that time they had no power to resist the grace of God. They were no more able to stop the course of that flood than to stop the waves of the sea with their hand, or stop the sun in the sky.
And the children of God can see how His love leads them from faith to faith; how tenderly He watches over their souls; how carefully He brings them back if they wander, and then upholds them as they walk in His path, so that they do not slip and fall. They see how unwilling He is to let them go from serving Him; and how, against the stubbornness of their wills, and the wildness of their passions, He goes on doing His work, conquering until He has put all His enemies under His feet.
The longer this work continues in their hearts, the more earnestly they cry out, “Not unto us, O Lord, but unto Thy name give the praise, for Thy mercy and for Thy truth’s sake!” For they are more deeply convinced that “by grace we are saved, not of works, lest any man should boast;” that we are not pardoned and accepted by God for the sake of anything we have done, but completely and only for the sake of Christ, of what He has done and suffered for us; the more surely they know that the only condition of this acceptance is faith; which, before it is given, no good work can be done that does not have the nature of sin in it.
How easily may a believer conclude, from what he has experienced in his own soul, that the true grace of God always works irresistibly in every believer! That God will finish wherever He has begun this work, so that it is impossible for any believer to fall from grace! And, last, that the reason God gives this to some and not to others is because of His own will. Without regard either to their faith or their works, He has absolutely, unconditionally, predestined them to life, before the foundation of the world!
Agreeing with this is “The Protestant Confession of faith,” drawn up at Paris, in 1559, with these words:
We believe, that out of the general corruption and condemnation in which all men are plunged, God draws those whom, in His eternal and unalterable counsel, He has elected by His own goodness and mercy, through our Lord Jesus Christ, without considering their works, leaving the others in the same corruption and condemnation. (Article 12)
The Dutch theologians speak to the same effect, assembled at Dort in 1618. Their words are:
Whereas, in process of time, God bestowed faith on some, and not on others, — this proceeds from His eternal decree; according to which, He softens the hearts of the elect, and leaves them that are not elect in their wickedness and hardness.
And herein is discovered the difference put between men equally lost; that is to say, the decree of election and reprobation. Election is the unchangeable decree of God, by which, before the foundation of the world, He has chosen in Christ unto salvation a set number of men. This election is one and the same of all which are to be saved.
Not all men are elected, but some not elected; whom God, in His unchangeable good pleasure, has decreed to leave in the common misery, and not to bestow saving faith upon them; but leaving them in their own ways, at last to condemn and punish them everlastingly, for their unbelief, and also for their other sins. And this is the decree of reprobation. (Article 6, et seq)
Likewise, in “The Confession of Faith” set forth by the Assembly of English and Scotch theologians, in 1646, are these words:
God from all eternity did unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass . . . By the decree of God, for the manifestation of his glory, some men and angels are predestined unto everlasting life, and others fore-ordained to everlasting death.
These angels and men thus predestined and fore-ordained are particularly and unchangeably designed, and their number so certain and definite that it cannot be either increased or diminished.
Those of mankind that are predestined unto life, God, before the foundation of the world, has chosen in Christ unto everlasting glory, without any foresight of faith or good works.
The rest of mankind God was pleased, for the glory of His sovereign power over His creatures, to pass by, and to ordain them to dishonor and wrath” (Ch. 3).
Equally clear are Mr. Calvin’s words, in his Christian Institutes:
All men are not created for the same end; but some are fore-ordained to eternal life, others to eternal damnation. So according as every man was created for the one end or the other, we say, he was elected, that is, predestined to life, or reprobated, that is, predestined to damnation. (Ch. 21, Sect. 1)
Now let us look carefully at this doctrine. It states that before the foundations of the world were laid, God, out of His own will and pleasure, set a decree concerning all the children of men who would be born. This decree was unchangeable by God, and irresistible to man. And it was ordained that one part of mankind should be saved from sin and hell, and all the rest left to perish forever, without help, without hope. God decreed that not one of these should have that grace which could prevent their burning with everlasting fire, for this cause alone: “because it was His good pleasure;” and for this purpose: “to show His glorious power, and His sovereignty over all the earth.”
Do the Scriptures speak of election? They say that St. Paul was “an elected or chosen vessel;” and speak of great numbers of men as “elect according to the foreknowledge of God.” Election commonly means one of two things: first, a divine appointment of particular men, to do some particular work in the world. And so, Cyrus was elected to rebuild the temple, and St. Paul, along with the Twelve, to preach the gospel. But I do not find this to have any necessary connection with eternal happiness, for one who is elected in this sense may still be eternally lost. “Have I not chosen” (elected) “you twelve?” said our Lord; “yet one of you hath a devil.” Judas was elected just as the rest; and yet is punished with the devil and his angels.
Second, I believe election means a divine appointment of some men to eternal happiness. But I believe this election is conditional, as well as the reprobation which is opposite to it. I believe that the eternal decree concerning both is expressed in those words: “He that believeth shall be saved; he that believeth not shall be damned.” God will not change this decree, and man cannot resist it. According to this, all true believers are called elect in Scripture, as all who continue in unbelief are termed reprobates, that is, unapproved of God, and without discernment of the things of the Spirit.
Now, God, who sees all eternity at once, “calls the things that are not as though they were;” the things that are not yet as though they were now already existing. So He calls Abraham the “father of many nations,” even before Isaac was born. And so Christ is called “the Lamb slain from the foundation of the world,” even though He was not slain at that time. Likewise, God calls true believers, “elect from the foundation of the world;” although they were not actually elect, or believers, until many ages afterward. It was only then that they were actually elected, when they were made the “sons of God by faith.” They were then actually “chosen and taken out of the world; elect,” says St. Paul, “through belief of the truth;” or, as St. Peter expresses it, “elect according to the foreknowledge of God, through sanctification of the Spirit.”
I believe this election as firmly as I believe the Scripture to be of God. But unconditional election I cannot believe; not only because I cannot find it in Scripture, but also because it necessarily implies unconditional reprobation. Find any election which does not imply reprobation, and I will gladly agree to it. But reprobation I can never agree to while I believe the Scripture to be of God; for it cannot be reconciled to the message of both the Old and New Testament. Impartially consider how it is possible to reconcile reprobation with the following Scriptures:
“Because thou hast eaten of the tree of which I commanded thee, saying, Thou shalt not eat of it; in the sweat of thy face shalt thou eat bread” (Genesis 3:17). That is, “The curse will not come because of any of My absolute decrees, but because of your sin.”
“If thou doest well, shalt thou not be accepted? And if thou doest not well, sin lieth at the door” (Genesis 4:7). Only sin, not the decree of reprobation, keeps you from being accepted.
