Thomas Chalmers

Lectures on Romans
R0MANS, ix, 19 - 24

"Thou wilt say then unto me, Why doth he yet find fault? for who hath resisted his will? Nay but, O 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?"

BUT before entering upon the affirmation of Peter, we again recommend your attentive comparison of the two passages in Paul - in the one of which the part which God has in the processes, either of man's ruin or of his recovery, is adverted to by the apostle; and in the other of which the part is adverted to that man himself has in these processes. The first passage is in Romans, ix, 22 - 24: "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" The second in Romans, ii, 4 - 11: "Or 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: to them who, by patient continuance in well-doing, seek for glory and honour and immortality, eternal life; but unto them that are contentious, and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath: tribulation and anguish upon every soul of man that doeth evil, of the Jew first, and also of the Gentile; but glory, honour,, and peace, to every man that worketh good; to the Jew first, and also to the Gentile: for there is no respect of persons with God."

You will observe that what the inspired writer says of God's anterior processes regarding the vessels of wrath and the vessels of mercy, is in the form of a query and not of an express deliverance. This is not a subject on which he lays himself out for the satisfaction of his readers, and so it remains an unrevealed mystery. But what is of chief because of practical importance to us is, that they, of whom it is said in the 9th chapter, that the long-suffering of God will terminate in their destruction, are only those who in the language of the 2nd chapter shall be found to have despised that long-suffering - that they who are called vessels of wrath and whom God is said to have hardened in the obscure passage, are they who in the clear passage are said after their own hardness and impenitent heart to treasure up unto themselves wrath against the day of wrath and revelation of the righteous judgment of God - that while in the one God is represented as preparing aforehand unto glory yet in the other He is represented as rendering to every man according to his deeds - that while in the one He is set before us as calling Jews or Gentiles of His own past ordination, yet, this must be in harmony with that which is our present concern, even that God giveth eternal life to those who have observed a patient continuance in well-doing; and tribulation and anguish to every soul of man that doeth evil, whether Jew or Gentile, for there is no respect of persons with God.

And thus again while a hopeless and as yet impracticable obscurity sits on God's part, there is none whatever which sitteth upon ours. We do not know why He may have selected us as the individuals in whom He worketh to will and to do; but we do know what is incumbent on us, which is to work out our own salvation. We do not know why any individuals ever come into contact with the first influences of that hardened process which shall terminate in their destruction; but we know it to be the pressing, and we shall add the practicable duty of all individuals, to harden not their own hearts, and that if any individual here present shall but awaken unto a concern for his own soul, and betake himself in good earnest to his perusals of the Bible and to his prayers, God is in readiness to descend with an influence that shall soften and shall save him, saying unto one and all "Turn unto me and I will pour out my Spirit upon you."

This brings me to the utterance of Peter "that the long-suffering of the Lord is salvation" - not willing, as he says some verses before, that any should perish but that all should come to repentance. We are aware of the distinction made by theologians between the secret and the revealed will of God; and the only use we should like to make of it is this, that whatever is secret belongs unto Him and we have nothing to do with it - whatever is revealed belongs unto us and with that we have to do. What God's past ordinations are in regard to us we do not know. Paul singles out no individuals. He treats the doctrine generally, and then bids adieu to it with a question which he leaves unsolved; and so let us leave it. What God's present attitude is in regard to us we do know; for Peter, instead of guessing at it by a question, tells us of it by an affirmation the most distinct and decisive - and not only so, but bids us beware of suffering ought that has been said by Paul to detract or to do away the expression of it. Our wisdom is to forbear the question, and to proceed npdn the affirmation; to imitate the one apostle in his speculative reserve, and to take from the other apostle the impress of his practical earnestness - assured, that, however impenetrable the haze which hangs over the path-way of God from His first decrees to the present moment of of history, there is now a clear path-way for man; and on which God Himself invites one and all of you to enter. He has suffered you so long, that He might still ply you with the offers of a free salvation. He did not cut you down yesterday, that this day you might be met by at least one call more; and have another opportunity of making good your reconciliation; and be again told of the open door of Christ's mediatorship - and that deep as is the crimson dye of your manifold iniquities, and provoking as the indifference has been of your past feelings to that gospel which has so oft been sounded in your hearing and sounded in vain Yet this one day more if you will but hear His voice, are we impowered to say to each and to every that God is still willing and still waiting to be gracious.

