Is it possible, then, that an election can be absolute, unconditional, and certain, which we are exhorted to secure by our diligence? Is it not evident, on the contrary, that our calling must be a title, through the free grace of God, to particular blessings and privileges which it depends upon ourselves either to secure or to forfeit? Yes, my brethren, the election spoken of in Scripture is an election to spiritual privileges and mercies in the present life. It has no reference, as some sects of Christians in modern times have supposed, to the eternal destiny of mankind.
This election to spiritual privileges in the present life, which, in respect to our eternal existence, are to be secured by the fulfilment of the conditions on which they are suspended, has taken place from the beginning. God chose Abraham and his posterity to be his peculiar people: he called them to the knowledge of his name, his will, and his worship. The rest of mankind, left to the light of reason, and primeval revelation as handed down by tradition, would be judged by the standard of what they had received; and since to them less [211/212] was given, less would be required from them. The Judge of the whole earth will do right.
God chose, of the children of Abraham, the posterity of Isaac, and not of Ishmael, to be his peculiar people; and in like manner he chose the posterity of Jacob, and not of Esau, to receive the knowledge of his will, and to be the subjects in this life of his spiritual mercies. In this sense he is said to have "loved Jacob and hated Esau." But it does not follow, that because the posterity of Jacob and not of Esau were elected to be God's peculiar people on earth, that therefore all the posterity of the one were absolutely elected, by the sovereign decree of God, to everlasting happiness, which they therefore could not fail of obtaining; and all the posterity of the other reprobated, by the same tremendous fiat, to everlasting misery, which they could not fail of incurring. No; they will all stand at the day of judgment on the footing of their works--of what they have done, whether it be good or evil; they will be judged according to the improvement which they have made of the talents committed to them.
In like manner, God in his eternal counsels resolved to call both Jews and Gentiles to the knowledge of the Gospel of his Son Jesus Christ, and to make the conditional offer of salvation to them all: and those who accepted the gracious overture, who obeyed the merciful call, whether they were Jews or Gentiles, and believing on his Son Jesus Christ, were admitted into covenant with him by the sacrament of baptism, became his peculiar people--"the election of grace," as the apostle terms them in the Epistle to the Romans. This election of the believing Jews and Gentiles to the [212/213] blessings of the Gospel, was, in the language of the apostle, "through the free grace of God; not of works," not of any thing which they had previously done, or hereafter could do, to merit absolutely this distinguishing favour of their offended Maker. Indeed, even the final election of faithful and obedient Christians to everlasting life, cannot be, strictly speaking, of works: for it is the obvious sentiment of reason, that man, the creature of God's power, and the sinner obnoxious to his justice, cannot do any thing which will absolutely merit that everlasting salvation, which so much transcends the most exalted services which he can possibly render. This salvation must be the free, unmerited gift of that Almighty Maker and Sovereign of mankind, who, as he could in justice withhold it, in infinite mercy and love only dispenses it.
In calling mankind to the privileges of the Gospel in the present life, God acts as a Sovereign who has a right to dispense his unmerited favours to whom he will. But still the decisions of the last day will be regulated by those eternal and immutable rules of justice, which are the pillars that support the divine throne. God will judge every man according to his works; and the eternal destiny of those whom he hath not called to the kingdom of his Son, he will determine according to the use which they have made of the light and knowledge which he hath vouchsafed to them; they will be judged according to what they have, and not according to what they have not, through the merits of Him who was slain from the foundation of the world, in respect to the efficacy of that propitiation which he made for the sins of the whole world. The Jews of old were denominated the chosen [213/214] people, the elect of God, because he had selected them from the rest of the world, to particular spiritual privileges. In like manner, the whole body of Christians are called the chosen generation, elected and predestinated, because they are called out of the rest of the world, to the blessings and privileges of the Gospel. But as neither the whole body of the Jews, though the elect of God, finally obtained his everlasting favour, neither will the whole body of Christians, though celled to the knowledge of the Gospel, to the participations of the means and privileges of salvation, be finally chosen to everlasting life. They may fail to avail themselves of the knowledge which is afforded them--to improve the means of grace which they enjoy--to cherish the privileges extended to them--and thus finally become castaways. Their calling is conditional--their final election to glory is uncertain; awfully important, therefore, the exhortation--"Give all diligence to make your calling and election sure."
