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Divine sovereignty, and other sermons online

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ture knows how gradual has been the revelation
of God to the human race. Not till we reach the
time of David do we get the word father as
applied to Deity, and then only in a figurative sort
of way. Isaiah prophecies that one of the signs


of the Christian dispensation shall be that the
name of God as revealed in Christ shall be *'the
Everlasting Father." Men had known Deity as
the Self-Existent God — the source of life. They
had thought of Him as the God of Providence, the
Great Provider, who had them in His hands, and
would care for them, and that is about the utmost
practical view attained in the Old Testament.
In that wonderful book of Job, the epitomised life
of the human race, we have the thought of an
unrealized Redeemer, — but "My Father and your
Father, my God and your God" is !N^ew Testament
language, and post-resurrection speech at that.
This speecli leads us to the thought of the Divine
Eesponsibility. It is not our invention but God's
revelation, that, 'like as a flither pitieth his chil-
dren so the Lord pitieth them that fear Him.' We
have a right, then, to say that at least the same
measure of responsibility which belongs to a father
for the nourishment, education, and development
of his child belongs to the great Eternal Father
for us all. He has made us, and not we our-
selves. We are not responsible for being here —
that responsibility belongs outside of us. We are
not responsible for the laws which w^ork in our
own constitutions, for we did not create those
law^s. We are not responsible for anything w^iich
is out of our own power, that is evident — so evi-
dent that it is useless to aro:ue the matter. I am



not responsible for the original tendency to sinful-
ness which was in my nature when born into this
world. Nor am I responsible for being born, nor
for beins: born Avhere I was born ; nor for havino^
just those parents which were mine ; nor for
being just so high and just so heavy ; nor for having
the temperament and disposition with which 1 was
born. Nor are you responsible for like matters
in yourself; nor is any one. These things lie
beyond our election and choice. Neither you,
nor I, nor any one is responsible for the fact that
we came into the world puling babes, nor for the
laws at the back of our life which co-operated to
that result — all this responsibility lies outside of
us. I suppose that in the generations behind us
there have lived people who verily persuaded
themselves that they were responsible for the sin
of Adam — that the guilt of what was done thou-
sands of years ago rested upon them — that they
were doomed because an ancestor of generations
aijo was a wilful sinner.

It is very wonderful that any one should be
found capable of training his conscience to the
acceptance of such a fallacy. Every man inherits
tendencies from past generations — that we know.
When the first of men wilfully disobeyed God, He
started in himself a tendency, which, if not re-
sisted, would become a habit of wrong doing —
and that habit would create a tendency in the next


generation, and in the next, and so on. And
that is what is meant by original sin — the ten-
dency created by generations past to wrong —
stanjping its impress upon mind and heart, yea,
upon the physical organism. It is so in the
animal world. In the past, dogs have been trained
to fold sheep, and the instruction has become a
habit, and the habit has created a tendency in the
next generation to do the same thing, and has
become fixed ^ a second nature, as w^e say. And
this law runs through all creation, even into the
vegetable world. Drunkenness in a parent creates
a tendency to drunkenness in a child. The thiev-
ing propensity in a family has been known to
propagate itself from generation to generation.
The disposition to speak falsehood, too — until
whole nations have lost the sense of the deep
disgrace of lying. Now, this is what theology
means by original sin. It has no idea of original
guilt. It is contradiction in language, and confu-
sion in thought to speak of original guilt.

Now He who made man is responsible for the
original law by which tendencies to good and evil
can be propagated from sire to son. The law is
not evil ; it is good. But good laws are often
used for bad purposes. An illustration may make
it clear. From a reservoir of pure water, pipes
are laid to every house in a city. Those pipes
were laid for the conveyance of pure, wholesome


water for the benefit of a large population. That
was the original design and intention. But sup-
pose that city should be besieged by a barbarian
army — suppose the army should surround the
reservoir and poison the waters, the very pipes
which were laid for the conveyance of life would
be conduits for the conveyance of death. But
that was not their original design. The city which
constructed, at a great cost, that water-system, is
not responsible for this diabolic abuse of the sys-
tem. And so our guilt does not extend to Deity.
He is responsible for the beneficent law, not for
the sin which has been transmitted along it. The
very idea of intelligence involves freedom. Either
there must be freedom, or there can be no intelli-
gence and no morality. Man could not be what
he is without this liberty. He must have the
ability to go wrong, or he cannot have the ability
to do right. God is ren'^onsible for making man
what he is, or rather was, and man is responsible
for abusing his freedom. The law is good if a
man use it lawfully.

