The Plan of Salvation
Part IX: Objections to the Augustinian Scheme.
That there are formidable objections to the Augustinian doctrine of divine sovereignty cannot be denied. They address themselves even more powerfully to the feelings and to the imagination than they do to the understanding. They are therefore often arrayed in such distorted and exaggerated forms as to pro-duce the strongest revulsion and abhorrence. This, however, is due partly to the distortion of the truth and partly to the opposition of our imperfectly or utterly unsanctified nature, to the things of the Spirit, of which the Apostle speaks in 1 Cor. ii. 14.
Of these objections, however, it may be remarked in general, in the first place, that they do not bear exclusively on this doctrine. It is one of the unfair devices of controversy to represent difficulties which press with equal force against some admitted doctrine as valid only against the doctrine which the objector rejects. Thus the objections against Augustinianism, on which special reliance is placed, bear with their full force against the decrees of God in gen-eral; or if these be denied, against the divine foreknowledge; against the per-mission of sin and misery, and especially against the doctrine of the unending sinfulness and misery of many of God’s intelligent creatures. These are doc-trines which all Christians admit, and which are arrayed by infidels and athe-ists in colours as shocking to the imagination and feelings as any which Anti-Augustinians have employed in depicting the sovereignty of God. It is just as difficult to reconcile to our natural ideas of God that He, with absolute control over all creatures, should allow so many of them to perish eternally as that He should save some and not others. The difficulty is in both cases the same. God does not prevent the perdition of those whom, beyond doubt, He has power to save. If those who admit God’s providence say that He has wise reasons for permitting so many of our race to perish, the advocates of his sovereignty say that He has adequate reasons for saving some and not others. It is unreason-able and unjust, therefore, to press difficulties which bear against admitted truths as fatal to doctrines which are matters of controversy. When an objec-tion is shown to prove too much it is rationally refuted.
The same Objections bear against the Providence of God.
A second general remark respecting these objections is, that they bear against the providence of God. This has already been shown. It is useless and irrational to argue against facts. It can avail nothing to say that it is unjust in God to deal more favourably with one nation than with another, with one indi-vidual than with another, if in point of fact He acts as a sovereign in the distri-bution of his favours. That He does so act is undeniable so far as providential blessings and religious advantages are concerned. And this is all that Augus-tinianism asserts in regard to the dispensations of his grace. If, therefore, the principle on which these objections are founded is proved to be false by the actual facts of providence the objections cannot be valid against the Augustin-ian scheme.
Founded on our Ignorance.
A third obvious remark is that these objections are subjective; i.e. they de-rive all their force from the limitation of our powers and from the narrowness of our views. They assume that we are competent to sit in judgment on God’s government of the universe; that we can ascertain the end which He has in view, and estimate aright the wisdom and justice of the means adopted for its accomplishment. This is clearly a preposterous assumption, not only because of our utter incapacity to comprehend the ways of God, but also because we must of necessity judge before the consummation of his plan, and must also judge from appearances. It is but right in judging of the plans even of a fellow mortal, that we should wait until they are fully developed, and also right that we should not judge without being certain that we can see his real intentions, and the connection between his means and end.
