"Thy will be done" - Matthew 6:10.
WE are convinced of no one thing better than, that disappointments and affliction are our lot as mortals. We heir them with our earthly being. Many of our disappointments and much of our unhappiness are the results of our own improvidence and recklessness - while other afflictions are dispensed by the hand of God. The former should teach us wisdom, the latter submission. We should always discriminate between the providences sent by God and the results of our own rash actions. The former we should bear with great meekness and resignation, knowing that it is our Father in heaven who doeth all things well. The prayer of the afflicted child of God will ever be, "Thy will be done."
Before entering upon the discussion of our text, a question naturally arises, why should we pray that God's will may be done, when we read in Daniel 4:35 that "he doeth according to his will
A discourse delivered at Courtland, Ala., introductory to the union meeting, July 3rd, and subsequently preached at the Duck River Association, 1847.
in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of earth, and none can stay his hand, or say unto him, what doest thou?"
If this means that His will, taken in any or every sense, will be done by Him, irrespective of anything that man can do, why should we pray for its accomplishment? But we find that His will, taken in some sense, is not done, unless all men are finally saved, for Paul, speaking of God, says, in I Timothy 2:4: "Who will have all men to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth." Now, if all men are saved, it must be irrespective of their moral character, which would involve a gross absurdity, and oppose the whole tenor of the New Testament. There evidently is a distinction between the term will, in these two passages. The will of God is taken in Scripture:
1. For His absolute purpose - His irresistible operations. 2. His precepts and commands.
God's purposing will, is the rule of His conduct; His commanding will, the rule of ours.
God's purposing will is exercised, and accomplished, in all things pertaining to His universal government, both as relates to the army of heaven and among the inhabitants of the earth, in carrying out His designs. For the accomplishment of this will, He does not command us to pray.
His commanding will - His pleasure - has reference to man's allegiance to His government, and
filial obedience, love and duty to Him as a sovereign. This He commands, but leaves it optional with man to obey, or disobey, to choose, or refuse, placing the reward and penalty before him, to influence him in the decision.
Having defined our terms, we will now proceed
"To the height of this great argument
. . . assert Eternal Providence
And justify the ways of God to man."
God's absolute will or purposes has reference to His own sovereign acts, in the creation and government of His universe, the rise and fall of kingdoms and empires, etc., and the execution of His purposes in the earth, irrespective of what man can do, but in such a manner as not to infringe upon man's moral agency, i.e., as respects His love to him, or man's acceptance or rejection of the benefits of the atonement.
God by His own sovereignty, created all the worlds of His boundless dominion - gave laws to planets and suns, and after the counsel of His own will established governments for all their intelligences. No reader of revelation will deny this, and it involves eternal purpose, foreknowledge, predestination and election. May it not be the misunderstanding and misapplication of these terms, that produced such contrariety of doctrinal
views? It seems that if the proper order of these terms was preserved, and their relative bearing borne in mind, that mountains of difficulties would immediately disappear.
The terms that perplex this subject are: Ordination, Decrees, Immutable Will, Foreknowledge, Election, Predestination, etc. The order in which we would arrange them is:
1. Foreknowledge. 2. Predestination, predetermination or purpose. 3. Decrees. 4. Election, or choice. 5. Ordination, or pleasure, will - desire.
Let us illustrate. So far as man foresees, he purposes or predetermines or predestines, his own acts, and the acts of those under his commands. These determinations expressed (as do kings), become his "decrees," or commands. He chooses or elects the means and time of the accomplishments; i.e., how, by whom, under what circumstances, and when they shall be brought about - all this concerns the transaction of his own plans and business.
Then, he fixes, or ordains, rules for his servants and children to observe, both toward him and among themselves: (1) That they should not only obey, but revere, respect and love him; and (2) That they should pay due regard to the rights and feelings of one another, and love one another. The first, that which has strict reference to his own
acts, he can perform, but the second, which has reference to the acts of others, acts which he cannot compel, he cannot in all instances cause to be done. This is all simple and easy of comprehension. Let us apply this illustration to elucidate our subject.
1. God sees from Alpha to Omega, the end as well as the beginning; He can learn nothing - all time, to Him, is one present now. Suppose God to act in this respect, as we do, i.e., to determine our actions so far as we foresee, He must have predetermined or purposed all His own acts, from all eternity, because foreseeing, or foreknowing, all things from all eternity. When He declares His predeterminations - or purposes - they become His immutable decrees. The choosing or electing of the means for the accomplishment of His decrees is His election or choice. All this has reference to His own acts in the administration of His government - the affairs of the world - in its phases, physical, political and spiritual - the rise and fall of empires and kingdoms, potentates or rulers; all this He does after the counsel of His own will, and "none can stay his hand, or say, what doest thou?"
