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ON THE APPLICATION OF REDEMPTION.
The Application of Redemption: its Necessity, and what it implies-External Means of it:
the Word and Ordinances-Difference between the External and Internal Call of the Gospel—The latter the work of the Holy Spirit-Proof that Conversion is the Effect of Divine Grace.
The purchase of salvation was made by Jesus Christ in the character of high priest, when he paid the price of his precious blood. But although it was the consequence of this transaction, that the salvation of his people was certain, yet something farther was necessary to make them actual partakers of it. Notwithstanding the propitiatory sacrifice of the cross, they come into the world in a state of guilt and depravity, and often remain in that state for a considerable time. It might seem to us consonant to justice, that the atonement having been made, the benefit of it should be enjoyed by every individual for whom it was offered, as soon as he is in a capable state ; or that, in the first moment of his existence, he should be set free from the curse of the law, and regenerated by the Spirit even in the womb of his mother. We find, however, that such is not the case ; and in order to account for it, we should reflect, that God is not bound by our notions of fitness and propriety, which are often founded on narrow views; that reasons are manifest to his understanding, which give rise to a procedure different from what we should have expected ; that he had an undoubted right, when he purposed the redemption of mankind, to settle according to his own will the season and order of its application; and that the demands of justice will be fully satisfied, if all the elect are delivered from condemnation and misery, whether the event take place at an earlier or a later period. It is enough, that the terms of the covenant which was made with Christ are ultimately fulfilled. The grand stipulation was, that if “ he would make his soul an offering for sin," he should “ see of the travail of his soul and be satisfied ;''* and all the circumstances relative to the communication of its benefits, were the subject of subordinate arrangements. The sovereignty of God in the dispensation of grace is displayed, not only in the selection of the persons, to whom it is exercised without any reason on their part, and often with a disregard of the grounds of human preference; but also in calling some of them at the first hour, and others not till the last. With respect to the time, nothing that we know of is necessary, but that they should be called during the course of their life, beyond which the season of mercy does not extend.
The purchase of redemption by Christ in the character of our Priest, secures the salvation of his people. But, as they are by nature children of wrath even as others, they must undergo a change both relative and real ; relative in respect of the law, by being acquitted from its charges, and real in respect of their views and dispositions. In the language of Scripture, “ their blind eyes must be opened, and they must be turned from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan to God, that they may receive the remission of their sins, and an inheritance among them that are sanctified through faith which is in Christ.”+ Accordingly, the divine procedure towards them is represented in
* Is. liii. 10, 11,
| Acts xxvi. 18.
the following order: “Whom he did predestinate, them he also called ; and whom he called, them he also justified ;” and these are preliminary steps to their final salvation : for, “ whom he justified, them also he glorified."
The external means which God employs in the application of redemption, are his ordinances, and particularly his Word, read and heard. “It is the power
of God unto salvation to every one that believes.”+ Some, indeed, have supposed, that there is a revelation of grace, (which, however, they acknowledge to be obscure) in the dispensations of providence. They can only mean, that there are such appearances in the course of the moral government of God, as may lead to the conclusion that he is placable, and will pardon sinners who repeni. It is enough to say that, with respect to this revelation, the Scriptures are silent, or rather they virtually deny it, while they declare that it is from themselves alone that we derive authentic information of his gracious designs. We see his goodness and patience in providence; but, although thoughtless men may infer, that he is an easy indulgent Being, and such a one as themselves, the indications of nature will not relieve from its fears, a mind conscious of guilt and deeply sensible of demerit. By a person under a conviction of sin, the anxious question will be asked, “Wherewith shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before the Most High God?"and ignorant of the effectual means of appeasing his wrath, he will be ready to offer his flocks and herds as an atonement, and even his first-born son, as men have sometimes done in the madness of despair. If there is a revelation of grace in the dispensations of providence, the abettors of this opinion may be called upon to produce instances in which it has been effectual to turn sinners to God. Nothing is more vain than speculations concerning what may be ; let it be shown that the thing has actually happened. Where shall we find those converts of natural light? Is it among the ancient philosophers who talked of virtue, but did not practise it? Is it among modern heathens, who, amidst the dreadful penances to which some of them submit for the expiation of their sins, discover gross ignorance of the character of God, and of the genuine nature and spirit of religion ?
This opinion has been adopted by a late writer in his New Literal Translation of the Epistles, with this difference, that he traces the notions entertained by heathens of the placability of the divine nature, to the source of revelation. “The heathens in general,” says Dr. Macknight, “ believed their deities placable, and, in that persuasion, offered to them propitiatory sacrifices, and expected to be pardoned and blessed by them even in a future state. But these hopes they did not derive from the law or light of nature, but from the promise which God made to the first parents of mankind. For that promise being handed down by tradition to Noah and his sons, they communicated the knowledge thereof, together with the use of sacrifices, to all their descendants. So that the hope of pardon and immortality, which the pious heathen entertained, was the very hope which the gospel hath now clearly brought to light, and was derived from the same source, namely, from divine revelation."'S It seems from this statement, that the heathens have the means of salvation without the written Word. It may be objected that Paul expressly affirms, that men are justified by faith, which implies a revelation of the Saviour, and seems to exclude those who have not been favoured with it; for he tells us that it comes by hearing, and hearing by the Word of God. But, fatal as this objection may be deemed to his hypothesis, this writer removes it with great ease by a definition of faith contrived for the purpose.
