By ANDREW FULLER
Fuller "held the rope" for missionary William Carey. He was the author of a number of doctrinal and practical works.
(The following from Fuller's COMPLETE WORKS, pages 341, 342).
The doctrine of election, as it is taught in the Scriptures, is of humbling and holy tendency. The whole difference between the saved and the lost being ascribed to sovereign grace, the pride of man is abased.
Upon every other principle, it is the sinner that makes himself to differ; and who must, therefore, find whereof to glory. We may allow ourselves to be unable to repent and believe without the aids of the Holy Spirit; but while we maintain that these aids are afforded to sinners in common, and that faith instead of being "the gift of God," is the effect of our having improved the help afforded, while others neglected it, if we think we do not ascribe the very turning point of salvation to our own virtue, we greatly deceive ourselves.
But election, while it places no bar in the way of any man which would not have been there without it, resolves the salvation of the saved into mere grace: "and if of grace, then it is no more of works; otherwise grace is no more grace." Such a view of things tends to humble us in the dust. It is frequently the last point which a sinner yields to God; it is the giving up of every other claim and ground of hope from his own good endeavors, and falling into the arms of sovereign mercy. And having here found rest to his soul, he will not be less, but more attentative to the means of salvation than he was before. His endeavors will be more ardent, and directed to a better end. Then he was trying to serve himself; now he will serve the Lord.
But if election be viewed in certain connections, it will cease to be a doctrine according to godliness. If faith and works foreseen be connected with it as the effects, the interests of sobriety, righteousness, and godliness are relinquished. If we take our views of this great subject with simplicity from the word of God, we shall consider it, like other Divine purposes, not as a rule of conduct to us, but to Himself. We shall agonize through life that we may at last enter in at the strait gate, no less than if all was in itself uncertain. Nay, more so: for as Paul's assuring the mariners that there "should be no loss of any man's life" would, if believed, inspire them with hope; so our being predestinated to be conformed to the image of Christ furnishes encouragement to be pressing on towards the mark. And as they were told, nevertheless, that except certain means were used they "could not be saved," so we can have no evidence of our "election to salvation," but as being the subjects of "sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth.
Thus, while the blessing itself is an antidote to despair, the means connected with it are a preservative from presumption. In short, we shall view the doctrine of election in much the same light as we do other Divine appointments concerning our lot in the present life. We are given to believe that what we enjoy in this life is so ordered by the will of God, and so much the effect of providence, that there is no ground whatever of boasting in any creature; yet we do not on this account neglect to plough or sow, or pursue the good and avoid the evil.
A "fleshy mind" may ask, how can these things be? How can predestination be made to comport with human agency and accountableness? But a truly humble Christian, finding both in the Bible, will believe both, though he may be unable fully to conceive of their consistency! And will find in the one a motive to depend upon God, and in the other a caution against slothfulness and a presumptuous neglect of duty.
A Christian minister also, if he takes his views simply from the Scriptures, will find nothing in this doctrine to hinder the free use of warnings, invitations, and persuasions, either to the converted or to the unconverted. Not that he will found his hopes of success on the pliability of the human mind; but on the power and grace of God, who, while he prophesieth to the dry bones as he is commanded, is known to inspire many with the breath of life.
Thus, while the apostle, in the ninth, tenth, and eleventh chapters of his Epistle to the Romans, traces the Divine sovereignty in his calling some from among the Jews, and leaving the greater part of them to perish in unbelief; he nevertheless so long as they were in the world, was deeply concerned for them. Even in his preaching to the Gentiles he had an eye to them, "if by any means he might provoke to emulation them that were his flesh, and might save some of them." And though he taught believers from among them to ascribe their salvation entirely to electing grace, and spoke of the rest as being blinded, yet he represents that blindness as being their own fault, to which they were judicially given up of God, Romans 11:7-10.
IF SOME ARE ELECT, WHY PREACH?
Captious and cavilling persons will object, "You say that God loves His people, and therefore they will be saved; then what is the good of preaching?" What is the good of preaching? When I say that God loves a multitude that no man can number, a countless host of the race of men, do you ask me what is the good of preaching?
What is the good of preaching? To fetch these diamonds of the Lord out of the dunghill; to go down to the depths, as the diver does, to fetch up God's pearls from the place where they are.
What is the good of preaching? To cut down the good corn, and gather it into the garner.
What is the good of preaching? To fetch out God's elect from the ruins of the fall, and make them stand on the rock Christ Jesus, and see their standing sure.
Ah, ye who ask what is the good of preaching, because God has ordained some to salvation, we ask you whether it would not be a most foolish thing to say, because there is to be a harvest, what is the good of sowing? There is to be a harvest, what is the use of reaping? The very reason why we do sow and reap is, because we feel assured that there is to be a harvest.
