Friday, December 12, 2008

The Will of God and the Gospel Offer

Samuel Rutherford (1600-1661):
God's serious and unfeigned ardency of desire that we do what is our duty
(Christ Dying and Drawing Sinners to Himselfe, London 1647, pp. 443-45 [irregular pagination: colophon lll2-lll3] and 440-42 [colophon: Kkk4-Lll1])
Rutherford observes that objections justly raised against the deficient Arminian view of God's decree are not pertinent respecting God's revealed will, because it does not purpose to effectuate anything.

It's much worthy of observation, how that sweet evangelic invitation is conceived, Isa. 55:1, Ho, everyone that thirsts, come to the waters, and he that hath no silver, come buy, and eat: as if the Lord were grieved, and said, Woe is me, Alas that thirsty souls should die in their thirst, and will not come to the water of life, Christ, and drink gratis, freely, and live. For the interjection, Ho, is a mark of sorrowing, as ah, or woe, everyone that thirsts. It expresseth two things, 1. A vehemency and a serious and unfeigned ardency of desire that we do what is our duty, and the concatenation of these two, extremely desired of God, our coming to Christ and our salvation. This moral connection between faith and salvation is desired of God with his will of approbation, complacency, and moral liking, without all dissimulation, most unfeignedly [margin: What the revealed will of God is]; and whereas Arminians say, we make counterfeit, feigned, and hypocritical desires in God, they calumniate and cavil egregiously, as their custom is. 2. The other thing expressed in these invitations is a sort of dislike, grief, or sorrow (it's a speech borrowed from man, for there is no disappointing of the Lord's will, nor sorrow in him for the not fulfilling of it), or an earnest nilling and hating dislike that these two should not go along, as approved efficaciously by us, to wit, the creature's obedience of faith and life eternal. God loveth, approveth the believing of Jerusalem and of her children, as a moral duty, as the hen doth love to warm and nourish her chickens; and he hateth, with an exceeding and unfeigned dislike of improbation and hatred, their rebellious disobedience and refusing to be gathered: but there is no purpose, intention, or decree of God, holden forth in these invitations called his revealed will, by which he saith he intendeth and willeth that all he maketh the offer unto shall obey and be saved. But it's to be observed, that the revealed will of God, holden forth to all, called voluntas signi, doth not hold forth formally that God intendeth, decreeth, or purposeth in his eternal council, that any man shall actually obey, either elect or reprobate; it formally is the expression only of the good liking of that moral and duty conjunction between the obedience of the creature and the reward, but holdeth forth not any intention or decree of God, that any shall obey, or that all shall obey, or that none at all shall obey.

And what Arminians say of Christ's intention to die for all and every one, and of the Lord's intention and catholic good will to save all and every one, to wit, that these desires may be in God though not any be saved at all, but all eternally perish, which maketh the Lord's desires irrational, unwise, and frustraneous — that we say with good reason of God's good will, called voluntas signi, it might have its complete and entire end and effect though not any one of men or angel obey, if there were not going along with this will of God another will, and eternal decree and purpose in God, or working by free grace in some chosen ones what the Lord willeth in his approving will.

Now this desire of approbation is an abundantly sufficient closing of the mouth of such as stumble at the gospel, being appointed thereunto, and an expression of Christ's good liking to save sinners. Expressed in his borrowed wishes, Deut. 5:29. O that there were such a heart in them, that they would fear me, and keep my commandments. Ps. 81:13. O that my people had hearkened unto me, and Israel walked in my ways. Which wish, as relating to disobeying Israel, is a figure, or metaphor borrowed from men, but otherwise showeth how acceptable the duty is to God, how obligatory to the creature. But the Lord's expostulations, Ezek. 18:31. Why will ye die, O house of Israel? Verse 32. For I have no pleasure in the death of him that dies. In the Lord's crying to sinners, Prov. 1:20. Wisdom cries, she uttereth her voice in the streets. The word is to cry with strong shouting, either for joy, Ps. 81:2, or sorrow, Lam. 2:19, which expresseth Christ's desire to save sinners.

[Margin: No lip-love, nor any empty love in God, but that which is effectual and real to work the good he desireth to the party loved.] We are hence taught to acknowledge no love to be in God which is not effectual in doing good to the creature; there is no lip-love, no raw well-wishing to the creature which God doth not make good. We know but three sorts of love that God has to the creature, all the three are like the fruitful womb; there is no miscarrying, no barrenness in the womb of divine love.

[Margin: A threefold love in God effectual.] He loves all that he has made, so far as to give them a being, to conserve them in being as long as he pleaseth. He had a desire to have sun, moon, stars, earth, heaven, sea, clouds, air. He created them out of the womb of love and out of goodness, and keeps them in being. He can hate nothing that he made.

There is a second love and mercy in God, by which he loves all men and angels, yea, even his enemies, makes the sun to shine on the unjust man as well as the just, and causeth dew and rain to fall on the orchard and fields of the bloody and deceitful man, whom the Lord abhors, as Christ teacheth us, Matt. 5:43-48. Nor doth God miscarry in this love. He desires the eternal being of damned angels and men; he sends the gospel to many reprobates, and invites them to repentance and with longanimity and forbearance suffereth pieces of froward dust to fill the measure of their iniquity, yet does not the Lord's general love fall short of what he willeth to them.

[Margin: Christ's love of election cannot miscarry.] There is a love of special election to glory; far less can God come short in the end of this love. For the work of redemption prospereth in the hands of Christ, even to the satisfaction of his soul; saving of sinners (all glory to the Lamb) is a thriving work and successful in Christ's hands.

The Will of God and the Gospel Offer

Francis Turretin (1623-1687):
God acts seriously in the calling of reprobates, although he does not intend their salvation
(Institutes of Elenctic Theology, topic XV, question II, paragraphs XIV-XVI and XXI, trans. George Musgrave Giger, ed. James T. Dennison, Jr., Phillipsburg, N.J.: Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Company, 1992-97, vol. 2, pp. 507-09)

XIV. Although God does not intend the salvation of the reprobate by calling them, still he acts most seriously and sincerely; nor can any hypocrisy and deception be charged against him — neither with respect to God himself (because he seriously and most truly shows them the only and most certain way of salvation, seriously exhorts them to follow it and most sincerely promises salvation to all those who do follow it [to wit, believers and penitents]; nor does he only promise, but actually bestows it according to his promise); nor as to men because the offer of salvation is not made to them absolutely, but under a condition and thus it posits nothing unless the condition is fulfilled, which is wanting on the part of man. Hence we cordially embrace what is said on this subject by the fathers of the Synod of Dort: "As many as are called through the gospel are seriously called. For God shows seriously and most truly in his word, what is pleasing to him, to wit, that the called should come to him. He also seriously promises to all who come to him and believe rest to their souls and eternal life" ("Tertium et Quartum: De Hominis Corruptione et Conversione," 8 Acta Synodi Nationalis . . . Dordrechti [1619-20], 1:[302]).

XV. He, who by calling men shows that he wills their salvation and yet does not will it, acts deceitfully, if it is understood of the same will (i.e., if he shows that he wills that by the will of decree and yet does not will it; or by the will of precept and yet does not will it). But if it refers to diverse wills, the reasoning does not equally hold good. For example, if he shows that he wills a thing by the will of precept and yet does not will it by the will of decree, there is no simulation or hypocrisy here (as in prescribing the law to men, he shows that he wills they should fulfill it as to approbation and command, but not immediately as to decree). Now in calling God indeed shows that he wills the salvation of the called by the will of precept and good pleasure (euarestias), but not by the will of decree. For calling shows what God wills man should do, but not what he himself had decreed to do. It teaches what is pleasing and acceptable to God and in accordance with his own nature (namely, that the called should come to him); but not what he himself has determined to do concerning man. It signifies what God is prepared to give believers and penitents, but not what he has actually decreed to give to this or that person.

