God's Sovereignty in the Salvation of Men (Romans 9:18)
By Jonathan Edwards
Sermon IV of Seventeen Occasional Sermons
Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth. Romans 9:18.
THE apostle, in the beginning of this chapter,expresses his great concern and sorrow of heart for the nation of theJews, who were rejected of God. This leads him to observe thedifference which God made by election between some of the Jews andothers, and between the bulk of that people and the christian Gentiles.In speaking of this he enters into a more minute discussion of thesovereignty of God in electing some to eternal life, and rejectingothers, than is found in any other part of the Bible; in the course ofwhich he quotes several passages from the Old Testament, confirming andillustrating this doctrine. In the ninth verse he refers us to what Godsaid to Abraham, showing his election of Isaac before Ishmael - 'Forthis is the word of promise; At this time will I come, and Sarah shallhave a son:' then to what God had said to Rebecca, showing his electionof Jacob before Esau; 'The elder shall serve the younger:' in thethirteenth verse, to a passage from Malachi, 'Jacob have I loved, butEsau have I hated:' in the fifteenth verse, to what God said to Moses,'I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy; and I will havecompassion on whom I will have compassion:' and the verse preceding thetext, to what God says to Pharaoh, 'For the scripture saith untoPharaoh, Even for this same purpose have I raised thee up, that I mightshow my power in thee, and that my name might be declared throughoutall the earth.' In what the apostle says in the text, he seems to haverespect especially to the two last-cited passages: to what God said toMoses in the fifteenth verse, and to what he said to Pharaoh in theverse immediately preceding. God said to Moses, 'I will have mercy onwhom I will have mercy.' To this the apostle refers in the former partof the text. And we know how often it is said of Pharaoh, that Godhardened his heart. And to this the apostle seems to have respect inthe latter part of the text; 'and whom he will he hardeneth.' We mayobserve in the text,
1. God's different dealing with men. He hath mercy onsome, and hardeneth others. When God is here spoken of as hardeningsome of the children of men, it is not to be understood that God by anypositive efficiency hardens any man's heart. There is no positive actin God, as though he put forth any power to harden the heart. Tosuppose any such thing would be to make God the immediate author ofsin. God is said to harden men in two ways: by withholding the powerfulinfluences of his Spirit, without which their hearts will remainhardened, and grow harder and harder; in this sense he hardens them, ashe leaves them to hardness. And again, by ordering those things in hisprovidence which, through the abuse of their corruption, become theoccasion of their hardening. Thus God sends his word and ordinances tomen which, by their abuse, prove an occasion of their hardening. So theapostle said, that he was unto some 'a savour of death unto death.' SoGod is represented as sending Isaiah on this errand, to make the heartsof the people fat, and to make their ears heavy, and to shut theireyes; lest they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears,and understand with their heart, and convert, and be healed. Isa. 6:10.Isaiah's preaching was, in itself, of a contrary tendency, to make thembetter. But their abuse of it rendered it an occasion of theirhardening. As God is here said to harden men, so he is said to put alying spirit in the mouth of the false prophets. 2 Chron. 18:22. Thatis, he suffered a lying spirit to enter into them. And thus he is saidto have bid Shimei curse David. 2 Sam. 16:10. Not that he properlycommanded him; for it is contrary to God's commands. God expresslyforbids cursing the ruler of the people. Exod. 22:28. But he sufferedcorruption at that time so to work in Shimei, and ordered that occasionof stirring it up, as a manifestation of his displeasure against David.
2. The foundation of his different dealing withmankind; viz. his sovereign will and pleasure. 'He hath mercy on whomhe will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth.' This does notimply, merely, that God never shows mercy or denies it against hiswill, or that he is always willing to do it when he does it. A willingsubject or servant, when he obeys his lord's commands, may never do anything against his will, nothing but what he can do cheerfully and withdelight; and yet he cannot be said to do what he wills in the sense ofthe text. But the expression implies that it is God's mere will andsovereign pleasure, which supremely orders this affair. It is thedivine will without restraint, or constraint, or obligation.
Doctrine. God exercises his sovereignty in the eternal salvation of men.
He not only is sovereign, and has a sovereign rightto dispose and order in that affair; and he not only might proceed in asovereign way, if he would, and nobody could charge him with exceedinghis right; but he actually does so; he exercises the right which hehas. In the following discourse, I propose to show,
I. WHAT IS GOD'S SOVEREIGNTY.
II. WHAT GOD'S SOVEREIGNTY IN THE SALVATION OF MEN IMPLIES.
III. THAT GOD ACTUALLY DOTH EXERCISE HIS SOVEREIGNTY IN THIS MATTER.
IV. THE REASONS FOR THIS EXERCISE.
I. I WOULD SHOW WHAT IS GOD'S SOVEREIGNTY.
The sovereignty of God is his absolute, independentright of disposing of all creatures according to his own pleasure. Iwill consider this definition by the parts of it.