2. But God ordains - desires - wishes - wills - that all His children should revere, obey, and love Him supremely, and each love his fellow as himself. This He cannot always, can but seldom, do, for He cannot force a man to love nor compel a
moral being to obey. This will, or desire, of God we should labour and pray might "be done on earth as in heaven" - that it might, as God desires, become the rule of our conduct.
Let us briefly notice some of the acts of sovereignty.
He, according to His own purpose, because He foresaw from the beginning it was best, created this earth for the abode of rational, moral beings - free moral agents, capable of discriminating, and with the power of choosing between good and evil.
He foresaw their fall and its consequences, from creating them thus; but we are at a loss to see how He could create rational beings without making them at the same time accountable, and, if accountable, they must be free moral agents. All the intelligences of His universe - in earth or heaven - are subjects of law. Law implies rationality; rewards and penalty imply freedom of choice - unforced obedience, or disobedience.
If God compelled, by irresistible motives, the obedience of men or angels, He could not reward such service; if He forced disobedience by irresistible motives, He could not punish; but He either rewards or punishes all His created intelligences; therefore, it follows:
(1) They are accountable.
(2) They are free moral agents.
(3) The obedience of no one is forced.
(4) The disobedience of no one is forced.
Consequently, man loves or hates God because he chooses to do so.
The Arminian meets us here with this argument: "If God foresees a transaction, will it not as necessarily take place as though He had decreed it?" Well, we all know that to be omniscient (which attribute He must possess to be a God), He must have foreknown or foreseen all things.
"As God of all
A hero perish or a sparrow fall,
Atoms as kingdoms into ruin hurled,
And now a bubble burst, and now a world."
It becomes us both to seek an answer, to stop the mouth of the fatalist, rather than quarrel about the matter of a fixed and revealed fact. Milton has expressed himself better than we can hope to do so. He represents God as saying of Adam after the fall:
" Ingrate! He had of me
All he could have: I made him just and right.
Sufficient to have stood, though free to fall,
Such I created all the etherial powers
And spirits both them who stood, and them who fell,
Freely they stood who stood, and fell who fell.
Not free, what proof could they have given sincere,
Of true allegiance, constant faith and love,
When only what they needs must do appeared
Not what they would? What praise could they receive?
What pleasure I from such allegiance paid?
When will and reason (reason also is choice),
Useless and vain, of freedom both despoiled
Made passive both; had served necessity
Not me. They therefore as to right belonged,
So were created, nor can justly accuse
Their Maker, or their making or their fate,
As if predestination overruled.
Their will, disposed by absolute decree
Or high foreknowledge. They themselves decreed
Their own revolt, not I. If I foreknew
Foreknowledge had no influence on their fault,
Which had no less proved certain unknown
So without least impulse or shadow of fate
They trespassed - authors to themselves in all
Both what they judge and what they choose."
Did you commit a sin last week, or last year, and did not God foresee, years ago, that you would? Whom do you blame, yourself or God? Would you not have done the same act had God not foreseen? Again, did not God foresee, years ago, how many bales of cotton or barrels of corn you would raise this year? Would you have raised less, or more, if He had not foreknown? Was it not, after all, dependent upon your own exertions? Would you have reaped, if you had not sown? We infer: (1) That God does foreknow or foresee, and (2) That this foreseeing does not force our will to choose or refuse salvation.
(1) God foresaw the ruin entailed by the fall. He foresaw the means by which man could be redeemed
from its curse. Here is God's foreknowledge.
(2) He determines or purposes to adopt it; here is His eternal and immutable purpose, predestination.
(3) He declares this purpose; here is His eternal decree.
(4) He makes choice of the means, "the seed of the woman shall bruise the serpent's head" - the person, His own son; the time and circumstances - who shall be His apostles. Here we see God's sovereign, unconditional, personal and particular election. To be more particular:
Christ is to be made of a woman - made under the law. Now, some particular nation must be chosen from which He is to spring, and through which the knowledge and the blessings of this sacrifice can be brought nigh and enjoyed. Of all the patriarchs of the East, Abram is chosen. Why he was elected in preference to Melchisedek, none can tell. Abram has two sons, Isaac and Ishmael; Isaac is chosen. Isaac has two sons, Esau and Jacob; Jacob is chosen, in preference to Esau, which is the meaning of that scripture, "Jacob have I loved, and Esau have I hated," though Esau seems to be the better character of the two. Here is particular, personal election. Jacob has twelve sons; these are chosen to be the progenitors of a large and peculiar nation. Twelve, and not thirteen, was God's favourite number.