“Know that the Lord thy God, He is the faithful God, which keepeth covenant and mercy with them that love Him and keep His commandments to a thousand generations; and repayeth them that hate Him to their face, to destroy them. Wherefore, if ye hearken to these judgments, and keep, and do them, the Lord thy God shall keep unto thee the covenant which He sware unto thy fathers” (Deuteronomy 7:9, 12). “Behold, I set before you this day a blessing and a curse; a blessing, if you obey the commandments of the Lord your God; and a curse, if you will not obey” (11:26, 27, 28). “See, I have set before thee this day life and good, and death and evil; in that I command thee this day to love the Lord thy God to walk in His ways, and to keep His commandments, and the Lord thy God shall bless thee. But if thou wilt not hear, I denounce unto you this day, that ye shall surely perish. I call heaven and earth to record this day, that I have set before you life and death, blessing and cursing. Therefore, choose life, that both thou and thy seed may live” (30:15, etc).
“And the Spirit of God came upon Azariah, and he said, The Lord is with you while ye be with Him; and if ye seek Him, He will be found of you; but if ye forsake Him He will forsake you” (2 Chronicles 15:1, 2). “After all that is come upon us, for our evil deeds, and for our great trespass; should we again break Thy commandments, wouldest Thou not be angry with us, until Thou hadst consumed us? “(Ezra 9:13, 14).
“Behold, God is mighty, and despiseth not any” (Job 36:5). How could He then reprobate any? “The Lord is good to all: And His tender mercies are over all His works” (Psalm 145:9).
“Turn you at my reproof: Behold, I will pour out My Spirit unto you. Because I have called, and ye refused; I have stretched out My hand, and no man regarded: I also will laugh at your calamity, I will mock when your fear cometh. Then shall they call upon Me, but I will not answer; they shall seek Me early, but they shall not find Me” (Proverbs 1:23, etc.). Why? Because of His decree? No; but “because they hated knowledge, and did not choose the fear of the Lord.”
“I have spread out My hands all the day unto a rebellious people; a people that provoked Me to anger continually to My face. Therefore will I measure their former work into their bosom. Ye shall all bow down to the slaughter; because when I called, ye did not answer. Therefore, ye shall leave your name for a curse unto My chosen; for the Lord God shall slay thee, and call His servants by another name” (Isaiah 65:2, etc.).
“The soul that sinneth, it shall die. The son shall not bear” (eternally) “the iniquity of the father, neither shall the father bear the iniquity of the son. Have I any pleasure at all that the wicked should die? saith the Lord; and not that he should return from his ways, and live?” (Ezekiel 18:20, 23).
“Then began He to upbraid the cities wherein most of His mighty works were done, because they repented not. Woe unto thee, Chorazin! Woe unto thee, Bethsaida! For if the mighty works which were done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago in sackcloth and ashes.” (What, even if they were not elected? And if those in Bethsaida had been elected, would they not have repented too?) “Therefore I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for Tyre and Sidon in the day of judgment than for you. And thou, Capernaum, which art exalted unto heaven, shalt be brought down to hell. For if the mighty works which have been done in thee, had been done in Sodom, it would have remained until this day. But I say unto you, It shall be more tolerable for the land of Sodom in the day of judgment than for thee” (Matthew 11:20, etc.).
“The men of Nineveh shall rise in judgment with this generation, and shall condemn it: Because they repented at the preaching of Jonas; and, behold, a greater than Jonas is here” (12:41). But what point would there be to this, if the men of Nineveh were elected, and this generation of men were not?
“They which were called were not worthy” (22:8). They were shut out from the marriage of the Lamb. Why? Because “they would not come” (v. 3). “This is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men love” (or choose) “darkness rather than light” (John 3:19).
“Thy money perish with thee! Thou hast neither part nor lot in this matter; for thy heart is not right in the sight of God. Repent therefore of this thy wickedness, and pray God, if perhaps the thought of thine heart may be forgiven thee” (Acts 8:20, etc.). St. Peter had no thought of any absolute reprobation even in the case of Simon Magus.
“They are without excuse; because when they knew God, they glorified Him not as God — wherefore God also gave them up to uncleanness — who changed the truth of God into a lie. — For this cause God gave them up to vile affections. — As they did not like to retain God in their knowledge, God gave them over to a reprobate mind, to do those things which are not convenient” (Romans 1:20, etc.).
“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, to believe a lie; that they all might be damned who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness” (2 Thessolonians 2:10, etc.).
How will you reconcile reprobation with the following Scriptures, which declare God’s willingness that all should be saved? “As many as ye shall find, bid” (invite) “to the marriage” (Matthew 22:9). “Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature” (Mark 16:15).
“And when He came near, He beheld the city, and wept over it, saying, If thou hadst known, at least in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace!” (Luke 19:41, etc.) “These things I say, that ye may be saved” (John 5:34), to those who persecuted Him, and “sought to slay Him” (v. 16), and of whom He says, “Ye will not come unto Me, that ye may have life” (v. 40).
“God that made the world and all things therein — giveth to all life, and breath, and all things, and hath made of one blood all nations of men, for to dwell on all the face of the earth — That they should seek the Lord” (Acts 17:24). Observe that this was God’s purpose in creating all nations on the earth.
“As by the offense of one, judgment came upon all men to condemnation; so by the righteousness of one the free gift came upon all men unto justification of life” (Romans 5:18). “The same Lord over all is rich” (in mercy) “unto all that call upon Him” (10:12).
“This is good and acceptable in the sight of God our Savior; who willeth all men to be saved” (l Timothy 2:3, 4). “Who is the Savior of all men, especially of those that believe;” (6:10). That is, intending to save all, and actually saving believers. “If any man lack wisdom, let him ask of God, who giveth to all men liberally, and upbraideth not” (James 1:5). “The Lord is longsuffering toward us, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance” (2 Peter 3:9). “We have seen and do testify that the Father sent the Son to be the Savior of the world” (1 John 4:14).
How will you reconcile reprobation with the following Scriptures, which declare that Christ came to save all men; that He died for all; that He atoned for all, even for those that are ultimately lost?
“The Son of man is come to save that which is lost” (Matthew 18:11), without any limitation mentioned. “Behold the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world” (John 1:29). “God sent His Son into the world, that the world through Him might be saved” (3:17). “I came not” (now) “to judge the world, but to save the world” (12:47).
“Destroy not him with thy meat, for whom Christ died” (Romans 14:15). “Through thy knowledge shall thy weak brother perish, for whom Christ died” (1 Corinthians 8:11).
“We thus judge, that if one died for all, then were all dead; and that He died for all, that those who live should live unto Him which died for them” (2 Corinthians 5:14, etc.). Here you not only see that Christ died for all men, but also the purpose of His dying for them.
“Christ Jesus, who gave himself a ransom for all” (1 Timothy 2:6). “We see Jesus made lower than the angels, that He might taste death for every man” (Hebrews 2:9).
“There shall be false teachers among you, who shall privately bring in damnable heresies, even denying the Lord that bought them, and bring upon themselves swift destruction” (2 Peter 2:1). Here you see that He bought or redeemed even those that are lost, that bring swift destruction on themselves.
“If any man sin, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous; and He is the propitiation for our sins and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:1, 2).