Let us go a step further. We cannot conceive
of an Omniscient God, without admitting that He
must have foreseen that the creature He made
would abuse his liberty. God must have foreseen
the fiiU of His creature from a condition of inno-
cence. Does the Divine Responsibility extend to
making such provision as would prevent it?


Clearly not. No such provision has been made.
We cannot conceive how it could be made, and
yet leave man a free moral agent, not a machine.
The Divine responsibility extends to the providing
a means whereby not simply to develop an inno-
cent man, but to save a guilty man from the
spiritual consequences of his sin. From all the
consequences he cannot be saved — from the fatal
consequences he can. That God did anticipate
the fall from innocence of His creature, and pro-
vide for meeting man in a fallen condition is evi-
dent from one single expression ' ' The Lamb slain
before the foundation of the world." In the
Divine purpose, plan, and intention, provision was
made for the sinner's escape from the fatal conse-
quences of his sin before there was a sinner to sin.
Redemption was no after-thought. It was woven
into the very web of creation. It was no patching
up of badly-done work, as some have irreverently
phrased it, but the provision made by Divine Love
for all contingencies which should arise. Once,
apprehend the Divine character as revealed in
Holy Writ, and then it will be easy to see that
Redemption is the bringing into operation of the
Divine Love just as creation is the bringing into
operation of the Divine energy. If the Creator
puts on this earth a creature with a liability in his
nature to fall, is He not responsible for making
provision for his redemptioij ^nd restoration ? If


3'oa think for a while of the question you will be
disposed to give but one answer. I know how often
it has been said that if after the fall God had left
man to himself, and visited him no more, he
would have been just. No one, it is said, could
possibly have impeached his justice. It may be
so. I do not care to argue the question. I think
Scripture does not naturally produce the impres-
sion upon the mind that the attributes of God are
at variance one with the other, and that there is
eternal discord in the Divine nature'. It has never
produced that impression on my own mind, and I
very much question if ever it can be charged with
producing that impression on any mind. I have
read a discourse in which, with fine dramatic
effect, the revealed attributes of Deity were
arraigned the one against the other. Justice came
with flaming sword, and demanded the execution
of the offender. She summoned her witnesses to
show that she had done this and that, and sentence
w^as about to be pronounced. But Mercy stepped
in and pleaded, with sobs in her voice and tears
in her eyes, and at last succeeded in prevailing on
Justice to forego her claim. And so for the sake
of Mercy — or by Mercy — Justice was defeated.
Now, for our own convenience, it may be necessary
at times to speak of justice and at other times of
mercy. But justice and mercy in God are never
represented as in antagonism. They ever go


hand-in-hand together — like light and heat in the
sunbeams. It would be nothing short of foolish for
me to try, in a brief sermon, to offer anything
upon what has been called * ' the philosophy of the
plan of salvation." Whether any single human
soul has ever been brought into fellowship with
Christ through the comprehension of ''the philos-
ophy of the plan of salvation," I very much doubt.
That part of human nature which we call the ' heart '
has more to do with the realizing of the Eedemp-
tion wrought out on Calvary. The work of
Redemption excites a confidence towards God
which the work of Creation never can. When the
revelation comes to the sinning soul — " Trust in
Me ; hope in Me ; lean upon Me ; I have found
a Ransom ; 1 am a Just God and a Savior" — a
just God, because a Savior — how can such a
message do aught else than excite confidence in
the soul, and rouse faith into action? We see,
from the fact brought into full visibility on Calvar}^,
that the Creator of man holds Himself responsible
for man's redemption — that is to say, for doing
all and everything essential so to counteract the
effects of inherited sin as that it shall be easier for
man to reach heaven than not to reach it.

