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 had afore prepared unto glory, even us, whom he hath called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles ?"

WITHIN the circle of the preceding remarks there lies enough for the guidance of man’s conduct in time, though not enough for scanning the counsels of God in eternity. The high doctrine of predestination leaves all the scope Which they ever had, to the active and moral principles of our nature; and just as notwithstanding that great planetary movement of our world, in the tremendous velocity of which man it might be fancied would be hurried off its platform, yet can he walk his earthly rounds with as great security as if all were at rest - so, amid the lofty and comprehensive movements of the great spiritual economy, man has a definite and prescribed path, in which it is simply his business to move forward; and, let the past decrees or the coming destinies which begin and which end the mighty cycle of Heaven’s administration be what they may, it is our part if we but knew the place which belongs to us - it is our part to work, and to watch, and to strive, and to pray, and to go through the whole work and warfare of practical Christianity, just as before.

This should be enough for one who is simply bent on the attainment of his salvation, though not enough to satisfy the proud the restless spirit of soaring adventurous and speculative man - who, not content with knowing all that belongs unto himself, would lift up the enquiries of his mind to matters that are greatly too high for it; and seize, as if within the lawful domain of his intellect, on all that belongs unto God. It is precisely at this point, we think, that the real difficulties of the question begin; and they are just such difficulties as it is our wisdom, not to brave, but to retire from. This is the very point at which the apostle repels the question which he is either not willing, or more likely not able, even with all his apostolical endowments, to resolve - ’ Thou wilt say then, Why doth he yet find fault, for who hath resisted his will!’ You will observe that in these words, there is an arraignment of God, and a call or a challenge for His vindication. The part which belongs to man, when plied as he is most urgently and most affectionately by the offers of the gospel, is abundantly clear. But in point of fact some do accept these offers, while others turn away from them; and when this difference between the one and the other is traced to the power and predestination of God, this brings the high policy of the Eternal into view, and the reasons of that policy are not so clear. Were the question never stirred as to the part which God has in the matter, there might be nought to embarrass or disturb us - for all is simple and shining as the light of day, about the part which man has in the matter. Could we only prevail on him to bestow all, his intensity on the things which properly belong unto himself, and which himself has personally to do with, all would be plain and practical; and the great work of salvation would go on most prosperously. But we will be meddling with the things which belong unto God; and thus it is that a theology floundering beyond her depths, and compassed about with difficulties through which she cannot make her way, gives forth her hard sentences and her cabalistic sayings - when she might be otherwise and far better employed, in lifting the direct and the urgent and withal the clearly intelligible calls of the gospel.

It is when in the act of plying these calls that the minister of the New Testament stands upon his vantage-ground. It is when charged with the overtures of forgiveness to guilty men, he, in the name of a beseeching God, presses the acceptance of them upon every creature who is within the reach of his voice. It is when, in the discharge of his ample and unexcepted commission to all who are sitting and listening around him, he invites each, and forbids none, to cast their confidence on the great propitiation; and then it is impossible they can perish. It is then on the strength of this precious declaration, that whosoever cometh shall in no wise be cast out, he both sends the invitation abroad among the multitude, and brings it specifically home and with all the power of his tender and most earnest solicitations to the heart of each individual. With him there is no distinction between the elect and the reprobate, for he knocks at every door; and while it is most true, that some do welcome, and others do most obstinately and impregnably withstand him, yet his business is to address a free gospel unto all, and to lift in the hearing of all the assurance - that, for each and for every of our species, there is an open mediatorial gate to that mercy-seat where God waiteth to be gracious.