You realize that these are only a few of the Scriptures which could be cited. But they are enough; and they require no comment. Taken in their clear, easy, and obvious sense, they prove that there cannot be any such thing as unconditional reprobation.
Do you think it will cut the knot to say, “If God could have justly refused all men” (which is to say, “If God could have justly reprobated all men”), “then He can justly refuse some.” But could God have justly refused all men? I cannot find it in the Word of God. Therefore I reject it as an assertion completely unsupported by Holy Scripture.
In supposing what God might have done justly, you think of His justice separate from His other attributes, from His mercy in particular. But all His attributes are inseparably joined. They cannot be divided even for a moment. Therefore this whole argument stands on an unscriptural and impossible supposition.
But some object, “Hath not the potter power over his own clay?” Let us consider the context of these words. They are found in the ninth chapter of the Epistle to the Romans. The general intent of this epistle is to declare the eternal, unchangeable purpose or decree of God, which is, “He that believeth shall be saved: He that believeth not shall be damned.” The Apostle proves, in the first three chapters, God’s justice in condemning those that did not believe and the necessity of believing in order to have salvation, which he then confirms in the fourth by Abraham’s example. In the first part of the fifth and in the sixth chapter, he describes the happiness and holiness of true believers. (The latter part of the fifth is a digression, concerning the extent of the benefits flowing from the death of Christ.) In the seventh, he shows in what sense believers in Christ are delivered from the law; and describes the bondage of those who are still under the law; that is, those who are convicted of sin, but not able to conquer it. In the eighth he again describes the joy-filled freedom of those who truly believe in Christ; and encourages them to suffer for the faith, for, “We know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them that are called” (by the preaching of His word) “according to His purpose” (v. 28), or decree, which is unchanged from eternity, “He that believeth shall be saved.” “For whom He did foreknow” as believing, “He also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of His Son. Moreover, whom He did predestinate, them He also called,” by His word (so that term is usually intended in St. Paul’s epistles); “and whom He called, them He also justified; and whom He justified, them He glorified.” From there to the end of the chapter, he strongly encourages all those who had the love of God poured out in their hearts, to have a good hope that no sufferings would ever “be able to separate them from the love of God which is in Christ Jesus.”
But the Apostle was aware of how deeply the Jews were offended by the whole theme of his doctrine, especially by his assertion that many Gentiles already partake of the great salvation, while many Jews fall short of it. Why? Because they would not receive it by faith. And whoever believes not cannot be saved; but, “whosoever believeth in Christ,” whether Jew or Gentile, “shall not be ashamed” (vv. 30-33).
Those words, “Hath not the potter power over his own clay?” are part of St. Paul’s answer to the objection that it was unjust for God to show mercy to the Gentiles while He withheld it from His own people. First, he simply denies this, saying, “God forbid!” Then he observes that, according to God’s own words to Moses, God has a right to set the terms by which He will show mercy, which neither the will nor the power of man can alter (vv. 15, 16); and to withdraw His mercy from those who, like Pharaoh, will not comply with those terms (v. 17). And that accordingly, “He hath mercy on whom He will have mercy,” those that truly believe; “and whom He will,” obstinate unbelievers, He allows to be “hardened.”
He adds, “Shall the thing formed say unto him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus?” Why have You made me capable of salvation only on those terms? But “Hath not” the great “Potter power over His own clay to make,” or appoint, one kind of “vessels,” that is, believers, “to honor, and” the others “to dishonor?” Does He not have a right to bestow eternal honor and dishonor on whatever terms He pleases? Especially, considering that He “endures, with much longsuffering,” those “vessels of wrath,” who had earlier “fitted” themselves “to destruction.” There is then no more room to speak against God, for making His vengeance known on those vessels of wrath, than for “making known” His glorious love “on the vessels of mercy whom He had before,” by their faith, “prepared for glory.”
Neither our Lord, in the parable, nor St. Paul, in these words, saw God’s sovereign power as the basis of unconditional reprobation. Beware that you go no further than you are authorized by them. Take care whenever you speak of these things to “speak as the oracles of God.” If you do, you will never speak of the sovereignty of God except along with His other attributes. For the Scripture nowhere speaks of this one attribute as separate from the rest. Much less does it speak of the sovereignty of God alone deciding the eternal states of men. God acts according to the known rules of His justice and mercy; but never assigns His sovereignty as the reason why any man is punished with everlasting destruction.
Imagine yourself in this situation! Here you are, a sinner, convinced that you deserve the damnation of hell. Sorrow and fear have filled your heart. How will you be comforted? By the promises of God? But perhaps you have no share in them; for they belong only to the elect. By considering His love and tender mercy? But what are these to you if you are a reprobate? What basis can you have for even the least bit of hope? Only that it is possible that God’s sovereign will may be on your side. God may possibly save you, simply because He chooses! What little encouragement this is to despairing sinners! I am afraid that “faith” rarely “cometh by hearing” this!
The sovereignty of God is never to be seen to supersede His justice. And unconditional reprobation (the clear consequence of unconditional election) flatly contradicts the scriptural account of God’s justice. The Scripture describes God as the Judge of the earth. But how will God judge the world in justice if there is any decree of reprobation? What should those on His left hand be condemned for? For having done evil? They could not help it. God, you say, “of old ordained them to this condemnation.” He “sold” them, you say, “to work wickedness,” even from their mother’s womb. Will He then condemn them for what they could not help? Will the Just, the Holy One of Israel, condemn millions of men to everlasting pain, only because their blood moved in their veins? They could not have escaped from sin without that grace which you say God had determined never to give them. And yet you suppose He will send them into eternal fire for not escaping from sin! That is, for not having that grace which God had decreed they should never have! What strange justice! What a picture you draw of the Judge of all the earth!
Rather, are they not condemned for not doing good, according to those solemn words of the great Judge, “Depart, ye cursed; for I was an hungered, and ye gave Me no meat; I was thirsty, and ye gave Me no drink; a stranger, and ye took Me not in; I was naked, and ye clothed Me not; sick, and in prison, and ye visited Me not. Then shall they answer.” But how much better an answer you put into their mouths! Based on your supposition, they could say, “O Lord; still let us plead with You. Why do You condemn us for not doing good? Was it possible for us to do anything well? Did we ever abuse the power of doing good? We never received it, and You know that. Will You, the Holy One, the Just, condemn us for not doing what we never had the power to do? Will You condemn us for not casting down the stars from heaven? For not holding the winds in our fist? Why, it was as possible for us to do this, as to do any work acceptable in Your sight! O Lord, before You plunge us into everlasting fire, let us know how it was ever possible for us to escape the damnation of hell.”
Or, how could they have escaped from inward sin, from evil desires, from unholy tempers and affections? Were they ever able to save their own souls, to rescue themselves from this inward hell? If so, they might be rightly blamed for their inaction, and would be left without excuse. But this was not the case; they never had the power to rescue themselves from the enemies within. Who is able to purify a corrupt heart; to bring a clean thing out of an unclean thing? Is mere man sufficient for this? Certainly not. Only God is. But what if He answers, “I will not, because I will not: Be thou unclean still?” Will God doom that man to the bottomless pit because of that uncleanness which he could not save himself from, and which God could have saved him from, but would not? If an earthly King were to execute justice such as this on his helpless subjects, one might expect the vengeance of the Lord to soon sweep him from the face of the earth.