And if, indeed, I believed there was not a number who must be saved, I could not go into a pulpit again. Only once make me think that no one is certain to be saved and I do not care to preach. But now I know that a countless number must be saved; I am confident that Christ "shall see his seed, he shall prolong his days." I know that, if there is much to dispirit me in my ministry, and I see but little of its effects, yet He shall keep all whom the Father has given to Him; and this makes me preach.
I come into this chapel tonight with the assurance that God has some child of His, in this place, not yet called; and I feel confident that He will call someone by the use of the ministry, so why not by me? I know there are not a few souls whom God has given me through my ministry, not only hundreds, but thousands. I have seen some hundreds of those who profess to have been brought to God through my preaching at Park Street, and elsewhere; and with that confidence I must go on. I know that Jesus must have a "seed." His people must increase, and it is the very purpose of the ministry to seek them out, and bring them into God's fold. Our Saviour tells us the use of the ministry is, that they may "believe on me through their word."
There is one peculiarity about this. Christ says, "They shall believe on me through their word." Have you never heard people call out about running after men? They say, "You are all running after such-and-such a man." What then, would you have them run after a woman? You say, "The people go after one particular man." Whom else shall they go after? Some persons say, "We went to such-and-such a place, and the people there love their minister too much." That would be very dreadful, but it is not so. As for ministers being in danger of being ruined by too much love in any particular place, they get too much of the reverse some where else. If we get a little sweet, somebody else is sure to put in much that is bitter. Is it not singular that Christ should say, "They shall believe on me through their word"?
Now, do God's people believe on Christ through the word of the ministry? We know that our faith does not rest on the word of man, but on the Word of God. We do not rest on any man, yet it is through "their" word; that is through the word of the apostles, and through the word of ever faithful minister.
Pastored the church later pastored by C. H. Spurgeon; wrote a Commentary on the whole Bible in six large volumes; also a Body of Divinity and numerous other writings.
Augustus Toplady said of him; "If any one man can be supposed to have trod the whole circle of human learning it was Gill."
The subjects of effectual vocation, they whom God calls by His grace to His eternal glory (I Pet. 5:10) are those who are chosen: "Whom He did predestinate, them He also called" (Rom. 8:30).
Election and vocation are of equal extent. The objects are the same, neither more nor fewer. They that were chosen from eternity, are called in time; and they that are called in time, were chosen in Christ before the foundation of the world. The "vessels of mercy, afore prepared unto glory" are explained and described by such whom God hath called; not of the Jews only, but also of the Gentiles (Rom. 9:23, 24). They are such who are in Christ, and secured in Him; for they are called according to the grace given them in Christ Jesus before the world began. And as grace was given them so early, they themselves, in some sense, must then have a being in Him; which they have through being chosen in Him, and thereby coming into His hands, they are secured and preserved in Him, in consequence of which they are called by grace.
Thus stands the order of things as put by the apostle Jude (V. 1). "To them that are sanctified by God the Father"; that is, set apart by Him in eternal election; "and preserved in Christ Jesus"; being put into His hands by that act of grace; "and called" in virtue of the foregoing acts of grace. They are such who are redeemed by Christ; vocation follows redemption, and is the certain consequent of it: "I have redeemed thee: I have called thee by thy name; thou art Mine" (Isa. 43:1).
Election, redemption, and vocation, are of the same persons. Those whom God has chosen in Christ are redeemed by Christ, and who are chosen and redeemed are, sooner or later, called; and the reason of their being called is because they are redeemed. "I will hiss for them, and gather them for I have redeemed them" (Zech. 10:8). Those that are called are for the most part either the meanest, or the vilest among men, the meanest as to their outward circumstances. "Not many mighty, not many noble are called." And the meanest as to their internal capacities; "Not many wise men after the flesh." The things of the gospel and of the grace of God, are "hid from the wise and prudent, and revealed unto babes" (I Cor. 1:26; James 2:5; Mat. 11:25). And oftentimes some of the worst and vilest of sinners are called by grace; publicans and harlots went into the kingdom of God when scribes and Pharisees did not; attended the ministry of the Word, and were called by it, when they were not. Christ came, as He says, "not to call the righteous, but sinners to repentance" (Matt. 9:13; I Cor. 6:11).
President, Rochester Theological Seminary; Author, SYSTEMATIC THEOLOGY; other works.