And there is one way in which you might turn to plain and practical account the doctrine of God's agency. You may propitiate it by your obedience. You may obtain it by your prayers, instead of probing into the mystery of God hardening the heart of Pharaoh, know that there is one way in which you may realise a hardening process upon your own heart - even by your resistance of our present call. That will harden you the more against the impression of every future call. Or, instead of waiting for a special and a sanctifying operation upon your own soul, know that there is a way by which you may work for it. Give all your present strength to the doing of God's will, and ask for more. Think not that the way of your salvation is one of hidden and impracticable mystery. It is indeed a plain and a practicable way, and the way, that we now want to reduce you to. Never was there a more distinct and open path laid down by any sovereign for the return of his offending subjects, than the sovereign of heaven and earth has laid down for us His apostate creatures. He offers you forgiveness through the blood of Christ. He promises you strength and sanctification through the influences of His own free Spirit. He tells you what the new obedience of the gospel is. And He bids you enter on that obedience, trusting in the Lord and doing good continually. To incite your earnestness, He addresses Himself to the various feelings and principles of your nature - at one time moving your fears by His report of the coming vengeance, and at another your desires and your hopes by His representation of heaven and its unfading glories. And, to crown all, He stretches out even now to the guiltiest of you all the hand of a purchased and a proffered reconciliation - declaring that if you will only come over from sin unto the Saviour, He will be forthwith a Father unto you, your guide in time, your guarantee for an inheritance in eternity. Surely the God who is doing all this is wiping His hands of you. Your blood will be upon your own heads; and He, clear when He speaketh and justified when He judgeth, when He says what more could I have done for my vineyard that I have not done for it, will leave you without a speech and without an argument.

This doctrine of predestination ought never to be a stumbling-block in the way of your entertaining the overtures of the gospel. Leave it to God Himself to harmonise those everlasting decrees, by which He hath distinguished between the elect and the reprobate, with His present declarations of goodwill to one and to all of the human family. Your business is to let the decrees alone, and to cast your joyful confidence upon the declarations. Should an earthly monarch send a message of friendship to your door, must you reject it either as unintelligible or unreal, because you have not been instructed in all the mysteries of his government? Because you cannot comprehend the policy of his empire, must you therefore not receive the offered kindness which had come from him to your own dwelling-place? And ere you can appreciate the gift which he holds out for your single and specific acceptance, must you first be able to trace all the workings and all the ways of the vast the varied superintendence which belongs to him? It is truly so with God, who, although presiding over a management which embraces all worlds and reaches from everlasting to everlasting, has nevertheless sent to each individual amongst us, the special intimation of His perfect willingness to admit us into favour; and must we, I ask, suspend our comfort and our confidence therein, till we, the occupiers of one of the humblest tenements in creation and only the creatures but of yesterday, till we shall have mastered the economy of this wondrous universe and scanned the counsels of eternity?

Although I have expatiated at such length upon this subject, it was not for the purpose of schooling you into the doctrine of predestination - for, while we deem it to be true in itself, we deem it not to be a truth the belief of which is essential to salvation. It was not even in the hope that our argument in its favour should be understood by all; nor do we hold such an understanding to be at all indispensable. Far less was it in the presumptuous imagination, that I could vindicate all the ways of God to man, for small indeed is that part of His ways to which we have access. But it was solely with the view to urge upon you, that, whatever obscurity was cast by this high doctrine on the ways of God to man, the ways of man to God were not altered, and should not at all be obscured by it - but rather that the hopes and the obligations and the whole business of your practical Christianity, are left by it on the same familiar footing as before; and that with the view o,f averting a great mischief incurred by those unstable and unlearned who wrest this scripture, even as they do the others, to their own destruction.

You may not even understand how it is that God's predestination affects not your practice, but be assured that so it is; and grievous indeed will be your condemnation, if one principle about which you are confessedly in the dark, shall be found to have bewildered you away from the light of those other principles which are clear and conspicuous, and by proceeding with honesty and in good earnest upon which it is that you are saved. We can truly own that we entered upon this subject with reluctance, and only because it stood in our way. We now leave it without regret, unwilling to say more and yet feeling that we could scarcely have said less - though, after all, there is perhaps a remaining obscurity essentially inherent in the subject, and which no explanation can do away.

But let me hope that a time is coming, when many here present shall fondly and with felt advantage recur to it - even when, after having laboured with all diligence, and being compassed about with all the virtues of heaven, they shall attain the assurance therefrom that heaven is their destined habitation. Then indeed may the doctrine be contemplated both with safety and with profit by aged and advanced Christians, when they reflect on all that way by which they have been led, and recognise in it the grace and providence of a God who has so evidently spiritualised them - when they shall adopt the language of the apostle that it is by the grace of God I am what I am; and when, to the comfort and the gratitude which such a reflection is fitted to inspire, they shall add the humility of this other sentiment, It is God alone who hath made us to differ, and we have nothing that we did not receive.