Perhaps you will say, “They are not condemned for actual but for original sin.” What do you mean by this? The inward corruption of our nature? If so, it has already been spoken of. Or do you mean the sin which Adam committed in paradise? That this is imputed to all men, I agree; even that it is the reason that “the whole creation groaneth and travaileth in pain together until now.” But that any will be damned for this alone, I deny, until you show me where it is written.
Instead, should you not say that unbelief is the damning sin, and that those who are condemned in that day will be condemned, “because they believed not on the name of the only-begotten Son of God?” But could they believe? Was this faith not both the gift and the work of God in their souls? And was it not a gift which He had eternally decreed never to give them? Was it not a work which He was determined never to work in their souls? Will these men be condemned because God would not work; because they did not receive what God would not give?
There is also a special difficulty here. You say that Christ did not die for these men. But if so, it was impossible for them to ever believe and be saved. For what is saving faith, but “a confidence in God through Christ, that loved me, and gave himself for me?” But did He love the reprobate, who was damned before he was born! There never was any object for his faith; there never was anything for him to believe. God himself could not make him believe that Christ atoned for his sins, without making him believe a lie.
And how will you reconcile reprobation with these clear passages: “Have I any pleasure at all that the wicked should die, saith the Lord God; and not that he should return from his ways and live? Cast away from you all your transgressions whereby ye have transgressed: For why will ye die, O house of Israel? For I have no pleasure in the death of him that dieth, saith the Lord: Wherefore, turn yourselves, and live ye” (Ezekiel 18:23, etc.). “As I live, saith the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live. Turn ye, turn ye from your evil ways: For why will ye die, O house of Israel?” (Ezekiel 33:11).
But perhaps you will say, “These ought to be balanced with other passages of Scripture, where this doctrine is as clearly affirmed as it is denied in these.” I must answer very clearly: if this were true, we must give up the Scriptures altogether; nor would the infidels so readily call the Bible a “cunningly-devised fable.” But it is not true. To uproot reprobation, and all of its connected doctrines, God explicitly declares these three things in His word:
(1.) “Christ died for all,” (2 Corinthians 5:14);
(2.) “He is the propitiation for the sins of the whole world” (1 John 2:2), which is the consequence of His dying for all; and,
(3.) “He died for all, that they should not live unto themselves, but unto Him which died for them” (2 Corinthians 5:15); that they might be saved from their sins, which is the purpose of His dying for them.
Now show me Scripture where God declares in equally clear terms that Christ did not die “for all,” but only for some, and that Christ is not “the propitiation for the sins of the whole world.” There are none. Nor is it possible to evade the force of those mentioned above, except by supplying in sheer number that which is lacking in weight; by heaping many texts together, by which (though none of them speak directly to the point) the proponents of that opinion dazzle the eyes of the unwary.
What a portrayal of the sincerity of God this doctrine gives in a thousand declarations like these: “O that there were such an heart in them, that they would fear Me, and keep My commandments always, that it might be well with them, and with their children forever!” (Deuteronomy 5:29). “My people would not hear My voice, and Israel would not obey Me. So I gave them up unto their own hearts’ lusts, and let them follow their own imaginations. O that My people would have hearkened unto Me! For if Israel had walked in My ways, I should soon have put down their enemies, and turned My hand against their adversaries” (Psalm 81:11, etc.). And all this time you suppose God had unchangeably ordained that there never should be “such a heart in them!” That it should never be possible for the people He seemingly lamented over, to obey Him!
How clear the reasoning of Dr. Watts is on this subject: “It is very hard indeed, to vindicate the sincerity of God or of His Son, in Their universal offers of grace and salvation to men, and Their sending ministers with such messages and invitations to accept mercy, if there is not at least a conditional pardon and salvation provided for them. His ministers, since they do not know the outcome of things, may be sincere in offering salvation to all persons, according to their general commission, ‘Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature.’ But how can God or Christ be sincere in sending them with this commission, to offer His grace to all men, if God has not provided such grace for all men, even conditionally?”
Our blessed Lord commands and invites “all men everywhere to repent.” He calls everyone. He sends His ambassadors to “preach the gospel to every creature.” He himself “preached deliverance to the captives,” without limitation. But is He standing at the prison doors, with keys in His hands, continually inviting the prisoners to come out, commanding them to accept that invitation, appealing to every motive which can possibly influence them; adding the most precious promises if they obey, and the most dreadful threats if they do not; and all this time is He absolutely determined never to open the doors for them? Even while He is crying, “Come ye, come ye, from that evil place: For why will ye die, O house of Israel!” “Why?” one of them might reply, “Because we cannot help ourselves; and You will not help us. It is not in our power to break the gates of brass, and it is not Your pleasure to open them. We must die because it is not Your will to save us.” Alas! my brothers, what kind of sincerity is this which you ascribe to God our Savior?
So we see that election and reprobation have little agreement with the truth and sincerity of God! But they agree least of all with the scriptural account of His love and goodness. His love extends even to those who neither love nor fear Him. He is good even to the evil and the unthankful. For “the Lord is loving to every man, and His mercy is over all His works.” But how is God good or loving to a reprobate, or one that is not elected? You cannot say that he is an object of the love or goodness of God, regarding his eternal state. After all, this is one whom He created, says Mr. Calvin clearly, “to live a reproach, and die everlastingly.” Surely no one can imagine that the goodness of God is even remotely concerned with this man’s eternal state. But it is said, “God is good to him in this world.” What? When because of God’s unchangeable decree, it would have been better for this man never to have been born? Even the gifts of God, such as food, clothing, and other comforts are not blessings to him. At the price he will pay for them, every one of them is a curse. For every moment’s pleasure which he now enjoys, he will suffer more than a thousand years of torment, for the smoke of that pit ascends forever. God knew this would be the result of whatever he would enjoy. It was His very purpose in giving him those enjoyments. So that, by all of these, He is only fattening the ox for slaughter. And the common grace that he has was not given for the purpose of saving his soul; or for doing him any good at all; but only for restraining him from hurting the elect. Far from doing him good, this grace only increases his damnation. “And God knows this,” you say, “and designed it should; it was one great end for which He gave it!” It may properly be termed, “damning grace;” since it is not only damning in its results, but also in its intention. He received it from God for that very purpose, that he would receive a greater damnation. So I ask, how is God good or loving to this man, regarding either life or eternity?
Does this love not make your blood run cold? Does it not cause the ears of him that hears of it to tingle? Can you fathom that the loving, merciful God ever dealt this way with any soul which He made? But you must believe this if you believe unconditional election.