The will of God is called his mere pleasure,
1. In opposition to any constraint. Men may do thingsvoluntarily, and yet there may be a degree of constraint. A man may besaid to do a thing voluntarily, that is, he himself does it; and, allthings considered, he may choose to do it; yet he may do it out offear, and the thing in itself considered be irksome to him, and sorelyagainst his inclination. When men do things thus, they cannot be saidto do them according to their mere pleasure.
2. In opposition to its being under the will ofanother. A servant may fulfil his master's commands, and may do itwillingly, and cheerfully, and may delight to do his master's will; yetwhen he does so, he does not do it of his own mere pleasure. The saintsdo the will of God freely. They choose to do it; it is their meat anddrink. Yet they do not do it of their mere pleasure and arbitrary will;because their will is under the direction of a superior will.
3. In opposition to any proper obligation. A man maydo a thing which he is obliged to do, very freely; but he cannot besaid to act from his own mere will and pleasure. He who acts from hisown mere pleasure, is at full liberty; but he who is under any properobligation, is not at liberty, but is bound. Now the sovereignty of Godsupposes, that he has a right to dispose of all his creatures accordingto his mere pleasure in the sense explained. And his right is absoluteand independent. Men may have a right to dispose of some thingsaccording to their pleasure. But their right is not absolute andunlimited. Men may be said to have a right to dispose of their owngoods as they please. But their right is not absolute; is has limitsand bounds. They have a right to dispose of their own goods as theyplease, provided they do not do it contrary to the law of the state towhich they are subject, or contrary to the law of God. Men's right todispose of their things as they will, is not absolute, because it isnot independent. They have not an independent right to what they have,but in some things depend on the community to which they belong, forthe right they have; and in every thing depend on God. They receive allthe right they have to any thing from God. But the sovereignty of Godimports that he has an absolute, and unlimited, and independent rightof disposing of his creatures as he will. I proposed to inquire,
II. WHAT GOD'S SOVEREIGNTY IN THE SALVATION OF MEN IMPLIES.
In answer to this inquiry, I observe, it implies thatGod can either bestow salvation on any of the children of men, orrefuse it, without any prejudice to the glory of any of his attributes,except where he has been pleased to declare, that he will or will notbestow it. It cannot be said absolutely, as the case now stands, thatGod can, without any prejudice to the honour of any of his attributes,bestow salvation on any of the children of men, or refuse it; because,concerning some, God has been pleased to declare either that he will orthat he will not bestow salvation on them; and thus to bind himself byhis own promise. And concerning some he has been pleased to declare,that he never will bestow salvation upon them; viz. those who havecommitted the sin against the Holy Ghost. Hence, as the case nowstands, he is obliged; he cannot bestow salvation in one case, orrefuse it in the other, without prejudice to the honour of his truth.But God exercised his sovereignty in making these declarations. God wasnot obliged to promise that he would save all who believe in Christ;nor was he obliged to declare, that he who committed the sin againstthe Holy Ghost should never be forgiven. But it pleased him so todeclare. And had it not been so that God had been pleased to obligehimself in these cases, he might still have either bestowed salvation,or refused it, without prejudice to any of his attributes. If it wouldin itself be prejudicial to any of his attributes to bestow or refusesalvation, then God would not in that matter act as absolutelysovereign. Because it then ceases to be a merely arbitrary thing. Itceases to be a matter of absolute liberty, and is become a matter ofnecessity or obligation. For God cannot do any thing to the prejudiceof any of his attributes, or contrary to what is in itself excellentand glorious. Therefore,
I. God can, without prejudice to the glory of any ofhis attributes, bestow salvation on any of the children of men, excepton those who have committed the sin against the Holy Ghost. The casewas thus when man fell, and before God revealed his eternal purpose andplan for redeeming men by Jesus Christ. It was probably looked upon bythe angels as a thing utterly inconsistent with God's attributes tosave any of the children of men. It was utterly inconsistent with thehonour of the divine attributes to save any one of the fallen childrenof men, as they were in themselves. It could not have been done had notGod contrived a way consistent with the honour of his holiness,majesty, justice, and truth. But since God in the gospel has revealedthat nothing is too hard for him to do, nothing beyond the reach of hispower, and wisdom, and sufficiency; and since Christ has wrought outthe work of redemption, and fulfilled the law by obeying, there is noneof mankind whom he may not save without any prejudice to any of hisattributes, excepting those who have committed the sin against the HolyGhost. And those he might have saved without going contrary to any ofhis attributes, had he not been pleased to declare that he would not.It was not because he could not have saved them consistently with hisjustice, and consistently with his law, or because his attribute ofmercy was not great enough, or the blood of Christ not sufficient tocleanse from that sin. But it has pleased him for wise reasons todeclare that that sin shall never be forgiven in this world, or in theworld to come. And so now it is contrary to God's truth to save such.But otherwise there is no sinner, let him be ever so great, but God cansave him without prejudice to any attribute; if he has been a murderer,adulterer, or perjurer, or idolater, or blasphemer, God may save him ifhe pleases, and in no respect injure his glory. Though persons havesinned long, have been obstinate, have committed heinous sins athousand times, even till they have grown old in sin, and have sinnedunder great aggravations: let the aggravations be what they may; ifthey have sinned under ever so great light; if they have beenbacksliders, and have sinned against ever so numerous and solemnwarnings and strivings of the Spirit, and mercies of his commonprovidence: though the danger of such is much greater than of othersinners, yet God can save them if he pleases, for the sake of Christ,without any prejudice to any of his attributes. He may have mercy onwhom he will have mercy. He may have mercy on the greatest of sinners,if he pleases, and the glory of none of his attributes will be in theleast sullied. Such is the sufficiency of the satisfaction andrighteousness of Christ, that none of the divine attributes stand inthe way of the salvation of any of them. Thus the glory of anyattribute did not at all suffer by Christ's saving some of hiscrucifiers.