Foreknowledge implies fixity, and fixity implies decree. From eternity God foresaw all the events of the universe as fixed and certain. This fixity and certainty could not have had its ground either in blind fate or in the variable wills of men, since neither of these had an existence. It could have had its ground in nothing outside the divine mind, for in eternity nothing existed besides the divine mind. But for this fixity there must have been a cause; if anything in the future was fixed, something must have fixed it. This fixity could have had its ground only in the plan and purpose of God. In fine, if God foresaw the future as certain, it must have been because there was something in Himself which made it certain; or, in other words, because He had decreed it.
"We object therefore to the statement of E. G. Robinson, Christian Theology, 74 "God's knowledge and God's purposes both being eternal, one cannot be conceived as the ground of the other, nor can either be predicted to the exclusion of the other as the cause of things, but, correlative and eternal, they must be coequal quantities in thought."
We reply that while decree does not chronologically precede, it does logically precede, foreknowledge. Foreknowledge is not of possible events, but of what is certain to be. The certainty of future events which He foreknew could have had its ground only in His decree, since He alone existed to be the ground and explanation of this certainty. Events were fixed only because God had fixed them. Shedd, Dogmatic Theology, 1:397 "An event must be made certain, before it can be known as a certain event." (Turretin Inst. Theol. loc. 3, quaes. 12, 18).
Decreeing creation, implies decreeing the foreseen results of creation. To meet the objection that God might have foreseen the events of the universe, not because He had decreed each one, but only because He had decreed to create the universe, institute its laws, we may put the argument in another form. In eternity there could have been no cause of the future existence of the universe, outside of God Himself, since no being existed but God Himself.
In eternity God foresaw that the creation of the world and the institution of its laws would make certain its actual history even to the most insignificant details. But God decreed to create and to institute these laws. In so decreeing He necessarily decreed all that was to come. In fine, God foresaw the future events of the universe as certain, because He had decreed to create; but this determination to create involved also a determination of all the actual results of that creation; or, in other words, God decreed those results.
E. G. Robinson, Christian Theology, 84 "The existence of divine decrees may be inferred from the existence of natural law." Law certainty God's will. Positivists express great contempt for the doctrine of the eternal purpose of God, yet they consign us to the iron necessity of physical forces and natural laws. Robinson also points out that decrees are "implied in the prophecies. We cannot conceive that all events should have converged toward the one great event the death of Christ without the intervention of an eternal purpose."
No undecreed event can be foreseen. We grant that God decrees primarily and directly His own acts of creation, providence, and grace; but we claim that this involves also a secondary and indirect decreeing of the acts of free creatures which He foresees will result therefrom. There is therefore no such thing in God as scientia media, or knowledge of an event that is to be, though it does not enter into the divine plan; for to say that God foresees an undecreed event, is to say that He views as future an event that is merely possible; or, in other words, that He views an event not as it is.
Only knowledge of that which is decreed is foreknowledge. Knowledge of a plan as ideal or possible may precede decree; but knowledge of a plan as actual or fixed must follow decree. Only the latter knowledge is properly foreknowledge. God therefore foresees creation, causes, laws, events, consequences, because He has decreed creation, causes, laws, events, consequences; that is, because He has embraced all these in His plan. The denial of decrees logically involves the denial of God's foreknowledge of free human actions; and to this Socinians, and some Arminians, are actually led.
Edited STUDIES IN THE SCRIPTURES. Author of THE GOSPEL OF JOHN; THE SOVEREIGNTY OF GOD; Commentaries on Genesis, Exodus, Hebrews; THE DOCTRINE OF SANCTIFICATION; THE SATISFACTION OF CHRIST; THE LIFE OF DAVID; and many other books and booklets.
What controversies have been engendered by this subject in the past! But what truth of Holy Scripture is there which has not been made the occasion of theological and ecclesiastical battles? The deity of Christ, His virgin birth, His atoning death, His second advent; the believer's justification, sanctification, security; the church, its organization, officers, discipline; baptism, the Lord's supper, and a score of other precious truths might be mentioned. Yet, the controversies which have been waged over them did not close the mouths of God's faithful servants; why, then, should we avoid the vexed question of God's foreknowledge, because, forsooth, there are some who will charge us with fomenting strife? Let others contend if they will, our duty is to bear witness according to the light vouchsafed us.
There are two things concerning the foreknowledge of God about which many are in ignorance: the meaning of the term, its Scriptural scope. Because this ignorance is so widespread, it is an easy matter for preachers and teachers to palm off perversions of this subject, even upon the people of God. There is only one safeguard against error, and that is to be established in the faith; and for that, there has to be prayerful and diligent study, and a receiving with meekness the engrafted Word of God. Only then are we fortified against the attacks of those who assail us.
