Thomas Chalmers

Lectures on Romans
ROMANS, ix, 11, 13 - 24

"For the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that calleth. As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated. What shall we say then? Is there unrighteousness with God? God forbid. For he saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion. So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy. For the Scripture saith unto Pharaoh, Even for this same purpose have I raised thee up, that I might show my power in thee, and that my name might be declared throughout all the earth. Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth. Thou wilt say then unto me, Why doth he yet find fault? for who hath resisted his will? Nay but, 0 man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus? Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour? What if God, willing to show his wrath, and to make his power known, endured with much long-suffering the vessels of wrath fitted to destruction; and that he might make known the riches of’ his glory on the vessels of mercy, which he hath afore prepared unto glory, even us, whom he hath called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles?"

WE have read these verses at once and together, because of the one principle which runs through them all - even the unexcepted sovereignty of God, in the exercise of which He is so absolute, and at the same time so incomprehensible. Many of you will recollect, that, in former parts of this epistle, the same doctrine met us on our way; and that we at the time bestowed very lengthened discussion upon it. To revive that argument in all its fulness, merely because months have elapsed since its delivery, would, in fact, be making a barrier of this passage through which we should never find our way, and compelling ourselves to be for ever stationary. I must therefore be content with as summary a recapitulation as possible, that we may be enabled,ere taking leave, to bring not merely this passage but also this chapter to a conclusion. My apology, as heretofore, for meddling at all with a topic that is deemed by many to be so stubborn and so hopeless, is, that we really are not at liberty to blink any of those informations which the Scripture sets before us; and if, on the one hand, we should not go out of our way to meet a theme that has been so burdened with controversy as this - neither ought we to go out of our way to shun this theme, whenever obtruded upon our notice as it is here in the record of the counsel of God.

While I have already endeavoured to grapple with such difficulties as I hold to be conquerable in this high argument - I will frankly confess, what the other difficulties are which appear to mt beyond the treatment of human strength or human sagacity to deal with; and before which we should bow in silence, until the mystery of God is finished and made known to us. We think that the passage now read, brings that line of demarcation into view, which marks off the one set of difficulties from the other; and it is or honest aim in the management of this question, intead of ministering to the gratification of an idle or speculative curiosity, so to shape our observations as that they shall recommend the gospel of Jesus Christ to the free acceptance of all, and have a bearing on the great interests of practical godliness.

The first point then which we have already laboured to impress is, that there is no such thing as chance or contingency in any department of nature - that this principle so readily admitted in regard to the world of matter, should also be extended to the world of mind - that if the one have its laws of motion and its regular successions and its unvarying processes, the other has its laws of thought and of feeling; and, in virtue of these, has all its processes alike regular and alike unvarying - that in neither is there ought so monstrous as an event uncaused, or coming forth of the womb of nonentity without having a progenitor in some event that went before it; and if not uncaused then necessary, having the same certain and precise dependence on something preceding itself which the posterior has on the prior term of any sequence - So that the phenomena of thinking and feeling and willing and doing in the spiritual department of Nature, do as surely result from the previous constitution which has been given to it, as any of the varied phenomena in the material department result from its constitution. According to this view, the history of our species may be regarded as one vast progression, carried forward by definite footsteps; and with the state of each individual as surely fixed at every moment of time by the laws of mental nature, as is the situation of any planet above or of any particle of dust below by the physical laws which are established in the material world. This is that doctrine of philosophical necessity, whose ablest advocate is President Edwards of America - a clergyman of whom we might have feared that the depth of his philosophy would have spoiled him of the simplicity that is in Christ, did we not recollect that it is not against all philosophy that we are warned in the Bible, but only against vain philosophy; and of whom we might have feared that his transcendent ability for science would have hurt his sacredness, did we not recollect that it is not all science which the Bible denounces, but only the science that is falsely so called: And it does reconcile us to the efforts of highest scholarship in the defence and illustration of our faith, when, looking to Edwards, we behold the most philosophical of all theologians, at the same time the humblest and the holiest of men - the most powerful in controversy with the learned, and yet the most plain and powerful of address to the consciences of a plain unlettered congregation - the most successful in finding his way through the mazes of metaphysic subtlety, and yet the honoured instrument of many awakenings, the most successful in the work of winning souls.