Again it may be asked to explain this wondrous diversity of influence among men, and why it is that some do reject and others do receive these tidings of salvation ? Our answer roundly and absolutely is that we do not know. But this we know, that the way to lessen the number of those who shall reject, and to add to the number of those who shall receive, is just to ply these tidings as heretofore in the hearing of all and for the behoof of all. It is most true that God has the power over human hearts, to turn them whithersoever He will; and if demanded why then do not all the hearts of men receive that touch from the hands of His omnipotence which might turn them unto the way of life, our reply is still that we cannot say. But this we are empowered to say, that there is not a hard-hearted sinner amongst you, who is not within the scope of the invitation, Come ye also and be saved; and to your prayers for the clean heart and the right spirit, a softening and a sanctifying influence will be made to descend upon you. For aught we know our world might have never fallen, or after having fallen, a voice may have gone forth again from Heaven, armed with a force and an efficacy of grace, to recall every individual of its strayed and alienated family; and if again the question be reiterated, why is it not so with the world we occupy, again it is our answer that we cannot tell: But this we can truly tell, that not an individual is here present, who has not the word and the warrant from Heaven’s high throne, to believe in Christ that he might be saved.
That thing may be conceived, whereof we have the woful evidence that it has not been realised - even a sinless universe, whose every sun lighted up the habitations of unspotted holiness, and whose every planet was proof against the inroads of every ruthless destroyer; and if called upon to vindicate either the entry or the continuance of moral evil, we sink under the burden of the deep and the hopeless mystery, and feel it to be impracticable; but of this we can assure you, even a plain and a practicable way of escape for ourselves, both from the tyranny of evil and from the terrors of that vengeance which is due to it. And 0 if we but stopped at the place, where apostles stood silent and solemnized and did reverently stop before us - if, forbearing a scrutiny into the counsels of Heaven, we simply betook ourselves to that bidden walk upon earth, which will at length conduct us both to the light and love of its unclouded habitations - if, waiting and working at our allotted task here below, we would but suspend that judgment, which we can neither pluck from the recesses of the eternity that is past, nor from the yet unexplored distances of the eternity before us - in a word, if, instead of speculating we were humble enough to submit, and, instead of dogmatising were teachable enough and obedient enough to do - This were the way for arriving at the resolution of all difficulties; and we should at length, when the mystery of God was finished, emerge into that region of purest transparency where we shall know even as we are known.
Peter says of Paul in one of his epistles, "and account that the long-suffering of the Lord is salvation, - even as our beloved brother Paul, according to the wisdom given unto him, has 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.”

We doubt not that in the reference which the one apostle makes to the writings of the other, he in the~first instance had in his eye that passage in the second chapter of the Romans, where Paul says, "Despisest thou the riches of his goodness and forbearance and long-suffering, not knowing that the goodness of God leadeth thee to repentance? but after thy hardness and impenitent heart, treasurest up unto thyself wrath against the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God, who will render to every man according to his deeds.” But we have as little doubt, that he, in the second instance, had in his eye some of those very things which now engage our attention in this ninth chapter of the Romans; and more especially that passage which forms a most remarkable counterpart to the one last quoted, and where the longsuffering, instead of being related as it is by Peter to the salvation of sinners, seems as if related by Paul to their destruction - ” 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 had afore prepared unto glory, even us whom he hath called not of the Jews only but also of the Gentiles ?"

We shall go over a few of the verses of this chapter, and lay aside that in them which is hard to be understood from that which is otherwise. It will be uniformly found that all that is difficult, attaches to those prior steps which belong to the part wherewith God had to do, before that man’s part fell to be performed - leaving as clear and as comprehensible as before, both the part which man has to do, and also those posterior steps of the divine administration which follow on the part which we shall have taken in the world. Or, in other words, if there be not enough of revelation to appease the restless curiosity of man that would pry into the concerns of God, there is enough to enlighten his conscience and to guide his hopes in every thing which relates to his own proper and personal concerns.