But you are afraid that if you do not allow election, you must allow free will, and rob God of His glory in man’s salvation. I answer:
(1.) Many of the greatest proponents of election deny the logical consequence of it, the impossibility of free will, and do not agree that even man’s natural free will is contrary to God’s glory. They assert that every man has a measure of natural free will. So, the Assembly of Divines (representing the Calvinists both in England and Scotland) writes, “God hath endued the will of man with that natural liberty that is neither forced, nor, by an absolute necessity of nature, determined to do good or evil” (Chap. 9). And they affirm this of man in his fallen state even before he receives the grace of God.
(2.) But I do not defend this kind of free will. Natural free will, in mankind’s fallen state, I do not understand. I only assert that there is a measure of free will that is supernaturally restored to every man, together with that supernatural light which “enlightens every man that cometh into the world.” But as to whether this free will is natural or not, some object, saying, “If man has any free will, God cannot have the whole glory of his salvation;” or, “It is more for the glory of God to save man by an irresistible power, than to save him as a free agent, with an ability to either accept or resist His grace.”
But although God does not do the entire work without man’s working together with Him, God may still have all the glory. The very power to “work together with Him” was from God. Therefore He receives all the glory. Has experience not taught you this? Have you not often felt power either to resist or yield to the grace of God when facing a particular temptation? And when you have yielded to “work together with Him,” did you not find it still possible to give Him all the glory? So both experience and Scripture make it clear to every impartial mind that, although man has the freedom to work or not “work together with God,” God may still have the whole glory of his salvation.
And if you say, “We ascribe to God alone the whole glory of our salvation;” I answer, so do we. If you add, “But we affirm that God alone does the whole work, without man’s working at all;” in one sense, we allow this as well. We agree that it is the work of God alone to justify, to sanctify, and to glorify; which, taken together, make up the whole of salvation. But we cannot agree that man is totally unable to “work together with God;” or that God is the sole worker of our salvation, in a sense that excludes man’s working entirely. This I dare not say; for it is so obviously contrary to Scripture; for the Scripture is clear, that (once having received power from God) we are to “work out our own salvation;” and that (after the work of God is begun in our souls) we are “workers together with Him.”
Your objection, proposed in another form, is this: “It is not so much for the glory of God, to save man as a free agent, having received a capacity of either concurring with, or resisting, His grace; as to save him by a power which he cannot possibly resist.” But how is it more for the glory of God to save man irresistibly, than to save him as a free agent, by grace which he may either concur with or resist? I am afraid this is a confused, unscriptural idea of “the glory of God.” The Scripture frequently speaks of the glory of God as the visible display of His essential glory, of His eternal power and godhead, and of His glorious attributes, especially His justice, mercy, and truth. And it is in this sense alone that the glory of God is said to be advanced by man. Now this is the point which you must prove: “That it more clearly shows the glorious attributes of God, especially His justice, mercy, and truth, to save man irresistibly, than to save him by grace which he may either concur with, or resist.”
Let us see then whether the plan of free will or the plan of reprobation is more for the glory of God, for the display of His glorious attributes, for the manifestation of His wisdom, justice, and mercy, to the sons of men.
First, His wisdom. If man is to some extent free; if, by that light which “lighteneth every man that comes into the world,” there is “set before him life and death, good and evil;” then how gloriously does the wisdom of God appear in the whole system of man’s salvation! Being willing that all men should be saved, yet not willing to force them into it; willing that men should be saved, yet not as trees or stones, but as men, as rational creatures, endued with understanding to discern what is good, and freedom either to accept or refuse it. How marvelously He tailors His operations to His plan, “the counsel of His will!” His first step is to enlighten the understanding to distinguish between good and evil. He adds many inward convictions to this, which every man on earth has often felt. At other times He gently nudges their wills, He draws and woos them, as it were, to walk in the light. He places good desires into their hearts, even though they may know not the source. He does this even with those who do not have His written word. But what wisdom is displayed in this, if man is to some degree a free agent! To save man, as man; to set life and death before him, and then persuade (not force) him to choose life. According to this grand purpose of God, a perfect rule is first set before him, to serve as a “lantern to his feet, and a light in all his paths.” This is offered to him in the form of a law, with the most glorious rewards for them that obey, and the severest penalties for them that break it. To reclaim these violators, God tries every avenue of their souls. Sometimes He appeals to their understanding, showing them the foolishness of their sins; sometimes to their affections, tenderly scolding them for their ingratitude, and even bending low to ask, “What could I have done for” you (consistent with My eternal purpose, not to force you) “which I have not done?” He sometimes threatens, “Except ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish;” sometimes promises, “Your sins and your iniquities will I remember no more.” What wisdom there is in all of this, if man can indeed choose life or death! But if every man is eternally assigned to either heaven or hell before his birth, where is the wisdom in this; of dealing with him as if he were free, when he is not? How can this dispensation of God help a reprobate? What are promises or threats, or scoldings or reprimands to the citizen of hell? Only an empty farce, fake scowls, and noisy words that mean nothing? Where is the wisdom in this? What purpose does this system serve? If you say, “To ensure his damnation;” why was that needed, since this was ensured before the foundation of the world? Let all of mankind judge which of these plans is more for the glory of God’s wisdom!
In the same way it displays His love, if it is given to one out of every hundred of His creatures, with no regard for the rest. Let the ninety-nine reprobates perish without mercy. It is enough for Him to love and save that one elect. But why will He have mercy on this one alone, and leave the rest to inevitable destruction? “He will, because He will!” I ask, what would the universal voice of mankind say of a man that would act in this way? That he, being able to deliver millions of men from death with a single breath of his mouth, should refuse to save more than one in a hundred, and say, “I will not, because I will not!” How then do you exalt the mercy of God in this? What a strange commentary this is on His own word, that “His mercy is over all His works!” I appeal to every impartial mind to consider how the mercy of God would be most gloriously displayed: in saving a few by His irresistible power, and leaving all the rest without help, to perish eternally; or, in offering salvation to every creature, actually saving all that accept it, and doing for the rest all that infinite wisdom, almighty power, and boundless love can do, without forcing them to be saved. I appeal to every mind unblinded by prejudice to consider which of these plans most glorifies the mercy of God.
I do not deny the other attributes of God, such as His sovereignty, unchangeableness, and faithfulness. But in deciding the eternal states of men, it is clear that not sovereignty alone, but also justice, mercy, and truth hold the reins. In this, the Governor of heaven and earth acts only as these direct. This is His eternal and irresistible will, as He has revealed it to us, declaring in the strongest terms, adding His oath to His word, and, because He could swear by none greater, swearing by himself, “As I live, saith the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of him that dieth.” The death of him that dies can never be resolved into God’s pleasure or sovereign will. There is no scriptural proof that God ever acted merely as sovereign in eternally condemning any soul.