W^hen God opened the eyes of the great apostle
he saw this truth, that " Where sin abounded,
grace did much more abound," or, as it is more
correctly, " superabounded," abounded over and


above. In this dispensation of things a lost man
has not simply to reject God as a Creator, but
God as a Redeemer — God in Christ — the God
who has done all and everything possible to be
done to nullify the fatal results of sin. There are
physical consequences of sin — and these cannot
be interfered with. They become useful as chastise-
ments, as evangelical forces in the body of man
working a knowledge of what sin is, and under
God w^orking repentance for sin. But the fatal
consequences God has provided against in redemp-
tion, for, like as with Paul's ship which was utterly
lost, but they who were in it all came safe to land,
so with this body of ours, sin-cursed, and there-
fore not fitted for the permanent body in which
the soul shall live eternally ; it shall be lost, but
the soul shall reach the home-land, and be clothed
upon with its house " which is from heaven." In
Redemption our God comes to us and shares our
responsibility for sin. Oh, it is a wonderful
thought that, but a true one ! To a degree God
makes himself responsible for human sin, and pro-
vides redemption, provides a new attitude for the
soul. Formerly the law was. Do this and live.
Man fell out from that. Now the law is. Trust and
live. Have faith and live. *' I have found a ran-
som." As though God should say, the responsibility
for sin is not all yours, some of it is Mine. Don't
shrink back from the thought. It does not make pur


God the author of sin. But He became sin for us
who knew no sin. He became as though He were a
sinner. In other words. He took upon Himself
the responsibility for man's sin to the extent of
providing a redemption. And was it not like
Him ? Think of a fiither who should blot out the
name of his son from the family register the
moment he sinned, and do nothing to reclaim
him ! What would you think of such a father ?
Would you not go to him and reason wdth him —
*' You were the medium of that child's life, he is
your child, you are responsible for his existence,
and for doing to the utmost possible for that
child's redemption and restoration ? " And can
that which is true of an earthly father towards his
child be untrue of the Eternal Father ? Having
created our spirit's life ; having breathed into our
nostrils the breath of life, and made us living souls,
is the Eternal Father not responsible for the doing
all that is possible for Him to do to save us if we
sin, to rescue us if we fall, to educate us, to
discipline us, and that with all patience, with all
tenderness, yet with all the firmness and unyielding
righteousness which belong to the fatherly rela-
tionship? And herein, in this earthly relationship
of father and child, and the responsibility which
holds from the one to the other, we get the best
commentary the earth holds on the Divine


You remember the complimentary word uttered
respecting Abraham : ** For I know him that he
will command his children ; " and in every father
there is lodged the right to command — the duty
to command. That weak tenderness which per-
mits disobedience to go unrebuked and unpun-
ished, is not Divine tenderness. It is the frailty
of human irresoluteness. There is nothing of that
in God. The commands and precepts of His
Word indicate not merely the magistrate or the
ruler. They betoken the Father — the Divine
Father — who knows what His children do not
know, who would shield them from every harm,
and when they are broken and bruised, heal them.
Christian brethren, is there nothing for our souls
to rest upon in this, that we are not our own
creators, not our own in any sense, but God's ;
that He having created us, is responsible for
redeeming us? Does it not help us to get rid of
those crude, almost barbaric, thoughts of God,
which even Christian minds have sometimes per-
mitted themselves to entertain? Shy lock, deter-
mined to have his pound of flesh, is not the Bible
idea of God. But the Parable of the Prodigal Son
is our Lord's idea ; and oh, how lovely and beauti-
ful the idea is ! Let us cherish it, in the full assur-
ance that it represents — though fiiintly, yet truly
— the eternal disposition of our God towards all
returning prodigals and all sorrowing sinners.



" Predestinated according to the purpose of him who worketh all
things after the counsel of his own will."' — Epkesians, i. ii.