In the eleventh verse then, we cannot refuse the statement that God had before the birth of Jacob and Esau an anterior purpose respecting their destinations; and that the actual and historical difference which afterwards took place between the two, was the effect of that purpose. Of this election on the part of God I can give no account - I submit to be informed of the fact, but I am utterly in the dark as to the reason of it. I have to remark, however, that, although this purpose according to election is not of works but of Him that calleth - aithough the purpose of the divine mind was the primary, the originating cause of the favour shown to Israel, yet it followeth not, that works on the part of those whom He does favour are not indispensable. You would say of a stream of water that issued first from a fountain-head, and then was collected into a reservoir or second fountain whence it flowed anew, you would say that though it came through the lower fountain, it came from or of the higher. And so of this high predestination on the part of God. All that regards either our history in time, or our final condition in eternity, might originate there; and yet it niay be true, that we cannot pass onward to glory in heaven, without passing through a course of personal righteousness upon earth. The primary will of God may be the aboriginal fountain of all the blessings which the children of life are to enjoy; and yet there may be a secondary fountain derived therefrom - even a fountain of grace struck out in the heart of man, and whence all the virtues of moral worth and of spiritual excellence overflow upon his history.

It is thus that we can harmonise the doctrine of an absolute preordination on the part of God, with the indispensable necessity of a conditional obedience on the part of man - So that while we admit the one as true on the strength of the passage now before us, we can, in perfect consistency therewith, admit to be true, and on the strength of other passages, that without holiness no man can see God - that all shall receive according to their works - that those who are predestinated unto life eternal are predestinated to be conformed beforehand unto the image of Christ, so that they shall not be ushered into the place of His exaltation, without being first adorned by the virtues of His example - and lastly, which describes the successive steps of this process, that "by grace are ye saved through faith, and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God, not of works lest any man should boast, for we are his workmanship created in Christ Jesus unto good works which God hath before ordained that we should walk in them.”

So that though God’s primary decree is not of works, it is at least to works - insomuch that even among the children of the predestined Israel, the rewards and the preferments of eternity follow in the train of good works; and among the children of reprobate Esau, the disgrace and the wretchedness of their irretrievable condemnation follow in the train of their evil works. In the thirteenth verse we have a quotation from Malachi, where the love and the hatred might not be the feelings on the part of the Godhead which prompted Him to His respective acts of election, but the feelings wherewith He regarded the respective characters of the good and the evil - not the prior affection which caused the difference; but the posterior affection of a Being of whom we distinctly know that He loveth righteousness, and as distinctly know that He hateth iniquity.

The posterior affection is all that we have to go by, for indicating the moral character of God. The prior one is hidden in a depth that is behind us, and is to us unfathomable. On this point we can say no more than the apostle has done before us. He can but assert, for he makes no attempt to argue, that God may without injustice thus affix His distinctions beforehand, on the creatures whom He calls into existence. He gives us only assertion for this in the fourteenth verse, and no more than the bare assumption of a sovereignty for God in the fifteenth verse. It is true that in the sixteenth verse, he makes a statement which admits of being qualified in the very same way with the previous statement that the purpose of God according to election is not of works. In like manner as the predestination on the part of God should be antedated before the performances or the works of righteousnéss on the part of man, and yet these works are indispensable - so the predestinating mercy of God should be antedated before the willing and the running of man, and yet this willing and this running are indispensable. The way in which this prior will of God goes forth and takes effect upon us, is to set us a-willing. The way in which this prior work of grace by God goeth forth and taketh effect upon us, is to set us a-working. He works in us, not to supersede, but to stimulate our working for ourselves. He works in us to will and to do of His good pleasure. And He does so, by the efficacy which He gives to those familiar and everyday instruments, which are within the reach of man. He does so by the moral urgency of bibles, and pulpits, and zealous messengers of salvation, and Christian parents labouring for the immortality of their children, and bringing the truths and the lessons of revelation to bear upon their consciences - so that, while behind the curtain of our visible world there is a predestinating God, the movements of whose finger we can neither trace nor account for, yet before that curtain there is a scene of movements, which correspond to those that be veiled from observation on the other side, and which being on this side are palpably before our eyes; and what we behold of all those destined heirs of immortality is, that they are striving to enter through the gate which leads to it - and working out their own salvation - and so willing and running as that they may obtain - and putting forth all the activities of their nature, in quest of a blissful eternity - and carrying their point, only by urging onward with an intensity of effort which our Saviour Himself has characterised by the epithet of violence - Insomuch that He hath told us, how, under that economy which He has instituted, the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force.