Besides all this, it is to be observed that these difficulties arise from our contemplating, so to speak, only one aspect of the case. We look only on the sovereignty of God and the absolute nature of his control over his creatures. We leave out of view, or are incapable of understanding the perfect consis-tency of that sovereignty and control, with the free agency and responsibility of his rational creatures. It is perfectly true, in one aspect, that God determines according to his own good pleasure the destiny of every human being; and it is equally true, in another aspect, that every man determines his own destiny. These truths can both be established on the firmest grounds. Their consistency, therefore, must be admitted as a fact, even though we may not be able to dis-cover it. Of the multitudes who start in the pursuit of fame, wealth, or power, some succeed while others fail. Success and failure, in every case, are deter-mined by the Lord. This is distinctly asserted in the Bible. “God,” saith the Psalmist, “putteth down one and setteth up another.” (Ps. lxxv. 7.) “The LORD maketh poor, and maketh rich: He bringeth low, and lifteth up.” (1 Sam. ii. 7.) “The LORD gave, and the LORD hath taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.” (Job i. 21.) “It is He that giveth thee power to get wealth.” (Deut. viii. 18.) “He giveth wisdom unto the wise, and knowledge to them that know understanding.” (Dan. ii. 21.) “The Most High ruleth in the kingdom of men, and giveth it to whomsoever He will.” (Dan. iv. 17.) This is a truth of natural religion. All men, whether Christians or not, pray for the success of their enterprises. They recognize the providential control of God over all the affairs of men. Nevertheless they are fully aware of the consis-tency of this control with their own free agency and responsibility. Every man who makes the acquisition of wealth his object in life, is conscious that he does it of his own free choice. He lays his own plans; adopts his own means; and acts as freely, and as entirely according to the dictates of his own will, as though there were no such thing as providence. This is not a delusion. He is perfectly free. His character expresses itself in the choice which he makes of the end which he desires to secure. He cannot help recognizing his responsibil-ity for that choice, and for all the means which he adopts to carry it into effect. All this is true in the sphere of religion. God places life and death before every man who hears the gospel. He warns him of the consequences of a wrong choice. He presents and urges all the considerations which should lead to a right determination. He assures the sinner that if he forsakes his sin, and re-turns unto the Lord, he shall be pardoned and accepted. He promises that if he asks, he shall receive; if he seeks he shall find. He assures him that He is more willing to give the Holy Spirit, than parents are to give bread unto their chil-dren. If, notwithstanding all this, he deliberately prefers the world, refuses to seek the salvation of his soul in the appointed way, and finally perishes, he is as completely responsible for his character and conduct, and for the perdition of his soul, as the man of the world is responsible for the pursuit of wealth. In both cases, and equally in both cases, the sovereign disposition of God is con-sistent with the freedom and responsibility of the agents. It is, therefore, by looking at only one half of the whole truth, that the difficulties in question are magnified into such importance. Men act as freely in religion as they do in any department of life; and when they perish it is the work of their own hands.
These Objections were urged against the Teachings of the Apostles.
Another remark respecting these objections should not be overlooked. They were urged by the Jews against the doctrine of the Apostle. This at least proves that his doctrine is our doctrine. Had he not taught what all Augustin-ians hold to be true, there would have been no room for such objections. Had he denied that God dispenses salvation according to his own good pleasure, having mercy on whom He will have mercy, why should the Jews urge that God was unjust and that the responsibility of man was destroyed? What ap-pearance of injustice could there have been had Paul taught that God elects those whom He foresees will repent and believe, and because of that fore-sight? It is only because he clearly asserts the sovereignty of God that the ob-jections have any place. The answers which Paul gives to these difficulties should satisfy us for two reasons; first, because they are the answers dictated by the Spirit of God; and secondly, because they are in themselves satisfactory to every rightly constituted mind.
The first of these objections is that it is inconsistent with the justice of God to save one and not another, according to his own good pleasure. To this Paul answers, (1.) That God claims this prerogative. (2.) That He actually exercises it. It is useless to deny facts, or to say that what God really does is inconsistent with his nature. (3.) That it is a rightful prerogative, founded not only on the infinite superiority of God and in his proprietorship in all his creatures; but also in his relation as moral governor to the race of sinful men. If even a hu-man sovereign is entitled to exercise his discretion in pardoning one criminal and not another, surely this prerogative cannot reasonably be denied to God. There can be no injustice in allowing the sentence of a just law to be executed upon an offender. And this is all that God does in regard to sinners.
The further difficulty connected with this subject arising from the foreor-dination of sin, belongs to the subject of decrees, and has already been consid-ered. The same remark applies to the objection that the doctrine in question destroys all motive to exertion and to the use of means of grace; and reduces the doctrine of the Scriptures to a purely fatalistic system.
The practical tendency of any doctrine is to be decided from its nature, and from its effects. The natural effect of the conviction that we have forfeited all claims on God’s justice, that we are at his mercy, and that He may rightfully leave us to perish in our sins, is to lead us to seek that mercy with earnestness and importunity. And the experience of the Church in all ages proves that such is the actual effect of the doctrine in question. It has not led to neglect, to stolid unconcern, or to rebellious opposition to God, but to submission, to the acknowledgment of the truth, and to sure trust in Christ as the appointed Sav-iour of those who deserve to perish.