XVI. It is one thing to will reprobates to come (i.e., to command them to come and to desire it); another to will they should not come (i.e., to nill the giving them the power to come). God can in calling them will the former and yet not the latter without any contrariety because the former respects only the will of precept, while the latter respects the will of decree. Although these are diverse (because they propose diverse objects to themselves, the former the commanding of duty, but the latter the execution of the thing itself), still they are not opposite and contrary, but are in the highest degree consistent with each other in various respects. He does not seriously call who does not will the called to come (i.e., who does not command nor is pleased with his coming). But not he who does not will him to come whither he calls (i.e., did not intend and decree to come). For a serious call does not require that there should be an intention and purpose of drawing him, but only that there should be a constant will of commanding duty and bestowing the blessing upon him who performs it (which God most seriously wills). But if he seriously makes known what he enjoins upon the man and what is the way of salvation and what is agreeable to himself, God does not forthwith make known what he himself intended and decreed to do. Nor, if among men, a prince or a legislator commands nothing which he does not will (i.e., does not intend should also be done by his subjects because he has not the power of effecting this in them), does it follow that such is the case with God, upon whom alone it depends not only to command but also to effect this in man. But if such a legislator could be granted among men, he would rightly be said to will that which he approves and commands, although he does not intend to effect it.

XXI. The invitation to the wedding proposed in the parable (Mt. 22:1-14) teaches that the king wills (i.e., commands and desires) the invited to come and that this is their duty; but not that the king intends or has decreed that they should really come. Otherwise he would have given them the ability to come and would have turned their hearts. Since he did not do this, it is the surest sign that he did not will they should come in this way. When it is said "all things are ready" (Luke 14:17), it is not straightway intimated an intention of God to give salvation to them, but only the sufficiency of Christ's sacrifice. For he was prepared by God and offered on the cross as a victim of infinite merit to expiate the sins of men and to acquire salvation for all clothed in the wedding garment and flying to him (i.e., to the truly believing and repenting) that no place for doubting about the truth and perfection of his satisfaction might remain.

The Will of God and the Gospel Offer

John Howe (1630-1705):
God has a propension of will to the obedience and felicity of all men
(The Redeemer's Tears Wept Over Lost Souls: A Treatise on Luke 19:41-42, from Appendix; and The Reconcilableness of God's Prescience of the Sins of Men, with the Wisdom and Sincerity of His Counsels, Exhortations, and Whatsoever Means He Uses to Prevent Them, from sections XVII, XVIII, XXI and XXII, in The Works of John Howe, New York 1838, vol. 1, pp. 121-24, 455-56)
Professor John Murray specified that his reference to God's preceptive will as desire is to be understood in terms of Howe's language about God willing complacentially.

The Redeemer's Tears Wept Over Lost Souls: A Treatise on Luke 19:41-42

Unto what also is discoursed concerning anger and grief, (or other passions,) ascribed to God, it will not be unfit here to add, that unless they be allowed to signify real aversion of will, no account is to be given what reality in him they can signify at all. That it cannot be any passion, as the same names are wont to signify with us, is out of question. Nor indeed do those names primarily, and most properly, signify passion in ourselves. The passion is consequently only by reason of that inferior nature in us, which is susceptible of it. But the aversion of our mind and will is before it, and, in another subject, very separable from it, and possible to be without it. In the blessed God we cannot understand any thing less is signified than real displicency, at the things whereat he is said to be angry or grieved.

Our shallow reason indeed is apt to suggest in these matters, Why is not that prevented that is so displeasing? And it would be said with equal reason in reference to all sins permitted to be in the world, Why was it not prevented? And what is to be said to this? Shall it be said that sin doth not displease God? that he hath no will against sin? It is not repugnant to his will? Yes; it is to his revealed will, to his law. But is that an untrue revelation? His law is not his will itself, but the signum, the discovery of his will. Now, is it an insignificant sign? a sign that signifies nothing? or to which there belong no correspondent significatum? nothing that is signified by it? Is that which is signified (for sure no one will say it signifies nothing) his real will, yea or no? who can deny it? That will, then, (and a most calm, sedate, impassionate will it must be understood to be,) sin, and consequently the consequent miseries of his creatures, are repugnant unto. And what will is that? Tis not a peremptory will concerning the event, for the event falls out otherwise; which were, upon that supposition, impossible; for who hath resisted his will? as was truly intimated by the personated questionist, (Rom. 9:19.) but impertinently, when God's will of another (not a contrary) kind, i. e. concerning another object, was in the same breath referred unto, Why doth he yet find fault? 'Tis not the will of the event that is the measure of faultiness, for then there could not have been sin in the world, nor consequently misery, which only, by the Creator's pleasure, stands connected with it. For nothing could fall out against that irresistible will. The objector then destroys his own objection, so absurdly, and so manifestly, as not to deserve any other reply than that which he meets with. Nay, but who art thou, O man, that repliest against God?

And what is the other object about which the Divine will is also conversant? Matter of duty, and what stands in connection with it — not abstractly and separately, but as it is so connected, our felicity. This is objectively, another will, as we justly distinguish Divine acts, that respect the creature, by their indifferent objects. Against this will falls out all the sin and misery in the world.

Therefore it seems out of question, that the holy God doth constantly and perpetually, in a true sense, will universal obedience, and the consequent felicity of all his creatures capable thereof, i. e. he doth will it with simple complacency, as what were highly grateful to him, simply considered by itself. Who can doubt, but that purity, holiness, blessedness, wheresoever they were to be beheld among his creatures, would be a pleasing and delightful spectacle to him, being most agreeable to the perfect excellency, purity, and benignity of his own nature, and that their deformity and misery must be consequently unpleasing? But he doth not efficaciously will every thing that he truly wills. He never willed the obedience of all his intelligent creatures so, as effectually to make them all obey, nor their happiness, so as to make them all be happy, as the event shows. Nothing can be more certain, than that he did not so will these things; for then nothing could have fallen out to the contrary, as we see much hath. Nor is it at all unworthy the love and goodness of his nature not so to have willed, with that effective will, the universal fulness, sinlessness, and felicity of all his intelligent creatures. The Divine nature comprehends all excellencies in itself, and is not to be limited to that one only of benignity, or an aptness to acts of beneficence. For then it were not infinite, not absolutely perfect, and so not divine. All the acts of his will must be consequently conform and agreeable to the most perfect wisdom. He doth all things according to the counsel of his will. We find he did not think it fit efficaciously to provide concerning all men, that they should be made obedient and happy, as he hath concerning some. That in the general he makes a difference, is to be attributed to his wisdom, i. e. his wisdom hath in the general made this determination, not to deal with all alike, and so we find it ascribed to his wisdom that he doth make a difference: and in what a transport is the holy apostle in the contemplation and celebration of it upon this account! Rom. 11:33. O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! how unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!

Yet in the mean time, while God doth not efficaciously will all men's obedience introductive of their happiness, doth it follow he wills it not really at all? To say he wills it efficaciously, were to contradict experience, and his word; to say he wills it not really, were equally to contradict his word. He doth will it, but not primarily, and as the more principal object of his will. He really wills it, but hath greater reasons than this or that man's salvation, why he effects it not. And this argues no imperfection in the Divine will, but the perfection of it.

The Reconcilableness of God's Prescience of the Sins of Men, with the Wisdom and Sincerity of His Counsels, Exhortations, and Whatsoever Means He Uses to Prevent Them

XVII. That which his declarations to men do amount unto, is, in sum, thus much, — that, whereas they have, by their defection and revolt from him, made themselves liable to his justice, and very great consequent miseries; he is willing to pardon, save, and restore them to a blessed state, upon such terms as shall be agreeable (the recompense due to his injured law being otherwise provided for, at no expense of theirs) to the nature of that blessedness they are to enjoy, the purity of his own nature, and the order and dignity of his government.

