‘And now I exhort you to be of good cheer: for there shall be no loss of any man’s life among you, but of the ship. – Paul said to the centurion and to the soldiers, Except these abide in the ship, ye cannot be saved.‘ – Acts xxvii. 22, 31.
THE comparison of these two verses lands us in what may appear to many to be a very dark and unprofitable speculation. Now, our object in setting up this comparison, is not to foster in any of you a tendency to meddle with matters too high for us – but to protect you against the practical mischief of such a tendency. You have all heard of the doctrine of predestination. It has long been a settled article of our church. And there must be a sad deal of evasion and of unfair handling with particular passages, to get free of the evidence which we find for it in the Bible. And independently of Scripture altogether, the denial of this doctrine brings a number of monstrous conceptions along with it. It supposes God to make a world, and not to reserve in His own hand the management of its concerns. Though it should concede to him an absolute sovereignty over all matter, it deposes Him from His sovereignty over the region of created minds, that far more dignified and interesting portion of His works. The greatest events in the history of the universe, are those which are brought about by the agency of willing and intelligent beings – and the enemies of the doctrine invest every one of these beings with some sovereign and independent principle of freedom, in virtue of which it may be asserted of this whole class of events, that they happened, not because they were ordained of God, but because the creatures of God, by their own uncontrolled power, brought them into existence. At this rate, even He to whom we give the attribute of omniscience, is not able to say at this moment, what shall be the fortune or the fate of any individual – and the whole train of future history is left to the wildness of accident. All this, carries along with it so complete a dethronement of God – it is bringing His creation under the dominion of so many nameless and undeterminable contingencies – it is taking the world and the current of its history so entirely out of the hands of Him who formed it – it is withal so opposite to what obtains in every other field of observation, where, instead of the lawlessness of chance, we shall find that the more we attend, the more we perceive of a certain necessary and established order – that from these and other considerations which might be stated, the doctrine in question, in addition to the testimonies which we find for it in the Bible, is at this moment receiving a very general support from the speculations of infidel as well as Christian philosophers.
Assenting, as we do, to this doctrine, we state it as our conviction, that God could point the finger of His omniscience to every one individual amongst us, and tell what shall be the fate of each, and the place of each, and the state of suffering or enjoyment of each, at any one period of futurity however distant. Well does He know those of us who are vessels of wrath fitted for destruction, and those of us whom He has predestinated to be conformed to the image of His dear Son, and to be rendered meet for the inheritance. We are not saying, that we, or that any of you could so cluster and arrange the two sets of individuals. This is one of the secret things which belongs to God. It is not our duty to be altogether silent about the doctrine of predestination – for the Bible is not silent about it, and it is our duty to promulgate and to hold up our testimony for all that we find there. But certain it is, that the doctrine has been so injudiciously meddled with – it has tempted so many ingenious and speculative men to transgress the limits of Scripture – it has engendered so much presumption among some, and so much despondency among others – it has been so much abused to the mischief of practical Christianity, that it were well for us all, could we carefully draw the line between the secret things which belong to God and the things which are revealed, and belong to us and to our children.
With this view, we shall, in the first; place, lay before you the observations which are suggested by the immediate history in the passage now submitted to you. And in the second place, we shall attempt to evince its application to us of the present day, and in how far it should carry an influence over the concerns of practical godliness.
I. In the 22d verse Paul announces in absolute terms, that all the men of the ship were to be saved. He had been favoured with this intimation from the mouth of an angel. It was the absolute purpose of God, and no obstacle whatever could prevent its accomplishment. To Him belongs that knowledge which sees every thing, and that power which determines every thing; and He could say to His prophet, ‘These men will certainly be saved.’ Compare this with what we have in the 31st verse. By this time the sailors had given up all hope of the safety of the vessel. They had toiled, as they thought, in vain – and in despair of doing any good, they ceased from working the ship, and resolved to abandon her. With this view, they let down the boat to try the chance of deliverance for themselves, and leave the passengers to perish. Upon this Paul, though his mind had been previously assured, by an intimation from the foreknowledge and predestination of God, that there should be no loss of men’s lives, put on all the appearance of earnestness and urgency – and who can doubt, that he really felt this earnestness at the moment of his speaking to the centurion, when he told him, that unless these men should abide in the ship, they would not be saved? He had before told them, in the most unrestricted terms, that they would be saved. But this does not restrain his practical urgency now – and the urgency of Paul gave an alarm and a promptitude to the mind of the centurion – and the centurion ordered his soldiers to cut the ropes which fastened the boat to the vessel, that the sailors deprived of this mode of escape, might be forcibly detained among them – and the soldiers obeyed – and the sailors were kept on board, and rendered the full benefit of their seamanship and their exertions. They did what other passengers could not do. They lightened the ship. They took up the anchors. They loosed the rudder-bands. They hoised up the mainsail to the wind – and the upshot of this long intermediate process, with all its steps, was, that the men escaped safe to land, and the decree of God was accomplished.