What about the case of Pharoah? We read, “When Pharaoh saw that there was respite” (after he was delivered from the plague of frogs), “he hardened his heart, and hearkened not unto them” (Exodus 8:15). Also after the plague of flies, “Pharaoh hardened his heart at this time also, neither would he let the people go” (v. 32). Again, “When Pharaoh saw that the rain and the hail were ceased, he sinned yet more, and hardened his heart, he and his servants” (9:34). After God had given him all this space to repent, and had rebuked him for his stubborn refusal to repent, in those solemn words, “How long wilt thou refuse to humble thyself before Me?” (10:3), is it any surprise that God then “hardened his heart,” that is, permitted Satan to harden it? What if He ultimately withdrew his softening grace completely, and “gave him up to a reprobate mind?”
Esau’s case is different. We have an account of how he despised and sold his birthright, then how he was wronged by his brother Jacob at the time of Isaac’s blessing. Realizing this, “Esau cried with a great and exceeding bitter cry, and said unto his father, Bless me, even me also, O my father!” (v. 34). But “he found no place,” says the Apostle, “for repentance,” for recovering the blessing, “though he sought it carefully with tears.” “Thy brother,” said Isaac, “hath taken away thy blessing: I have blessed him, yea, and he shall be blessed.” So all Esau’s sorrow and tears could not recover his birthright and the blessing connected to it. Yet there is great reason to hope that Esau (as well as Jacob) is now in Abraham’s bosom. Although for a time “he hated Jacob,” and afterward came against him “with four hundred men,” probably intending to take revenge for his injuries, when they met, “Esau ran and embraced him, and fell on his neck and kissed him.” God had changed his heart so thoroughly! And why should we doubt that this change continued?
You can base no solid objection to this on St. Paul’s words in the Epistle to the Romans: “It was said unto her, The elder shall serve the younger. As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated” (9:12, 13). It is clear that both of these verses relate, not to Jacob and Esau individually, but to their descendants; the Israelites arising from Jacob, and the Edomites arising from Esau. Only in this sense did “the elder” (Esau) “serve the younger;” not personally (for Esau never served Jacob), but in his posterity. The descendants of the elder brother served the descendants of the younger. This, then, is no instance of a man being condemned by the sovereign will of God alone.
We also affirm the unchangeableness of God. “In Him is no variableness, neither shadow of turning.”
(1.) The Scripture teaches that God is unchangeable with regard to His decrees. But what decrees? The same ones that He has commanded to be preached to every creature: “He that believeth shall be saved; he that believeth not shall be damned.”
(2.) The Scripture teaches that God is unchangeable with regard to His love and hatred. But how? God unchangeably loves righteousness, and hates sin. He unchangeably loves faith, and unchangeably hates unbelief. Therefore He unchangeably loves the righteous, and hates those who walk in sin. He unchangeably loves those who believe, and hates obstinate unbelievers. So the scriptural account of God’s unchangeableness with regard to His decrees is this: He has unchangeably decreed to save holy believers, and to condemn obstinate, unrepentant unbelievers. And, according to Scripture, His unchangeableness of affection pertains to tempers; and to persons only as those tempers are found in them. Let the Scripture be allowed to establish the objects of the unchangeableness of God.
The faithfulness of God is that He will do what He has promised. But let us find in the Word of God, to whom the promises of life and immortality are made. It is, “To Abraham and his seed;” that is, to those who “walk in the steps of that faith of their father Abraham.” The gospel promises are made to those who believe, as believers. To these the faithful God has made a guarantee that He will do what He has spoken. “He will fulfill His covenant and promise which He hath made to a thousand generations;” which means that, “The Lord will give grace and glory; and no good thing will He withhold from them that live a godly life.”
To examine thoroughly whether this covenant between God and man is unconditional or conditional, let us go back as far as Abraham, the father of the faithful; to see what kind of covenant it was which God made with him; and whether any reason is given for God’s unique blessing of Abraham and all the nations of the earth in him. The first mention of the covenant between God and him occurs in Genesis 15:18: “The same day the Lord made a covenant with Abram, saying, Unto thy seed will I give this land.” But this is more explicitly related in chapter 17: “The Lord appeared unto Abram, and said unto him, I am the almighty God; walk before Me, and be thou perfect. And I will make My covenant between Me and thee, and will multiply thee exceedingly. And Abram fell on his face: And God talked with him, saying, As for Me, behold, My covenant is with thee, and thou shalt be a father of many nations. Neither shall thy name any more be called Abram, but thy name shall be Abraham; for a father of many nations have I made thee. And I will establish My covenant between Me and thee, and thy seed after thee, for an everlasting covenant, to be a God unto thee, and to thy seed after thee. Every man-child among you shall be circumcised; — it shall be a token of the covenant betwixt Me and you. The uncircumcised man-child shall be cut off; he hath broken my covenant” (17:1, etc.). So we see that this original covenant, though everlasting, was conditional, and man’s failure to meet the condition cleared God.
We have St. Paul’s account of this covenant of God with Abraham, in the fourth chapter of Romans: “Abraham,” he said, “believed God, and it was counted to him for righteousness.” (This was shortly before God established His covenant with him, and is related in Genesis 15:6.) “And he received the sign of circumcision, a seal of the righteousness of the faith which he had yet being uncircumcised, that he might as the father of all them that believe, though they be not circumcised, that righteousness might be imputed unto them also; and the father of circumcision” (that is, of those who are circumcised) “to them who are not of the circumcision only, but also walk in the steps of that faith of our father Abraham, which he had being yet uncircumcised” (Romans 4:3, etc.) Now, if these words do not express a conditional covenant, none can.
The nature and basis of this covenant of God with Abraham is further explained: “And the Lord said, Shall I hide from Abraham that thing which I do, seeing all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him? For I know him, that he will command his children and his household after him: And they shall keep the way of the Lord, to do justice and judgment; that the Lord may bring unto Abraham that which He hath spoken of him” (Genesis 18:17, etc.). Does God say here, “I will do it, because I will”? Not at all. The reason is clearly stated: “All nations shall be blessed in him; for he will command his children, and they shall keep the way of the Lord.” The reason is stated again (22:16, etc.): “By myself have I sworn, saith the Lord, because thou hast done this thing, and hast not withheld thy son, thine only son: That in blessing I will bless thee; — And in thy seed shall all the nations of the earth be blessed;” that is, the Messiah will arise from you, “because thou hast obeyed my voice.” This is declared again: “And the Lord appeared unto Isaac, and said, — Sojourn in this land, and I will be with thee, and bless thee: For unto thee, and unto thy seed, — I will perform the oath which I sware unto Abraham thy father, — in thy seed shall all nations of the earth be blessed: Because that Abraham obeyed My voice, and kept My charge, My commandments, My statutes, and My laws” (Genesis 26:2, etc.).
This covenant, made to Abraham and his seed, is mentioned again: “And the Lord called unto Moses, saying, Thus shalt thou say to the house of Jacob, and tell the children of Israel: Ye have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bare you on eagles’ wings, and brought you unto myself. Now therefore, if ye will obey My voice indeed, and keep My covenant, then ye shall be a peculiar treasure unto Me above all people” (Exodus 19:3, etc.).