There are those today who are misusing this very truth in order to discredit and deny the absolute sovereignty of God in the salvation of sinners. Just as higher critics are repudiating the Divine inspiration of the Scriptures; evolutionists, the work of God in creation; so some pseudo Bible teachers are perverting His foreknowledge in order to set aside His unconditional election unto eternal life.
When the solemn and blessed subject of Divine foreordination is expounded, when God's eternal choice of certain ones to be conformed to the image of His Son is set forth, the Enemy sends along some man to argue that election is based upon the foreknowledge of God, and this "foreknowledge" is interpreted to mean that God foresaw certain ones would be more pliable than others, that they would respond more readily to the strivings of the Spirit, and that because God knew they would believe. He, accordingly, predestinated them unto salvation. But such a statement is radically wrong. It repudiates the truth of total depravity, for it makes His decrees rest upon what He discovers in the creature. It completely turns things upside down, for in saying God foresaw certain sinners would believe in Christ, and that because of this, He predestinated them unto salvation, is the very reverse of the truth. Scripture affirms that God, in His high sovereignty, singled out certain ones to be recipients of His distinguishing favours (Acts 13:43), and therefore He determined to bestow upon them the gift of faith. False theology makes God's foreknowledge of our believing the cause of His election to salvation; whereas, God's election is the cause, and our believing in Christ is the effect.
Ere preceding further with our discussion of this much misunderstood theme, let us pause and define our terms. What is meant by "foreknowledge"? "To know beforehand" is the ready reply of many. But we must not jump at conclusions, nor must we turn to Webster's dictionary as the final court of appeal, for it is not a matter of the etymology of the term employed. What is needed is to find out how the word is used in Scripture. The Holy Spirit's usage of an expression always defines its meaning and scope. It is failure to apply this simple rule which is responsible for so much confusion and error. So many people assume they already know the signification of a certain word I used in Scripture, and then they are too dilatory to test their assumptions by means of a concordance. Let us amplify this point.
Take the word "flesh." Its meaning appears to be so obvious that many would regard it as a waste of time to look up its various connection in Scripture. It is hastily assumed that the word is synonymous with the physical body, and so no inquiry is made. But, in fact, "flesh" in Scripture frequently includes far more than what is corporeal; all that is embraced by the term can only be ascertained by a diligent comparison of every occurrence of it and by a study of each separate context.
Take the word "world." The average reader of the Bible imagines this word is the equivalent for the human race, and consequently, many passages where the term is found are wrongly interpreted.
Take also the word "immortality." Surely it requires no study! Obviously it has reference to the indestructibility of the soul. Ah, my reader, it is foolish and wrong to assume anything where the Word of God is concerned. If the reader will take the trouble to carefully examine each passage where "mortal" and "immortal" are found, it will be seen these words are never applied to the soul, but always to the body.
Now what has just been said on "flesh," the "world," "immortality," applies with equal force to the terms "know" and "foreknow." Instead of imagining that these words signify no more than a simple cognition, the different passages in which they occur require to be carefully weighed. The word "foreknowledge" is not found in the Old Testament. But "know" occurs there frequently. When that term is used in connection with God, it often signifies to regard with favor, denoting not mere cognition but an affection for the object in view.
"I know thee by name" (Ex. 33:17).
"Ye have been rebellious against the Lord from the day that I knew thee (Jer. 1:5).
"They have made princes and I knew not" (Hos. 8:4).
"You only have I known of all the families of the earth" (Amos 3:2).
In these passages "knew" signifies either loved or appointed.
In like manner, the word "know" is frequently used in the New Testament, in the same sense as in the Old Testament.
"Then will I profess unto them, I never knew you" (Malt. 7:23).
"I am the good shepherd and know My sheep and am known of Mine" (John 10:14).
"If any man love God the same is known of Him" (I Cor. 8:3).
"The Lord knoweth them that are His" (II Tim. 2:19).
Now the word "foreknowledge" as it is used in the N. T. is less ambiguous than in its simple form "to know." If every passage in which it occurs is carefully studied, it will be discovered that it is a moot point whether it ever has reference to the mere perception of events which are yet to take place. The fact is that "foreknowledge" is never used in Scripture in connection with events or actions; instead, it always has reference to persons. It is persons God is said to "foreknow," not the actions of those persons. In proof of this we shall now quote each passage where this expression is found.
The first occurrence is in Acts 2:23. There we read, "Him being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain." If careful attention is paid to the wording of this verse it will be seen that the apostle was not there speaking of God's foreknowledge of the act, but of the crucified: "Him (Christ) being delivered by," etc.