• Faith does not consist in the belief of particular doctrines, far less in the belief of doctrines which men never had an opportunity of knowing, but in such an earnest desire to
• Rom. viii. 29, 30.
Ib. i. 16.
# Mic. vi. 6.
$ Com. on Romans, chap. i. View.
know and do the will of God, as leads them conscientiously to use such means as they have for gaining the knowledge of his will, and for doing it when found. And inasmuch as the influences of the Spirit of God are not confined to them who enjoy revelation, but are promised in the gracious covenant made with mankind at the fall to all who are sincere, a heathen by these influences may attain the faith just now described, and thereby may please God. For faith is more a work of the heart than of the understanding. So that, although the persons to whom revelation is denied, may not have the same objects of belief with those who enjoy revelation, they may have the same spirit of faith.”* Nothing is wanting to this scheme but evidence of its truth, proof that the influences of the Spirit are communicated to heathens, and that faith consists in a sincere desire to know, and a disposition to do, the will of God. Such proof this celebrated theologian has neglected to give. He asserts these things, and then reasons from them, as if they were self-evident, or had been established by a prior demonstration. It is curious to observe, how, having laid down his arbitrary definition of faith, he proceeds with as much confidence as if it were an axiom, to explain by it the Epistle to the Romans, and other passages in the writings of Paul. If you peruse his works with attention, you will find many instances of gratuitous assumption ; and indeed there is hardly any author who more freely deals out his ipse dixit as argument both in doctrine and in criticism, or who is more remarkable for wresting and misinterpreting the Scriptures. The present hypothesis is a baseless fabric; it is false in all its parts, and is such a barefaced contradiction of the doctrine of the Apostle, as is not surpassed by the most perverse commentary upon his writings.
While I deny, that there is any revelation of grace but in the Scriptures, and any external means of salvation but the word and the ordinances of the Christian religion, I admit, that the dispensations of providence are subservient to God's merciful designs. They can be considered, however, only as subordinate means, operating in concurrence with the word, and having no efficacy without it. By calamities, and dangers, and the prospect of death, men may be awakened to a concern for their souls; but they will not return to God, and obtain the well-grounded hope of future happiness, till their minds are directed to the Scriptures, in which pardon is promised to believers. “Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God.”+ " The grace of faith," says our Confession, " whereby the elect are enabled to believe to the saving of their souls, is the work of the Spirit of Christ in their hearts, and is ordinarily wrought by the ministry of the word; by which also, and by the administration of the sacraments, and prayer, it is increased and strengthened." I
The Word of God consists of two principal parts, the Law and the Gospel, which are both employed in the conversion of sinners. “By the law is the knowledge of sin."'S When it is applied to the conscience, it shows the sinner his depravity and guilt, makes him sensible of his danger while he is under its curse, and convinces him of his utier inability to relieve himself, because he is incapable of obeying its precepts, and of satisfying for his manifold violations of them. These discoveries create an earnest desire for deliverance from the wretchedness of his natural state, and prepare him to accept it when offered to him ; but they are calculated in themselves to drive him to despair, and would have this effect if they were alone. But the Gospel comes with its proclamation of mercy, exhibits the Saviour in his fulness of merit and grace, makes a free offer of his salvation to sinners, and calls upon every man to accept the gift of God with gratitude, and in the exercise of faith. It
Com. on Romans, chap. ii. View. † Rom. x. 17.
Rom. iii. 20.
# Conf. xiv. 1.
is evident that it is the Gospel which is properly the instrument of conversion, and that the law is only subsidiary, by producing that state of mind in which salvation becoines desirable, and without which it will be regarded with indifference, and the preference given to the transitory interests of the present life. It is by the Gospel that true penitence is awakened, which implies not only the fear of wrath, but the hatred of sin arising from the love of God. The mind is enlightened, the heart is changed, and all those exercises which are called the graces of the Spirit, as faith, and love, and hope, and submission, and a desire for perfection, are excited by its doctrines and promises.