According to the spirit of this covenant, made to Abraham and his seed, God afterward declares, “If ye walk in My statutes, and keep My commandments, and do them; then I will establish My covenant with you, and I will be your God, and ye shall be My people. But if ye will not hearken unto Me, so that ye will not do all My commandments, but that ye break My covenant; I will set My face against you, and I will avenge the quarrel of My covenant. Yet if they shall confess their iniquity, and if their uncircumcised hearts be humbled; then will I remember My covenant with Jacob, and also My covenant with Isaac, and also My covenant with Abraham will I remember” (Leviticus 26:3, etc.). Therefore, the covenant with Abraham was conditional, as were those God made with his descendants.
And I find no promise in Scripture, “that none who once believes shall ultimately fall.” Yet this opinion is so pleasing, so agreeable to flesh and blood, so suitable to whatever part of the natural mind that remains in those who have tasted the grace of God, that I see nothing short of the mighty power of God which can keep anyone who hears it from accepting it. But it still lacks one thing: clear, scriptural proof.
Arguments from experience alone will never settle this issue. They can only prove that our Lord is exceedingly patient; that He is unwilling that any believer should be lost; that He bears very long with all their foolishness, waiting to be gracious and to heal their backsliding; and that He does actually bring back many lost sheep who seemed irrecoverable. Still, none of this is proof that no believer can fall from grace.
If we produce many examples of those who were once strong in their faith and are now more unbelieving than ever, some will say, “But they will be brought back; they will not die in their sins,” or, “They were only hypocrites; they never had true faith.” Therefore, Scripture alone can determine this question; and Scripture does determine it, so that we only need to look at a few texts, with some short reflections upon them.
First, evidence that one who has the faith which produces a good conscience may ultimately fall appears from the words of St. Paul to Timothy: “War a good warfare; holding faith and a good conscience; which some having put away concerning faith have made shipwreck” (1 Timothy 1:18, 19). Consider that,
(1.) These men once had the faith that produces “a good conscience;” which they must have had, or else they could not have “put it away.”
(2.) They made shipwreck of their faith, which implies the total and final loss of it.
But one may object: “Men may have a good conscience, in some sense, without true faith.” I allow it, in a restrained, limited sense; but not a good conscience, simply speaking. But that is what the Apostle speaks of here, and that which he urges Timothy to “hold fast.” Therefore, one who has the faith that produces a good conscience may ultimately fall.
Second, those who are grafted into the good olive tree, the spiritual, invisible church, may ultimately fall. For the Apostle said: “Some of the branches are broken off, and thou art grafted in among them, and with them partakest of the root and fatness of the olive tree. Be not high-minded, but fear: If God spared not the natural branches, take heed lest He spare not thee. Behold the goodness and severity of God! On them which fell, severity; but toward thee, goodness, if thou continue in His goodness: Otherwise thou shalt be cut off” (Romans 11:17, etc.). We can see here that,
(1.) The persons spoken to were actually ingrafted into the olive tree.
(2.) This olive tree is not merely the outward, visible church, but the invisible one, consisting of holy believers. For the text says, “If the root be holy, so are the branches.” And “because of unbelief they were broken off, and thou standest by faith.”
(3.) Those holy believers were still liable to be cut off from the invisible church into which they were grafted. It remains, then, that those who are grafted into the spiritual, invisible church, may ultimately fall.
Third, those who are branches of Christ, the true vine, may ultimately fall from grace. For our blessed Lord himself said: “I am the true vine, and My Father is the husbandman. Every branch in Me that beareth not fruit, He taketh away. I am the vine, ye are the branches. If a man abide not in Me, he is cast forth as a branch, and is withered; and men gather them, and cast them into the fire, and they are burned” (John 15:1, etc.). Here we may observe that,
(1.) The persons spoken of were in Christ, branches of the true vine.
(2.) Some of these branches “abide not” in Christ, but “the Father taketh them away.”
(3.) The branches which “abide not” are “cast forth,” cast out from Christ and His church.
(4.) They are not only “cast forth and withered,” but also “cast into the fire,” and, “They are burned.” It is not possible for words to declare more strongly that those who are branches of the true vine may ultimately fall. It remains then, that true believers, who are branches of the true vine, may still ultimately fall.
Fourth, those who know Christ, and by that knowledge have escaped the pollutions of the world, may fall back into those pollutions, and be lost eternally. For the Apostle Peter says, “If, after they have escaped the pollutions of the world, through the knowledge of the Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” (the only possible way of escaping them), “they are entangled again therein and overcome, the latter end is worse with them than the beginning” (2 Peter 2:20). Therefore, those who, by the inward knowledge of Christ, have escaped the pollutions of the world, may fall back into those pollutions, and be lost eternally.
Fifth, those who see the light of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ, and who have been made partakers of the Holy Spirit, of the witness and the fruits of the Spirit, may so fall away from God as to be lost eternally. For the writer to the Hebrews says: “It is impossible for those who were once enlightened, and have tasted of the heavenly gift, and were made partakers of the Holy Spirit, if they fall away, to renew them again to repentance; seeing they crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put Him to an open shame” (6:4-6). Must not every unprejudiced person see that the expressions used here are so clear that they cannot, without obvious twisting, be understood to mean anything other than true believers?
Sixth, those who live by faith may fall away from God, and be lost eternally. For the Apostle says: “The just shall live by faith: But if any man draw back, My soul shall have no pleasure in him” (Hebrews 10:38). “The just” (the justified person, the only one of whom this can be said) “shall live by faith;” will live the life which is hidden with Christ in God; and if he endures to the end, will live with God forever. “But if any man draw back,” says the Lord, “My soul shall have no pleasure in him;” that is, “I will utterly cast him off.” And accordingly, the drawing back spoken of here is rendered in the verse immediately following, “drawing back to perdition.” Can any man draw back from faith who never came to it in the first place? It remains, then, that those who live by faith may fall away from God, and be lost eternally.
Seventh, those who are sanctified by the blood of the covenant may fall, so as to be lost eternally. For again the Apostle says: “If we sin willfully, after we have received the knowledge of the truth, there remaineth no more sacrifice for sin; but a certain fearful looking for of judgment and fiery indignation, which shall devour the adversaries. He that despised Moses’ law died without mercy under two or three witnesses. Of how much sorer punishment shall he be thought worthy, who hath trodden under foot the Son of God, and hath counted the blood of the covenant, wherewith he was sanctified, an unholy thing?” (Heb. 10:26-29).
It is undeniably clear that,
(1.) The person mentioned here was once sanctified by the blood of the covenant.
(2.) Sometime afterward, he trod under foot the Son of God by known, willful sin. And,
(3.) He, in doing this, incurred a sorer punishment than death; that is, everlasting death. Therefore, those who are sanctified by the blood of the covenant may be lost eternally.
