February 23, 2008

Thomas Chalmers (1780–1847) on God and the Gospel Offer

5. We ought therefore to proceed on the obvious representations which Scripture gives of the Deity, and these beheld in their own immediate light, untinged by the dogma of Predestination. God waiting to be gracious—God not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance—God swearing by Himself that He has no pleasure in the death of a sinner, but rather that all should come unto Him and live—God beseeching men to enter into reconciliation, and this not as elect, but simply and generally as men and sinners;—these are the attitudes in which the Father of the human family sets Himself forth unto the world—these the terms in which He speaks to us from heaven. Now what we affirm, what we zealously affirm, is, that the gospel is not adequately rendered, if the full and natural force of these exhibitions be not brought to bear on the hearts of all men. It is a distorted gospel, if through any doctrinal medium whatever, the spectacle of a God beckoning their return to forgiveness be at all darkened or transformed. Any charm which there is in Christianity to recall or to regenerate some, lies in those of its overtures which are so framed as to hold out the offered friendship of God unto all. We strip our religion of its moral efficacy if we do not so represent it. It is not a limited, it is a universal offer in the gospel, which is the instrument of every particular conversion. This is not superseded by the system of necessity. The same God who makes the manifested good-will of one man an instrument for gaining the confidence and affection of another towards him, makes His own manifested good-will the instrument for gaining the confidence and affection of sinners unto Himself; and it is an instrument, we repeat, which may be brought to bear upon all. It is an open manifestation on which every man is invited to look, and in which all have an equal warrant to trust and to rejoice. All that necessity does is to make sure the concatenation between antecedents and their consequents, between means and their ends; and this it does whatever the antecedents and whatever the consequents are. There is nothing, therefore, in necessity, or to substitute the theological term, there is nothing in predestination, which hinders the antecedent in the work of conversion from being the general offer of pardon to all men, and the consequent from being the repose of a confiding acceptance on the part of all or of any who are willing to enter on the path of reconciliation. The index to this path is lifted up in the sight of all. The bidding to walk in this path is addressed unto all. The Sun of righteousness hath arisen for the general behoof of human spirits, just as much as the sun of nature hath arisen for the general behoof of human eyes. We can imagine so violent a perversity as that of shutting one's eyes against the light of day, and so walking wilfully in darkness. And we are not left to imagine, for we see it exemplified of thousands, that they shut the eyes of their understanding against the light of the gospel, and so walk wilfully in spiritual darkness. He who doeth evil cometh not unto the light, says our Saviour. It is because of our own perversity, it is because of our own resistance, if we do not obtain the pardon of the gospel. We have it for the taking. The book of revelation is open to us, and we may read our welcome there, even in the very passages where the elect read it, for they have no more access than others to the book of destiny. The demonstration held forth in the gospel is that of a God not only commanding but even beseeching His strayed creatures to return unto Him. If one man be carried by this demonstration and another resist it, it is not because the external demonstration has been differently given to the two men, but because it has been differently received by them. God, in the gospel of Jesus Christ, holds forth the very same overtures to both; and the only distinction is, that it is not responded to in the same way by both. The command on both to believe is alike imperative. The entreaty for both to return is alike importunate. The love wherewith God loved the world so as to send His only begotten Son into it, ought to be urged on both these inhabitants of the world—in the very same style of entreaty and unreserved assurance—and that for the purpose of awakening in them the same confidence, and calling forth the same gratitude for the good-will from heaven thus manifested to the one just as it is to the other. We are aware that there may be and often is a difference in the result, but the cause of this must be looked for inwardly, to a difference between the men, and not outwardly, to the application that has been brought to bear upon them. The application is a free pardon held out for acceptance to them both—the assurance of God's readiness in Christ Jesus to forgive, coupled with the call of repentance to them both—the declaration of a blood that cleanseth from all sin, and that will most assuredly cleanse them from their sin if they will only put their trust in it, made equally to them both—the proclamation of an open way of access, towards which our very first movement will cause joy in heaven, and God Himself—like the father in the parable—to meet them with the encouragements of His parental welcome, lifted up in the hearing of both, a longing affection on the part of their Creator, lifted up in such touching expressions as—Oh, that they would remember the things which belong to their peace; and, Oh, that there were a heart in them to keep my commandments, this, we say, pointedly and with the same force of moral earnestness addressed to them both. Such is the outward engine made to play on the hearts of each; and that minister is untrue to his commission who does not bear it indiscriminately round, and cause it to operate with equal freeness and importunity at every door. We are aware that the effect within will not be the same, but the application from without ought to be the same; and that theologian has wildered himself among speculations which he knows not how to manage, and which therefore as too high for him he had better let alone, who suffers his views on necessity, on predestination, on the sovereignty of Divine grace, or the decrees of a past eternity, to embarrass the plain work that has been put into his hands, which is to make full tender of the mercy of God in Christ to all who will; and an equally full tender of the strength from on high, by which he might perfect the indispensable repentance of the gospel to all who will.
Thomas Chalmers, Institutes of Theology (Edinburgh: Sutherland and Knox, 1849), 2:409–412.

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