SIR ROBERT ANDERSON
Secret Service Theologian
ENTAIL OF THE COVENANT
"WE are to nurture our children in the
chastening and admonition of the Lord, and thus to train them up in the way
they should go ; but the promise that they will not depart from it is by no
means to be trusted. And if they turn away from God and die impenitent, we may
comfort our broken hearts, as best we can, by the knowledge that the result was
wholly unaffected by our own unfaithfulness or want of faith : for their awful
destiny was irrevocably settled in a past eternity by an immutable decree of
fate. If they are elect, they will be saved ; and if not, they will be damned ;
and nothing that we do, or fail to do, can influence the issue."
It is with reluctance that I thus recur again to that village sermon. * But I do so because the preacher gave expression to a traditional and well-accredited belief that saddens many a Christian heart, and rests like a night mist upon many a Christian life. " When the gift of life was proffered us we were conscious in accepting it that we did so freely voluntarily. Since then, we have come to see that grace did not exhaust itself even in working out our deliverance at a cost so priceless, and bringing it within our reach, but that our very acceptance of the gift was the Spirit's work, and as directly the action of grace as Calvary itself. But more than this, now that we have received the message, and are come within the scene of joy and blessing to which it bids us, we have to learn that, in a sense fuller and deeper still, grace is sovereign. The gospel of our salvation spanned the open door of grace as we approached it; above the inner portal, we now read the solemn and blessed words ' Chosen in Him before the foundation of the world.' " l
1 The Gospel and its Ministry, chap. vi.
With a heart rejoicing and at rest in the sunshine of the Divine presence, the Christian can ponder this glorious truth ; whereas the doctrine which the Latin Fathers based upon it leaves us bewildered and benumbed
at the shrine of an awful deity whose dread decrees are a veto even upon prayer, for they are as irrevocable as they are mysterious.
But are not all Divine decrees irrevocable? Let Scripture itself decide the question. Did not God decree the destruction of the Sodomites? And yet in response to Abraham's prayer He promised to spare them if ten righteous men could be found among them. Did not God send His prophet to proclaim to the men of Nineveh that in forty days their city would be destroyed? And yet He cancelled the judgment when the men of Nineveh repented at the preaching of Jonah. Did not God decree the death of Hezekiah, sending His prophet to warn him of his impending doom? And yet it came to pass that, before Isaiah was gone out into the middle court, God turned him back with the message, "I have heard thy prayer, I have seen thy tears ; behold I will heal thee."
Will anyone dare to maintain that God did not really purpose to put an end to the King of Judah's life, or to destroy the great Assyrian city, and that the words which His prophets uttered by His commandment were intended merely to bring about the results which actually followed. The theology of the Jesuits condones untruthfulness of this kind, and we use strong language in condemning it. Turning away from such evil thoughts, let us firmly grasp the truth, that we have not to do with irrevocable decrees of fate, but with the present action of the living God, who hears not only the prayers of those who are His own, but the cry of penitent sinners who cast themselves upon His mercy. No Divine promise of favour or blessing has ever failed ; but the student of Scripture will recall many an instance of God's " repenting " in respect of a threatened judgment. And where promised blessing has been delayed, the delay is always due to human sin ; but if judgments are held back, the respite is always ascribed to divine long-suffering. The supreme instance of this is the great final judgment, when this earth is to be given up to fire. Surely the sin of man has ere now made it fully ripe for destruction ; why then is its doom so long deferred ? The answer is explicit : it is because of the long-suffering of God, Who is " not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance." 1
1 2 Peter iii. 7, 9.
"Chosen in Him before the foundation of the world." Let us take note of the time and the circumstances in which this wonderful truth was revealed. The covenant people had crucified the Lord of glory, and incurred the further guilt of rejecting the Pentecostal gospel of forgiveness through the blood their wicked hands had shed. For though the Apostle Paul, to whom the great revelation of grace was specially entrusted, had completed the whole circuit of his ministry to Israel, from Jerusalem to Rome, not a single Synagogue had accepted the proffered mercy. " There was no remedy," and the people of the covenant were set aside. And then it was that, in "the Captivity Epistles," the great " mystery1" truth of the Church, the body of Christ, which had already been foreshadowed, was fully and finally revealed.
1 In the New Testament a "mystery "is " not a thing unintelligible, but what lies hidden and secret till made known by the revelation of God" (Bloomfield'a Greek Testament).
The Abrahamic covenant related primarily to an earthly people and to earthly blessings; whereas this mystery revelation has to do with a heavenly people, and blessings in heavenly places in Christ. And while the covenant with Abraham was as definitely an event in time as was the covenant of Sinai, this "mystery" reveals a purpose which pertains to eternity and has no relation whatsoever to time.1
1 No pagan language has any word to express " eternity." In Greek a future eternity is represented as endless duration in time (unto the ages of ages) ; and a past, as in Eph. i. 4.
And yet the "election" difficulties which distress so many Christians depend on assuming that "before the foundation of the world" means some epoch in time prior to 4004 B.C. !2 But eternity is not endless time : it is the antithesis of time. And if the theories of Kant be true - and no metaphysical system is more thoroughly philosophical - and time is merely a law of thought, imposed by the Creator on His finite creatures, all these difficulties disappear. Not that I assume for a moment that this is the right solution of them; but if they can be solved so easily, surely the Christian may dismiss them from his thoughts, and have a heart at rest in the presence of God, with whom what we call past and future may be an eternal NOW.