- God may save any of them without prejudice to the honour of hisholiness. God is an infinitely holy being. The heavens are not pure inhis sight. He is of purer eyes than to behold evil, and cannot look oniniquity. And if God should in any way countenance sin, and should notgive proper testimonies of his hatred of it, and displeasure at it, itwould be a prejudice to the honour of his holiness. But God can savethe greatest sinner without giving the least countenance to sin. If hesaves one, who for a long time has stood out under the calls of thegospel, and has sinned under dreadful aggravations; if he saves onewho, against light, has been a pirate or blasphemer, he may do itwithout giving any countenance to their wickedness; because hisabhorrence of it and displeasure against it have been alreadysufficiently manifested in the sufferings of Christ. It was asufficient testimony of God's abhorrence against even the greatestwickedness, that Christ, the eternal Son of God, died for it. Nothingcan show God's infinite abhorrence of any wickedness more than this. Ifthe wicked man himself should be thrust into hell, and should endurethe most extreme torments which are ever suffered there, it would notbe a greater manifestation of God's abhorrence of it, than thesufferings of the Son of God for it.
- God may save any of the children of men without prejudice to thehonour of his majesty. If men have affronted God, and that ever somuch, if they have cast ever so much contempt on his authority; yet Godcan save them, if he pleases, and the honour of his majesty not sufferin the least. If God should save those who have affronted him, withoutsatisfaction, the honour of his majesty would suffer. For when contemptis cast upon infinite majesty, its honour suffers, and the contemptleaves an obscurity upon the honour of the divine majesty, if theinjury is not repaired. But the sufferings of Christ do fully repairthe injury. Let the contempt be ever so great, yet if so honourable aperson as Christ undertakes to be a Mediator for the offender, and inthe mediation suffer in his stead, it fully repairs the injury done tothe majesty of heaven by the greatest sinner.
- God may save any sinner whatsoever consistently with hisjustice. The justice of God requires the punishment of sin. God is theSupreme Judge of the world, and he is to judge the world according tothe rules of justice. It is not the part of a judge to show favour tothe person judged; but he is to determine according to a rule ofjustice without departing to the right hand or left. God does not showmercy as a judge, but as a sovereign. And therefore when mercy soughtthe salvation of sinners, the inquiry was how to make the exercise ofthe mercy of God as a sovereign, and of his strict justice as a judge,agree together. And this is done by the sufferings of Christ, in whichsin is punished fully, and justice answered. Christ suffered enough forthe punishment of the sins of the greatest sinner that ever lived. Sothat God, when he judges, may act according to a rule of strictjustice, and yet acquit the sinner, if he be in Christ. Justice cannotrequire any more for any man's sins, than those sufferings of one ofthe persons in the Trinity, which Christ suffered. Rom. 3:25,26. 'WhomGod hath set forth to be a propitiation through faith in his blood; todeclare his righteousness, that he might be just, and the justifier ofhim which believeth in Christ.'
- God can save any sinner whatsoever, without any prejudice to thehonour of his truth. God passed his word, that sin should be punishedwith death, which is to be understood not only of the first, but of thesecond death. God can save the greatest sinner consistently with histruth in this threatening. For sin is punished in the sufferings ofChrist, inasmuch as he is our surety, and so is legally the sameperson, and sustained our guilt, and in his sufferings bore ourpunishment. It may be objected, that God said, If thou eatest, thoushalt die; as though the same person that sinned must suffer; andtherefore why does not God's truth oblige him to that? I answer, thatthe word then was not intended to be restrained to him, that in his ownperson sinned. Adam probably understood that his posterity wereincluded, whether they sinned in their own person or not. If theysinned in Adam, their surety, those words, 'if thou eatest,' meant, ifthou eatest in thyself, or in thy surety. And therefore, the latterwords, 'thou shalt die,' do also fairly allow of such a constructionas, thou shalt die in thyself, or in thy surety. Isa. 42:21. 'The Lordis well pleased for his righteousness' sake, he will magnify the lawand make it honourable.' But,
II. God may refuse salvation to any sinner whatsoever, without prejudice to the honour of any of his attributes.
There is no person whatever in a natural condition,upon whom God may not refuse to bestow salvation without prejudice toany part of his glory. Let a natural person be wise or unwise, of agood or ill natural temper, of mean or honourable parentage, whetherborn of wicked or godly parents; let him be a moral or immoral person,whatever good he may have done, however religious he has been, how manyprayers soever he has made, and whatever pains he has taken that he maybe saved; whatever concern and distress he may have for fear he shallbe damned; or whatever circumstances he may be in; God can deny himsalvation without the least disparagement to any of his perfections.His glory will not in any instance be the least obscured by it.