Yes; all those now present, who have been admitted by baptism into the church, the mystical body of Christ--for which he purchased, by his death, the blessings of mercy and life eternal, and which he hath endued with his Holy Spirit, to be the mysterious but powerful agent of the satisfaction of its members--are the called, the elect of God. You are elected to the participation of all the glorious privileges of salvation; to the forgiveness of your sins--to the enlightening and purifying influences of the Holy Spirit--to the gracious guidance and protection of God, your heavenly Father--to everlasting life in his presence. This glorious election is conditional; its exalted [214/215] privileges you may forfeit; they can be secured only by true repentance and faith, producing holy obedience. The diligent and faithful servant of the Lord only will be rewarded; everlasting glory will be conferred only on those who are prepared by the holy graces which they have acquired to enjoy it. Reflect then on the exalted privileges to which you are called--reflect that your everlasting happiness depends on your securing them--everlasting misery is the penalty of your neglecting them. What force then in the exhortation--"Give all diligence to make your calling and election sure."
Do you desire then to secure the glorious salvation to which you are called?
1. You must devote to it your supreme solicitude, attention, and exertions.
Our redemption from the ignominious bondage of sin; our adoption as the children of God; our attainment of the perfection and felicity of heaven, are objects which, infinitely important, should, above all others, awaken, interest, occupy all the powers and feelings of our souls. The necessity of solicitude and attention arises also from the number and magnitude of the difficulties which we have to encounter. The Christian life is a life of conflict with formidable enemies; with the sinful lusts of the heart--with the ensnaring pleasures of the world--with the temptations of the great adversary. In the work of salvation, therefore, the greatest solicitude and attention are necessary to ensure success. We must strive with intenseness and with perseverance to enter in at the strait gate, which only opens to the kingdom of heaven: we must direct our most vigorous exertions to the [215/216] attainment of those spiritual and celestial graces and virtues which only can secure to us the infinitely exalted privileges of our Christian calling, and prepare us for the enjoyment of the presence of God.
Behold the votaries of the world engaged in their favourite pursuits--With what unremitting assiduity do they follow up the chace of pleasure? What agitations, what chagrins, what disappointments overwhelm, but not intimidate, the votaries of ambition? What laborious application, days of toil, nights of thoughtfulness, are bestowed on the pursuit of riches'! The world excites the supreme solicitude, and engrosses the undivided attention of those who choose it as their supreme good. Are the blessings of salvation of less value? Are eternal riches, honours, and joys, to be purchased with fewer sacrifices, with less application, with less devoted exertion? Shall we rate the everlasting favour of God at a lower price than those things of the world which he has stamped with vanity and decay, and from which death will wrest us for ever?
My brethren, it is a law of nature, that no object worthy of our pursuit is to be obtained but with solicitude, attention, exertion; and if these should be in proportion to the excellence and importance of the object of pursuit, surely a concern for our salvation ought to occupy the first place in our thoughts and exertions; and the present life, instead of being the sole object of our solicitude, should be regarded as of importance only as it is that state of probation allotted us for working out our salvation and securing an eternal inheritance. The privileges of our Christian calling--privileges which will confer peace on us here, and terminate [216/217] in endless happiness hereafter--are the infinitely important objects which, in the bustle of business, in the competitions of ambition, in the career of worldly prosperity, should fix supremely our thoughts, and regulate all our feelings and conduct. But further,
2. In order to make our calling and election sure, we must, in the exercise of true repentance, live in constant dependence on the merits and grace of Christ.
For, through his merits alone, (so it hath pleased our offended Sovereign and Judge to ordain,) salvation is attainable; and in his grace alone shall we find the effectual power of resisting temptation, and acquiring the virtues of the Christian character and life.
What was the trust of the apostle, which consoled him under the appalling conviction that he was the chief of sinners? What was the source of that dauntless courage, that heroic constancy, that triumphant hope, which distinguished him as the faithful and zealous servant of his divine Lord? We hear him declaring, amidst the highest attainments and the most exalted acts of Christian virtue, that it was not "he which thus lived, but Christ that lived in him; and that the life which he lived in the flesh, he lived by the faith of the Son of God." Here then is a pattern to all who are partakers of the Christian calling. Jesus Christ they are to adore, and in him they are to confide, as the Author and Finisher of their salvation; whose divine merits constitute their only claim to the [217/218] forgiveness and favour of their offended God; and whose renovating and strengthening grace is the only fountain of those celestial virtues which will make them meet for the inheritance of glory. These merits will be applied only to those who, renouncing their sins and their self-righteousness, habitually rely on him who, the only Saviour, hath reconciled us unto God. And this grace will be bestowed only on those who, in true humility, seek it as the unfailing and abundant source of holiness, of strength, and of consolation.