2 This conventional date will serve here as well as any other.
The assumption that this eternal election includes all the redeemed is one of the many inferences from Scripture which arc common in our theology. Certain it is that not only the nations of the saved, but the earthly people of the covenant when again restored, will have their position upon earth; and we have no warrant for assuming that they are within the "chosen before the foundation of the world." The presumption is that these words refer definitely to the redeemed of this present age, whose peculiar position and blessings are a special burden of the "Captivity Epistles." And this wonderful revelation must not be frittered away by bracketing it with the ninth chapter of Romans, or other Scriptures, which relate either to the general truth of Divine sovereignty, or to the people of God in other dispensations past or future.
And let us not forget that the same Scripture which reveals this heavenly election teaches also "the mystery of the gospel" : as the Apostle calls the supreme revelation of grace. The truth of a timeless election is thus inseparably linked with a gospel that is "preached to every creature which is under heaven" 2- the gospel of "God our Saviour, who willeth that all men should be saved and come to the knowledge of the truth."3 This Scriptural truth of election must therefore be kept apart from the Augustinian doctrine. For while the truth is an incentive to faithfulness and zeal, the doctrine affords an excuse for unfaithfulness and apathy. And this, not merely in the case of individual Christians, but of the Professing Church as a body. William Carey proved this to his sorrow when he pleaded in vain for missions to the heathen. "If the natives of India are elect, they will be saved ; and if they are not elect, no missionaries need be sent to them"- such was the response his appeals evoked from "the Church." We have seen how and when the" mystery" truth of election was revealed; it may be desirable here to mark how and when the doctrinal perversion of it originated.
1 Eph. vi. 19. 2 Col. i. 23. 3 1 Tim. ii. 4.
While Moses was still with the Church in the wilderness, the apostasy of Israel had declared itself. And the later Epistles plainly indicate that, before the Apostles left the earth, the Professing Christian Church was proving false to its trust. As Canon Bernard writes in his Bampton Lectures: "I know not how any man, in closing the Epistles, could expect to find the subsequent history of the Church essentially different from what it is. In those writings we seem, as it were, not to witness some passing storms which clear the air, but to feel the whole atmosphere charged with the elements of future tempest and death. Every moment the forces of evil show themselves more plainly." But it was not until the time of the Patristic theologians that the full extent of the lapse from Christian truth and testimony became plainly manifest. Indeed most of their writings related to the heresies that prevailed ; and the record of their efforts to maintain a Christian standard of morals is a main feature of the Church history of that age. The devastating persecutions which raged from time to time were a check upon these evils; but when, with the "conversion" of Constantine, that restraining influence ceased, and the Professing Church became free to set its house in order, the apostasy took shape in what we call " the religion of Christendom."
Speaking generally, "the theology of the Latin Fathers was governed by the old Platonic conception of the 'transcendent' Deity, a God far removed from men; whose alienation, moreover, was rendered more terrible by the doctrine of original sin. In their view the benefits of the work of Christ were limited to a privileged few, and their system aimed at extending the number of that minority, and mitigating for them the perils of their position. The simple baptism of the New Testament was remodelled on pagan lines as a mystical regeneration and cleansing from sin, bringing the sinner from under the storm-cloud of Divine wrath into the sphere where a mystically endowed priesthood could minister to him further grace. For in this theology Divine sovereignty became sheer favouritism; election came to mean little more than immunity from wrath ; and grace, instead of being, as in the New Testament, the principle of the Divine action, and the characteristic of the Divine attitude, toward mankind, was regarded rather as a sort of spiritual electricity to be communicated to the favoured few by ordinances which owed their validity to a sacerdotal class. The Church, which in their system meant practically the clergy, was the mediator between an alienated and angry God and men depraved and doomed."l St. Augustine of Hippo was the master mind by whom this system was moulded into the form which it has ever since maintained.2 The greatness of the man is unquestionable. And his intense piety is manifest m his Confessions, a book that reveals the experiences of a pure and earnest soul reaching out toward God through mists and darkness that fuller Christian truth would have dispelled. For there is scarcely an error in Christendom-religion that cannot be found in embryo in his writings.
1 The Bible or the Church, ch. iv.
2 "With Augustine the whole subject assumed new and front-rank prominence. It was mostly a new creation from a new star point, drawn not from earlier Christian sources, but from the ideas which he had imbibed from his philosophical studies" (Hastings' Encyc. of Religion, art. Election").
As has been so justly said, "Augustine substituted an organised Church and a supernatural hierarchy for an ever-present Christ. To Augustine, more than to anyone else, is due the theory which is most prolific of the abiding curse inflicted on many generations by an arrogant and usurping priestcraft. . . . And all that was most deplorable in his theology and ecclesiasticism became the most cherished heritage of the Church of the Middle Ages, in exact proportion to its narrowest ignorance, its tyrannous ambition, its moral corruption, and its unscrupulous cruelty." l
Such then was the soil, and such the atmosphere, which produced the theological doctrine of Election.2
1 Dean Farrar's Lives of the Fathers, vol. ii. 603.
2 On this subject, see further the App.
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