- God may deny salvation to any natural person without any injuryto the honour of his righteousness. If he does so, there is noinjustice nor unfairness in it. There is no natural man living, let hiscase be what it will, but God may deny him salvation, and cast him downto hell, and yet not be chargeable with the least unrighteous or unfairdealing in any respect whatsoever. This is evident, because they allhave deserved hell: and it is no injustice for a proper judge toinflict on any man what he deserves. And as he has deservedcondemnation, so he has never done any thing to remove the liability,or to atone for the sin. He never has done any thing whereby he haslaid any obligations on God not to punish him as he deserved.
- God may deny salvation to any unconverted person whateverwithout any prejudice to the honour of his goodness. Sinners aresometimes ready to flatter themselves, that though it may not becontrary to the justice of God to condemn them, yet it will not consistwith the glory of his mercy. They think it will be dishonourable toGod's mercy to cast them into hell, and have no pity or compassion uponthem. They think it will be very hard and severe, and not becoming aGod of infinite grace and tender compassion. But God can deny salvationto any natural person without any disparagement to his mercy andgoodness. That, which is not contrary to God's justice, is not contraryto his mercy. If damnation be justice, then mercy may choose its ownobject. They mistake the nature of the mercy of God, who think that itis an attribute, which, in some cases, is contrary to justice. Nay,God's mercy is illustrated by it, as in the twenty-third verse of thecontext. 'That he might make known the riches of his glory on thevessels of mercy, which he had afore prepared unto glory.'
- It is in no way prejudicial to the honour of God's faithfulness.For God has in no way obliged himself to any natural man by his word tobestow salvation upon him. Men in a natural condition are not thechildren of promise; but lie open to the curse of the law, which wouldnot be the case if they had any promise to lay hold of
III. GOD DOES ACTUALLY EXERCISE HIS SOVEREIGNTY IN MEN'S SALVATION.
We shall show how he exercises this right in several particulars.
1. In calling one people or nation, and giving them the means of grace, and leaving others without them.According to the divine appointment, salvation is bestowed in connexionwith the means of grace. God may sometimes make use of very unlikelymeans, and bestow salvation on men who are under very greatdisadvantages; but he does not bestow grace wholly without any means.But God exercises his sovereignty in bestowing those means. All mankindare by nature in like circumstances towards God. Yet God greatlydistinguishes some from others by the means and advantages which hebestows upon them. The savages, who live in the remote parts of thiscontinent, and are under the grossest heathenish darkness, as well asthe inhabitants of Africa, are naturally in exactly similarcircumstances towards God with us in this land. They are no morealienated or estranged from God in their natures than we; and God hasno more to charge them with. And yet what a vast difference has Godmade between us and them! In this he has exercised his sovereignty. Hedid this of old, when he chose but one people, to make them hiscovenant people, and to give them the means of grace, and left allothers, and gave them over to heathenish darkness and the tyranny ofthe devil, to perish from generation to generation for many hundreds ofyears. The earth in that time was peopled with many great and mightynations. There were the Egyptians, a people famed for their wisdom.There were also the Assyrians and Chaldeans, who were great, and wise,and powerful nations. There were the Persians, who by their strengthand policy subdued a great part of the world. There were the renownednations of the Greeks and Romans, who were famed over the whole worldfor their excellent civil governments, for their wisdom and skill inthe arts of peace and war, and who by their military prowess in theirturns subdued and reigned over the world. Those were rejected. God didnot choose them for his people, but left them for many ages under grossheathenish darkness, to perish for lack of vision; and chose one onlypeople, the posterity of Jacob, to be his own people, and to give themthe means of grace. Psal. 147:19,20. 'He showeth his word unto Jacob,his statutes and his judgments unto Israel. He hath not dealt so withany nation; and as for his judgments, they have not known them.' Thisnation were a small, inconsiderable people in comparison with manyother people. Deut. 7:7. 'The Lord did not set his love upon you, norchoose you, because ye were more in number than any people; for ye werethe fewest of all people.' So neither was it for their righteousness;for they had no more of that than other people. Deut. 9:6. 'Understandtherefore, that the Lord thy God giveth thee not this good land topossess it for thy righteousness; for thou art a stiff-necked people.'God gives them to understand, that it was from no other cause but hisfree electing love, that he chose them to be his people. That reason isgiven why God loved them; it was because he loved them. Deut. 7:8.Which is as much as to say, it was agreeable to his sovereign pleasure,to set his love upon you.