XVIII. Tis true that he frequently uses much importunity with men, and enforces his laws with that earnestness, as if it were his own great interest to have them obeyed; wherein, having to do with men, he doth like a man, solicitously intent upon an end which he cannot be satisfied till be attain. Yet withal, he hath interspersed, every where in his word, so frequent, Godlike expressions of his own greatness, all-sufficiency, and independency upon his creatures, as that if we attend to these his public declarations, and manifests of himself entirely, so as to compare one thing with another, we shall find the matter not at all dissembled; but might collect this to be the state of things between him and us, that he makes no overtures to us, as thinking us considerable, or as if any thing were to accrue to him from us. But that, as he takes pleasure in the diffusion of his own goodness, so it is our interest to behave ourselves suitably thereunto, and, according as we comply with it, and continue in it, or do not, so we may expect the delectable communications of it, or taste, otherwise, his just severity. That, therefore, when he exhorts, obtests, entreats, beseeches that we would obey and live; speaks as if he were grieved at our disobedience, and what is like to ensue to us therefrom; these are merciful condescensions, and the efforts of that goodness, which chooseth the fittest ways of moving us, rather than that he is moved himself, by any such passions as we are wont to feel in ourselves, when we are pursuing our own designs. And that he vouchsafeth to speak in such a way as is less suitable to himself, that it may be more suitable to us, and might teach us, while he so far complies with us, how becoming it is that we answerably bend ourselves to a compliance with him. He speaks, sometimes, as if he did suffer somewhat human, as an apt means (and which to many proves effectual) to bring us to enjoy, at length, what is truly divine. We may, if we consider, and lay things together, understand these to be gracious insinuations; whereby, as he hath not left the matter liable to be so misunderstood, as if he were really affected with solicitude, or any perturbation concerning us, (which he hath sufficiently given us to understand his blessed nature cannot admit of,) so nor can they be thought to be disguises of himself, or misrepresentations, that have nothing in him corresponding to them. For they really signify the obedience and blessedness of those his creatures that are capable thereof, to be more pleasing and agreeable to his nature and will, than that they should disobey and perish; (which is the utmost that can be understood meant by those words, God will have all men to be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth,) but withal, that he so apprehends the indignity done to his government, by their disobedience, that if they obey not (as the indulgent constitution and temper of his law and government now are, in and by the Redeemer) they must perish. If we consider and recollect, what notices he hath furnished our minds with, of the perfections of a Deity, and what he hath remonstrated to us of his own nature, so plainly in his word; we cannot understand more by it, than the calm dispassionate resentment and dislike, which most perfect purity and goodness have, of the sinfulness and miserable ruin of his own creatures.

XXI. The truth is, (unto which we must esteem ourselves obliged to adhere, both by our assent and defence,) that God doth really and complacentially will (and therefore doth with most unexceptionable sincerity declare himself to will) that to be done and enjoyed by many men, which he doth not, universally, will to make them do, or irresistibly procure that they shall enjoy. Which is no harder assertion, than that the impure will of degenerate, sinful man is opposite to the holy will of God; and the malignity of man's will to the benignity of his. No harder than that there is sin and misery in the world, which how can we conceive otherwise, than as a repugnancy to the good and acceptable will of God? Methinks it should not be difficult to us to acknowledge, that God doth truly, and with complacency, will whatsoever is the holy, righteous matter of his own laws.

XXII. And whereas it may be thought to follow hence, that hereby we ascribe to God a liableness to frustration, and disappointment. That is without pretence. The resolve of the Divine will, in this matter, being not concerning the event what man shall do, but concerning his duty what he should, and concerning the connection between his duty and his happiness. Which we say he doth not only seem to will, but wills it really and truly. Nor would his prescience of the event, which we all this while assert, let frustration be so much as possible to him. Especially, it being at once foreseen, that his will, being crossed in this, would be fulfilled in so important a thing, as the preserving the decorum of his own government. Which had been most apparently blemished, beyond what could consist with the perfections of the Deity, if either his will concerning men's duty, or the declarations of that will, had not been substantially the same that they are.

And if yet it should be insisted, that in asserting God to will what by his laws he hath made become man's duty, even where it is not done we shall herein ascribe to him, at least, an ineffectual and an imperfect will, as which doth not bring to pass the thing willed. It is answered, that imperfection were with no pretence imputable to the Divine will, merely for its not effecting every thing, whereto it may have a real propension. The absolute perfection of his will stands in the proportion, which every act of it bears, to the importance of the things about which it is conversant. Even as, with men, the perfection of any act of will is to be estimated, not by the mere peremptory sturdiness of it, but by its proportion to the goodness of the thing willed.

The will of God is sufficiently to be vindicated from all imperfection, if we have sufficient reason for all the propensions and determinations of it, whether from the value of the things willed, or from his own sovereignty who wills them. In the present case, we need not doubt to affirm, that the obedience and felicity of all men, is of that value, as whereunto a propension of will, by only simple complacency, is proportionable. Yet that his not procuring, as to all, (by such courses as he more extraordinarily takes with some,) that they shall, in event, obey and be happy, is upon so much more valuable reasons as that, not to do it was more eligible, with the higher complacency of a determinative will. And since the public declarations of his good will, towards all men, import no more than the former, and do plainly import so much; their correspondency to the matter declared is sufficiently apparent.

The Will of God and the Gospel Offer

Stephen Charnock (1628-1680):
Incarnate goodness bewailing the ruin of Jerusalem
(A Discourse Upon the Goodness of God, in The Complete Works of Stephen Charnock, vol. 2, pp. 340-41)

How affectionately doth he invite men! What multitudes of alluring promises, and pressing exhortations, are there everywhere sprinkled in the Scripture, and in such a passionate manner, as if God were solely concerned in our good, without a glance on his own glory! How tenderly doth he woo flinty hearts, and express more pity to them than they do to themselves! With what affection do his bowels rise up to his lips in his speech in the prophet! Isa. 51:4, 'Hearken to me, O my people, and give ear unto me, O my nation'; 'my people'! 'my nation'! Melting expressions of a tender God, soliciting a rebellious people to make their retreat to him. He never emptied his hand of his bounty, nor divested his lips of those charitable expressions. He sent Noah to move the wicked of the old world to an embracing of his goodness, and frequent prophets to the provoking Jews; and as the world continued, and grew up to a taller stature in sin, he stoops more in the manner of his expressions. Never was the world at a higher pitch of idolatry than at the first publishing the gospel, yet when we should have expected him to be a punishing, he is a beseeching, God. The apostle fears not to use the expression for the glory of divine goodness: II Cor. 5:20, 'We are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us.' The beseeching voice of God is in the voice of the ministry, as the voice of the prince is in that of the herald. It is as if divine goodness did kneel down to a sinner with wringed hands and blubbered cheeks, entreating him not to force him to re-assume a tribunal of justice in the nature of a judge, since he would treat with man upon a throne of grace in the nature of a father; yea, he seems to put himself into the posture of the criminal, that the offending creature might not feel the punishment due to a rebel. It is not the condescension, but the interest, of a traitor to creep upon his knees in sackcloth to his sovereign to beg his life; but it is a miraculous goodness in the sovereign to creep in the lowest posture to the rebel, to importune him not for an amity to him, but a love to his own life and happiness.

And what are his threatenings designed for, but to move the wheel of our fears, that the wheel of our desire and love might be set on motion for the embracing his promise? They are not so much the thunders of his justice as the loud rhetoric of his good will, to prevent men's misery under the vials of wrath. It is his kindness to scare men by threatenings, that justice might not strike them with the sword. It is not the destruction, but the preserving reformation that he aims at; he hath 'no pleasure in the death of the wicked'; this he confirms by his oath, Ezek. 33:11. His threatenings are gracious expostulations with them: 'Why will ye die, O house of Israel?' They are like the noise a favourable officer makes in the street, to warn the criminal he comes to seize upon to make his escape; he never used his justice to crush men, till he had used his kindness to allure them. All the dreadful descriptions of a future wrath, as well as the lively descriptions of the happiness of another world, are designed to persuade men. The honey of his goodness is in the bowels of those roaring lions; such pains doth Goodness take with men, to make them candidates for heaven.