Now, in the first instance, it was true, in the most absolute sense of the word, that these men were to be saved. And in the second instance, it was no less true, that unless the sailors abode in the ship, they could not be saved. And the terms of this apparent contradiction admit of a very obvious reconciliation on the known truth, that God worketh by instruments. He may carry every one purpose of His into immediate accomplishment by the direct energy of His own hands. But, in point of fact, this is not His general way of proceeding. He chooses rather to arrive at the accomplishment of many of His objects by a succession of steps, or by the concurrence of one or more visible instalments, which require time for their operation. This is a truth to which all nature and all experience lend their testimony. It was His purpose that, at the moment I am now addressing you, there should be light over the face of the country, and this purpose He accomplishes by the instrumentality of the sun. There is a time coming, when light shall be furnished out to us in another way – when there shall be no need either of the sun or the moon to lighten the city of our habitation – but when the glory of God shall lighten it, and the Lamb shall be the light thereof. But this is not the way at present, and, therefore, it is both true, that it was God’s purpose there should be light over us and around us at this moment, and that unless the sun had risen upon us this morning, there would have been no such light. It may be the purpose of God to bless the succeeding year with a plentiful harvest. He could accomplish this purpose in two ways. He could make the ripened corn start into existence by a single word of His power. But this is not the actual way in which He carries such designs into accomplishment. He does it by the co-operation of many visible instruments. It is true, He can pour abundance among us even in the midst of adverse weather and unfavourable seasons. But He actually does it by means of favourable weather and favourable seasons. It is not in spite of bad weather that we receive from His hands the blessings of plenty – but in consequence of weather – sunshine and shower succeeding each other in fit proportion – calm to prevent the shaking of the corn, and wind in sufficient quantity to winnow it and make a prosperous ingathering. Should it be the purpose of God to give a plentiful harvest to us next year, it will certainly happen, and yet it may be no less true, that unless such weather come, we shall have no plentiful harvest. God, who appoints the end, orders and presides over the whole series of means which lead to it. These visible causes are in His hand. They are the instruments of His power. The elements are His, and He can either restrain their violence, or let them loose in fury upon the world.
Now, look upon human beings as the instruments of His pleasure, and you have an equally complete explanation of the passage before us. You will be made to understand how it is true, that it was God’s absolute purpose that the men of the vessel should be saved; and how it is equally true, that unless the sailors abode in the ship, they could not be saved. Why, the same God who determined the end, gave certain efficacy to the means which He Himself had instituted and set agoing for the accomplishment of the end. It does not at all affect the certainty of God’s influence over these means, that, in addition to wind, and water, and material elements, there were also human beings employed as instruments for carrying His purpose into execution. It is expressly said of God, not only that He stilleth the waves of the sea, but that He also stilleth the tumults of the people, and that He can turn the heart of man as the rivers of water, turning it whithersoever He will. He appoints the end, and it does not at all lessen the sure and absolute nature of the appointment, that He brings it about by a long succession of means, provided that it is His power which gives effect to every step in the progress and operation of these means. Now, in the case before us, there was just such a progress as we pointed out in the case of a favourable harvest. He had determined, that all the men of the vessel should be saved; but agreeably to the method of His administration in other cases, He brought it about by the operation of instruments. He did not save them against the use of instruments, but He did it by the use of instruments. The instruments He employed were men. Paul speaking to the centurion – the centurion ordering the soldiers to cut the ropes, and let the boat away from the vessel – the sailors obliged to work for their own safety – these were the instruments of God, and He had as much command over them as of any others He has created. He brought about the saving of the men by means of those instruments, as certainly as He brings about a good harvest by the instrumentality of favourable weather, and congenial seasons. He is as much master of the human heart and its determinations, as He is of the elements. He reigns in the mind of man, and can turn its purposes in any way that suits His purposes. He made Paul speak. He made the centurion listen and be impressed by it. He made the soldiers obey. He made the sailors exert themselves. The conditional assertion of the 31st verse was true – but He made the assertion serve the purpose for which it was uttered. He over-ruled the condition, and brought about the fulfilment of the absolute prophecy in the 22d verse. The whole of this process was as completely overruled by Him as any other process in nature – and in virtue too of the very same power by which He can cause the wind of heaven to fly loose upon the world, make the rain descend, the corn ripen into harvest, and all the blessings of plenty sit in profusion over a happy and a favoured land.