God also showed his sovereignty in choosing thatpeople, when other nations were rejected, who came of the sameprogenitors. Thus the children of Isaac were chosen, when the posterityof Ishmael and other sons of Abraham were rejected. So the children ofJacob were chosen, when the posterity of Esau were rejected: as theapostle observes in the seventh verse, 'Neither because they are theseed of Abraham, are they all children; but in Isaac shall thy seed becalled:' and again in verses 10, 11, 12, 13. 'And not only this; butwhen Rebekah also had conceived by one, even by our father Isaac; thechildren moreover being not yet born, neither having done any good orevil, that the promise of God according to election might stand, not ofworks, but of him that calleth; it was said unto her, The elder shallserve the younger. As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau haveI hated.' The apostle has not respect merely to the election of thepersons of Isaac and Jacob before Ishmael and Esau; but of theirposterity. In the passage, already quoted from Malachi, God has respectto the nations, which were the posterity of Esau and Jacob; Mal. 1:2,3.'I have loved you, saith the Lord. Yet ye say, Wherein hast thou lovedus? Was not Esau Jacob's brother? saith the Lord: yet I loved Jacob;and I hated Esau, and laid his mountains and his heritage waste for thedragons of the wilderness.' God showed his sovereignty, when Christcame, in rejecting the Jews, and calling the Gentiles. God rejectedthat nation who were the children of Abraham according to the flesh,and had been his peculiar people for so many ages, and who alonepossessed the one true God, and chose idolatrous heathen before them,and called them to be his people. When the Messiah came, who was bornof their nation, and whom they so much expected, he rejected them. Hecame to his own, and his own received him not. John 1:11. When theglorious dispensation of the gospel came, God passed by the Jews, andcalled those who had been heathens, to enjoy the privileges of it. Theywere broken off, that the Gentiles might be graffed on. Rom. 11:17. Sheis now called beloved, that was not beloved. And more are the childrenof the desolate, than the children of the married wife. Isa. 54:1. Thenatural children of Abraham are rejected, and God raises up children toAbraham of stones. That nation, which was so honoured of God, have nowbeen for many ages rejected, and remain dispersed all over the world, aremarkable monument of divine vengeance. And now God greatlydistinguishes some Gentile nations from others, and all according tohis sovereign pleasure.
2. God exercises his sovereignty in the advantages he bestows upon particular persons.All need salvation alike, and all are, naturally, alike undeserving ofit; but he gives some vastly greater advantages for salvation thanothers. To some he assigns their place in pious and religious families,where they may be well instructed and educated, and have religiousparents to dedicate them to God, and put up many prayers for them. Godplaces some under a more powerful ministry than others, and in placeswhere there are more of the outpourings of the Spirit of God. To somehe gives much more of the strivings and the awakening influences of theSpirit, than to others. It is according to his mere sovereign pleasure.
3. God exercises his sovereignty in sometimes bestowing salvation upon the low and mean, and denying it to the wise and great.Christ in his sovereignty passes by the gates of princes and nobles,and enters some cottage and dwells there, and has communion with itsobscure inhabitants. God in his sovereignty withheld salvation from therich man, who fared sumptuously every day, and bestowed it on poorLazarus, who sat begging at his gate. God in this way pours contempt onprinces, and on all their glittering splendour. So God sometimes passesby wise men, men of great understanding, learned and great scholars,and bestows salvation on others of weak understanding, who onlycomprehend some of the plainer parts of Scripture, and the fundamentalprinciples of the christian religion. Yea, there seem to be fewer greatmen called, than others. And God in ordering it thus manifests hissovereignty. 1 Cor. 1:26,27,28. 'For ye see your calling, brethren, howthat not many wise men after the flesh, not many mighty, not manynoble, are called. But God hath chosen the foolish things of the worldto confound the wise; and God hath chosen the weak things of the worldto confound the things which are mighty; and base things of the world,and things which are despised, hath God chosen, yea, and things whichare not, to bring to nought things that are.
4. In bestowing salvation on some who have had few advantages.God sometimes will bless weak means for producing astonishing effects,when more excellent means are not succeeded. God sometimes willwithhold salvation from those who are the children of very piousparents, and bestow it on others, who have been brought up in wickedfamilies. Thus we read of a good Abijah in the family of Jeroboam, andof a godly Hezekiah, the son of wicked Ahaz, and of a godly Josiah, theson of a wicked Amon. But on the contrary, of a wicked Amnon andAbsalom, the sons of holy David, and that vile Manasseh, the son a goodHezekiah. Sometimes some, who have had eminent means of grace, arerejected, and left to perish, and others, under far less advantages,are saved. Thus the scribes and Pharisees, who had so much light andknowledge of the Scriptures, were mostly rejected, and the poorignorant publicans saved. The greater part of those, among whom Christwas much conversant, and who heard him preach, and saw him workmiracles from day to day, were left; and the woman of Samaria wastaken, and many other Samaritans at the same time, who only heardChrist preach, as he occasionally passed through their city. So thewoman of Canaan was taken, who was not of the country of the Jews, andbut once saw Jesus Christ. So the Jews, who had seen and heard Christ,and saw his miracles, and with whom the apostles laboured so much, werenot saved. But the Gentiles, many of them, who, as it were, buttransiently heard the glad tidings of salvation, embraced them, andwere converted.
