( From "The Believer's Life" by: Dr. Arthur T. Pierson, circa 1905)
We now turn, to call attention to some of the unique features of the whole Christian system, which distinguish it not only as such, but differentiate it from all other so-called systems of religious faith.
The Gospel represents God as -1. Seeking men. 2. Reconciling men. 3. Loving men. 4. Saving men.
That is to say, all the steps in the salvation are taken by God, first of all. The utmost that man could do was to respond to divine approaches. No other religion has ever conceived of God as taking the initial steps. Instead of God seeking man, man has been taught to seek God, often very vaguely and ineffectually striving to placate an offended Deity by various offerings, sacrifices, self-denials, pilgrimages, and penances.
1. The Gospel alone represents God as seeking man, without any regard to man's moral condition or spiritual alienation; and, in fact, as seeking man not when in his best condition, but when in his worst state of spiritual want and woe. "The Son of Man is come to seek and to save that which is lost."
2. God is represented as reconciling man to Himself, and it is noticeable that, although in many of our hymns, and prayers, and addresses we refer to God as being reconciled, the Bible never makes this statement. It rather represents God as never having been alienated. The alienation has been solely on the side of man. There has been no change in the attitude of God - the same God of holiness, and righteousness, love, compassion; man wandering from Him; but God yearning over man in all his wanderings, as illus-rated in the latter part of Luke 15, - the story of the "Prodigal Son."This is a very important distinction, and derives its importance from the fact that it ut-terly delivers us from all thought of having to do anything to bring God into a favor-able attitude toward us, - a reconciled position. If He has never been alienated from man, then there is nothing for man to do but for him to turn toward God, and he will find God's face already and always toward him.
3. God is represented as loving man. This is a new conception, not found in any heathen philosophy. Love is of two sorts - the love of complacence, which depends upon attract-ive qualities in the object; and the love of benevolence, which depends solely upon the loving nature of him that loves, and has therefore no references whatever to attractive qualities in the object, but is rather inspired to intensity activity by the determination to develop in the most unlovely that which shall prove to be lovable. God's love to man is not in consequence of man's virtues, but rather in spite of his vices, seeking to meet his awful destitution, and supply his desperate need. It is the love of One who, while He hates the sin, loves the sinner. This again is a wholly unique feature of the Christian system.
4. God is represented as saving man, not primarily with man's co-operation, but solely by His own blessed activity and grace. This is not a salvation that man secures by any-thing that he does. It is a gift, and all he can do is to accept what is freely offered by God to all, irrespectively of their deserts, and as freely offered to the worst as to the best.
These are the four great unique features of the Christian system, but others almost as unique are the natural outcome and concomitants of these. For instance, what is called by Isaiah "Abundant Pardon" - pardon so rich and free and inexhaustible in its patience, that it is never weary of forgiving, and which demands nothing on the part of the recip-ient but penitence. "Let the wicked forsake his way, and the unrighteous man his thoughts: and let him return unto the Lord, and He will have mercy upon him; and to our God, for He will abundantly pardon." (Isaiah 55:7). It is a pardon that not only forgives, but cancels the debt and even destroys its record, so that the sins and iniquities forgiven are remembered no more.
There is also included justification without works, a new doctrine, unknown to any other system. This justification is more than pardon. It implies absolute reinstatement in the favor of God, as though one had never sinned; and the marvel is not only that this justi-fication is without works, but it is forfeited by all attempts to obtain it on the ground of personal merit.
Sanctification also is included, and again without works. It is dependent upon nothing that the sinner does. He must simply entrust himself to the Lord Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, and be content to have God in him meet and overcome foes with which he is un-able to cope.Scarcely less wonderful is it that all these divine mysteries, so profound and so unspeak-able, are yet in practicable application so simple that they are not beyond the reach of the humblest little child. All that are capable of sinning, that have enough intellect, and intelligence, and will to be responsible for action, are equally capable of faith; so that, while the Bible is full of grandeur and ineffable sublimity, so that even the angels them-selves vainly desire to look into and penetrate the mysteries of God, there are no mysteries in duty.
Salvation is thus put within reach of every sinner. All this constrains us to exclaim, with the Apostle Paul: " For who hath known the mind of the Lord, or, being His counselor, hath taught Him?" "For of Him, and through Him, and to Him, are all things, to whom be glory for ever" - "of Him," as a source; "through Him," as a channel; "to Him," as the final ocean into which all empties. God is the beginning, the middle, and the end of the whole method of salvation. There is no room either for human works or for human glory, no disputing or dividing the honor with God, no room for boasting. We can only glorify the infinite grace that saves.