Let us notice another eternal purpose of God. He foresaw that it was necessary or fit that this chosen people should suffer a cruel bondage, and then to be brought out of it with an outstretched hand, in order to impress most forcibly His glorious attributes upon their minds and memories to the latest generations. Foreseeing this, He determines or purposes it.
3. He declares this purpose; this is His decree. We read it in Genesis 15:13: "Know of a surety that thy seed shall be a stranger in a strange land, and shall serve them, and they shall afflict them four hundred years, and also that nation whom they serve will I judge, and afterwards they shall come out with great substance." Now, this was God's decree, made known hundreds of years before its accomplishment, and it must needs come to pass just as He determined it. He accordingly elects, or chooses, the means, i.e., time, persons, nation and circumstances.
In due time, Joseph is sold into Egypt - God preserves and raises him to a second place in the kingdom. Famine is brought upon the land. This brings, ultimately, Jacob and his family into Egypt, when he is finally enslaved. At the expiration of the four hundred years Moses is born, preserved, raised and educated a prince. God reveals His purpose to him - and finally redeems Israel, overthrowing Pharaoh in the sea.
The descendants of the twelve sons become a
great nation, divided into twelve tribes; from one of these tribes is the Messiah to be born. Judah is chosen. From all the families of Judah, Jesse's family is selected; of all his sons, David; of all David's sons, Solomon. And when the time had fully come when Christ should appear, of all the villages of Judea, Bethlehem is chosen; and of all the virgins of the line of Jesse, Mary alone found grace in the sight of the Lord to be the mother of Emmanuel.
Thus have we seen, by simply tracing along one event, eternal, absolute, particular, unconditional, personal election, which no one can deny. God determining to bring it about, none could "stay his hand" - He governed and controlled the circumstances which brought it all forward, just as He willed it. It all pertained to His sovereignty, and He accomplished it. Christ died by the determination, will and purpose of God - to bring in a new and better covenant which God decreed from the beginning, and is it not rational to suppose that He, from the beginning, also fixed, determined or decreed the conditions of that covenant in and through which lost man might be saved?
We have thus far seen that God can act the part of a sovereign, rule and direct His own affairs, without infringing upon the moral will of the creature, i.e., compel the creature to love or hate Him.
So far as relates to the eternal salvation of the human family in general, God has eternally determined and decreed that it shall be through the unforced belief of the truth, and obedience to God.
God has proved by the gift of His Son, and His long-suffering toward sinners, that He is unwilling "that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance." Far from influencing any to choose destruction and death, all His acts, and every motive drawn from the realities of three worlds - every means He can consistently use - He does put forth for man's salvation; every act of His goodness leading to repentance; all the gentle wooings of the spirit drawing to Christ. Surely if men were moved by the strongest motive, they would accept of the inestimable benefits of the atonement through Christ.
The doctrine of eternal and unconditional election, and reprobation as taught by Calvin, and assented to by many professed Christians, we utterly repudiate - it finds no place in our faith or affections. It is as contrary to our reason as to our understanding of the Word of God. If God did eternally predestinate, elect and decree the final salvation of a definite number of persons, A, B, and C, irrespective of their future moral character or acts, and did also decree the final damnation of D, E, and F, or "all the rest not elected to life,"
irrespective of their future moral character or acts, then it follows that:
Either He will save some, who disbelieve the truth, and damn some who love our Lord Jesus Christ; or He must invincibly force some to love Him and some to hate Him, so that He might damn them. Both of which suppositions are contrary to the plain construction and spirit of the Bible, and effectually destroy all human accountability and moral agency. For nothing is plainer to human reason than that forced obedience could not be rewarded - or forced disobedience be punished. It would be the same should God govern our actions by the stronger motives, so as to govern and control all our now moral acts, but they would lose their moral character, as palpably as though He had made use of physical instead of moral force. It would in either case be force, which is incompatible with a moral government.
