It is generally allowed that to understand the Scriptures it is necessary to enter into the connexion of what we read; and let it be considered whether it be not equally necessary to the understanding of any particular doctrine that we enter into the connexions in which it is introduced in the Scriptures. We have seen, in a former essay, that Divine truths are not taught us in a systematical form, and also the wisdom of God in scattering them throughout his word in a variety of practical relations. What these relations are it becomes us to ascertain; otherwise we may admit the leading truths of revelation as articles of belief, and yet, for want of a close attention to these, may possess but very little Scripture knowledge; and the doctrine which we think we hold may be of very little use to us. “When I was a youth,” said a minister lately in conversation, “I admitted many doctrines, but did not feel their importance and practical efficacy.”
It would be a good work for a serious, thinking mind carefully to inquire into the various connexions in which acknowledged truths are introduced in the Scriptures, and the practical purposes to which they are there actually applied. I shall take the liberty of offering a brief specimen with respect to the doctrine of election. The truth of the doctrine I may in this place take for granted as a matter clearly revealed in the word of God, observing only a few of its principal connexions.
First, It is introduced to declare the source of salvation to be mere grace, or undeserved favour, and to cut off all hopes of acceptance with God by works of any kind.—In this connexion we find it in Rom. 11:5, 6, “Even so then, at this present time also, there is a remnant according to the election of grace; and if by grace, then is it no more of works; otherwise grace is no more grace: but if it be of works, then is it no more grace; otherwise work is no more work.” All compromise is here for ever excluded, and the cause of salvation decidedly and fully ascribed to electing grace. With this end the doctrine requires to be preached to saints and sinners. To the former, that they may be at no loss to what they shall ascribe their conversion and salvation, but may know and own with the apostle that it is by the grace of God they are what they are; to the latter, that they may be warned against relying upon their own righteousness, and taught that the only hope of life which remains for them is in repairing as lost and perishing sinners to the Saviour, casting themselves at the feet of sovereign mercy.
Secondly, It is introduced in order to account for the unbelief of the greater part of the Jewish nation, without excusing them in it.—This appears to be its connexion in the ninth chapter of the Epistle to the Romans. To show that the wide-spreading unbelief of that people was not a matter of surprise, and did not affect the veracity of God in his promises, the apostle distinguishes between those who were Israel and those who were merely of Israel (ver. 6); evincing that from the beginning God had drawn a line between Isaac and Ishmael, Jacob and Esau; the former being merely “children of the flesh,” and the latter “children of the promise,” to whom God had an eye in all he had said, and who were “counted for the seed.” The same argument is pursued and confirmed from the declaration of God to Moses: “I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and compassion on whom I will have compassion;” intimating not only that a sinner had no natural claim of mercy on God, but that even among the Israelites, who were a people in covenant with him, he ever preserved the right of sovereignty in the forgiveness of sin, and every dispensation of saving grace. The result is, that in God’s leaving great numbers of Abraham’s posterity to perish in unbelief, and calling a people for himself, partly of Jews and partly of Gentiles, (ver. 24, 27,) he proceeded on the same principle as that on which he had proceeded from the beginning.
Paul saw, indeed, that the corrupt mind of man would allege that, if things were so, the agency and accountableness of man were destroyed; and therefore introduces the objection, ver. 19, “Thou wilt say then unto me, Why doth he yet find fault; for who hath resisted his will?” This objection affords irrefragable proof that the doctrine maintained by the apostle was that of the absolute sovereignty of God, in having mercy on whom he would, and giving up whom he would to hardness of heart; for against no other doctrine could such an objection have been made with any appearance of plausibility. This objection is the same for substance as has been made ever since, and that by two sorts of people; namely, those who disown the doctrine, as being destructive of human agency; and those who contend for the doctrine for that very purpose. The language of those who disown the doctrine is this: If it be so, that the state of every one is determined by the will of God, why are men blamed for not believing in Christ? God has his will, and what would he have more? The language of those who contend for the doctrine, with the intent of destroying human agency, is, It is true that the state of every man is determined by the will of God; but then it is not right that he should find fault with sinners for their unbelief; for his will is not resisted. It is easy to see that both these positions are at variance with the gospel. With respect to the former, if we follow the example of the apostle, we shall think it enough to prove that God actually exercises an absolute sovereignty in saving whom he will, and yet finds fault with unbelievers as much as if no such sovereignty were exercised; leaving him to justify his own conduct, and them who reply against him to answer it at his tribunal. With respect to the latter, if we keep to the principle laid down by the apostle, we shall not deny the truth because they abuse it; but avow it, and at the same time find fault with unbelievers, ascribing their failure, as he did in the same chapter, to their “seeking righteousness as it were by the works of the law, stumbling at the stumbling-stone.” If on this account we be accused of “self-contradiction,” “saying and unsaying,” “preaching half grace and half works,” “beginning with truth and ending with falsehood,” &c. &c., we have this comfort, that the same things might have been objected with equal justice to the writings of the apostle, as appears from the above remarks, and were in substance actually objected to them.
Thirdly, It is introduced to show the certain success of Christ’s undertaking, as it were in defiance of unbelievers, who set at nought his gracious invitations. When Esther seemed to hesitate on going in unto the king in behalf of her people, she was answered by Mordecai’s order, thus: “If thou hold thy peace at this time, then shall there enlargement and deliverance arise from another place; but thou and thy father’s house shall be destroyed!” Such, in effect, is the language of the doctrine of election to sinners of mankind, and that on various occasions. It is not designed to supersede universal invitations; but to provide against those invitations being universally unsuccessful. Thus, our Lord having upbraided Chorazin and Bethsaida for their impenitence under his ministry, it is immediately added by the evangelist, “At that time Jesus answered and said, I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes: even so, Father; for so it seemed good in thy sight.” This was like saying, Though Chorazin and Bethsaida have not repented, yet shall I not be wanting of subjects; deliverance shall arise from another place! Again, When addressing the unbelieving Pharisees, he applied those words in the cxviiith Psalm to them, “The stone which the builders rejected, the same has become the head of the corner,” his words convey the same idea:—Ye builders may set me at nought; but God will exalt me in defiance of you. God will have a temple, and I shall be the foundation of it, though you should persist in your unbelief and perish! Matt. 21:42. Again, Those very remarkable words in John 6:37, “All that the Father giveth me shall come to me,” &c., are introduced in the same manner. Addressing himself to those Jews who followed him because they had eaten of the loaves and were filled, he saith, “I am the bread of life; he that cometh to me shall never hunger, and he that believeth on me. shall never thirst. But I said unto you, That ye also have seen me, and believe not. All that the Father giveth me shall come to me; and him that cometh to me I will in no wise cast out.” As if he should say, You have no regard to me in my true character, but merely for yourselves, and for the meat that perisheth; but I shall not lose my reward, however you may stand affected towards me.
Fuller, A. G. (1988). The Complete Works of Andrew Fuller: Expositions—Miscellaneous. (J. Belcher, Ed.) (Vol. 3, pp. 807–809). Harrisonburg, VA: Sprinkle Publications.
Excerpt from: “The Mystery of Providence,” in Miscellaneous Tracts, Letters, and Essays.