It has frequently been objected, that if the religion first taught among the posterity of Abraham, and afterwards among the Gentiles by the preaching of Jesus Christ, be of God, how is it that it has been so partial in its operations? The promulgation of a religion adapted to man, it is said, should be as extensive as the globe. The force of this objection has been felt: and Christian writers, in general, have acknowledged that there is a depth in this part of Divine providence which it is difficult, if not impossible, to fathom. There are hints to be found in the Scriptures, however, which may throw some glimmering of light upon the subject; and, when the mystery of God is finished, we shall perceive that he has done all things well.
In general, we are given to understand that God is an absolute Sovereign in the dispensation of his favours. He was under no obligation to any; and he will bestow his blessings in such a manner as shall cause this truth to be manifest to all. Man would fain put in a claim, and accuse the ways of Jehovah with being unequal; but this only proves the perverseness of his own way. The blessings of civilization are undoubtedly adapted to man; yet a large proportion of the human race are mere barbarians: even those countries which have, in past ages, ranked high in this respect, are now sunk far below mediocrity; while others, whom they were in the habit of treating with the greatest contempt, have been raised above them. It is thus that the valley is exalted, the mountain made low, and the glory of Jehovah revealed; but if God may act as a Sovereign in dispensing the bounties of providence, who shall call him to account for doing the same in the distribution of the blessings of grace? He has, in all ages, manifested his determination, however, to act in this manner, let sinful creatures think of it as they may. With respect to individuals, the things of God have been hid from the wise and prudent, and revealed unto babes; and the same principle has been carried into effect with nations and continents. When the adversaries of sovereign grace meet with this doctrine in the Scriptures, they endeavour to get rid of it by applying it in the latter sense only; but God’s dealings with nations and continents are of a piece with his dealings with individuals; they are only a different part of the same whole.
It is observable, that, in the dispensations of mercy, God has in a wonderful manner, balanced the affairs of men, so as, upon the whole, to answer the most important ends in the great system of moral government. In the early ages, for instance, mercy was shown to the posterity of Abraham, and hereby the world was provoked to jealousy. On the coming of Christ, mercy was shown to the world; and the posterity of Abraham, in their turn, were provoked to jealousy: and there is reason to believe that before the end of time, and perhaps before many years have passed over us, God will show mercy to both; and each will prove a blessing to the other. The conversion of the Gentiles shall in the end effectually provoke them to jealousy; and thus, “through our mercy, they shall obtain mercy.” On the other hand, their return to God will be a kind of moral resurrection to the world. Probably, the conversion of the great body of pagans and Mahometans may be accomplished by means of this extraordinary event. Their fall has already proved our riches; how much more their fulness! “If the casting away of them be the reconciling of the world, what shall the receiving of them be but life from the dead?” God’s mercy towards them is, at present, righteously suspended, “till the fulness of the Gentiles shall have come in.” The Gentiles were as one behind in a race; let them first come up, and then “all Israel shall be saved,” and become as life from the dead to the world.
The fifty-second chapter of Isaiah appears to contain a prophecy of the restoration and conversion of the Jews; but in the last three verses it is intimated that God’s servant, the Messiah by whom it should be effected, should deal prudently. Now much of prudence consists in the proper timing of things. This glorious work was not to take place immediately; there must ere this be a long and awful pause. “He must first come and suffer many things, and be rejected.” The wrath of God must be poured on the Jews on this account to the uttermost; and the Gentile nations must be sprinkled with the showers of gospel grace. Such is the import of these last three verses, and the whole fifty-third chapter. Then in the fifty-fourth she that had been “a wife of youth,” but of late “refused and forsaken,” is called upon to sing for joy; and yet the mercy should not be confined to her; for the Redeemer should not only be called “the Holy One of Israel,” but “the God of the whole earth.”—“O the depth of the riches, both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!”
If God had called the Gentiles without having first “concluded,” or shut them up as it were, “under sin,” their salvation would not have appeared to be the effect of free promise (Gal. 3:22); and if he had not in like manner shut up the Jews in their unbelief, his mercy towards them had been far less conspicuous, Rom. 11:32. As it is, we behold the goodness and severity of God, each blazing by turns in the most lovely and tremendous colours.
Something analogous to this is observable in the conduct of God towards the eastern and western parts of the earth. For more than two thousand years after the flood, learning, government, and the true religion were in a manner confined to the east; and our forefathers in the west were a horde of barbarians. For the last two thousand years, learning, government, and the true religion have travelled westward; they have been within the last few centuries extended even beyond the Atlantic Ocean. But before the end of time, and perhaps before many years have passed over us, both the east and the west shall unite and become one in Christ Jesus. Such an idea, I apprehend, is conveyed in Isa. 60:6–9. The geographical descriptions of nations, as given in prophetic language, is commonly by way of synecdoche, putting those parts which are nearest the Holy Land for the whole, or all beyond them. Thus Europe is commonly called “the isles of the Gentiles,” (Gen. 10:5; Isa. 49:1,) because those parts of it which lay nearest to Judea were the Archipelago, or the Grecian Islands. And those nations which lay next to Judea, eastward, include, in the prophetic language, all beyond them, or the whole of Asia. Thus “the dromedaries of Midian and Ephah, all they from Sheba, the flocks of Kedar, and the rams of Nebaioth,” denote the accession of the eastern world to the church of God. On the other hand, “the isles waiting for him, and the ships of Tarshish bringing the sons of Zion from far,” denote the accession of the western world. Thus all shall be gathered together in Christ, and become one holy family. “O the depth of the riches, both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!”
One great cause of the mercy bestowed on the western part of the earth was the Roman conquests, which, whatever were the motives of the conquerors, were overruled for the introduction of the gospel among European nations. And who knows but the British conquests in the east, whatever be the motives of the conquerors, may be designed for a similar purpose? Even that iniquitous traffic which we and other nations have long been carrying on in the persons of men, I have no doubt, will eventually prove a blessing to those miserable people, though it may be a curse to their oppressors. At this day there are many thousands of negroes in the West India islands who have embraced the gospel, while their owners, basking in wealth, and rolling in debauchery, will neither enter into the kingdom of God themselves, nor suffer others who would enter in. God is gathering a people in spite of them. Behold the goodness and justice of God! Men, torn from their native shores and tenderest connexions, are in a manner driven into the gospel net; the most abject and cruel state of slavery is that by means of which they become the Lord’s free-men. Their oppressors, on the other hand, who lead them captive, are themselves led captive by the devil at his will, and, under the name of Christians, are heaping up wrath against the day of wrath. “O the depth of the riches, both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!”
From the whole we are led to consider the sovereignty of God not as a capricious, but as a wise sovereignty. While those who are saved have nothing to boast of, those who perish, perish as the just reward of their own iniquity. Jacob will have to ascribe to distinguishing grace all he is more than Esau; while Esau, having lost the blessing, has to recollect that he first despised it.
Excerpt from: “On the Mystery of Providence: Especially is Respect to God Dealing with Different Parts of the World in Different Ages,” in Fugitive Pieces.
Fuller, A. G. (1988). The Complete Works of Andrew Fuller: Expositions—Miscellaneous. (J. Belcher, Ed.) (Vol. 3, pp. 805–807). Harrisonburg, VA: Sprinkle Publications.