Now, so far as we are informed, God's election is always according to His foreknowledge. "Elect according to the foreknowledge of God " (I Peter 1:2). If God is omniscient, all His acts must be according to His foreknowledge; it must be that He elected to be saved such as He foreknew would believe the truth, or such as He foresaw would reject it either of which would be an election of character, not persons, which fact we are compelled to believe. But can it be that He elected to eternal life those whom He foresaw or foreknew would
finally reject the truth, and hate Christ? Or did He dispossess Himself for the time of His omniscience, does His eyes, and decree a certain quantity, instead of a certain character, for salvation? Impossible for eternal wisdom thus to act! What would you think of that man before whom was set a large measure full of gold coins and pieces of tin of the same size and, being freely offered all he chose, should - instead of carefully selecting the gold - should shut his eyes and be satisfied with clutching a handful of whatever kind it might be! Would an infinitely wise God thus discern between the righteous and the wicked?
We believe that:
1.God foresaw the fall - not that He decreed the fall, for He has not chosen to decree moral actions, only the consequences of moral acts.
2. He determined and purposed to bring in a remedy.
3. He declared this purpose, and it became His decree.
4. He elected the means: "The seed of the woman shall bruise the serpent's head." Person, His own Son - time and circumstances.
This was done from before the foundation of the world. He at the same time determined the terms or conditions of man's acceptance and justification.
These predetermined terms have been published to the world, by the mouths of His prophets, and lastly by His Son, and thus have passed into a decree.
And what is God's eternal decree and predestination upon this subject? I answer: "He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved, and he that believeth not shall be damned." God has chosen to know, in His purposes of grace, only a character - not a person, or a certain quantity; and that character is the believer. If God has only decreed the final salvation of believers, He has only elected believers to salvation, for He elects or chooses according to His decrees, not contrary to them. We therefore conclude that all those who believe on Christ are eternally, in the mind and purpose of God, elected unto life, and all those who reject the counsels and grace of God against themselves are eternally decreed to everlasting condemnation - God, in no way, invincibly forcing any to choose or reject His mercy.
One may ask: "Was I not elected from all eternity a child of God?" As a character, you were. As one who God foresaw would accept the truth, you were in His mind elected, or chosen, to salvation, He determining, at the same time, that you should become conformed to the image of His Son - by that conformation to be justified, sanctified, glorified. Every one that ever was saved, or ever will be saved, is thus foreknown, predestinated,
elected, called or justified, sanctified and glorified, in the eternal mind of the Deity, from all eternity. It becomes personal and known to us when we accept provisions of the atonement. We do not merit anything by accepting the terms of mercy, no more than the beggar by accepting the alms we give to save him from starvation. We do not purchase salvation by the performance of the conditions. "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."
The Calvinist here offers his objections.
"You must grant that all will be saved for whom Christ died, else the designs of His death will be frustrated. Now, He either died for a definitely elect number or for the whole world in general. If it was for the whole family of man, then all will be saved - which must be false; therefore, He must have died for a definite number only, which is the elect."
Now, we grant no such thing; there is sophistry in this reasoning. It mistakes the true nature of the atonement, and reasons from two absurdities, i.e., from a limited and unlimited view of the atonement.
Christians are divided upon the atonement. Calvinists, for limited atonement for men; and Arminian, for unlimited atonement for men. We regard these as two extremes. We profess to be neither a Calvmist nor an Arminian, but look for
truth between the two. Those who support a limited atonement quote such passages as these: "I lay down my life for the sheep"; "the church of God which he hath purchased with his own blood," etc.; while those who oppose it with an universal atonement, quote such passages as these: "A ransom for all"; "the Saviour of all men"; "he died for all"; "he tasted death for every man." Now, both doctrines cannot be supported in the light these sects view it, or the Bible contradicts itself. There must be a sense in which all these expressions, and many others, can be reconciled.
We understand the Scriptures to teach that the death or sacrifice of Christ has reference to two things: (1) In reference to God; (2) For believers.
What it accomplished, in reference to God, was to enable Him "to be just and yet the justifier of him that believeth in Jesus," i.e., that God might consistently with His law and holy character, become propitious to sinners. In this sense Christ died for all, and the atonement was unlimited - made for all; and all men are invited by the Spirit and the Bride to come and partake of its benefits.
What it designed to accomplish for believers, is "the power to become the sons of God," i.e., that every sheep that trusts itself to the keeping of this shepherd of their souls shall be everlastingly saved from every foe - be one ultimately with Him, and
behold His glory. In this sense it is limited, for none but believers will be benefited by it.