There is no inconsistency then between these verses. God says in one of them, by the mouth of Paul, that these men were certainly to be saved. And Paul says in the other of these verses, that unless the centurion and soldiers were to do so and so they should not be saved. In one of the verses, it is made to be the certain and unfailing appointment of God. In the other it is made to depend on the centurion. There is no difficulty in all this, if you would just consider, that God, who made the end certain, made the means certain also. It is true, that the end was certainly to happen, and it is as true that the end would not have happened without the means – but God secured the happening of both, and so gave sureness and consistency to the passage before us.
Now, it is worth while to attend here both to the conduct of Paul who gave the directions, and to the conduct of the centurion who obeyed them. Paul, who gave the directions, knew, in virtue of the revelation that was made to him some time before, that the men were certainly to be saved; and yet this does not prevent him from urging them to the practical adoption of means for saving themselves. He knew that their being saved was a thing predestinated, and as sure as the decree of heaven could make it; but he must likewise have known, that while it was God’s counsel they should be saved, it was also God’s will that they should be saved by the exertions of the sailors – that they were the instruments He made choice of – that this was the way in which He wished it to be brought about – and Paul had too high a reverence for the will of God, to decline the use of those practical expedients, which formed the likeliest way of carrying this will into effect. It is a very striking circumstance, that the same Paul who knew absolutely and unequivocally that the men were to be saved, could also say and say with truth, that unless the sailors were detained in the ship, they should not be saved. Both were true, and both were actually brought about. The thing was done by the appointment of God, and it was also done by a voluntary act on the part of the centurion and his soldiers. Paul knew of the appointment; but he did not feel himself exempted by this knowledge, from the work of practically influencing the will of the people who were around him; and the way in which he got them to act, was by bringing the urgency of a prevailing argument to bear upon them. He told them that their lives depended upon it. God put it into Paul’s heart to make use of the argument; and he gave it that influence over the hearts of those to whom it was addressed, that by the instrumentality of men, His purpose, conceived from eternity, and revealed beforehand to the Apostle, was carried forward to its accomplishment.
And again, as the knowledge that they were to be saved, did not prevent Paul from giving directions to the centurion and soldiers for saving themselves – neither did it prevent them from a practical obedience to these directions. It does not appear whether they actually at this time believed Paul to be a messenger of God – though it is likely, from the previous history of the voyage, that they did. If they did not, then they acted as the great majority of men do, they acted as unconscious instruments for the execution of the divine purposes. But if they did believe Paul to be a prophet, it is highly striking to observe, that the knowledge they had gotten from his mouth of their really and absolutely escaping with their lives, did not slacken their utmost degree of activity in the business of working for the preservation of their lives, at a bidding from the mouth of the same prophet. He is a prophet from God – and whatever he says must be true. He tells us we are to escape with our lives – let us believe this and rejoice in it. But he also tells us, that unless we do certain things, we shall not escape with our lives – let us believe this also, and do these things. A fine example, on the one hand, of their faithful dependence on his declarations, and, on the other, of their practical obedience to his requirements. If one were to judge by the prosperous result of the whole business, the way in which the centurion and soldiers were affected by the different revelations of Paul, was the very way which satisfied God – for it was rewarded with success, and issued both in the fulfilment of His decree, and the completion of their deliverance.