This first consideration on the side of a strict and determinate necessity, even in the world of mind as in that of matter, might be suggested by a mere view of nature to the philosophical observer of its sequences and its laws; but our second consideration is founded on the view of nature’s God. It seems hard to deny Him, either a prescience over all the futurities, or a sovereignty over all the events of that universe which Himself did create; or that, sitting as we conceive Him to do on a throne of omnipotence, there should be so much as one department of His vast empire, where His power does not fix all, and His intelligence does not foresee all. It greatly enhances this argument, when the department in question happens to be far the highest and noblest in creation; and it does seem to place our doctrine on very secure vantage ground - that the denial of it would appear to involve the degradation of heaven’s high monarch from entire and unexcepted supremacy, not over the material world, but certainly over the spiritual world. The apostle contends for as great a mastery on the part of God over the spirits which Ho has formed, as the potter has over the clay which he fashions as it pleases him; but the adversaries of an overruling necessity in mind as well as in matter, would limit God as well as man to a mere dominion of clay - or, in other words, while they admit that it is the strength of His almighty arm which gives impulse to all the particles, and both their place and their movement to the most unwieldy masses of mute and passive and unconscious materialism, they would strip Him of the like ascendancy over the moral world; they would people the whole of us living creation with a host of wayward and independent forces, in the agency of which the world of intelligence and of life took its own random direction, and drifted away from thç control of Him who formed and who upholds it. For, really, should any thing happen not because the Creator hath so appointed it, but because of some power and liberty in the creature, that thing is beyond the scope of the sovereignty of God - it hath made its appearance in this universe by Him unbidden and unwilled - the history of men is abandoned to a wild misrule, through the caprice and confusion of which not even Omniscience itself can descry beforehand any character of certainty; and, in as far as the history of men is at all mingled with or has influence on the history of things, there is a vast progression of events over which God has no hold, and that wilders in loose and lawless contingency away from Him.

We vainly try to reconcile with this imagination, either the foreknowledge or the supremacy of God - impossible as it is that the eye even of His prophecy can look any way through the descending steps of a series liable at every turn to the intervention of what is purely self-originated and spontaneous, or that the hand of His power can have the entire guidance and government thereof. This consideration obtains great additional force on seeing, as we do experimentally every day, how closely interwoven causes the most minute are with consequences the most momentous, in the history of human affajrs. It is quite familiar to us, that the word or thought or feeling of a moment might germinate a big and a busy story - that on what appeared the accidental meeting of two individuals in a street, such events and arrangements might turn as shall give a wholly new direction to the futurity of both - that in this way, on the very humblest of incidents the very greatest passages of history have been suspended; and could all the movements of a nation’s policy be traced to their mysterious springs in the character or circumstances of the actors concerned in them, that, what in itself looked an unimportant casualty, drew the fortune of many nations, and the successive evolution of many centuries in its train. In a world, so linked and constituted as ours is, if the destination of God do not reach to its things of greatest minuteness, then are its things of greatest magnitude beyond the reach of His ascendancy. If He ordain not the fall and the flight of every sparrow, then it is not He who ordains the rise and fall of empires. If He reign not supreme in every little chamber where the passions and the purposes of men are formed, then is He divested of all power and of all presidency in the larger transactions of our world. If He have not the command over every latent spring in the mechanism of human society, then must that mechanism drift uncontrollably away from Him.