How meltingly doth he bewail man's wilful refusal of his goodness! It is a mighty goodness to offer grace to a rebel, a mighty goodness to give it him after he hath a while stood off from the terms; an astonishing goodness to regret and lament his wilful perdition. He seems to utter those words in a sigh, Ps. 81:13, 'Oh that my people had hearkened unto me, and Israel had walked in my way!' It is true, God hath not human passions, but his affections cannot be expressed otherwise in a way intelligible to us; the excellency of his nature is above the passions of men, but such expressions of himself manifest to us the sincerity of his goodness, and that, were he capable of our passions, he would express himself in such a manner as we do. And we find incarnate goodness bewailing with tears and sighs the ruin of Jerusalem, Luke 19:42. By the same reason that when a sinner returns there is joy in heaven, upon his obstinacy there is sorrow on earth; the one is as if a prince should clothe all his court in triumphant scarlet upon a rebel's repentance, and the other, as if a prince should put himself and his court in mourning for a rebel's obstinate refusal of a pardon, when he lies at his mercy. Are not, now, these affectionate invitations and deep bewailings of their perversity high testimonies of divine goodness? Do not the unwearied repetitions of gracious encouragements deserve a higher name than that of mere goodness? What can be a stronger evidence of the sincerity of it than the sound of his saving voice in our enjoyments, the motion of his Spirit in our hearts, and his grief for the neglect of all? These are not testimonies of any want of goodness in his nature to answer us, or willingness to express it to his creature. Hath he any mind to deceive us, that thus entreats us? The majesty of his nature is too great for such shifts; or, if it were not, the despicableness of our condition would render him above the using any. Who would charge that physician with want of kindness, that freely offers his sovereign medicine, importunes men by the love they have to their health to take it, and is dissolved into tears and sorrow when he finds it rejected by their peevish and conceited humour?

The Will of God and the Gospel Offer

John Flavel (1627-1691):
Christ's vehement desire for union with sinners
(England's Duty Under the Present Gospel: Eleven Sermons on Revelation 3:20, in The Works of John Flavel, vol. 4, pp. 69 and 117)

The exercise of his patience is a standing testimony of his reconcilable and merciful nature towards sinful man. This he shewed forth in his patience toward Paul, a great example of his merciful nature, for a pattern to them that should hereafter believe on him, I Tim. 1:16. The long-suffering of God is a special part of his manifestative glory; and therefore when Moses desired a sight of his glory, Exod. 34:6. he proclaims his name, "The Lord, the Lord God, merciful and gracious, long-suffering, and abundant in goodness and truth." He would have poor sinners look towards him as an atoneable Deity, a God willing to be reconciled, a God that retaineth not his anger for ever; but if poor sinners will take hold of his strength, and make peace with him, they may have peace, Isa. 27:4. This long-suffering is an attribute very expressive of the Divine nature; he is willing sinners should know, whatever their provocations have been, there is room for pardon and peace, if they will yet come in to accept the terms. This patience is a diadem belonging to the imperial crown, of heaven; the Lord glories in it, as what is peculiar to himself, Hos. 11:9. "I will not execute the fierceness of my anger; for I am God and not man." Had I been as man, the holiest, meekest, and mortifiedst man upon earth, I had consumed them long ago; but I am God and not man, my patience is above all created patience; no husband can bear with his wife, no parent with his child, as God hath borne with you. That is one reason of Christ's waiting upon trifling sinners, to give proof of his gracious, merciful, and reconcilable nature towards the worst of sinners.

His sorrows and mourning upon the account of the obstinacy and unbelief of sinners, speaks the vehemency of his desire after union with them; it is said, Mark 3:5, "When he had looked round about on them with anger, being grieved for the hardness of their hearts," etc. You see from hence, that a hard heart is a grief to Jesus Christ. O how tenderly did Christ resent it, when Jerusalem rejected him! It is said, Luke 19:41, "That when Jesus came nigh to the city, he wept over it." The Redeemer's tears wept over obstinate Jerusalem, spake the zeal and fervency of his affection to their salvation; how loth Christ is to give up sinners. What a mournful voice is that in John 5:40, "And you will not come unto me, that you might have life." How fain would I give you life? but you would rather die than come unto me for it. What can Christ do more to express his willingness? All the sorrows that ever touched the heart of Christ from men, were upon this account, that they would not yield to his calls and invitations.

The Will of God and the Gospel Offer

Jonathan Edwards (1703-1758):
The sincerity of God's calls and invitations to sinners
(Remarks on Important Theological Controversies, chap. III: Concerning the Divine Decrees in General, and Election in Particular, from paragraphs 9 and 13, in The Works of Jonathan Edwards, ed. Edward Hickman, vol. 2, pp. 527-28)

9. When a distinction is made between God's revealed will and his secret will, or his will of command and decree, will is certainly in that distinction taken in two senses. His will of decree, is not his will in the same sense as his will of command is. Therefore, it is no difficulty at all to suppose, that the one may be otherwise than the other; his will in both senses is his inclination. But when we say he wills virtue, or loves virtue, or the happiness of his creature; thereby is intended, that virtue, or the creature's happiness, absolutely and simply considered, is agreeable to the inclination of his nature. His will of decree is, his inclination to a thing, not as to that thing absolutely and simply, but with respect to the universality of things, that have been, are, or shall be. So God, though he hates a thing as it is simply, may incline to it with reference to the universality of things. Though he hates sin in itself, yet he may will to permit it, for the greater promotion of holiness in this universality, including all things, and at all times. So, though he has no inclination to a creature's misery, considered absolutely, yet he may will it, for the greater promotion of happiness in this universality. God inclines to excellency, which is harmony, but yet he may incline to suffer that which is unharmonious in itself, for the promotion of universal harmony, or for the promoting of the harmony that there is in the universality, and making it shine the brighter. And thus it must needs be, and no hypothesis whatsoever will relieve a man, but that he must own these two wills of God.

13. It is objected against the absolute decrees respecting the future actions of men, and especially the unbelief of sinners, and their rejection of the gospel, that this does not consist with the sincerity of God's calls and invitations to such sinners; as he has willed, in his eternal secret decree, that they should never accept of those invitations. To which I answer, that there is that in God, respecting the acceptance and compliance of sinners, which God knows will never be, and which he has decreed never to cause to be, in which, though it be not just the same with our desiring and wishing for that which will never come to pass, yet there is nothing wanting but what would imply imperfection in the case. There is all in God that is good, and perfect, and excellent in our desires and wishes for the conversion and salvation of wicked men. As, for instance, there is a love to holiness, absolutely considered, or an agreeableness of holiness to his nature and will; or, in other words, to his natural inclination. The holiness and happiness of the creature, absolutely considered, are things that he loves. These things are infinitely more agreeable to his nature than to ours. There is all in God that belongs to our desire of the holiness and happiness of unconverted men and reprobates, excepting what implies imperfection. All that is consistent with infinite knowledge, wisdom, power, self-sufficience, infinite happiness, and immutability. Therefore, there is no reason that his absolute prescience, or his wise determination and ordering what is future, should hinder his expressing this disposition of his nature, in like manner as we are wont to express such a disposition in ourselves, viz. by calls and invitations, and the like.

The disagreeableness of the wickedness and misery of the creature, absolutely considered, to the nature of God, is all that is good in pious and holy men's lamenting the past misery and wickedness of men. Their lamenting these, is good no farther than it proceeds from the disagreeableness of those things to their holy and good nature. This is also all that is good in wishing for the future holiness and happiness of men. And there is nothing wanting in God, in order to his having such desires and such lamentings, but imperfection; and nothing is in the way of his having them, but infinite perfection; and therefore it properly, naturally, and necessarily came to pass, that when God, in the manner of existence, came down from his infinite perfection, and accommodated himself to our nature and manner, by being made man, as he was, in the person of Jesus Christ, he really desired the conversion and salvation of reprobates, and lamented their obstinacy and misery; as when he beheld the city Jerusalem, and wept over it, saying, " O Jerusalem," etc. In the like manner, when he comes down from his infinite perfection, though not in the manner of being, but in the manner of manifestation, and accomodates himself to our nature and manner, in the manner of expression, it is equally natural and proper that he should express himself as though he desired the conversion and salvation of reprobates, and lamented their obstinacy and misery.