5. God exercises his sovereignty in calling someto salvation, who have been very heinously wicked, and leaving others,who have been moral and religious persons. The Pharisees were avery strict sect among the Jews. Their religion was extraordinary. Luke18:11. They were not as other men, extortioners, unjust, or adulterers.There was their morality. They fasted twice a week, and gave tithes ofall that they possessed. There was their religion. But yet they weremostly rejected, and the publicans, and harlots, and openly vicioussort of people, entered into the kingdom of God before them. Matt.21:31. The apostle describes his righteousness while a Pharisee.Philip. 3:6. 'Touching the righteousness which is of the law,blameless.' The rich young man, who came kneeling to Christ, saying,Good Master, what shall I do, that I may have eternal life, was a moralperson. When Christ bade him keep the commandments, he said, and in hisown view with sincerity, 'All these have I kept from my youth up.' Hehad obviously been brought up in a good family, and was a youth of suchamiable manners and correct deportment, that it is said, 'Jesusbeholding him, loved him.' Still he was left; while the thief, that wascrucified with Christ, was chosen and called, even on the cross. Godsometimes shows his sovereignty by showing mercy to the chief ofsinners, on those who have been murderers, and profaners, andblasphemers. And even when they are old, some are called at theeleventh hour. God sometimes shows the sovereignty of his grace byshowing mercy to some, who have spent most of their lives in theservice of Satan, and have little left to spend in the service of God.
6. In saving some of those who seek salvation, and not others.Some who seek salvation, as we know both from Scripture andobservation, are soon converted; while others seek a long time, and donot obtain at last. God helps some over the mountains and difficultieswhich are in the way; he subdues Satan, and delivers them from histemptations: but others are ruined by the temptations with which theymeet. Some are never thoroughly awakened; while to others God ispleased to give thorough convictions. Some are left to backslidinghearts; others God causes to hold out to the end. Some are brought offfrom a confidence in their own righteousness; others never get overthat obstruction in their way, as long as they live. And some areconverted and saved, who never had so great strivings as some who,notwithstanding, perish.
IV. I COME NOW TO GIVE THE REASONS, WHY GOD DOES THUS EXERCISE HIS SOVEREIGNTY IN THE ETERNAL SALVATION OF THE CHILDREN OF MEN.
1. It is agreeable to God's design in the creationof the universe to exercise every attribute, and thus to manifest theglory of each of them. God's design in the creation was to glorifyhimself, or to make a discovery of the essential glory of his nature.It was fit that infinite glory should shine forth; and it was God'soriginal design to make a manifestation of his glory, as it is. Notthat it was his design to manifest all his glory to the apprehension ofcreatures; for it is impossible that the minds of creatures shouldcomprehend it. But it was his design to make a true manifestation ofhis glory, such as should represent every attribute. If God glorifiedone attribute, and not another, such manifestation of his glory wouldbe defective; and the representation would not be complete. If allGod's attributes are not manifested, the glory of none of them ismanifested as it is: for the divine attributes reflect glory on oneanother. Thus if God's wisdom be manifested, and not his holiness, theglory of his wisdom would not be manifested as it is; for one part ofthe glory of the attribute of divine wisdom is, that it is a holywisdom. So if his holiness were manifested, and not his wisdom, theglory of his holiness would not be manifested as it is; for one thingwhich belongs to the glory of God's holiness is, that it is a wiseholiness. So it is with respect to the attributes of mercy and justice.The glory of God's mercy does not appear as it is, unless it ismanifested as a just mercy, or as a mercy consistent with justice. Andso with respect to God's sovereignty, it reflects glory on all hisother attributes. It is part of the glory of God's mercy, that it issovereign mercy. So all the attributes of God reflect glory on oneanother. The glory of one attribute cannot be manifested, as it is,without the manifestation of another. One attribute is defectivewithout another, and therefore the manifestation will be defective.Hence it was the will of God to manifest all his attributes. Thedeclarative glory of God in Scripture is often called God's name,because it declares his nature. But if his name does not signify hisnature as it is, or does not declare any attribute, it is not a truename. The sovereignty of God is one of his attributes, and a part ofhis glory. The glory of God eminently appears in his absolutesovereignty over all creatures, great and small. If the glory of aprince be his power and dominion, then the glory of God is his absolutesovereignty. Herein appear God's infinite greatness and highness aboveall creatures. Therefore it is the will of God to manifest hissovereignty. And his sovereignty, like his other attributes, ismanifested in the exercises of it. He glorifies his power in theexercise of power. He glorifies his mercy in the exercise of mercy. Sohe glorifies his sovereignty in the exercise of sovereignty.