And thus, it is argued, that, if all things do not fall out with fixed and determinate certainty upon earth, He who has been styled its governor occupies in heaven but the semblance of a throne. His are the mock ensigns of authority; and if man be not a necessary agent, God is a degraded Sovereign.
Our third consideration is, that, let this necessity be as rigid and adamantine as it may, it leaves all the motives and all the influences of human activity precisely where it found them. Although God is the primary, the overruling cause of every one event, whether in the world of mind or of matter, this does not supersede the proximate and the instrumental causes which come immediately before it. Although He worketh all in all, yet if it be by means that He worketh, the application of these means is still indispensable. It is so for the consummation of a good harvest, which never comes round without labour on our earth below, and the genial influences of shower and of sunshine from the heaven above. And it is equally so for the attainment of any good in human life - in pressing forward to which, man never thinks of acting upon that extended contemplation, which reaches from the first decree of God in eternity, to the final destination in which that decree has its accomplishment. He comes in as it were at an intermediate part of the series; and enters at once into close and busy engagement with those terms of it, which succeed to each other at the place that he occupies. In labouring for example after an earthly fortune, he never thinks of mounting upwards to the purpose of the divine mind regarding it; and scarcely ever of reaching his anticipations forward, either to the sum which shall be realised at death, or which after the accumulation and perhaps the reverses of future years, shall fall into the hands of his children’s children.

There is a darkness which hangs over the distant past, which he makes no attempt to penetrate. There is a darkness which hangs over the distant future, that he as little attempts to penetrate. Instead of acting the part of a speculist with the things which lie remotely away from him, he acts with all intensity and practical earnestness on the things which are at hand. They are the likelihoods of the present adventure - they are the means which he possesses, and the arrangements which are held out to him, for his next speculation - they are the openings of trade and of correspondence which lie immediately before him - they are the calculations which he makes upon existing appearances, of the returns that might arise from his existing operations - These are what set his utmost desire and his utmost diligence agoing, and just under the excitement of a hope after the proceeds which he longs and which he labours to realise. His ambition, his keen and unsated appetite, his legitimate aim for the provision and then his interminable aspirations after the splendour of a rising family, the ardent spirit of rivalry with competitors on the same gainful walk of merchandise with himself, and the powerful charm which the fortune and the magnificence that lie in golden perspective before him have over his sanguine imagination - these may be the instruments in the hand of God for ensuring some precise destination that may have been in the view of the divine mind from the infinity that is behind us; and yet with man who never once looks backward to that infinity, these may be the very stimuli which operate on his heart, and make him the busy earnest and aspiring creature that he is.
And just, my brethren, as with the business of working for your interest in time, so it is with the business of working for you interest in eternity. I have no wish to theorise you into the doctrine of predestination; but rather to convince you of predestination, article though it be of my own and our church’s creed, that it has no more to do with the present and the practical business of your Christianity, than it has to do with the present and the practical business of your counting houses. It is in the religious as it is in the trading world. You fetch not your inducements from the hidden things that lie shrouded to mortal eye in the eternity which is past, neither do you fetch them from the things that be alike hidden to us in the yet untravelled depths of the eternity which is to come; but you walk in the light which is immediately around you. With the decree that is written in the book of heaven, with its corresponding fulfilment to be manifested on the closing day of this world’s history, these are the secret things which belong unto God, and these you have positively nothing to do with.

But there are revealed things which belong unto yourselves and unto your children, and with these you have to do. Repent or you shall perish - with that you have to do. Believe on the Lord Jesus Christ and you shall be saved - with that also you have to do. Cease to do evil and learn to do well - these are matters in hand and with these you have to do. Seek ye the Lord while He may be found, call ye upon Him while He is near - this carries in it the urgency of a very pressing and present application, and. with this you have to do. God has His designs, and He employs the very passions and the very interests which we are now addressing for the accomplishment of them. Yet man’s part is not to speoulate on these designs, but to be moved by this passion, even the fear of the coming wrath; and to proceed upon this high interest, even the good of his coming immortality. We are now standing together at one link of that extended chain which reaches from Gods first decree to your final destination; and the fastening of that link is by Him who alone gives earnestness to the voice of the preacher, who alone gives susceptibility to the heart of the hearers - Yet the one is at his post when, ignorant as he is both of decrees and of destinies, he, arrested by the worth of your imperishable souls, beckons you to that plain and palpable way whereon they shall be saved; and you are at yours, when, alike ignorant of matters that are indeed too high for us, you catch the impression of a kindred feeling from his lips, and simply and practically betake yourselves to that way. It is thus that the high predestinations of Heaven affect not the proceedings or the business of practical Christianity upon earth; and that while God, on the one hand, preordains all the children of His election unto life - man, on the other, presses forward unto life by putting to the utmost strenuousness of their laborious and busy play all the activities of his nature.