[...I'd like to include a portion of a previous chapter from Dr. Pierson's book as it relates to the subjects at hand. So here we go... ]
Turn now to God's provision for man's sinful and lost condition. "By grace are ye saved through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God." God made provision not only for sins, but for sin. Reflect a moment upon the doctrine of Justification (Romans 3: 9 - 31).
This grand passage of scripture is the only one in which that whole truth is presented, and a wonderful disclosure it is. Paul shows that:
(1) condemnation is universal, over both Jew and Gentile, so that there is no hope of self-justification, for how can any condemned transgressor justify himself? Then he shows:
(2) that by the Law can no flesh be justified, for the Law only brings the consciousness of transgression.
(3) Further (verse 21), that there is revealed a righteousness apart from the Law;
(4) (verse 22) that righteousness is by faith in Jesus Christ - offered to all and to be put on, as a garment, by all believers;
(5) (verse 24) that Justification is presented as free - all of His grace, through the Redemption which is in Christ Jesus;
(6) (verse 25) That it is through the Blood, the basis of propitiation, which includes the remission of sins that are past through the forbearance of God.
(7) Last of all, that this Justification does not complicate or implicate God with evil. He remains righteous, while imparting righteous-ness to the believer. Is not that a wonderful plan of salvation? The substitution of an innocent Victim for the sinner is the basis of Justification by Faith.
Some say, "Let us hear no more of the blood!" But if you take away the blood, you take away the foundation of all else. The crimson of man's sin and the crimson of Atoning blood color and characterize every page of the Bible. One subject we cannot avoid here, thought it is very difficult, perplexing, and mysterious - the subject of Election. "For by grace are ye saved, through faith, and that not of yourselves; it is the gift of God." "According as He hath chosen us in Him before the foundation of the world. ...Having predestined us unto the adoption of children" (Ephesians 1: 4, 5).
No doubt Election is taught in Scripture. Three words used in Ephesians - "chosen," "predestinated," "before-ordained." Chosen refers to the eternal past; Predestination to the eternal future, looking to the final destiny; fore-ordination links these together, and shows the co-ordination of God's will and man's will in the actual process of Redemption. God's plan for my life, and the life actually lived, exactly match each other (chapter 2:10). The danger is of perverting Election into Fatalism, which destroys the freedom of man's choice; and, with that, man's accountability and responsibility.We should deal carefully with anything taught in the Word of God, accepting the mystery where it is inexplicable. "The secret things belong unto the Lord our God." It would be remarkable if, in this Book, there were no thoughts above our own.
This doctrine of Election is rather for the believer than for the unbeliever, and what was a stumbling-stone to the latter often becomes a stepping-stone to the former. Election, taught in the Word, must be consistent both with the sovereign will of God and the freedom of man; and if we cannot reconcile these two, it is because the subject is so infinitely lifted up above us. Man is free. There are in your heart and mine seven thunders that utter their voices, such as:
And all these voices unite in affirming "I am responsible." Moreover, God Himself directly appeals to choice: He says, "Why will ye die?" (Ezek. 53: 31).
As the Apocalypse closes, we read: "Whosoever will, let him take the water of life freely." THUS THE LAST GREAT INVITATION IN GOD'S BOOK IS AN APPEALTO THE WILL. But - most starling of all - in Christ's lament over Jerusalem: "How often WOULD I have gathered thy children, even as a hen gathereth her chickens un-der her wings, and YE would not."
The yearning of God and the stubborn refusal of man are here put in clear antagonism. Often, in the same scripture, both sides are presented. The experience of saints vindicatesthe doctrine of Election. Saul of Tarsus came to a knowledge of God only when met in the way by the risen Lord Jesus when driving forward in a mad career of persecution: what wonder he exalts electing grace, for where would he have been but for that grace!
Tens of thousands of sinners evidently come to a knowledge of God only by the sovereign grace that seeks them out, and saves them. As to the practical aspect of Election, a distinguished preacher has appropriately said, that from a practical point of view "the elect are whosoever will, and the non-elect are the whosoever won't." The consistent view presented in the Word of God, throughout, is this: God has a plan born in His own heart, borne out by His own providence and grace. And in our salvat-ion, all from first to last is to be traced to Him. The plan is perfect and all-embracing. It takes in my repentance, faith, justification, sanctification, glorification.
He begins the work without my knowledge and co-operation; He carries it on with my knowledge and co-operation. I come to see His plan, to recognize its perfect beauty and benev-olence; I, by faith, come into that plan!
...And with that I'm going to close this message!
Hopefully, you have seen some new insights into some of the most challenging, deep things of God. It is not something that can be quickly understood in all of its complex aspects with a single, quick glance. Most Christians go to their graves with little or no accurate understanding of the Election and Predestination of God. I know I've learned a few things from reading Dr. Pierson's material and will probably post more segments from his book in future messages. In the meanwhile, be blessed in the Lord and in the power of His might!