The Will of God and the Gospel Offer: Thomas Halyburton, Thomas Boston, Ebenezer Erskine, Archibald Bonar and Thomas Chalmers
These passages from classical Reformed theologians and preachers speak of God's desire for or delight in the salvation of those who hear the gospel offer, inasmuch as his revealed will is an expression of his goodness and kindness toward the hearers of the gospel.
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!
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.
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."
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.
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.