HOW often people get frightened at a word.
There has been no inconsiderable fright
at the first word in this text — * predestinated ' —
or, as in the New Version ' fore-ordained.' Cal-
vinism has been associated with such words as
'predestination' and 'fore-ordination.' And
these words have been interpreted theologically
rather than etymologically. It is very interesting
to know what Calvin meant by those w^ords,
because he was one of the rulinii: minds of his
time. It is of more importance to know what
Paul meant by them — for he was specially called
of God to teach spiritual truth because he was
specially fitted to teach it — although he did not
think that he was. Like Moses, he had a very
low idea of his own competency ; but the lives of
both men proved that there was no mistake made



when the one was called to Leadership and the
other to Apostleship. The self-distrusting man is
generally the man to choose. His distrust of
himself will throw him back upon God. *'Lord
what wilt thou have me to do " will be his perpet-
ual prayer.

What is our relation to leaders in the Church of
Christ, leaders of thought, I mean? Tamely to
submit to everything they suggest, as though it
must be truth? Is that our duty?

Or, to resist them simply because they are
leaders, in a spirit of snappish independence?
Neither the one nor the other. Calvin must have
learnt all that he knew of theology from the
Apostle Paul. Did he interpret him aright?
That 'is the question. How are we to answer it?
By comparing one part of the Apostle's teaching
with another — and then comparing the whole of
it with what other Apostles said, and specially
with what our Lord Himself said and did. Only
thus can we know.

Every generation has its way of looking at
things. The generation of Calvin saw that there
were law and order in the world — and dreaded
anarchy, dreaded the uprising of the people,
dreaded revolution. They preached a theology of
law and order. God was King, absolute monarch.
Judge. There was no appeal from Him. So far
they were right. But when they went farther and


said, we understaDd perfectly what God's will is,
and there is no appeal from us^ then they went a
step too far. Still, the result of their influence
on their own time was very beneficial. Never in
the world's history, has a city been better
ruled than was Geneva under Calvin. 'And
while his interpretations of Scripture have
been improved upon in many particulars, yet
there are elements in his teaching which are
true for ever. Eightly interpreted, the doc-
trine of the Divine Sovereignty is full of consola-
tion. The inference from it is law and order.
If God be not Sovereign who is? Man? But
man is a myriad-headed creature. The Sover-
eignty of man means anarchy. And what shall
we say to Calvin's assertion that whatever God
wills is right? Kead in the light of Scripture it
can only mean whatever God wills is good, not
simply because He wills it, but because it is for
the highest good of His creatures. You may turn
the sentence round and read it the other way —
whatever is right God wills. Calvin, I have no
doubt, felt at heart when he proclaimed the Divine
Sovereignty as absolute, and the Divine will as
supreme, as felt David when he prayed '' Let me
fall into the hands of God for His mercies are
great, but let me not fall into the hands of man."
But whatever Calvin meant, and whatever any
great teachers mean, you and I have the same


living spring from which to draw our water of h'fe
as they had. We can go to the Scriptures them-
selves. And the only way to arrive at that union
of the church of Christ which is so necessary is to
go back to the Scriptures. Any man and every
man who makes more of mere sectarian leaders
than of the leaders which God Himself appointed
is condemned by these Scriptures. Eead what St.
Paul says about this derisive spirit — '* One says
I am of Paul, another, I am of Apollos, another, I
am of Cephas." St. Paul condemns the whole thing.
He says, ' while you talk in that way you are
carnal in mind, not spiritual. Who is Paul and
who is Apollos ? Ministers by whom 3^e believed.
Believed in whom ? In Paul ? In Apollos ? Nay ;
in Christ. It was Christ who was crucified for
you. Not Paul, or Apollos or Cephas.' Now
this is the spirit which every true successor of the
Apostles will stand for. A leader who leads men
to himself and not to Christ is a usurper. None
of us ought to be satisfied until we are sure that
we have correctly apprehended the ideas which
these Apostolic men gave to the world. Of course,
the man who gives more time, and more research
will be likely to be nearer the exact truth. We
must remember this however, that the whole of
any truth is never apprehended by one man or in
one generation. In the Poman Empire, they used
to call a very small section of the earth the world.