The second occurrence is in Rom. 8:29, 30. "For whom He did foreknow, He also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the Firstborn among many brethren. Moreover whom He did predestinate, them He also called." etc. Weigh well the pronoun that is used here. It is not what He did foreknow, but whom He did. It is not the surrendering of their wills nor the believing of their hearts, but the persons themselves, which is here in view.
"God hath not cast away His people which He foreknew" (Rom. 11:2). Once more the plain reference is to persons, and to persons only.
The last mention is in I Peter 1: 2: "Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father."
Who are "elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father"? The previous verse tells us the reference is to the "strangers scattered" i.e. the Diaspora, the Dispersion, the believing Jews. Thus, here too the reference is to persons, and not to their foreseen acts.
Now in view of these passages (and there are not more) what scriptural ground is there for anyone saying that God "foreknew" the acts of certain ones, viz., their "repenting and believing," and that because of those acts He elected them unto salvation? The answer is, None whatever. Scripture never speaks of repentance and faith as being foreseen or foreknown by God. Truly, He did know from all eternity that certain ones would repent and believe, yet this is not what Scripture refers to as the object of God's "foreknowledge." The word uniformly refers to God's foreknowing persons: then let us "hold fast the forms of sound words" (II Tim. 1:13).
Another thing to which we desire to call particular attention is that the first two passages quoted above show plainly and teach implicitly that God's "foreknowledge" is not causative, that instead, something is His own sovereign decree. Christ was "delivered by the (1) determinate counsel and (2) foreknowledge of God" (Acts 2:23). His "counsel" or decree was the ground of His foreknowledge. So again in Rom. 8:29. That verse opens with the word "for," which tells us to look back to what immediately precedes. What, then, does the previous verse say? This, "all things work together for good to them . . . who are the called according to His purpose." Thus God's "foreknowledge" is based upon His "purpose" or decree (see Psalm 2:7).
God foreknows what will be because He has decreed what shall be. It is therefore a reversing of the order of Scripture, a putting of the cart before the horse, to affirm that God elects because He foreknows people. Truth is, He "foreknows" because He has elected. This removes the ground, or cause of election from outside the creatures and places it in God's own sovereign will. God purposed in Himself to elect a certain people, not because of anything good in them or from them, either actual or foreseen, but solely out of His own mere pleasure. As to why He chose the ones He did, we do not know, and can only say, "Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in Thy sight." The plain truth of Rom. 8:29 is that God, before the foundation of the world, singled out certain sinners and appointed them unto salvation (II Thess. 2:13). This is clear from the concluding words of the verse:
"Predestinated to be conformed to the image of His Son," etc.
God did not predestinate those whom He "foreknew were conformed," but, on the contrary, those whom He "foreknew" (i.e., loved and elected) He predestinated "to be conformed." Their conformity to Christ is not the cause, but the effect of God's foreknowledge and predestination.
God did not elect any sinner because He foresaw that he would believe, for the simple but sufficient reason that no sinner ever does believe until God gives him faith; just as no man sees until God gives him sight. Sight is God's gift, seeing is the consequence of my using His gift. So faith is God's gift. If it were true that God had elected certain ones to be saved because in due time they would believe, then that would make believing a meritorious act, and in that event the saved sinner would have ground for "boasting," which Scripture emphatically denies: Eph. 2:9.
Surely God's Word is plain enough in teaching that believing is not a meritorious act. It affirms that Christians are a people "who have believed through grace" (Acts 18:27). If, then, they have believed "through grace," there is absolutely nothing meritorious about "believing," and if nothing meritorious, it could not be the ground or cause which moved God to choose them. No; God's choice proceeds not from anything in us, or anything from us, but solely from His own sovereign pleasure. Once more, Rom. 11:5, we read of "a remnant according to the election of grace." There it is, plain enough; election itself is of grace, and grace is unmerited favor, something for which we had no claim upon God whatsoever.
It thus appears that it is highly important for us to have clear and Scriptural views of the "foreknowledge" of God. Erroneous conceptions about it lead inevitably to thoughts most dishonoring to Him. The popular idea of Divine foreknowledge is altogether inadequate. God not only knew the end from the beginning, but He planned, fixed, predestinated everything from the beginning. And, as cause stands to effect, so God's purpose is the ground of His prescience. If then the reader be a real Christian, he is so because God chose him in Christ before the foundation of the world (Eph. 1:4), and chose not because He foresaw you would believe, but chose simply because it pleased Him to choose; chose you notwithstanding your natural unbelief. This being so, all the glory and praise belongs alone to Him. You have no ground for taking any credit to yourself. You have "believed through grace" (Acts 18:27), and that, because your very election was "of grace" (Rom. 11:5).