We might be asked again, "Did Christ offer Himself without any fixed purpose? Did He die and leave it all to chance, whether His death should prove in vain or not?" We answer, He did not. The Everlasting Father gave Him assurance that His death should be efficacious and by the sacrifice of Himself many would be justified. "By his knowledge shall my righteous servant justify many, for he shall bear their iniquities." "When thou shalt make his soul an offering for sin, he shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days, and the pleasure of the Lord shall prosper in his hand." "He shall see of the travail of his soul and shall be satisfied." The certainty of the salvation of one soul, would have caused Him who was Love to die, but behold the spectacle presented to His eye, when He looked irito the future to see of the travail, i.e., but a small part of the fruits of His atonement! He beheld the number sealed, of each tribe of Israel, twelve thousand; in all, one hundred and forty-four thousand. "After this he saw, and lo, a great multitude which no man could number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues, stood before the throne, and before the Lamb, clothed with white robes, and palms in their hands." Already He hears them shout the praises of His death with a loud voice: "Salvation to our God which sitteth upon the throne, and unto the
Lamb." He is satisfied; He runs with joyful haste, and seizes upon our humanity - cheerfully gives Himself up to die to redeem this sacramental host, and fill heaven with a new and exhaustless theme of praise.
We here repeat our proposition:
That so far as relates to our allegiance and love to God and the salvation of the world in general, God has purposed and decreed that it shall be through the belief of the truth, none of His acts forcing or compelling the sinner to embrace or reject salvation.
That God may or may not have especial designs of mercy in the ultimate return and salvation of His covenant people Israel, "we are called in question."
That God displayed especial grace in the conversion and calling of John the Baptist and the apostles, is evident from the Scriptures. The Saviour appeared unto Paul by the way and miraculously convinced him that He was Christ, and sent him a vessel of mercy to the Gentiles. But all this is out of ordinary and appointed means of grace. The only hope that remains to us to be saved is by submitting to the terms of the Gospel, viz.: "Repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ."
We come to notice the last quibble of one guilty of sleeping on this enchanted ground: "If God foreknew from all eternity that I would be finally
saved or lost, I shall be; and nothing that I can do can alter my destiny."
Very well. Let us apply this reasoning to something which we can understand.
"If God knew from all eternity, how many barrels of corn or bales of cotton I shall make next year," says the farmer, "I shall raise just so many, and nothing that I can do will make it otherwise," and so he neither plows nor sows. How much corn or cotton do you think he would raise? He would want in harvest and starve in winter. And, sinner, you will just as certainly go down to hell if you rely on the same foolish hope. God does not know that you will make corn or cotton without your exertions, for He could not know a thing that could have no existence; He knows to-day, just as well, that you will not be saved without active and energetic efforts on your part, as though the gloom of ten thousand midnights were this moment rolling between your soul and heaven. God does, so far as we know, neither foreknow, or decree, anything concerning us, as moral agents and accountable beings; irrespective of our actions. He decrees the consequences of our acts, i.e., " He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved, and he that believeth not shall be damned."
From the discussion of this subject, we learn:
1. That God's absolute will is the rule of His action, as the sovereign of the universe, and that these acts do not conflict with our accountability;
for the accomplishment of this will He does not ask us to pray.
2. That God's pleasurable or commanding will is the rule of our acts, and this will is that we should obey the truth and be saved. And He grants us His Spirit and grace to help us, if we will accept of them. So if we are lost, the guilt lies at our own door; that we may obey God and the world be saved, we should both labour and pray.
3. That our election, or our being chosen - elected - to salvation, is something with which we have to do, i.e., to "make sure." How? By believing the truth.
4. We learn why so many are called and so few elected, or chosen. Because so few will believe the truth, so few are willing to be saved upon the plan by which God has determined to save the lost world.
5. That, to be a Calvinist, is to be a fatalist. For if God predetermined, and decreed, to save a definite number, irrespective of moral character, and this certain quantity cannot be increased or diminished, and only this number Christ's death benefited, then the personal and everlasting destiny of each one is irrevocably fixed, and no act of the creature can alter it, even though he should believe the truth.
The non-elect could not make their election sure, nor could the elect make theirs less sure.
6. To be an Arminian is to be a univerealist. For if all will be saved for whom Christ died, and He died for all in general, and for each in particular, then all in general and each in particular must be saved.
7. That it is our duty to labour and pray that God's will may be done:
In our own hearts, In our own families, In our own neighbourhoods and church, In our own state - in heathen lands.
8. In proportion as we pray for the salvation of the world, we shall give, even sacrifice to give, of our goods to the support of the Gospel at home and in heathen lands. May God help us ever thus to pray, to labour and to sacrifice, until the knowledge of the Lord shall cover the earth as the waters cover the channels of the great deep.
More J.R. Graves Sermons
Baptist History Homepage