The Will of God and the Gospel Offer

Charles Hodge (1797-1878):
Who will have all men to be saved
(Sermon on I Tim. 2:4: "Who will have all men to be saved and to come unto the knowledge of the truth," in Conference Sermons, pp. 18-19)

There are two principles which must control the interpretation of the Scriptures. That is, when a passage admits of two interpretations, the choice between them is to be determined, first, by the analogy of Scripture. If one interpretation contradicts what the Bible elsewhere teaches and another accords with it, then we are bound to accept the latter. Or, secondly, the interpretation must be decided by established facts. That is, if one interpretation agrees with such facts and another contradicts them, then the former must be true.

This passage admits of two interpretations so far as the signification of the words are concerned. First, that God wills, in the sense of purposing or intending, the salvation of all men. This cannot be true, first, because it contradicts the Scriptures. The Scriptures teach 1st, that the purposes of God are immutable, and that they cannot fail of their accomplishment. 2d. That all men are not to be saved. It is clearly taught that multitudes of the human race have perished, are now perishing, and will hereafter perish. That God intends and purposes what he knows is not to happen, is a contradiction. It contradicts the very idea of God, and is an impossibility. Secondly, this interpretation contradicts admitted facts as well as the explicit statements of the Bible.

1. It is a fact that God does not give saving grace to all men. 2. It is a fact that he does not and never has brought all men to the knowledge of the truth. Multitudes of men are destitute of that knowledge, and ever have been. By truth it is clear the apostle means saving truth, the truth as revealed in the gospel, and not merely the truth as revealed by things that are made. This interpretation therefore cannot be correct.

The second interpretation is that God desires the salvation of all men. This means 1st, just what is said when the Scriptures declare that God is good; that he is merciful and gracious, and ready to forgive; that he is good to all, and his tender mercies over all his works. He is kind to the unthankful and to the evil. This goodness or benevolence of God is not only declared but revealed in his works, in his providence, and in the work of redemption. 2d. It means what is said in Ezek. 33:11, "As I live, saith the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked," and in Ezek. 18:23, "Have I any pleasure at all that the wicked should die, saith the Lord God, and not that he should return from his ways and live?" Also Lam. 3:33, "For he doth not afflict willingly nor grieve the children of men." It means what Christ taught in the parable of the prodigal son, and of the lost sheep and the lost piece of money; and is taught by his lament over Jerusalem.

All these passages teach that God delights in the happiness of his creatures, and that when he permits them to perish, or inflicts evil upon them, it is from some inexorable necessity; that is, because it would be unwise and wrong to do otherwise. His relation is that of a benevolent sovereign in punishing crime, or of a tender judge in passing sentence on offenders, or, what is the familiar representation of Scripture, that of a father who deals with his children with tenderness, yet with wisdom and according to the dictates of right.

This is the meaning of the passage. That it is the correct one is plain,

1. Because it is agreeable to the meaning of the word thelein. In innumerable cases it means to love, delight in, to regard with satisfaction as a thing desirable. "Sacrifice and offerings thou wouldst not," "neither hadst pleasure therein." "Ye cannot do the things that ye would." "For what I would, that do I not, but what I hate, that I do." "We would see a sign from thee." "Be it unto thee even as thou wilt." "If he delight in him" is ei thelei auton. 2. This passage thus interpreted teaches just what the Scriptures elsewhere teach of the goodness of God. 3. It does not contradict the Scriptures as the other does, or make God mutable or impotent. 4. It is accordant with all known facts. It agrees with the fact, that God is benevolent, as shown in his works, and yet that he permits many to perish.

This truth is of great importance, 1. Because all religion is founded on the knowledge of God and on the proper apprehensions of his character. We should err fatally if we conceived of God as malevolent.

2. The conviction that God is love, that he is a kind Father, is necessary to encourage sinners to repent. The prodigal hesitated because he doubted his father's love. It was his hope that encouraged him to return.

3. This truth is necessary to our confidence in God. It is the source of gratitude and love.

4. It is to be held fast to under all circumstances. We are to believe though so much sin and misery are allowed to prevail. We are not to resort to false solutions of this difficulty, to assume that God cannot prevent sin, or that he wills it as a means to happiness. He allows it because it seems good in his sight to do so, and this is the highest and the last solution of the problem of evil.

The Will of God and the Gospel Offer

Asahel Nettleton (1783-1844):
God's goodness in the invitations of mercy to sinners
("Despisest Thou the Riches of God's Goodness?", a sermon on Rom. 2:4, in Asahel Nettleton: Sermons From the Second Great Awakening, Ames, Iowa, 1995, pp. 152-53 and 156)

The riches of divine goodness appear not only in the sufferings and death of the Son of God, but in the melting invitations of mercy to sinners. — Ho every one that thirsteth. In the parable of the great supper the invitation is to all. Come for all things are now ready. The riches of divine goodness are offered to the poorest and vilest of sinners. To us, my hearers, is the word of this salvation sent. Yes, pardon, peace, and all the treasures of heaven are brought even to our doors and offered to us for nothing. Not only are they freely offered, but even pressed upon our acceptance by every endearing consideration.

Nay, the riches of divine goodness appear in all the warnings of God's word. What a mercy is it that God has not left us to go on in sin without pointing us to its tremendous consequences? Surely every one who is not fully determined to persevere in sin will esteem it a mercy to be told his danger, and to be warned to flee from the wrath to come.

The riches of divine mercy appear in sending the Holy Spirit to convince of sin, of righteousness, and of judgment to come. One would think, that after sinners had rejected the free offers of salvation, God would make no further exertions to save them from deserved wrath. But to all this, he has superadded the strivings of the Holy Spirit. This is God's last effort to save sinners.

Our text speaks of God's forbearance. The impenitent sinner who has stood so long idle in God's vineyard has been spared another year. So many years has the Saviour been standing with open arms and with a bleeding heart inviting him to life. So many duties have been neglected, and so many sins committed in the sight of the sin-hating God and yet the sinner has been spared.

Our text speaks of the longsuffering of God. If God is angry with the wicked every day, and is determined to punish sin, why is it that we yet live? God, my hearers, is longsuffering. No parent ever exercised such forbearance and longsuffering to his own offspring as God does toward impenitent sinners. God has exercised his forbearance and longsuffering toward us far beyond what he has towards most of the human race — and far beyond some who are lost. The majority of mankind die younger than the most of us who are now in the house of God. Multitudes younger than ourselves have gone to their long home during the year that has past. They have done with Sabbaths and sermons and all the concerns of time. Their day of salvation is over and gone forever. But all the riches of God's goodness and forbearance and longsuffering have been exercised towards sinners in this house and this year. And why is this, my hearers? Why has God borne with us so long? Our text informs us: it is to lead us to repentance. Hear, O heavens, and give ear, O earth: for the Lord hath spoken, I have nourished and brought up children. He has watched over and fed and clothed us. The sun has arisen and wasted its beams upon us. God has been lavishing on us all the blessings of this life. He has opened the windows of heaven and shed around us the light of the glorious gospel to lead us to repentance.

All who neglect the gospel do emphatically despise the riches of divine goodness. Every day they trample under foot the Son of God. Sinners despise the forbearance and longsuffering of God, every moment they are unconcerned for their souls. I make the appeal to your own consciences. My hearers, had God visited this place with the famine or the pestilence, were your friends and neighbors daily and hourly dying around you — would you be so regardless of God? Had God in his providence laid you on the bed of sickness and threatened you with a speedy dissolution, would you have treated him with such ungratefulness? And now, because God has been so good, he has spared you and your families and friends and given you all that heart can wish, will you now for all his mercy venture to provoke him? O the ingratitude of such hearts! Because sentence against an evil work is not executed speedily, therefore the heart of the sons of men is fully set in them to do evil. The plain language of such conduct is: "If God had not been so good — if he had not spared me so long, I should not have dared to provoke him as I have done. If God had not been so kind to me, I had not been so regardless of him."