Our next consideration, and the last we can propound with any degree of confidence - feeling, as we do, that we are now approaching that limit which separates the known from the unknown - is, that, as the doctrine of necessity thus understood seems to affect not our most familiar motives to human activity; so neither does it seem to affect the familiar estimate which we are in the habit of forming every day, with regard to the moral character whether it be a character of vice or of virtue in human actions. There is a species of force that does exonerate and excuse a man from all moral responsibility- the force of external violence, and by which he is compelled against his will to do that which in the matter of it is wrong; as to inflict, for example, some dire and dreadful perpetration with his hand, which in his heart, and with all the feelings and principles of his spontaneous nature, he utterly recoils from. The case is altogether different, when, instead of the deed being against the will, the will goes along with the deed; and when, instead of being driven thereto by a strength that is without him which he finds to be resistless, he is prompted thereto by the strength of an inclination within him which also turns out to be resistless. The first necessity does away all the moral characteristics; but the second necessity, it will be found, so far from doing away, serves to fix and to enhance them the more. The man into whose hand you have forced the instrument of death, and compelled against all his strong and struggling antipathies to plunge it unto the bosom of a friend, you would never regard as the object of any condemnation. The man, on the other, who has done the same act, but done it wilfully, either to execute his revenge or to satiate his thirst for blood, you never fail to execrate as a monster; and if told of one who had doubly a greater strength within him of murderous disposition than another, so that you incurred twice a greater danger by meeting him in a lone place, you would hold him to be doubly the more fiendish and execrable of the two.

And it is the same with all the other vicious propensities. The stronger they are, the more hateful, nay the more criminal and worthy both of reprehension and of punishment do you regard the owner of them, if of two men you felt it necessary to be greatly more on your guard in an act of negotiation against the one than the other, because the first if you be not on your utmost vigilance will be greatly more sure to deceive and to defraud you than the second - this greater sureness, arising of course from the greater strength of his sordid and selfish appurtenancies, will, instead of palliating, just fasten the taint of a greater delinquency on his character. And this is true of the good as well as of the evil propensities of our nature. The God, for example, who cannot lie - whose very omnipotence is thus limited by the force of a moral necessity - who could certainly lie if He would; but with whom, from the very revoltings of His holy and righteous nature against all that is evil, it is impossible that He would - We say of this necessity, that it enhances the worth of His character, and enthrones Him in the higher reverence of all His worshippers.

And it is just so with any of our fellows, who, if so constituted as to lay upon him a moral necessity to be righteous which he felt to be invincible - would just be all the more good and estimable in our eyes. Let such be his inward mechanism, that he could not find it in his heart to do an act of cruelty or unkindness to any thing that breathes; or such the strength of his antipathies to all that is perfidious or base, that he would rather die than be dishonourable; or such his unswerving fidelity to every utterance which falls from him, that you may count with as great certainty on the fulfilment of all his promises as you would on any predicted eclipse in the firmament of heaven; or, in a word, let such be his unfaltering adherence to rectitude in the midst of strongest temptations, that you might reckon on his constancy to truth and to virtue with as firm an assurance as you would on the constancy of Nature - why, my brethren, all these are so many necessities, and yet they are necessities, which, so far from annihilating the moral characteristics of him who is their subject, only serve to enhance and to illustrate them the more. And they do prove, that while there is a necessity, which, acting on the muscles of the outer man, would sweep away the distinction between good and evil - there is another necessity, which, acting on the motives of the inner man, would but shed a brighter moral exaltation over the one, and put a stigma on the other of a deeper moral debasement: And, so far from nullifying the difference between them, would aggravate the characteristics of both.

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