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PURPOSE OF GOD IN THE INCARNATION OF CHRIST.
passed away, and has been succeeded by an unbroken day of happy eternity, look back upon what we now deem the slow progress of time, and confess both that it was as short as a dream of the night, and that the character of the delay itself was that of salvation. 2 Peter iii. 7--15.
The destruction of Satan was, however, neither the sole, nor even the chief object which was contemplated and has been effected by the creation of man, and its consequence the incarnation of Christ. What that chief object was, is plainly revealed in the words of the Apostle to the Gentiles in his Epistle to the Ephesians, ch. iii. 8-11. “Unto me
is this grace given that I should
make all men see what is the fellowship of the mystery which from the beginning of the world hath been hid in God,"
“Who created all things by Jesus Christ, to the intent that now, unto the principalities and powers in heavenly places, might be known by the church the manifold wisdom of God."
According to the eternal purpose which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord.”
The chief object, therefore, of the creation of all things by Christ, is declared to have been the manifestation to angels of the wisdom of God by the Church. The Apostle's words have been divided in order that his meaning may be more strikingly apparent. He asserts, that, in pursuance of an eternal purpose in Christ, God created all things by bim, in order that, now his wisdom might be known to the angelic hosts, (here as elsewhere termed principalities and powers in heavenly places) by the Church.
When we come to inquire into the meaning of these words, we shall see abundant reason to declare their application to the masses of mankind ; so that if we see cause to praise the grace which has snatched us from destruction, we shall no less admire the wisdom which has ordained that the ruin of those who perish shall arise solely out of their own rejection of his grace. The world is finally to be convinced of sin, because they believed not in Christ.
But before proceeding to that consideration, it may be well to advert to one or two other points connected with it. The Apostle's words plainly assert that God was acting by him for the present purpose of making all men see what is the fellowship of that mystery which had been hid in God from the beginning of the world. By these words we are to understand the earnest desire of the Creator that his fallen creature, man, should both understand and embrace that fellowship. This appears to be, that by faith in Christ, men receive an entire remission of sin, a perfect reconciliation with God, and an inheritance among those who are sanctified by the like precious faith. They are, thenceforth, from believing, fellow-citizens with the saints, and are of the household of God, as well as of the same body with the true Israel ; and in its highest sense, their " fellowship is with the Father and with his Son Jesus Christ.” That' is the fellowship of the mystery ; that is man’s glorious part in it. It is a fellowship which is open to the acceptance of every child of Adam ; it is a part which the Creator is represented as earnestly beseeching them to lay hold of, in the words of the Gospel call, “ Now then we are ambassadors for Christ; as though God did beseech you by us, we pray you, in Christ's stead, be ye reconciled to God : for he hath made him to be sin for us, who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in him."
Great and terrible is the responsibility of one who neglects so great salvation, for it is written, “ He will render to every man according to his deeds ; to
PURPOSE OF GOD IN THE OBEDIENCE OF CHRIST.
them who are contentious (cavil at the word) and do not obey the truth, but obey unrighteousness, indignation and wrath, tribulation and anguish, upon every soul of man that doeth evil.”
Let us also consider, that since the Apostle's words place the angels in the very exalted position of those who are able to understand and appreciate the wisdom of God, as that wisdom is displayed in the Church, it should lead us also to take large views of his truth. We should strive to look above the mere letter of the Scriptures to the things which are taught us therein. It may be well enough, when an isolated doctrine or fact is in question, to keep closely to the mere verses in which they are conveyed, but where the subject is so vast as “the manifold wisdom of God," we should rather expect to find it developed in the grand principles upon which he has declared he does act, than in narrow or partial views of truth. We may hope to gather somewhat, at the least, of that which is said to be now apparent to the angels, because we have the record of God's dealings with man, and it is from those dealings the angels have learned the manifold wisdom of God.
We are now to inquire in what particular the wisdom of God is known by the Church.
That wisdom must be known either by some excellency in the nature or in the works of those who compose the Church ; or else by some excellency in the means by which God has saved them.
But neither of the two former suppositions can be the case, for as to the first viz. that there is any excellency in the nature of those who compose the Church, is explicitly contradicted by the Scriptnres, which state of all those who have been brought into it, that they were once dead in sin, and were by nature children of wrath, even as others; that is, as all men are by nature. Besides which, it is declared with equal plainness to be one of the especial objects of God by the Church to confound natural pretensions, by choosing the weak things of this world; from which it is apparent that natural excellency is rather with those who are not of the Church than with those who belong to it. (1 Cor. i. 26--29.)