The Will of God and the Gospel Offer

Thomas Halyburton (1674-1712):
Unbelievers refuse the desire, the supplication, the entreaties of a whole Trinity
(The Great Concern of Salvation, Part II: Man's Recovery by Faith in Christ, in The Works of the Rev. Thomas Halyburton, ed. Robert Burns, pp. 186-187)

We pray you, by the "mercies of God," in the "bowels of our Lord Jesus," believe on him, accept of him; for his heart is upon this request. Nothing more acceptable to him, than a compliance with this call; he laid the foundation of this offer we make to you, in his own blood; he wept at sinner's folly, that would not comply with it; he has instituted a gospel ministry for this very end, and has been, if I may so speak, at a vast expense of gifts and grace for the maintenance of this his own ordinance. He has given them most peremptory orders, to call you, to beseech you, to command, to threaten, nay, to compel you to a compliance. Will ye refuse our Master that request he has so much at heart?

We beseech you, in the name of all the glorious Trinity, to grant our demands. We are ambassadors for Christ, and God doth beseech you by us. God the Father, and God the Son, and God the Holy Ghost, do all join in the supplication. Never were there such three names at a supplication, never such three hands at a petition. O sinners! what hearts have ye, if ye can refuse the desire, the supplication, the entreaties of a whole Trinity? All the love of the Father, all the grace of the Son, and all the blessings that are enjoyed by communion with the Holy Ghost, all plead with you for your compliance. Can ye refuse us, then, O sinners, O rocks, O hearts harder than rocks?

Now, O sinners! what answer shall we give to him that sent us? what return shall we give to our Master? Shall we say, that we came to the congregation of Ceres, that we showed his commission, told our errand, in his name supplicated for a compliance with his demand? But that ye would not hear him, though we besought you in his name, by all the ties of reason, self-preservation, interest, and gratitude, by the glorious work of Christ, by all the marks of his love to mankind, by all his concern for sinners; that we had a whole Trinity seconding us, and that we met with a refusal? Are ye willing that we take witness upon this refusal, and, in our Master's name, protest that this our reasonable, nay, advantageous request, was refused? It is a wonder that ever the commands of God should be disobeyed; but it is yet a greater, that ever the request, the entreaty of a God should be denied. Be astonished, O heavens, at this, God beseeching! and man refusing!

The Will of God and the Gospel Offer

Thomas Boston (1676-1732):
Christ desires the hearers of the gospel to come in to him
("Gospel-Compulsion," a sermon on Luke 14:23, and "God's Delay of Executing the Sentence of Condemnation Against Ungodly Men Often Miserably Abused By Them," a sermon on Eccles. 8:11, in The Whole Works of the Late Reverend Thomas Boston of Ettrick, vol. 6, pp. 287, 497-98, and 500)


Sinners are desired to come in. They not only have leave to come in, but they are desired by the Master of the house to come in. Arise then, ye worst of sinners, the "Master calleth you." Ye are called, not to a funeral, but a feast; not to a prison, but to the guest-chamber, where he may entertain you with all the delicacies of heaven. If ye were not desired, why would he send his servants to compel you to come in? and will ye refuse when ye are desired? Consider, I pray you, (1.) It ill becomes you, vile worms, to refuse his call. I am sure he might be for ever happy in himself, though you and I both were where, in strict justice, we should be, in the bottomless pit. He needs none of us. What are we that he should be pleased to trouble himself about us, whether we sink or swim? The angels adore him, his Father honours him, and vile wretches, whom he desires to come in, have the face to refuse him whom the Father heareth always. (2.) There are many as good as you, whom he never desired to come in. He does not call you because he has none other to call, who might fill his house. He might remove this gospel from you, and send it into the dark places of the earth, and compel the pagans to come in. Should he do it, it is very likely .his offers would be better entertained amongst them than amongst us. Some divide the world into thirty parts, and find that nineteen of these are possessed by pagans, six of them by Jews, Turks, and Saracens, and only five by Christians; and of these five parts Christian, many are Antichristian, lying yet under the darkness of Popery. And has the Lord chosen us out from among so many, to give us the invitation to come in, and shall we refuse? Lastly, How will ye look him in the face, when ye appear before his tribunal, if ye will not come in now at his desire? How will ye look back on rejected love? What will ye do when he comes in wrath to you, that will not come to him now, upon his call?

"God's Delay of Executing the Sentence of Condemnation Against Ungodly Men Often Miserably Abused By Them"

We shall account for this slow method of providence. And there is much need to do it, because there is a mystery of providence in it that is not easy to unriddle, and among men there are sad blunders about it. God has the glory of some perfections, which otherwise would not shine forth so illustriously. He has the glory of his universal good-will to sinners of mankind, II Peter 3:9. "The Lord is long-suffering to us-ward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance." I Tim. 2:4. "Who will have all men to be saved, and to come unto the knowledge of the truth." Justice is his act, his strange act; but mercy is what he has a peculiar delight in. He is slow to anger, but ready to forgive. This is written in very legible characters in this method.

The Will of God and the Gospel Offer

Ebenezer Erskine (1680-1754):
God's beneficent love extended unto all is seen in the offers of Christ
("God in Christ, A God of Love," a sermon on I John 4:16, in The Whole Works of the late Rev. Ebenezer Erskine, vol. 1, pp. 280-281)

First, I say, let us view the love of a God of love, in the different kinds of it. 1, Then, He hath a love of benevolence, or good-will, which he bears towards men, particularly towards the whole visible church. The lifting up of the brazen serpent in the camp of Israel, that whosoever looked to it might be healed, was a clear evidence of his good-will unto the whole camp; so the manifestation of Christ in the nature of man, and the revelation of him in the gospel, is an evidence of the good-will he bears unto the salvation of all, John 3:15-16. He declares it on his word, that he is "not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance"; and lest his word should not be believed, he has confirmed it with his oath, Ezek. 33:11, "As I live, saith the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live."

2, He has a love, not only of benevolence, but of beneficence; he not only wishes you well, but does well unto you. O Sirs! many a good turn has he done you, particularly you who are members of the visible church; he gives you line upon line, precept upon precept; he makes you to hear the joyful sound, the voice of the turtle; many a minister has he sent you; many an offer of Christ, and of life through him, has he made to you; many a time has he knocked at thy door, by word, by conscience, and the motions and whispers of his Spirit; so that he may say to us, as he did of his vineyard, Isa. 5:4, "What could have been done more for them, that I have not done?" And because of your obstinacy in unbelief and sin, he may challenge you as he did Israel, and say, Micah 6:3, "O my people, what have a I done unto thee, and wherein have I wearied thee? testify against me. Was I ever a barren wilderness, or a land of darkness?" Thus, I say, God's love of benevolence and beneficence is, in some respects, extended unto all.

3, There is a love of complacency, or delight and satisfaction, which is peculiar only to believers; who because of the excellency of his loving-kindness, do put your trust under the shadow of his wings. O believer, the Lord loves thee, a God of love loves thee, not only with a love of benevolence and beneficence, as he doth others, in some respects, but he loves thee with a complacential love, as so to take pleasure in thee; "The Lord taketh pleasure in his people; he will beautify the meek with salvation." He loves thee with a love of estimation; he puts such an high value and estimate upon thee, that thou art precious in the sight of the Lord, thou art his treasure, and his peculiar treasure; "The Lord's portion is his people; Jacob is the lot of his inheritance." He loves thee with a love of union; he desires thy company, and to hear thy voice, and to see thy countenance: Song 2:14, "O my dove that art in the clefts of the rock, in the secret places of the stairs, let me see thy countenance, let me hear thy voice; for sweet is thy voice, and they countenance is comely."

The Will of God and the Gospel Offer

Archibald Bonar (1753-1816):
The contempt of God's love shown by the lost
("On the Love of God to Man," a sermon on I John 4:8, in Sermons, Chiefly on Devotional Subjects, pp. 15-18)

First, Let me address myself to careless sinners, in the language of warning and reproof. If God is love, not only in his nature, but also in his dispensations to mankind, then how great is your ingratitude, in perverting his acts of kindness into instruments of rebellion against your generous Benefactor!

