The Will of God and the Gospel Offer

Stephen Charnock

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.

Stephen Charnock (1628-1680):
Incarnate goodness bewailing the ruin of Jerusalem
(A Discourse Upon the Goodness of God, in The Complete Works of Stephen Charnock, vol. 2, pp. 340-41)

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. 51:4, ‘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: II Cor. 5:20, ‘We are ambassadors for Christ, as though God did beseech you by us.’ 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 wringed 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 for an amity to him, but a love to his own life and happiness.

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, Ezek. 33:11. His threatenings are gracious expostulations with them: ‘Why will ye die, O house of Israel?’ They are like the noise a favourable officer makes in the street, to warn the criminal he comes to seize upon to make his escape; he never used his justice to crush men, 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.

How meltingly doth he bewail man’s wilful refusal of his goodness! It is a mighty goodness to offer grace to a rebel, a mighty goodness to give it him after he hath a while stood off from the terms; an astonishing goodness to regret and lament his wilful perdition. He seems to utter those words in a sigh, Ps. 81:13, ‘Oh that my people had hearkened unto me, and Israel had walked in my way!’ It is true, God hath not human passions, but his affections cannot be expressed otherwise in a way intelligible to us; the excellency of his nature is above the passions of men, but such expressions of himself manifest to us the sincerity of his goodness, and that, were he capable of our passions, he would express himself in such a manner as we do. And we find incarnate goodness bewailing with tears and sighs the ruin of Jerusalem, Luke 19:42. By the same reason that when a sinner returns there is joy in heaven, upon his obstinacy there is sorrow on earth; the one is as if a prince should clothe all his court in triumphant scarlet upon a rebel’s repentance, and the other, as if a prince should put himself and his court in mourning for a rebel’s obstinate refusal of a pardon, when he lies at his mercy. Are not, now, these affectionate invitations and deep bewailings of their perversity high testimonies of divine goodness? Do not the unwearied repetitions of gracious encouragements deserve a higher name than that of mere goodness? What can be a stronger evidence of the sincerity of it than the sound of his saving voice in our enjoyments, the motion of his Spirit in our hearts, and his grief for the neglect of all? These are not testimonies of any want of goodness in his nature to answer us, or willingness to express it to his creature. Hath he any mind to deceive us, that thus entreats us? The majesty of his nature is too great for such shifts; or, if it were not, the despicableness of our condition would render him above the using any. Who would charge that physician with want of kindness, that freely offers his sovereign medicine, importunes men by the love they have to their health to take it, and is dissolved into tears and sorrow when he finds it rejected by their peevish and conceited humour?

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