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Consequently that amazing instance of the love of God to man had never existed, which has, in all ages, excited the highest joy, and love, and gratitude from his children. We might have loved God the Creator ;-God the Preserver ;-God the Governor. But there would have been no place for love to God the Redeemer : this could have had no being. The highest glory and joy, of saints on earth and saints in heaven, Christ crucified, had been wanting. We could not then have praised him, that “thinking it no robbery to be equal with God, yet emptied himself, took
upon him the form of a servant, and was obedient to death, even the death of the cross !” This is now the noblest theme of all the children of God on earth. Yea, we need not scruple to affirm, even of angels, and archangels, and all the company of heaven,
“ Hallelujah they cry,
To the King of the sky,
To the Lamb that was slain,
And liveth again,
ROMANS viii. 29, 30. “ Whom he did foreknow, he did predestinate to be conformed
to the Image of his Son :-whom he did predestinate, them he also called: whom he called, them he also justified: and whom he justified, them he also glorified.”
1. “ OUR beloved Brother Paul,” says St. Peter, “ according to the wisdom given unto him, hath written unto you; as also in all his Epistles, speaking in them of these things : in which are some things hard to be understood; which they that are unlearned and unstable wrest, as they do also the other scriptures, unto their own destruction,” 2 Pet. iii. 15, 16.
2. It is not improbable, that among those things spoken by St. Paul, which are hard to be understood, the Apostle Peter might place what he speaks on this subject, in his eighth and ninth chapters of his Epistle to the Romans. And, it is certain, not only the unlearned, but many of the most learned men in the world, and not the unstable only, but many who seemed to be well established in the truths of the Gospel, have for several centuries wrested these passages to their own destruction.
3. Hard to be understood, we may well allow them to be, when we consider, how men of the strongest understanding, improved by all the advantages of education, have continually differed in judgment concerning them. And this very
consideration, that there is so wide a difference upon the head, between men of the greatest learning, sense, and piety, one might imagine would make all who now speak upon the subject, exceedingly wary and self-diffident. But I know not how it is, that just the reverse is observed in every part of the Christian world. No writers upon earth appear more positive than those who write on this difficult subject. Nay, the same men, who writing on any other subject, are remarkably modest and humble, on this alone lay aside all self-distrust,
“And speak ex cathedra infallible.” This is peculiarly observable of almost all those who assert the absolute decrees. But surely, it is possible to avoid this: whatever we propose may be proposed with modesty, and with deference to those wise and good men who are of a contrary opinion. And the rather, because so much has been said already on every part of the question, so many volumes have been written, that it is scarcely possible to say any thing which has not been said before. All I would offer at present, not to the lovers of contention, but to men of piety and candour, are a few short hints, which perhaps may cast some light on the text above recited.
4. The more frequently and carefully I have considered it, the more I have been inclined to think, that the Apostle is not here, (as many have supposed,) describing a chain of causes and effects; (this does not seem to have entered into his heart:) but simply shewing the Method in which God works ; the Order in which the several branches of salvation constantly follow each other. And this, I apprehend, will be clear to any serious and impartial enquirer, surveying the work of God either forward or backward: either from the beginning to the end, or from the end to the beginning.
5. And First, let us look forward on the whole Work of God in the salvation of man, considering it from the beginning, the first point, till it terminates in glory. The first point is, The foreknowledge of God. God foreknew those in every nation, who would believe, from the beginning of the world to the consummation of all things. But in order to throw light upon this dark question, it should be well observed, that when we speak of God's foreknowledge, we do not speak according to the nature of things, but after the manner of men. For if we speak properly, there is no such thing as either foreknowledge or after-knowledge in God. All time, or rather all eternity, (for time is only that small fragment of eternity which is allotted to the children of men,) being present to him at once, he does not know one thing before another, or one thing after another: but sees all things in one point of view, from everlasting to everlasting. As all time, with every thing that exists therein, is present with him at once, so he sees at once, whatever it was, is, or will be to the end of time. But observe: we must not think they are, because he knows them. No; he knows them, because they are. Just as I, (if one may be allowed to compare the things of men with the deep things of God,) now know the sun shines. Yet the sun does not shine because I know it: but I know it, because it shines. My knowledge supposes the sun to shine; but does not in any
wise cause it. In like manner, God knows, that man sins; for he knows all things. Yet we do not sin because he knows it: but he knows it because we sin. And his knowledge supposes our sin, but does not in any wise cause it. In a word, God looking on all ages from the creation to the consummation as a moment, and seeing at once whatever is in the hearts of all the children of men, knows every one that does or does not believe, in every age or nation. Yet what he knows, whether faith or unbelief, is in no wise caused by his knowledge. Men are as free in believing, or not believing, as if he did not know it at all.
6. Indeed if man were not free, he could not be accountable, either for his thoughts, words, or actions. If he were not free, he would not be capable either of reward or punishment; he would be incapable either of virtue or vice, of being either morally good or bad. If he had no more freedom than the sun, the moon, or the stars, he would be no more accountable than they. On supposition that he had no more freedom than they, the stones of the earth would be as capable of reward, and as liable to punishment as man: one would be as accountable as the other. Yea, and it would be as absurd to ascribe either virtue or vice to him, as to ascribe it to the stock of a tree.
7. But to proceed. “Whom he did foreknow, them he did predestinate to be conformed to the Image of his Son.” This is the second step, (to speak after the manner of men: for in fact, there is nothing before or after in God.) In other words, God decrees, from everlasting to everlasting, that all who believe in the Son of his Love, shall be conformed to his image, shall be saved from all inward and outward sin, into all inward and outward holiness. Accordingly it is a plain, undeniable fact; all who truly believe in the Name of the Son of God, do now. “ receive the end of their faith, the salvation of their souls: and this in virtue of the unchangeable, irreversible, irresistible decree of God, “ He that believeth shall be saved : and he that believeth not shall be damned."
8. “Whom he did predestinate, them he also called.” This is the third step: (still remembering that we speak after the manner of men.) To express it a little more largely. According to his fixed decree, that believers should be saved, those whom he foreknows as such, he calls both outwardly and inwardly: outwardly by the word of his grace, and inwardly by his Spirit. This inward application of his word to the heart, seems to be what some term effectual calling. And it implies, the calling them children of God, the accepting them in the Beloved; the justifying them “freely by his grace, through the redemption that is in Jesus Christ.”.
9. “Whom he called, those he justified.” This is the fourth step. It is generally allowed, that the word justified here is taken in a peculiar sense; that it made them just or righteous. He executed his decree, “ conforming them to the image of his Son," or, (as we usually speak,) sanctified them.
10. It remains, “ whom he justified, those he glorified."