Various are the methods by which you pervert the riches of divine love. If, when enjoying the bounties and benefits of our God, you forget the Giver of all good; if, when you eat of his bread, and are nourished by his care, when you lie down in safety, and rise up in health, you acknowledge not, with humble gratitude, your dependence on the Almighty; is not this to rob God of the praise of his loving-kindness, and to be unmindful of the Father of mercies, in whose hand your life is, and whose are all your ways?

Above all, you careless ones who are at ease in Zion, you insult a loving God, by indulging impenitence and unbelief. He has revealed the great things of his law, and of his gospel; he has, in love, held forth for your acceptance the pearl of great price; but you trample it under foot, and despise the unspeakable gift; you treat with scorn all the methods used for your salvation; nay, you dare to sin with the greatest arrogance and ease, because mercy is revealed, pardon offered, and grace promised.

O foolish and unwise! do you thus requite the Lord? How shall you answer before him for your contempt of his love? or repel the charges brought against you, of goodness despised, grace rejected, patience, mildness, and long-suffering, insulted and abused? Your ingratitude and distrust, your unbelief and disobedience, your determined rejection of mercy and grace, will surely increase his righteous displeasure, will aggravate your future punishment, and will add new fuel to the flame of your everlasting torment.

But can I suppose, that any now hearing of the riches of divine love and mercy, can obstinately persist in rejecting them? The supposition is too mournful to be indulged. Rather let me urge the consideration of this love, as an argument for your now turning to this merciful God. Draw near to him in faith and prayer. Plead the infinite amiableness of his nature; plead the riches of his redeeming love, manifested through his dear Son; plead the loving-kindness which has led him to spare, and protect, and nourish you until now; and plead what he has, in his love and pity, done for others, as destitute and helpless as you; how he has redeemed many persecuting Sauls, many carnal Mannasehs, many a covetous Zaccheus, and many impure Corinthians.

The Will of God and the Gospel Offer

Thomas Chalmers (1780-1847):
The good will of God which prompts the gospel offer
("On the Universality of the Gospel Offer," "Fury Not in God," and "On the Nature of the Sin Unto Death," sermons on Luke 2:14, Isa. 7:3-5, and I John 5:16, in Sermons, vol. 4 of Select Works of Thomas Chalmers, Edinburgh 1845, pp. 411-14, 452-53, 458, 645-46, and 648-50)

"On the Universality of the Gospel Offer"

The goodness of the things to which you are invited is one thing: the good-will with which you are invited is another. It is the latter argument which we are at present called upon to address to you. What we offer to your notice is — not the happiness you will enjoy by the acceptance of the gospel call, but the kindness which prompts the call. There is no doubt a mighty effect upon some minds, in the displeasure of God manifested against all who refuse to obey the gospel of His Son; and knowing His terrors, it is our part make use of them in the business of persuading men. But others again are more drawn by the cords of love; and the tender voice of a beseeching and inviting God will sometimes soften that heart into acquiescence, which would have remained in shut and shielded obstinacy against all the severity of His threatenings. It is the desire of God after you — it is His compassionate longing to have back again to Himself those sinful creatures who had wandered away from Him — it is His fatherly earnestness to recall His strayed children — it is this, which, by moving and subduing the will of man, exemplifies the assertion of the apostle when he says — "Know ye not that the goodness of God leadeth to repentance?" And thus while Jude says of some in his general epistle, "these save with fear, pulling them out of the fire"; he says of others — "on them have compassion, making a difference."

Understand, then, that the good-will of the text consists not in the actual bestowment of eternal life upon all in the next world; but in holding out in this world the gift of eternal life to the free and welcome acceptance of all. We hold out a gift to two people, which one of them may take and the other may refuse. The good-will in me which prompted the offer was the same in reference to both. God in this sense willeth that all men shall be saved. We are doing His will when we lay the gift of eternal life before each and all of you. Some may refuse to know God, and to obey the gospel of His Son; but this does not impair the frankness and the freeness and the cordiality with which the gift is shown to all, and all are invited to take hold of it. Nay, the good-will of God to those who have rejected the salvation of the gospel, may look more conspicuous in the day of judgment than His good-will to those who have received it.

"Fury Not in God"

First, then, Fury is not in God. But how can this be? — is not fury one manifestation of His essential attributes? — do we not repeatedly read of His fury — of Jerusalem being full of the fury of the Lord — of God casting the fury of His wrath upon the world — of Him rendering His anger upon His enemies with fury — of Him accomplishing his fury upon Zion — of Him causing his fury to rest on the bloody and devoted city? We are not therefore to think that fury is banished altogether from God's administration. There are times and occasions when this fury is discharged upon the objects of it; and there must be other times and other occasions when there is no fury in Him. Now, what is the occasion upon which He disclaims all fury in our text? He is inviting men to reconciliation; He is calling upon them to make peace; and He is assuring them, that if they will only take hold of His strength, they shall make peace with Him. In the preceding verses He speaks of a vineyard; and in the act of inviting people to lay hold of His strength, He is, in fact, inviting those who are without the limits of the vineyard to enter in. Fury will be discharged on those who reject the invitation. But we cannot say that there is any exercise of fury in God at the time of giving the invitation. There is the most visible and direct contrary. There is a longing desire after you. There is a wish to save you from that day in which the fury of a rejected Saviour will be spread abroad over all who have despised Him. The tone of invitation is not a tone of anger — it is a tone of tenderness. The look which accompanies the invitation is not a look of wrath — it is a look of affection. There may be a time, there may be an occasion when the fury of God will be put forth on the men who have held out against Him, and turned them away in infidelity and contempt from His beseeching voice; but at the time that He is lifting this voice — at the time that He is sending messengers over the face of the earth to circulate it among the habitations of men — at the time particularly among ourselves, when in our own place and our own day, Bibles are within the reach of every family, and ministers in every pulpit are sounding forth the overtures of the gospel throughout the land — surely at such a time and upon such an occasion, it may well be said of God to all who are now seeking His face and favour, that there is no fury in Him.

It is just as in the parable of the marriage-feast: many rejected the invitation which the king gave to it — for which he was wroth with them, and sent forth his armies and destroyed them, and burned up their city. On that occasion there was fury in the king, and on the like occasion will there be fury in God. But well can He say at the time when He is now giving the invitation — There is no fury in me. There is kindness — a desire for peace and friendship — a longing earnestness to make up the quarrel which now subsists between the Law-giver in heaven, and His yet impenitent and unreconciled creatures.

This very process was all gone through at and before the destruction of Jerusalem. It rejected the warnings and invitations of the Saviour, and at length experienced His fury. But there was no fury at the time of His giving the invitations. The tone of our Saviour's voice, when He uttered—"O Jerusalem, Jerusalem," was not the tone of a vindictive and irritated fury. There was compassion in it — a warning and pleading earnestness that they would mind the things which belong to their peace; and at that time when He would willingly have gathered them as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings — then may it well be said, that there was no fury in the Son of God, no fury in God.