II. We now come to the second thing proposed, which was to evince the application of the passage to us of the present day – and, how far it should carry an influence over the concerns of practical godliness.
We shall rejoice in the first instance, if the explanation we have now given, have the effect of clearing away any of those perplexities which throw a darkening cloud over the absolute and universal sovereignty of God. We are ready enough to concede to the Supreme Being the administration of the material world, and to put into His hand all the force of its mighty elements. But let us carry the commanding influence of piety into the higher world of moral and intelligent beings. Let us not erect the will of the creature into an independent principle. Let us not conceive that the agency of man can bring about one single iota of deviation from the plans and the purposes of God – or that He can be thwarted and compelled to vary in a single case, by the movement of any of those subordinate beings whom He Himself has created. There may be a diversity of operations, but it is God who worketh all in all. Look at the resolute and independent man; and you there see the purposes of the human mind entered upon with decision, and followed up by a vigorous and successful exertion. But these only make up one diversity of God’s operations. The will of man, active, and spontaneous, and fluctuating as it appears to be, is an instrument in His hand – and He turns it at His pleasure – and he brings other instruments to act upon it – and He plies it with all its excitements – and He measures the force and proportion of each of them – and every step of every individual receives as determinate a character from the hand of God, as every mile of a planet’s orbit, or every gust of wind, or every wave of the sea, or every particle of flying dust, or every rivulet of flowing water. This power of God knows no exceptions. It is absolute and unlimited; and while it embraces the vast, it carries its resistless influence to all the minute and unnoticed diversities of existence. It reigns and operates through all the secrecies of the inner man. It gives birth to every purpose. It gives impulse to every desire. It gives shape and colour to every conception. It wields an entire ascendancy over every attribute of the mind; and the will, and the fancy, and the understanding, with all the countless variety of their hidden and fugitive operations, are submitted to it. It gives movement and direction through every one point in the line of our pilgrimage. At no one moment of time does it abandon us. It follows us to the hour of death, and it carries us to our place and our everlasting destiny in the region beyond it. It is true, that no one gets to heaven, but he, who by holiness, is meet for it. But the same power which carries us there, works in us the meetness. And if we are conformed to the image of the Saviour, it is by the energy of the same predestinating God, whose good pleasure it is to give unto us the kingdom prepared for us before the foundation of the world.
Thus it is that some are elected to everlasting life. This is an obvious doctrine of Scripture. The Bible brings it forward; and it is not for us, the interpreters of the Bible, to keep it back from you. God could, if it pleased Him, read out at this moment, the names of those in this congregation, who are ordained to eternal life, and are written in his book. In reference to their deliverance from shipwreck, He enabled Paul to say of the whole ship’s company, that they were to be saved. In reference to your deliverance from wrath and from punishment, He could reveal to us the names of the elect among you, and enable us to say of them that they are certainly to be saved.
But again, the same God who ordains the end, ordains also the means which go before it. In virtue of the end being ordained and made known to him, Paul could say that all the men’s lives were to be saved. And in virtue of the means being ordained and made known to him, he could also say, that unless the sailors abode in the ship, they should not be saved. In the same manner, if the ordained end were made known to us, we could, perhaps, say of some individual among you, that you are certainly to be saved. And if the ordained means were made known to us, we could say, that unless you are rendered meet for the inheritance of the saints in light, you shall not be saved. Now the ordination of the end God has not been pleased to reveal to us. He has not told us who among you are to be saved, as He told Paul of the deliverance of his ship’s company. This is one of the secret things which belong to Him, and we dare not meddle with it. But He has told us about the ordained means; and we know, through the medium of the Bible, that unless you do such and such things, you shall not be saved. This is one of the revealed things which belongs to us; and with as great truth and practical urgency as Paul made use of, when he said to the centurion and soldiers, that unless these men abide in the ship, ye shall not be saved, do we say to one and to all of you, unless ye repent ye shall not be saved – unless ye do works meet for repentance, ye shall not be saved – unless ye believe the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ, ye shall not be saved – unless ye are born again, ye shall not be saved – unless the deeds done in your body be good deeds, and ye bring forth those fruits of righteousness which are by Jesus Christ to the praise and glory of God, ye shall not be saved.