2. The more excellent the creature is over whomGod is sovereign, and the greater the matter in which he so appears,the more glorious is his sovereignty. The sovereignty of God in hisbeing sovereign over men, is more glorious than in his being sovereignover the inferior creatures. And his sovereignty over angels is yetmore glorious that his sovereignty over men. For the nobler thecreature is, still the greater and higher doth God appear in hissovereignty over it. It is a greater honour to a man to have dominionover men, that over beasts; and a still greater honour to have dominionover princes, nobles, and kings, than over ordinary men. So the gloryof God's sovereignty appears in that he is sovereign over the souls ofmen, who are so noble and excellent creatures. God therefore willexercise his sovereignty over them. And the further the dominion of anyone extends over another, the greater will be the honour. If a man hasdominion over another only in some instances, he is not therein so muchexalted, as in having absolute dominion over his life, and fortune, andall he has. So God's sovereignty over men appears glorious, that itextends to every thing which concerns them. He may dispose of them withrespect to all that concerns them, according to his own pleasure. Hissovereignty appears glorious, that it reaches their most importantaffairs, even the eternal state and condition of the souls of men.Herein it appears that the sovereignty of God is without bounds orlimits, in that it reaches to an affair of such infinite importance.God, therefore, as it is his design to manifest his own glory, will anddoes exercise his sovereignty towards men, over their souls and bodies,even in this most important matter of their eternal salvation. He hasmercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardens.
1. Hence we learn how absolutely we are dependent on God in this great matter of the eternal salvation of our souls.We are dependent not only on his wisdom to contrive a way to accomplishit, and on his power to bring it to pass, but we are dependent on hismere will and pleasure in the affair. We depend on the sovereign willof God for every thing belonging to it, from the foundation to thetop-stone. It was of the sovereign pleasure of God, that he contrived away to save any of mankind, and gave us Jesus Christ, his only-begottenSon, to be our Redeemer. Why did he look on us, and send us a Saviour,and not the fallen angels? It was from the sovereign pleasure of God.It was of his sovereign pleasure what means to appoint. His giving usthe Bible, and the ordinances of religion, is of his sovereign grace.His giving those means to us rather than to others, his giving theawakening influences of his Spirit, and his bestowing saving grace, areall of his sovereign pleasure. When he says, 'Let there be light in thesoul of such an one,' it is a word of infinite power and sovereigngrace.
2. Let us with the greatest humility adore the awful and absolute sovereignty of God.As we have just shown, it is an eminent attribute of the Divine Being,that he is sovereign over such excellent beings as the souls of men,and that in every respect, even in that of their eternal salvation. Theinfinite greatness of God, and his exaltation above us, appears innothing more, than in his sovereignty. It is spoken of in Scripture asa great part of his glory. Deut. 32:39. 'See now that I, even I, am he,and there is no God with me. I kill, and I make alive; I wound, and Iheal; neither is there any that can deliver out of my hand.' Psal.115:3. 'Our God is in the heavens; he hath done whatsoever he pleased.'Daniel 4:34,35. 'Whose dominion is an everlasting dominion, and hiskingdom is from generation to generation. And all the inhabitants ofthe earth are reputed as nothing; and he doeth according to his will inthe armies of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth; and nonecan stay his hand, or say unto him, What doest thou?' Our Lord JesusChrist praised and glorified the Father for the exercise of hissovereignty in the salvation of men. Matt. 11:25,26. 'I thank thee, OFather, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these thingsfrom the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes. Even so,Father, for so it seemed good in thy sight.' Let us therefore give Godthe glory of his sovereignty, as adoring him, whose sovereign willorders all things, beholding ourselves as nothing in comparison withhim. Dominion and sovereignty require humble reverence and honour inthe subject. The absolute, universal, and unlimited sovereignty of Godrequires, that we should adore him with all possible humility andreverence. It is impossible that we should go to excess in lowlinessand reverence of that Being, who may dispose of us to all eternity, ashe pleases.