Nor, in the second place, can the works of the Church be said to have any such excellency; because as the works of each individual composing it both are, and ever have been, confessedly, of the character of short-coming and imperfection, it necessarily follows that the united works of the Church also come short and are imperfect. It is impossible the Church can have done as a body, that which no individual has ever done, namely-fully met the design of God jo him. In such a question as this no aggregate of particles, each in itself imperfect, can go to make up a perfect whole. If, therefore, each individual has failed to meet the fulness of God's purpose in, and expectation from him, the entire Church must have also failed.
We cannot, therefore, suppose that angels could offer, or that God could accept, an ascription of praise which could justly arise only out of that which is not the fact, viz., that the Church has fully appreciated and perfectly met the design of God by her.
We must therefore conclude, that the wisdom of God, known to the angels by the Church, is to be sought in the means by which he has redeemed it to himself. What then is that means ?
While the Lord Jesus Christ, in the words “God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish but have everlasting life,” declared the broad aspect upon all men of the Gospel which he was anointed to preach, he also, on various occasions, intimated, that by reason of some natural bindrance in men, that gift would not avail any, unless the especial grace of God were also given. It was in this view he said to Nicodemus, " Except a man be born from above he cannot see the kingdom of God."*
And at another time he said, “No man can come to me, except the Father-draw him ;" and in the end of the same chapter he repeats that saying, but changes the words to “except it were given to him of my Father."
The words of the Apostle in his Epistle to Timothy (2 Tim. i. 9.) throw very full light upon the nature of the Lord's doctrine ; for he states that men are saved, not according to their works (i.e. merits) but according to God's own purpose and grace, which was given to them in Christ before the world began.
In the foregoing expressions, whether of the Lord or of Paul, the doctrine of election is strongly affirmed. It is no less so throughout the Scriptures of the New Testament. Even where it is said, “By grace ye are saved,” that affirms the same thing ; and in adding the words “ through faith” the utmost care is taken to express that that also is “the gift of God;" it is alike in consequence of election in Christ before the world began.
Election in Christ is therefore the basis of the Gospel plan of salvation, and it must be in it that we are to seek for the wisdom of God.
The idea conveyed under the word election, is simply that of choice-it implies nothing more than the selection of some person or thing, and that others, if there be others, are simply left as they were.
This definition of the true nature of the act of election, is fully justified by Romans ix. 7-24. The teaching of that passage may be summed up in two broad lines,—the first has respect to the elect; the second, to the non-elect.
Of the former class it is stated that the nature of election in respect to them is simply that of compassion shewn ; and its principle is illustrated by the instances of Esau and Jacob, the one of whom had been chosen, and the other rejected, before either was born, or could, therefore, have done good or evil. To justify this there must have been, in the sight of God, an entire absence of claim upon him, in the essential condition of hoth the children. And the Scriptures state that to be the fact, in the essential condition of all men ; those saved were equally, with those who fail of salvation, " by nature, children of wrath." The 1st chapter, verses 26—29, of the 1st Epistle to the Corrinthians, strongly corroborates this view, and bears with an overwhelming force against the presumption of original or intrinsic worth in the church.
Note. The Greek word which has in John iii. 3, 7, been translated “ again," is translated “ above'' in the 31st verse, “ He that cometh from above." It is inconceivable what could have induced the use of " again," sur it has no such meaning.
Of the non-elect, that passage declares that as “vessels of wrath, fit only for destruction,” the goodness of God, ought rather to be glorified, for bearing with them so long, than to be found fault with on the score that he permits them to go on in the way they have chosen for themselves. That is the nature of the action of God towards the non-elect; namely the leaving of them to their own choice, * and its justice is based on the fact that they are righteously obnoxious to the wrath of God; which was precisely the natural state of the elect also.
Thus the ground upon which election proceeds, and is justified, is that all men are by nature exposed to and deserving of the wrath of God, so that while it may please him, in the exercise of his sovereign will, graciously to shew mercy to some, they to whom it is not extended have no just reason to charge God, since themselves are righteously obnoxious to his anger.
Wherefore the essential character of election is simply that of shewing mercy. But the Scriptures have also said of the elect, that they were predestined to salvation ; that is but a repetition of the same fact, in other words. Yet it is here the perverse ingenuity of man has come in. He confounds the simple idea which is equally conveyed in both those words, with another idea which is not conveyed in them; and he infers that the predestination to salvation of some, necessarily implies the predestination to damnation of others.