I cannot bid you too often, my brethren, distinguish between the anterior part of this process which belonged to God, and the present or the posterior parts which belong to man - between those secret footsteps of the Almighty which preceded the ushering of His creatures into the theatre of their actual existence, and the parts which now that they have been introduced upon the theatre they are called upon to perform. The darkness of thickest midnight may rest upon the one quarter of contemplation, while the other is lighted up by the blaze of noon-day effulgence. The question of what man ought to do, may be met by the promptest and the plainest deliverance. The question of what God has done amid the counsels and the measures of His past eternity, or what He is now doing behind that impenetrable mantle which lies on the hidden part of His ways - this question may be one of deepest and most hopeless obscurity. I may know the present counsel which should be given to my fellows. I know not the past counsels of the profound, the predestinating Deity. This is a reflection that falls with overwhelming force on the perusal of the two fo1lowing verses, and with mightiest emphasis of all when we come to the last clause of them.

To the demand for a vindication of God’s proceeding in this matter, I can only reply with the apostle in the three following verses; but, while professing all the impotence of a child when viewing God’s part of the question, I cannot look to man’s part of it without such distinct and decisive feelings, as I am sure will be sympathised with by all who hear me. It was the part which a haughty tyrant had taken against the liberties of a captive and subjugated people, whose piteous moanings had now reached unto heaven, and the blood of whose slaughtered little ones cried aloud for vengeance. But ere the stroke of vengeance should fall, the voice of warning was sent unto him; and repeated miracles were wrought before his eyes; and demonstrations were given of a power that was long brandished over his head, before it came down upon him with the fell swoop of a final and irreversible destruction; and, at each of the ten successive plagues, there were space and opportunity given for repentance; and if he would but have been righteous and redressed the wrongs of a sorely outraged and oppressed nation, neither would the angel of death have put forth his hand upon the families of Egypt, nor Pharaoh and his mighty hosts have been overwhelmed in the Red Sea. But after every new chastisement, did he gather into a stiffer and a prouder attitude than before; and alike cast the judgments of Israel’s God and the remonstrances of Israel’s patriarchs away from him; and, in despite of that sore and bitter cry which reached to his inner chamber from all the weeping families of a people to whom his own had owed their preservation, did he send forth from his despot throne the mandates of a still more reckless and relentless cruelty - aggravating a bondage that was already intolerable, and trampling more fiercely and scornfully than ever on the trembling victims of his wrath. We again say, that we positively are not able to pronounce on the movements of that secret but supreme power, in whose hands the whole power of Egypt’s monarchy was but an instrument for the accomplishment of higher purposes; but, looking to him who filled that monarchy, we instantly and decisively pronounce upon the doom that rightfully belonged to him - nor, while the heart of man remaineth as it is, can he keep it from revolting against this false and unfeeling oppressor, or from rejoicing in the destiny which hurled him from his throne. And should, in this world’s latter day, the scene be acted over again, between the struggles of a patriot nation and the stern resolves of a lordly and barbaric despotism - neither what is told and authoritatively told of the mysteries of a predestinating God, nor what is reasoned and irrefragably reasoned of the metaphysics of an unveering necessity, shall ever overbear the judgment or the sensibilities of our moral nature; but, in spite of ourselves, should the spectacle again be offered of a triumphant people and a tyrant overthrown - still, as heretofore, should we feel it to be a retribution of Heaven's high justice upon the one; and still unite with the other in their lofty acclaims of gratitude, loud as from the hosts of Israel when the horses and the chariots of Pharaoh were cast into the sea, and joyful as the song of Moses over his now liberated nation.

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