September 19, 2007

Stephen Charnock (1628–1680) on God Begging God and His Affectionate Invitations

1. 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. li. 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; "We are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us" (2 Cor. v. 20). 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 ringed 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 only for an amity to him, but a love for his own life and happiness: this He doth, not only in his general proclamations, but in his particular wooings, those inward courtings of his Spirits, soliciting them with more diligence (if they would observe it) to their happiness, than the devil tempts them to the ways of their misery: as he was first in Christ, reconciling the world, when the world looked not after him, so he is first in his Spirit, wooing the world to accept of that reconciliation, when the world will not listen to him. How often doth he flash up the light of nature and the light of the word in men's hearts, to move them not to lie down in sparks of their own kindling, but to aspire to a better happiness, and prepare them to be subject to a higher mercy, if they would improve his present entreaties to such an end! 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. His threatenings are gracious expostulations with them: "Why will ye die, O house of Israel" (Ezek. xxxiii. 11)? They are like the noise a favorable officer make in the street, to warn the criminal he comes to seize upon, to make his escape: he never used his justice to crush them, 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.
Stephen Charnock, "Discourse XIII: On the Goodness of God," in The Existence and Attributes of God (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1996), 2:285–286. Also in Stephen Charnock, The Existence and Attributes of God (Grand Rapids: Sovereign Grace Publishers, 1971), 598–599.


Note: Oddly enough, the Sovereign Grace edition has a Foreword written by Gordon H. Clark (a hyper-Calvinist) while he was at Butler University. He strongly recommends the book and says that "...when...the essence and attributes of God are called into question, to whom else can we better go than to Stephen Charnock?" And, "the material that Charnock discusses is firmly founded in the Word of God." Ibid., 6–7. In this work, Stephen Charnock strongly argues for well-meant offers and common grace.

See also Charnock on God's Importunate Entreaties.

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