If you imagine these texts are not sufficient to prove that a true believer may ultimately fall, I will offer a few more for your consideration:
“Ye are the salt of the earth. But if the salt have lost its savor, wherewith shall it be salted? It is thenceforth good for nothing, but to be cast out, and trodden under foot of men” (Matthew 5:13). “And then shall many be offended; and the love of many shall wax cold. But he that shall endure to the end, the same shall be saved” (24:10, etc.).
“Take heed to yourselves,” you that believe, “lest at any time your heart be overcharged with the cares of this life, and so that day come upon you unawares:” (Luke 21:34). This clearly implies that otherwise they would not be “accounted worthy to stand before the Son of man.” “If ye continue in My word, then are ye My disciples indeed; and ye shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:31, 32). “I keep my body under; lest by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway” (1 Corinthians 9:27). “Our fathers did all eat the same spiritual meat, and did all drink the same spiritual drink: For they drank of that spiritual rock that followed them: And that rock was Christ. But with many of them God was not well pleased: For they were overthrown in the wilderness. Now, these things were for our examples: Wherefore let him that thinketh he standeth take heed lest he fall” (10:3, etc.).
“Ye are fallen from grace” (Galatians 5:4). “We are made partakers of Christ, if we hold the beginning of our confidence steadfast unto the end” (Hebrews 3:14). “Beware lest ye also, being led away with the error of the wicked, fall from your own steadfastness” (2 Peter 3:17). “Look to yourselves, that we lose not the things which we have wrought” (2 John 8). “Hold that fast which thou hast, that no man take thy crown” (Revelation 3:11). And, to conclude: “So likewise shall My heavenly Father do also unto you, if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses” (Matthew 18:35). That is, He will take back the pardon He had given, and give you over to the tormentors.
I declare simply what I find in the Bible, neither more nor less; that salvation is purchased for every child of man, and actually given to everyone that believes. If you call this conditional salvation, God made it so from the beginning of the world; and He has declared it to be so, at many times and in many ways; long ago by Moses and the Prophets, and in later times by Christ and His Apostles.
Do you object, “Then I never can be saved; for I can meet none of the conditions; for I can do nothing”? Neither can I, nor can any man under heaven, without the grace of God. “But I can do all things through Christ strengthening me.” And He has strengthened, and will continue to strengthen you more and more, if you do not willfully resist until you quench His Spirit.
Do you object, “But all saving grace is irresistible.” But this doctrine is not only unsupported by Scripture, it is clearly contrary to it. How will you reconcile it with the following texts:
“He sent to call them, and they would not come” (Matthew 23:3, etc). “He could do no mighty works there, because of their unbelief” (Mark 6:5, 6). “The Pharisees and lawyers made void the counsel of God against themselves” (Luke 7:30). “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, how often would I have gathered thy children, and ye would not!” (13:34). “Ye do always resist the Holy Spirit: As your fathers did, so do ye” (Acts 7:51). “Ye put it from you, and judge yourselves unworthy of eternal life” (13:46). “While it is called today, harden not your heart. Take heed lest there be in any of you an evil heart of unbelief, departing from the living God” (Hebrews 3:8, 12). “See that ye refuse not Him that speaketh” (12:25).
I only offer here a sampling of the countless verses of Scripture that could be produced on this subject. Why will you cling to an opinion not only unsupported by, but contrary to both reason and Scripture? Also remember that you must consider the doctrine of irresistible grace only as it stands in connection to unconditional reprobation. That millstone hangs around the neck of your whole hypothesis.
This is my greatest objection to the doctrine of reprobation, or unconditional election (which is the same thing). I know that it is an error; because, if it were true, the Scriptures must be false. But it is not only for this reason that I oppose it so earnestly. I reject it because it is an error of such terrible consequence to men’s souls. By its nature, it tends to thwart the inward work of God in every stage of its progress.
For example, is a man careless and unconcerned, completely dead in trespasses and sins? Then urge him to be concerned for his soul. “Why should I have concern?” he says. “Whatever must be, must be. If I am elect, I must be saved; and if I am not, I must be damned.” The reasoning is so obvious and natural. It accomplishes nothing to say, “But men can abuse any doctrine.” Of course they can. But this is not abusing yours. It is the obvious, natural use of it. The result is clear and undeniable. Is a man a little serious and thoughtful now and then, though generally cold or lukewarm? Then urge him to stir up the gift that is in him; to work out his salvation with fear and trembling. “Alas!” he says, “what can I do? You know that man can do nothing.” If you reply, “But your problem is that you are not willing to be saved;” he will say, “This may be true, but God will make me willing in the day of His power.” So, waiting for irresistible grace, he falls into an even deeper sleep. Now see him some time later, when he is thoroughly awakened; when fear and trembling have taken hold of him. How will you comfort him then? If you are able to at all, it is by applying the promises of God. But there is a fence on every side of these promises, keeping him out. “These,” he says, “belong to the elect only. And I am not one of them. I can never be; for His decree is unchangeable. Therefore, God’s promises mean nothing to me.”
Suppose one has already had a taste of God’s good word, and the powers of the world to come. Being justified by faith, he has peace with God. Sin has no authority over him. But eventually, thinking he can fall into sin without being ultimately lost, he grows more and more careless, until he falls again into the sin from which he had once escaped. As soon as you see that he is entangled again and overcome, you urge him not to harden his heart any more, lest his final condition be worse than the first. “How can that be?” he says, “Once in grace, always in grace; and I am sure I was in grace at one time.” So he sins on, and sleeps on, until he wakes up in hell.
Seeing these sad examples day after day, this dreadful havoc which the devil makes of souls, especially of those who had begun well, by means of this anti-scriptural doctrine, forces me to oppose it. The doctrine of absolute predestination naturally leads to the chambers of death.
Brothers, would you lie for the cause of God? I am persuaded you would not. Know then that in this we are the same. I speak truthfully, particularly of those who were recently converted to your opinion. I have known many of these; but I have not known one in ten in whom it did not quickly work some of the effects I have just described. And I have known of only one among them all who, after the closest and most impartial observation, did not show, within one year, that his heart was changed for the worse.
I know that you cannot easily believe this. But whether you believe it or not, you believe as I do that without holiness no man will see the Lord. Let us then, at the very least, join in this, in declaring the nature of inward holiness, and testifying to the need for it. Let us all join in tearing away the broken reeds in which so many rest, without either inward or outward holiness, which they idly trust will take its place. As far as it is possible, let us join in destroying the works of the devil, and in setting up the kingdom of God on the earth, in promoting righteousness, peace, and joy in the Holy Spirit. Of whatever opinion or denomination we are, we must serve either God or the devil. If we serve God, our agreement is far greater than our difference. Therefore, as far as we can, setting aside that difference, let us unite in destroying the works of the devil, in bringing as many as we can from the power of darkness into the kingdom of God’s dear Son. And let us help each other to value more and more the glorious grace by which we stand, and to grow day by day in that grace and in the knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ.
This excerpt from John Wesley, edited for conciseness and readability, was originally published in A Timeless Faith: John Wesley for the 21st Century by Stephen Gibson.