God externally calls men by his word, which is addressed to persons of every nation, of every condition, and of every character. "Unto you, O men, I call; and my voice is to the sons of men. “ Go into all the world, and preach the Gospel to every creature.' It has been affirmed, indeed, that all men are not the objects of this call, but that it is confined to sensible sinners ; by whom are meant persons who have been awakened, and are serious in their desire for salvation. So far, indeed, has this idea been carried, that some have denied that the Gospel should be preached to sinners, as such, in the common acceptation of the word. They will preach it before them, but not to them; that is, they will not offer salvation to them, and invite them to believe. The plainest points of theology have been made the subjects of controversy and misrepresentation. This is one of the refinements of orthodoxy, and has been deduced from high notions respecting the decrees; but it happens to be in direct opposition to many passages of Scripture, and particularly to the commission of Christ to the apostles, which was quoted above. I do not approve of the method of some divines, who have endeavoured to explain away those passages of Scripture in which sensible sinners are supposed to addressed, and to show that the characters by which they are described are applicable to sinners in general. It is the way of disputants, who are more zealous than wise, to make every thing bend to their favourite opinion. Surely we may grant, that awakened sinners are sometimes the objects of the invitations of Scripture, as it would be surprising indeed if no particular notice were taken of them; and, at the same time, we may believe that the offer of salvation is universal. It was a mixed congregation, or rather a congregation composed entirely of unbelievers, (for they were all Jews and proselytes, who then for the first time heard the Gospel,) whom Paul addressed in the following words :-“ Be it known unto you, men and brethren, that through this man is preached unto you the forgiveness of sins.”+ After the cure of the lame man in the temple, Peter did not inquire whether those who crowded around him were the elect, or sensible sinners, but said, without hesitation, to the whole multitude, “ Repent ye, and be converted, that your sins may be blotted out, when the times of refreshing shall come from the presence of the Lord.”I To preach the Gospel, is to proclaim pardon through Jesus Christ, to every man who shall believe; and as this is the sense in which it is commonly understood among us, so it will appear, I am persuaded, to every unprejudiced person, to be the Scriptural meaning of it. " Whosoever will, let him come, and take of the water of life freely.”S
God calls men externally by his word. But as the word is preached to all men without distinction, it follows, that he calls many to whom he has purposed not to give salvation. A question, therefore, naturally arises, What is the reason of this procedure, and how can it be reconciled with his sincerity? The difficulty is substantially the same in the system of those who admit that God had a certain knowledg of future events, whether they are followers of Calvin or Arminius. For how shall we account for his conduct,
• Prov, viii. 4. Mark Xvi. 15.
† Acts xiii. 38.
Ib. üi. 19.
Rev. xxii. 17.
in not only offering salvation to men who he knows will not accept it, but in using the most earnest entreaties, and cogent arguments, to persuade them? I acknowledge that the difficulty, although it presses upon both systems, is greater in that of those who hold the doctrine of absolute and unconditional decrees; because it follows from this doctrine, that God does not intend to bestow salvation on the reprobate ; while the others are at liberty to ascribe to him the intention, if they can only reconcile it with the foresight of the event, and explain how, in innumerable cases, it should fail of the effect. Several distinctions have been proposed, in order to throw some light on this dark subject. The external call, it has been said, is extended to the elect and the reprobate in a different manner. It is addressed to the elect primarily and directly, the ministry of the Gospel having been instituted for their sake, to gather them into the church, insomuch that, if none of them remained to be saved, it would cease. It respects the reprobate secondarily and indirectly, because they are mixed with the elect, who are known to God alone, and consequently it could not be addressed to them, without the reprobate being included. This dispensation has been illustrated by rain, which descending upon the earth according to a general law, the final cause of which is the fructification of the soil, falls upon places where it is of no use, as rocks and sandy deserts. Again, it has been said, that the end of the external call may be viewed in a twofold light, as it respects God, and as it respects the call; and these may be distinguished as the end of the worker, and the end of the work. The end of the work, or of the external call, is the salvation of men, because it is the natural tendency of the preaching of the Gospel to lead them to faith and repentance. But this is not the end of the Worker, or God, who does not intend to save all who are called, but those alone to whom he has decreed to give effectual grace. I shall not be surprised to find that these distinctions have not lessened the difficulty in your apprehension. While they promise to give a solution of it, they are neither more nor less than a repetition of it in different words. I shall subjoin only another observation, which has been frequently made, that, although God does not intend to save the reprobate, he is serious in calling them by the Gospel ; for he declares to them what would be agreeable to him, namely, that they should repent and believe, and he promises, most sincerely, eternal life to all who shall comply. The call of the Gospel does not show what he has purposed to do, but what he wills men to do. From his promises, his threatenings, and his invitations, it only appears that it would be agreeable to him that men should do their duty, because he necessarily approves of the obedience of his creatures, and that it is his design to save some of them; but the event demonstrates that he had no intention to save them all; and this should not seem strange, as he was under no obligation to do so.
Mr. Burke, in his treatise concerning the sublime and beautiful, has observed, when speaking of the attempt of Sir Isaac Newton to account for gravitation, by the supposition of a subtle elastic ether, that " when we go but one step beyond the immediately sensible qualities of things, we go out of our depth. All we do after, is but à faint struggle, that shows we are in an element which does not belong to us." We may pronounce, I think, these attempts, to reconcile the universal call of the Gospel with the sincerity of God, to be a faint struggle to extricate ourselves from the profundities of theology. They are far indeed from removing the difficulty. We believe, on the authority of Scripture, that God has decreed to give salvation to some, and to withhold it from others. We know, at the same time, that he offers salvation to all in the Gospel ; and to suppose that he is not sincere, would be to deny him to be God. It may be right to endeavour to reconcile these things, because knowledge is always desirable, and it is our duty to seek it as far as it can be at