Predestination is therefore a doctrine which, in a supreme degree, excites the hatred of man.
Hatred of any principle, upon which the Creator has declared he does and will act, can proceed only from a secret belief that it is an unjust principle ; and this principle has been arraigned as wanting in the commonest idea of equitythat is absolute impartiality.
They who understand the Scriptures, and the nature of the power which is therein ascribed to Satan over the minds of men, will have no difficulty in believing that this hatred has been infused into their minds by him alone. He and the angels who are linked with him, stand in a position precisely analogous to that of men ; wherefore the conclusion is irresistible, that evil angels, no less than evil men, challenge and arraign the principle of God's action, by which, while some, both of angels and of men, have been kept by the almighty energy of the will of the Creator, others have been, both angels and men, abandoned to the path they chose for themselves.
• Note.-Without, in the least, receding from, or apologizing for, the assumption of the Creator's absolute right to do as he wills with his creatures, it is no less obvious that the instance of Pharoah, in this chapter, and the expression " whom he wills he hardens," ought to be taken in connection with other explicit declarations bearing upon the same point. On the one hand it is written “God cannot be tempted with evil; neither tempteth he any man;" and on the other, the whole testimony of Scripture clearly ascribes to Satan's instigation, the evils which men are guilty of. The character of that action by which God is said to harden, must therefore be of that kind which abandons a man to the guidance of him, whose ways are preferred to those of God. In the presence of the distinct declaration, that he wills not that any should perish, and many others to the like import, it is impossible to conceive of God influencing his creatures to their eternal ruin.
Nothing can be more simply plain than that the justice of the act of election depends entirely upon the fact whether those who have departed from the will of God, are, or are not, therefore, in the actual position of righteous exposure to the anger of God. If men could but appreciate this as a fact, they would no longer cavil at the principle of election, but would each for himself, hasten to lay hold of the sole way of escape, which the mercy of God has provided for all, and strive to make their own calling and election sure. (2 Peter i. 10.) Let us therefore examine the ground upon which the righteous exposure to God's
anger, of all who have departed from his will, is plainly to be inferred ; and endeavour to learn in what respect the obedience of Christ has placed it beyond dispute.
If God so created the beings whom he has made, that it was not possible for them to have persevered in obedience, it may be justly said that he must have predestined them to whatever is the penalty of disobedience, and that he cannot justly visit with that penalty for a disobedience which was theirs by defect or necessity of creation.
But if on the other hand God did not so create them ; if it was a possible thing to them to have persevered in obedience, it is self-evident God could not have predestined them to any penalty which might be attached to disobedience, because it was in their own power to have avoided that penalty ; in which case exposure to the penalty would be at once the sole fault, and its infliction at the fixed period, the rightful expectation of the disobedient.
If the above be a very simple, it is not the less a sufficient and true statement of the case. It resolves the allegation of predestination to damnation, into the simple question whether there was or was not, in the beings who have fallen, a perfect ability, by creation, to have continued in obedience to the will of the Creator.
This has not been demonstrated by any of the angels ; for the term “ elect," which is applied in the Scriptures to the whole body of those who have continued in obedience, implies that they are indebted to the grace of God for that fact.*
Adam also disobeyed, and no one of those who have derived being from him alone, has ever, of his own power, evinced that it was possible for one created as he was, to have persevered against the power of evil.
We need not stop to inquire whether these circumstances would or would not warrant an antecedent presumption that God would vindicate his name from the possibility of doubt, on a point so affecting his glory, as that which could give even a shadow of belief that he had failed to create the beings he had made, with powers adequate to meet his demands upon them; we need not stop to do this, but pass on to consider the fact that he has done so.
In Christ God has fully met the challenge of evil angels and of evil men. In him, the former view one “made a little lower than the angels," who has always done those things which pleased God; and the mouth of the angels who have swerved from obedience is closed for ever-inasmuch as it was plainly possible for them to have done that which has been achieved by one, made a little lower than themselves.
And so, too, may men view in Christ, one born of a woman, sent in the likeness of sinful flesh,” who has maintained a perfect obedience to the will of
* Note.-In 1 Tim. v. 21. Paul strongly charges Timothy, by the Heavenly powers generally,--that is by the entire powers of heaven, and it is there that he refers to the entire body of the angels as elect.