3. Those who are in a state of salvation are to attribute it to sovereign grace alone,and to give all the praise to him, who maketh them to differ fromothers. Godliness is no cause for glorying, except it be in God. 1 Cor.1:29,30,31. 'That no flesh should glory in his presence. But of him areye in Christ Jesus, who of God is made unto us wisdom, andrighteousness, and sanctification, and redemption. That, according asit is written, He that glorieth, let him glory in the Lord.' Such arenot, by any means, in any degree to attribute their godliness, theirsafe and happy state and condition, to any natural difference betweenthem and other men, or to any strength or righteousness of their own.They have no reason to exalt themselves in the least degree; but God isthe being whom they should exalt. They should exalt God the Father, whochose them in Christ, who set his love upon them, and gave themsalvation, before they were born, and even before the world was. Ifthey inquire, why God set his love on them, and chose them rather thanothers, if they think they can see any cause out of God, they aregreatly mistaken. They should exalt God the Son, who bore their nameson his heart, when he came into the world, and hung on the cross, andin whom alone they have righteousness and strength. They should exaltGod the Holy Ghost, who of sovereign grace has called them out ofdarkness into marvellous light; who has by his own immediate and freeoperation, led them into an understanding of the evil and danger ofsin, and brought them off from their own righteousness, and openedtheir eyes to discover the glory of God, and the wonderful riches ofGod in Jesus Christ, and has sanctified them, and made them newcreatures. When they hear of the wickedness of others, or look uponvicious persons, they should think how wicked they once were, and howmuch they provoked God, and how they deserved for ever to be left byhim to perish in sin, and that it is only sovereign grace which hasmade the difference. 1 Cor. 6:10. Many sorts of sinners are thereenumerated; fornicators, idolaters, adulterers, effeminate, abusers ofthemselves with mankind. And then in the eleventh verse, the apostletells them, 'Such were some of you; but ye are washed, but ye aresanctified, but ye are justified, in the name of the Lord Jesus, and bythe Spirit of our God.' The people of God have the greater cause ofthankfulness, more reason to love God, who hath bestowed such great andunspeakable mercy upon them of his mere sovereign pleasure.
4. Hence we learn what cause we have to admire the grace of God, that he should condescend to become bound to us by covenant;that he, who is naturally supreme in his dominion over us, who is ourabsolute proprietor, and may do with us as he pleases, and is under noobligation to us; that he should, as it were, relinquish his absolutefreedom, and should cease to be merely sovereign in his dispensationstowards believers, when once they have believed in Christ, and should,for their more abundant consolation, become bound. So that they canchallenge salvation of this Sovereign; they can demand it throughChrist, as a debt. And it would be prejudicial to the glory of God'sattributes, to deny it to them; it would be contrary to his justice andfaithfulness. What wonderful condescension is it in such a Being, thusto become bound to us, worms of the dust, for our consolation! He boundhimself by his word, his promise. But he was not satisfied with that;but that we might have stronger consolation still, he hath boundhimself by his oath. Heb. 6:13, etc. 'For when God made promise toAbraham, because he could swear by no greater, he sware by himself;saying, Surely blessing I will bless thee, and multiplying I willmultiply thee. And so, after he had patiently endured, he obtained thepromise. For men verily swear by the greater; and an oath forconfirmation is to them an end of all strife. Wherein God, willing moreabundantly to show unto the heirs of promise the immutability of hiscounsel, confirmed it by an oath; that by two immutable things, inwhich it was impossible for God to lie, we might have a strongconsolation, who have fled for refuge to lay hold upon the hope setbefore us. Which hope we have as an anchor of the soul, both sure andstedfast, and which entereth into that within the veil; whither theforerunner is for us entered, even Jesus, made an high priest for everafter the order of Melchisedec.'
Let us, therefore, labour to submit to thesovereignty of God. God insists, that his sovereignty be acknowledgedby us, and that even in this great matter, a matter which so nearly andinfinitely concerns us, as our own eternal salvation. This is thestumbling-block on which thousands fall and perish; and if we go oncontending with God about his sovereignty, it will be our eternal ruin.It is absolutely necessary that we should submit to God, as ourabsolute sovereign, and the sovereign over our souls; as one who mayhave mercy on whom he will have mercy, and harden whom he will.
5. And lastly. We may make use of this doctrine toguard those who seek salvation from two opposite extremes - presumptionand discouragement. Do not presume upon the mercy of God, and soencourage yourself in sin. Many hear that God's mercy is infinite, andtherefore think, that if they delay seeking salvation for the present,and seek it hereafter, that God will bestow his grace upon them. Butconsider, that though God's grace is sufficient, yet he is sovereign,and will use his own pleasure whether he will save you or not. If youput off salvation till hereafter, salvation will not be in your power.It will be as a sovereign God pleases, whether you shall obtain it ornot. Seeing, therefore, that in this affair you are so absolutelydependent on God, it is best to follow his direction in seeking it,which is to hear his voice to-day: 'To-day if ye will hear his voice,harden not your heart.' Beware also of discouragement. Take heed ofdespairing thoughts, because you are a great sinner, because you havepersevered so long in sin, have backslidden, and resisted the HolyGhost. Remember that, let your case be what it may, and you ever sogreat a sinner, if you have not committed the sin against the HolyGhost, God can bestow mercy upon you without the least prejudice to thehonour of his holiness, which you have offended, or to the honour ofhis majesty, which you have insulted, or of his justice, which you havemade your enemy, or of his truth, or of any of his attributes. Let yoube what sinner you may, God can, if he pleases, greatly glorify himselfin your salvation.
By Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758)
Chosen by God
The Potter's Freedom
James R. White
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