Ver. 24.
‘Even us, whom he hath called, not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles.'
I recur to this verse for the purpose of noticing a distinction of sentiment between two classes of theologians on that subject which has recently engrossed us - the first of whom would extend the doctrine of predestination to individuals, and make the final and everlasting condition of each single man the subject of an absolute and rigorous decree from all eternity; and the second of whom, revolted by what they feel to be the utter harshness of such a representation, would at the same time yield so far to the authority of Scripture, as to advocate a certain application of this doctrine to whole nations or collective bodies of men. That is - they will allow, not of certain individuals being predestined to life eternal in heaven to the exclusion of all others; but they will allow of certain nations being predestined to the light of Christianity upon earth, while others are left in the darkness of superstition or of paganism. They cannot refuse, for example, that the call of the Gentiles and the rejection of the Jews were both of them matters of prophecy and of predestination in the counsels of heaven. But this they contend for as the whole length to which the doctrine of God's fixed and irreversible decrees ought to be carried - arguing, in fact, that the only purpose of the apostle was to vindicate the great national movement which the true religion made in his day away from his people, and onward to the other countries and people of the world. They hold the doctrine to be tolerable thus far, and chiefly because it does not infringe on the warrant of each individual man to embrace the gospel in those places where the gospel is proclaimed; and appears to leave untouched all the practical influences, by which men are led to choose, and to resolve, and to endeavour, and to strive, and to put forth all the activities of their nature in the business both of willing and of working out their own salvation.

We have already laboured to assure you, that the most staunch and sturdy advocates of a predestination which reaches even to individuals would contend as earnestly as others for the unexcepted range of the gospel call, and for the freest and widest scope to all the activities of gospel obedience. And we further concede the great object of the apostle throughout the whole argumentation of this chapter, to have been just to establish a national predestination; and that with the purpose of justifying the transference which was about to be made of the true religion from Jews to Gentiles. Nevertheless, he, in the course of his argument, unfolds to us the power or the predestination of God as extending to individuals also - to the good destinies of Isaac and Jacob on the one hand - to the evil destines of Ishmael and Esau and Pharaoh upon the other. The truth is, it is by an influence upon the hearts and the histories of individuals, that He gives a direction to the fortune and to the history of nations; and again, on the state of a nation may turn both the present character and the future nay eternal condition of each individual belonging to it. They who admit of a predestination in regard to the larger historical movements of this world's kingdoms, cannot escape from the necessity of this predestination having an influence upon individuall and upon families. More especially upon the light of the gospel having been predestined for any nation, may there depend the eternal life of every separate man in that nation who shall have embraced the gospel. But we now bid our final adieu to the general argument; and we should like to do it in the very spirit wherewith our Saviour met the speculative question of that enquirer, who asked Him if there were many that should be saved. He was bidden to recall his attention from this wide and general survey, and simply look to himself and labour for his own salvation. The reply was 'strive to enter in at the strait gate - for many shall seek to enter in' and shall not be able.

And so, my brethren, would I have you to turn yourselves from the general survey of God's arrangements, to a personal search and application of your own case and interest therein. He has at least introduced the light of the gospel to that country in which you dwell. He has at least visited you with Christian Sabbaths and Christian opportunities. The effect of He having so selected and signalised our nation is, that He has selected and signalised each individual amongst you by a pointed a personal offer of reconciliation. This is the matter that concerns you; and, could we only prevail upon you duly to entertain this matter, we should hold it a far higher achievement, than to furnish you with all, the arguments, and exhibit even to your full conviction all the parts and proportions of our systematic theology. We tell you of, God's beseeching voice. We assure you, in His name, that He wants you not to die. We bid you venture for pardon on the atonement made by Him who died for all men. We bid you apply forthwith to the Spirit of all grace and holiness, that you may be qualified to enter into that beatific heaven, from whose battlements there wave the signals of welcome, and whose gates are wide open to receive you. We would bring this plain word of salvation nigh unto every Conscience, and knock with it at the door of every heart; and, commissioned as we are to preach the gospel not to a chosen few while we keep it back from the hosts of the reprobate, but to preach it to every creature under heaven, we again entreat that none here present shall forbid themselves - for most assuredly God hath not forbidden them. But come unto Christ all of you who labour and are heavy-laden, and ye shall have rest. 'Look unto Him all ye ends of the earth;' and, though now placed at the farthest outskirts of a moral distance and alienation, even look unto Him and ye shall be saved.

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