Mark the difference between the situation of Paul urging upon the people of the ship the immediate adoption of the only way by which their lives could be saved, and the situation of an ordinary minister urging it upon the people of his church, to take to that way of faith and repentance, by which alone they can save their souls from the wrath that is now abiding on them. Paul did know that the people were certainly to escape with their lives, and that did not prevent him from pressing upon them the measures which they ought to adopt for their preservation. Even then, though a minister did know those of his people whose names are written in the book of life, that ought not to hinder him from pressing it upon them to lay hold of eternal life – to lay up their treasure in heaven – to labour for the meat that endureth – to follow after that holiness, without which no man shall see the Lord – to be strong in the faith, and such a faith too as availeth, even faith which worketh by love; and of which we may say, even to those whom we assuredly know to be the chosen heirs of immortality, that unless this faith abideth in them, they shall not be saved. But it so happens, that we do not know who are, and who are not, the children of election. This is a secret thing belonging to God, and which is not imparted to us. Even though it were imparted to us, still it would be our part to say to those of whose final salvation we were assured, believe the Gospel, or you shall not be saved – repent, or you shall not be saved – purify yourselves even as God is pure, or you shall not be saved. But we are not in possession of the secret – and how much more then does it lie upon us to ply with earnestness the fears and the consciences of our hearers, by those revealed things which God hath been pleased to make known to us? What! if Paul, though assured by an angel from heaven of the final deliverance of his ship’s company, still persists in telling them, that if they leave certain things undone, their deliverance will be impossible – shall we, utterly in the dark about the final state of a single hearer we are addressing, let down for a single instant the practical urgency of the New Testament? The predestination of God respecting the final escape of Paul and his fellow-travellers from shipwreck, though made known to the Apostle, did not betray him into the indolence which is ascribed, and falsely ascribed, to the belief of this doctrine; nor did it restrain Him from spiriting on the people to the most strenuous and fatiguing exertions. And shall we, who only know in general that God does predestinate, but cannot carry it home with assurance to a single individual, convert this doctrine into a plea for indolence and security? Even should we see the mark of God upon their foreheads, it would be our duty to urge on them the necessity of doings those things, which, if left undone, will exclude from the kingdom of God. But, we make no such pretensions. We see no mark upon any of your foreheads. We possess no more than the Bible, and access through the Mediator to Him, who, by His Spirit, can open our understandings to understand it. The revealed things which we find there belong to us, and we press them upon you – ‘ Unless ye repent, ye shall all likewise perish.’ ‘If ye believe not in the Son of God, the wrath of God abideth in you.’ ‘Be not deceived, neither covetous, nor thieves, nor extortioners, nor drunkards, shall inherit the kingdom of God.’ ‘He who forsaketh not all, shall not be a disciple of Christ.’ ‘The fearful, and the unbelieving, and the abominable, and all liars shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone.’ These are plain declarations, and apart from the doctrine of predestination altogether, they ought, and if they are believed and listened to, they will have a practical influence upon you. We call upon you not to resist this influence but to cherish it. If any of you are the children of election, it is by the right influence of revealed things upon your understandings and your consciences, that this secret thing will be brought to pass. Paul said as much to the centurion and the soldiers, as that if you do the things I call upon you to do, you will certainly be saved. They did what he bade them; and the decree of God respecting their deliverance from shipwreck, a decree which Paul had the previous knowledge of, was accomplished. We also feel ourselves warranted to say to one and to all of you, ‘Believe in the Lord Jesus Christ, and ye shall be saved.’ ‘Repent and be converted, and your sins shall be forgiven you.’ Return unto God, and He will be reconciled. If you do as we bid you, God’s decree respecting your deliverance from hell, a decree which we have not the previous knowledge of, will be made knows by its accomplishment.