Let us make the application to ourselves in the present day. On the last day there will be a tremendous discharge of fury. That wrath which sinners are now doing so much to treasure up will all be poured forth on them. The season of God's mercy will then have come to an end; and after the sound of the last trumpet, there will never more be heard the sounding call of reconciliation. Oh, my brethren, that God who is grieved, and who is angry with sinners every day, will, in the last day, pour it all forth in one mighty torrent on the heads of the impenitent. It is now gathering and accumulating in a storehouse of vengeance; and at the awful point in the successive history of nature and providence, when time shall be no more, will the door of this storehouse be opened, that the fury of the Lord may break loose upon the guilty, and accomplish upon them the weight and the terror of all His threatenings. You misunderstand the text then, my brethren, if you infer from it that fury has no place in the history or methods of God's administration. It has its time and its occasion — and the very greatest display of it is yet to come, when the earth shall be burned up, and the heavens shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, and "the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, in flaming fire, taking vengeance on those who know not God, and obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ; and they shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power." It makes one shudder seriously to think that there may be some here present whom this devouring torrent of wrath shall sweep away; some here present who will be drawn into the whirl of destruction, and forced to take their descending way through the mouth of that pit where the worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched; some here present who so far from experiencing in their own persons that there is no fury in God, will find that throughout the dreary extent of one hopeless and endless and unmitigated eternity, it is the only attribute of His they have to do with. But hear me, hear me ere you have taken your bed in hell; hear me, ere that prison-door be shut upon you which is never, never again to be opened! hear me, hear me ere the great day of the revelation of God's wrath come round, and there shall be a total breaking up of that system of things which looks at present so stable and so unalterable! On that awful day I might not be able to take up the text and say — that there is no fury in God. But oh! hear me, for your lives hear me — on this day I can say it. From the place where I now stand I can throw abroad amongst you the wide announcement — that there is no fury in God; and there is not one of you into whose heart this announcement may not enter, and welcome will you be to strike with your beseeching God a league of peace and of friendship that shall never be broken asunder. Surely when I am busy at my delegated employment of holding out the language of entreaty, and of sounding in your ears the tidings of gladness, and of inviting you to enter into the vineyard of God — surely at the time when the messenger of the gospel is thus executing the commission wherewith he is charged and warranted, he may well say — that there is no fury in God. Surely at the time when the Son of God is inviting you to kiss Him and to enter into reconciliation, there is neither the feeling nor the exercise of fury. It is only if you refuse, and if you persist in refusing, and if you suffer all these calls and entreaties to be lost upon you — it is only then that God will execute His fury, and put forth the power of His anger. And therefore He says to us, "Kiss the Son, lest He be angry, and ye perish from the way, when His wrath is kindled but a little."

"On the Nature of the Sin Unto Death"

On His approach to the city of Jerusalem, it is said of Him, that when He came near and beheld the city, He wept over it, saying, "If thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace; but now they are hid from thine eyes!" It looks a mystery, that our Saviour should weep for that which He had power to ward off from the object of his tenderness — that He who created these worlds, and who is now exalted a Prince and a Saviour, should abandon Himself to the helplessness of despair, when He contemplated the approaching fate of that city, which, after all the wrongs He had sustained from it, and all the perverseness and provocations He had gotten from its hands, He still longed after and sighed over in all the bitterness of grief, at the prospect of its coming visitation. Why, it may be thought, could Hot He have fulfilled the every desire of His sympathizing heart, by interposing the might and sovereignty which belonged to Him? Could not He have arrested the progress of the victorious armies? Could not He have been for a wall of defence around His beloved city; and whence that dark and mysterious necessity to which even the power of Him to whom all power was committed, both in heaven and earth, was constrained to give way — insomuch that the Being, in whom was vested an omnipotence over the whole domain of Nature and of Providence, felt that He had nothing for it but to sit Him down and weep over the doom that He saw to be irrevocable? It is true that the inhabitants of this devoted city were the children of darkness. It is true that they still put the calls and the offers of the New Testament away from them. It is true that their yet unpenetrated hearts were shielded round by an obstinacy which had withstood every previous application. But could not He who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, shine in their hearts with such a power and a splendour of conviction as would have been utterly irresistible? Could not He who is able to subdue all things unto Himself, have subdued His countrymen out of that obstinacy, which had hitherto stood immoveable to all the influence that was brought to bear upon it? Could not that influence have been augmented? Could it not have been wrought up to such a degree of efficacy, as would have overmatched the whole force and tenacity of their opposing prejudices — and had this been done, the people would have been converted; and the threatened vengeance been withdrawn; and the Saviour would have seen in His countrymen of the travail of His soul and been satisfied; and the mysterious phenomenon of the greatest and the powerfullest of all beings weeping over a calamity, to avert which He had both the power and the inclination, would not have been presented; and how, then, does all this accord with what we know, or what we can guess, of the character of God's administration?

Take into account only the power of the Saviour to deliver the city of Jerusalem, and the strength of His kind and affectionate desires towards it; and you might think that there lay before Him a plain and practicable way for the fulfilment of the object. But there was another principle of the Divine administration which overruled the whole of this matter; and, without attempting to dive into the reasons of the counsel of God, or to inquire why He has adopted such a principle — enough for us the bare announcement of the fact that it is so. He has found out and He has published a way of salvation; and a message of peace is made to circulate round the world; and all who will are made welcome to partake of it; and the Spirit, urging every one to whom the word of salvation is sent to turn unto Christ from their iniquities, plies them with as much argument and holds out to them as much light, and affects the conscience of one and all of us with as much power, as ought to constrain us to the measure of accepting the Saviour, and relinquishing for Him the idol of every besetting sin and of every seducing vanity. But if we will not be constrained, it is the mode of His procedure with every human soul, gradually to cease from His work of contesting with them. And He will not always strive. And to him who hath the property of yielding to His first influences, more will be given. And to him who hath not, there will even be taken away from him such influences as he may have already had. And thus it is that the way of the Spirit, with the conscience of man, harmonizes with all that we feel and all that we experience of the workings of this conscience. If often stifled and repressed, it will at length cease to meddle with us. And enough for every practical purpose that we know this to be the fact. Enough that it is made known to us as a principle of God's administration, though we know not the reason why it should be so. Enough to alarm us into an immediate compliance with the voice of our inward monitor, that, should we resist it any longer, the time may come, when even Omnipotence itself will not interpose to save us. Enough to compel our instantaneous respect for all its suggestions, that, should we keep unmoved and unawed by them, even the God of love, who wills the happiness of all His children, may find that the wisdom and the purity and the justice of His government require of Him our final and everlasting abandonment. And oh, how we should tremble to presume on the goodness of God — when we see the impressive attitude of Him, who, though the kindest and gentlest and best of beings, looked to the great mass of His countrymen, and foresaw the wretchedness that was in reserve for them; and, instead of offering to put forth the might of His resistless energy for their deliverance, did nothing but give way to the tenderness of His nature, and weep for a distress which He would not remedy.

They had got beyond that irrecoverable point we have so much insisted on. They had tried the Spirit of God to the uttermost, and He had ceased to strive with them. At that time of their day, when, had they minded the things which belong to their peace, they would have done it with effect — they put away from them His every admonition and His every argument; and now there lay upon them the stern and unrelenting doom, that they were for ever hid from their eyes. Let us once more make the application. The goodness of God lies in the freeness of that offer wherewith He urges you now. And He backs this offer by the call of repentance now. And He tells you, that, to carry forward and to perfect this repentance, He is willing to minister help to all your infirmities now. And on this your day, He calls you to mind these things and to proceed upon these things now. But should this goodness not lead you to repentance — then it is not a goodness that you have any warrant to calculate upon at any future stage of your history. And the time may come when all these things shall be hid from your eyes. The goodness of God is perfect, as all His other attributes are; but then it is a goodness exercised in that one way of perfect wisdom which He has thought fit to reveal to us. It is a goodness which harmonizes, in all its displays, with such maxims and such principles in the way of God's administration as God has thought fit to make known to us. It is a goodness that will not survive all the resistance and all the provocation that we may choose to inflict upon it. It is a goodness, in virtue of which every one of us now may turn to the God whom we have offended; and be assured of His abundant forgiveness; and be admitted into all the privileges of His reconciled children; and, rejoicing in the blood that cleanseth from all sin, stand with all the securities of conscious acceptance before Him; and be established in that way of new obedience for which He is both able and willing most abundantly to strengthen us. All this now, all this today while it is called today, should you harden not your hearts. All this on that critical and interesting now, which is called the accepted time and the day of salvation. But oh, forget not, that the same Saviour who sounded just such calls in the ears of His countrymen, and would have gathered them together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, ere a few years more had rolled over the city of Jerusalem, wept when He beheld it, and thought of the stern and unalterable necessity of its approaching desolation.