The Will of God and the Gospel Offer
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 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.