The word * world ' to-day means vastly more than
it did then. But what they had of it was good,
and useful for them. But it was only a piece.
So it is in regard to the world of mind, and the
world of spirit. It is being discovered all the
time. The opinions which the men of the past
held were not entirely false, they were only par-
tial, crude, and incomplete. We must remember
that the duty which Jesus Christ has laid upon us
is not to know everything, but to be learners and
followers of Him. To follow a person, to get a
certain type of character, not to be mentally
correct simply, that is what our Lord asks. He
asks what all can do ; His claims are of such a
nature that they have universal applicability.
Children, young men and maidens, adults and
old men, all can follow a person, all can aim at a
certain type of character. In a word, all can be
Christians. The besfinninfi^s of Christian life are
very simple, so long as we go to the New Testa-
ment ; they are complicated and difficult only
when man begins to introduce his inventions and
confusions into them.

The Church is at one and the same time a
school-house ; a hospital ; a temporary home.
But before we can learn what it has to teach, we
must be in it. The child enters and then begins
to learn. We come into the Church not to display
our perfections, for we have none ; but to learn

240 ' PEED E ST m A 7 JON.

about that Kingdom of God of which our Lord
spake so much ; to learn about ourselves and about
God. For, there is nothing on which we seem to
exercise our intelligence so lazily as on our own
nature and its present needs and future possibilties.
Now when St Paul speaks of our being predes-
tinated or fore-ordained, he is speaking about this
nature of ours and what it was made for? He
says in effect, that the idea of a thing is in the
constitution of the thing itself — but it is also in
the mind of God before it is in our mind. Fore-
ordination is that to which the thing was ordained
before it was actually made. The idea of this
building was in the mind of the architect before it
was ever put on paper, before it was ever trans-
lated into material visibility. And the idea of
every part of it was in other minds before it was
in his. The idea of Gothic architecture was sug-
gested to the mind of the first man who attempted
it, by an avenue of trees, their branches hanging
towards each other, forming a pecular kind of arch.
The idea of man and the destiny of man was in the
Divine mind before this world was. Man was
made accordins: to a divine idea and for a definite
purpose. Now, when Jesus Christ comes into
the world Paul sees that there is God's idea and
purpose for man fully and clearly revealed. And
so he begins to speak of that for which man was
predestinated ; of that for which he was foreor-


dained. His mind is full of it. It does not
depress him ; it inspires him ; animates him,
makes life purer and sweeter, grander and more
glorious. So much so, that in speaking to the
Eomans with these ideas of predestination in his
mind, he cries out, ''If God be for us, who can
be against us." Fore-ordination is God for us,
according to the Apostle. Predestination is God
for us, according to the Apostle. And there can
be no room for doubt that to the mind of St Paul
these ideas had nothing in them of gloom or de-
pression. But they have been so used as to bring
gloom and depression to many minds. Predesti-
nation means purpose. It implies an end. And
it implies the provision necessary to carry out that
purpose and to accomplish that end. Eightly
viewed, it means that the Creator does not work at
random, nor blindly, but according to a precon-
ceived idea and along the line of the law which
leads up to making that idea into a fact.

In every department of life there is the perfect
type. The perfect thing is the complete thing —
that which cannot be improved upon. When the
Father of our spirits said, "Let us make man"
he meant something more by man than you or I
mean. He did not mean simply the gardener
Adam, nor the herdsman Abraham, nor the smart
bars^ainins: man Jacob — the abori^jinal Yankee —
nor the huntsman Esau, nor the political economist


Joseph, nor the Lawgiver Moses, nor the physi-
cally imposing Saul, nor the philosophical
Epicurean Solomon, not even the magnanimous
David, poet, prophet, king, warrior, saint, sinner,
all in one, although David, to our great astonish-
ment is called, *' the man after God's own heart."
I have no doubt that there are many persons who
would be very glad to get those six words out of
the record. This poet-king's great sin stands
there confessed. Let us remember, that his great
repentance stands there confessed, too. There is

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Online LibraryReuen ThomasDivine sovereignty, and other sermons → online text (page 13 of 16)