Again, we call upon you, our hearers, to compare your situation with that of the centurion and the soldiers. They were told by a prophet that they were to be saved; and when that prophet told them what they were to do for the purpose of saving themselves, they obeyed him. They did not say, ‘O it is all predestinated, and we may give up our anxieties, and do nothing.’ They were just as strenuous and as active, as if there had been no predestination in the matter. Paul’s previous assurance, that all was to end well, had no effect in lulling them to indolence. It did end well, not however without their exertions, but by their exertions. How much more does it lie upon you to enter with earnestness upon the business of doing! We can give you no assurance of its being the decree of God, that any of you shall be saved. But we can give you the assurance, that you will be saved, if you do such and such things. Surely, if the people whom Paul addressed, did not feel themselves exempted by their knowledge of God’s decree, from practically entering upon those measures which carried forward its accomplishment, you, who have no such knowledge, must feel doubly impelled by the uncertainty which hangs over you, to the work of making your calling and your election sure. You know in general, that predestination is a doctrine of the Bible; but there is not one of you who can say of himself, that God has made known his decrees to me, and given me directly to understand, that I am the object of a blessed predestination. This is one point of which you know nothing; but there is another point of which you know something – and that is, if I believe, if I repent, if I be made like unto Christ, if I obtain the Holy Spirit to work in me a conformity to His image, and I am told, that I shall obtain it if I ask it – then by this I become an heir of life; and the decree of which I know nothing at the outset of my concern about salvation, will become more and more apparent to me as I advance in a meetness for heaven, and will, at length, become fully, and finally, and conclusively made known by its accomplishment. I may suffer my curiosity to expatiate on the question, ‘Am I, or am I not, of the election of God?’ But my wisdom tells me that this is not the business on hand. It is not the matter which I am called on to do with at present. After Paul said to his companions, that it was quite indispensable to their safety that the sailors should be kept in the vessel, what did the centurion and his men do? Did they fall a-speculating about the decrees? Did they hug themselves in the confidence, that as their safety was a point sure and determined upon, they need to take no trouble at all in the concern? O no! No sooner did Paul give the word, than they acted upon it. They gave themselves up with all the promptitude of men whose lives were at stake, to the business on hand. They cut the ropes – they let go the boat – they kept in the sailors – and from the very first moment of Paul’s address to them on the subject, all was bustling, and strenuous, and unremitting activity; till, by the unwearied perseverance of these living and operative instruments, the decree of God was accomplished. Now, they were much better acquainted with the decree which respected them, than you are with the decree respecting you. They had the beforehand knowledge of it, and will you be less active, or less strenuous, than they? Do, therefore, betake yourselves to the business on hand. Let our exhortations to embrace the free offer of the Gospel – to rely on Christ as your Saviour – to resolve against all your iniquities, and turn unto Him – to ply the throne of glace for the strengthening influence of that Spirit, by which alone you are enabled to die unto all sin, and live unto all righteousness – let this have an immediate, and a stirring, and a practical influence upon you. If you put this influence away from you, you are in a direct way now of proving what we tremble to think may be rendered clear and indisputable at last, on the great day of the revelation of hidden things, that you have neither part nor lot in the matter. Whatever the employment be which takes you up, and hinders you from entering immediately on the work of faith and repentance, it is an alarming symptom of your soul, that you are so taken up – and should the employment be an idle dreaming, and amusing of yourselves with the decrees and counsels of heaven, it is not the less alarming. Some will spend their time in inquiries about the number of the saved, when they ought to be striving for themselves, that they might obtain an entrance into the strait gate; and some will waste those precious moments in speculating about the secrets of the book of life, which they should fill up by supporting themselves, and making progress through the narrowness of the way that leads to it. The plain business we lay upon you, is to put away from you the evil of your doings – to submit yourselves to Christ as He is offered to you – to fly to His atoning sacrifice for the forgiveness of your offences – to place yourselves under the guidance of His word, and a dependence on the influences of His Spirit – to live no longer to yourselves, but to Him – and to fill up your weeks and your days with those fruits of righteousness, by which God is glorified. We stand here by the decree of heaven, and it is by the same decree that you are now sitting round and listening to us. We feel the importance of the situation we occupy; and though we believe in the sovereignty of God, and the unfailingness of all His appointments, this, instead of restraining, impels us to bring the message of the Gospel, with all the practical urgency of its invitations, and its warnings, to bear upon you. We feel, with all our belief in predestination, that our business is not to forbear this urgency, but to ply you with it most anxiously, and earnestly, and. unceasingly – ;and you should feel with the same belief in your mind, that your business is not to resist this urgency, but to be guided by its impulse. Who knows but we may be the humble instrument, and you the undeserved subjects of some high and heavenly ordination? The cuttings of the ropes was the turning point on which the deliverance of Paul’s company from shipwreck was suspended. Who knows but the urgency we now ply you with, telling upon you, and carrying your purposes along with it, may be the very step in the wonderful progress of God’s operations, on which your conversion hinges? We, therefore, press the Gospel with all its duties, and all its promises, and all its privileges upon you. O listen, and resolve, and, manfully forsaking all that keeps you from the Saviour, we call upon you, from this moment, to give yourselves up unto Him; and be assured, it is only by acting in obedience to such calls laid before you in the Bible, and sounded in your ear from the pulpit, that your election unto life can ever be made known in this world, or reach its positive consummation in eternity.
And now you can have no difficulty in understanding how it is that we make our calling and our election sure. It is not in the power of the elect to make their election surer in itself than it really is – for this is a sureness which is not capable of receiving any addition. It is not in the power of the elect to make it surer to God – for all futurity is submitted to His all-seeing eye; and His absolute knowledge stands in need of no confirmation. But there is such a thing as the elect being ignorant for a time of their own election, and their being made sure of it in the progress of evidence and discovery. And therefore it is that they are called to make their election sure to themselves, or to make themselves sure of their election. And how is this to be done? Not by reading it in the book of God’s decrees – not by obtaining from Him any direct information about his counsels – not by conferring with prophet or angel, gifted with the revelation of hidden things. But the same God who elects some unto everlasting life, and keeps back from them all direct information about it, tells them that he who believeth, and he who repenteth, and he who obeyeth the Gospel, shall obtain everlasting life. We shall never in this world have an immediate communication from Him, whether we are of the elect or not – but let us believe – let us repent – let us obey the Saviour – and from the first moment of our setting ourselves to these things in good earnest, we may conceive the hope of a place among the heirs of immortality. In the progress and success of our endeavours, this hope may advance and grow brighter within us. As we grow in the exercises of faith and obedience, the light of a cheering manifestation is more sensibly felt, and our hope ripens into assurance. ‘Hereby do we know that we know him, by our keeping his commandments,’ is an evidence which every year becomes clearer and more encouraging; and thus, by a well-sustained perseverance in the exercises of the Christian life, do we labour with all diligence to make our calling and election sure. We call upon you, in the language of the Apostle, to have faith, and to this faith add virtue, and knowledge, and temperance, and patience, and godliness, and brotherly kindness, and charity. It is by the doing of these things, that you are made sure of your calling and election, ‘for if ye do these things,’ says Peter, ‘ ye shall never fail, and an entrance shall be ministered unto you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ.’
If there be any of you who have not followed this train of observation – if it still remain one of those things of Paul which are hard to be understood – let us beseech you, at least, that you wrest. it not to your own destruction, by remitting your activity, and your diligence, and your painstaking in the service of Christ. Why, the doctrine of election leaves our duty to exhort, and your duty to obey, on the same footing on which it found them. We are commissioned to lay before you the free offer of the Gospel – to press it on the acceptance of one and all of you – to assure every individual amongst you of a hearty welcome from the Lord God merciful and gracious – to call you to the service of Christ, that great Master of the household of faith – to urge it upon you, that you must renounce every other master, and, casting all your idols, and vanities, and iniquities away from you, to close with the invitation, and be diligent in all the duties and performances of the Gospel. If you resist, or put off – if, blind to the goodness of God in Christ Jesus, you suffer it not to lead you to repentance – if the call of ‘awake to righteousness, and sin not,’ make no practical impression on you – if the assurance of pardon for the sins of the past, do not fill your heart with the desire of sanctification for the future – if the word of Christ be not so received by you as to lead to the doing of it – then you are just leaving undone those things, of which we say in the words of the text, ‘Except these things be done, ye cannot be saved’ – and to all the guilt of your past disobedience, you add the aggravation of putting away from you both the offered atonement and the commanded repentance of the Gospel, and ‘how can you escape if you neglect so great a salvation?’