Secure then, brethren, the privileges of your Christian calling, your redemption from eternal wrath, your title to heavenly felicity, by reposing, with lively and holy faith, on the all-sufficient merits of your Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. Let the hope of your deliverance from the power of sin, your restoration to holiness and virtue, be founded on his almighty grace enlightening your minds, purifying your hearts, strengthening you for the discharge of every duty, for the conflict with every temptation. Implore the holy influences of that Divine Spirit which animates that church, the mystical body of Christ, of which you are members; and cherish and follow his blessed influences and inspirations, and he will confirm to you the glorious privileges of your Christian calling, will lead you with increasing vigour through your course, till at length, in the fulness of holiness and peace, you appear before God in the heavenly Zion.
But in order to become partakers of those divine virtues which are the gift of the Holy Spirit, and which are necessary to secure to us the glorious privileges of our Christian calling, we must,
 3. Finally, constantly and faithfully aiming at abounding in all the fruits of righteousness, attend on all the divinely constituted means of instruction and grace.
Our vocation as Christians demands of us the renunciation of all sinful passions and pursuits, supreme devotedness to God, unfeigned love to him, and constant obedience to his commands. In those who are finally admitted to his holy presence in his kingdom above, every sinful passion must be subdued, and every holy grace established. To gain a victory over all their sinful passions, and to abound in righteousness, and goodness, and truth, must be the uniform object of those, therefore, who look forward to the glorious fruition of the divine presence in the kingdom of heaven. To aid them in this warfare, to insure their success in their holy aims, they are furnished with divine means of instruction and grace. The word of God is a lamp unto their feet and a light to their path. He hath promised to answer their humble prayers by the gift of his Holy Spirit. He hath insured to them the presence of this blessed Comforter, Sanctifier, and Guide, in the ordinances of his church on earth, in which they are to be trained for the joys and glory of the church triumphant in heaven. Devout meditation, therefore, on the word of God; frequent and earnest prayers to him for his Holy Spirit; uniform and faithful attendance on the worship and ordinances of the church--are sacred duties incumbent on Christians; they are the only means by which they can derive strength to resist and overcome the temptations which assail them, and to love and serve their God and Saviour; they are the only means by which they can be enabled [219/220] to fulfil the holy engagements and secure the glorious privileges of their calling in Jesus Christ.
How vain then the expectation, brethren, of securing the blessings of that salvation to which we are called, while we neglect, or only partially use the means which God for this purpose hath appointed! Is it possible to advance in the knowledge of the will of God--of the nature of the plan of salvation through Jesus Christ--of the duties and privileges of our Christian vocation, while we neglect the study of that sacred volume in which only these infinitely momentous subjects are exhibited? Can we hope to obtain the forgiveness and blessing of God, while we neglect the means on which they are suspended--earnest supplication and prayer? Can we expect to be trained up for the praises and bliss of heaven, while we neglect the worship and ordinances of God's church on earth? Let us not deceive ourselves. As probationers for an immortal existence, surely it should be our supreme concern and aim to prepare for the awful scenes which that existence will disclose. Let us then constantly and devoutly meditate on God's holy word: let us supplicate in earnest prayer his forgiveness and blessing--his grace to create a clean heart and to renew a right spirit within us: let us express our reverence and love towards him in the worship of his church: by our regular and devout attendance on its ministrations, let us seek to fortify our souls in all holy dispositions, and principles, and resolutions: let us study to be sincere and faithful members of Christ's church on earth, and thus to make our calling and election sure; and in his good time we shall be exalted to that heavenly kingdom where the redeemed of the Lord [220/221] cease not day nor night to celebrate his praises, and to partake of the fulness of his love.
Consider, I beseech you, the folly and guilt of neglecting and contemning the inestimable blessings of salvation which are proffered to us. God hath called us into his holy church, in which the merits of his Son are applied to us for the forgiveness of our sins; the powerful grace of his Holy Spirit dispensed to purify us from all iniquity, and to establish us in holiness and virtue; and everlasting life proffered as the prize of our high calling in Jesus Christ. When we may attain a destiny thus glorious, be partakers of the inheritance of the saints in light, shall we continue under the dominion of sin, and choose the miserable destiny of sinners? Shall the intercession of the Son of God be in vain exerted for us--the Holy Spirit in vain proffer his powerful aids and consolations--everlasting life in vain solicit our acceptance and excite our exertions? If so, better had it been for us never to have known the way of righteousness--never to have been called to God's grace and mercy. Health and prosperity affording the means of sensual enjoyment, may now appear to sanction the policy of that choice which may have devoted us to the world; but sickness and death are monitors that will come--unwelcome as they may be, come they will--and they are monitors that will speak--monitors which we must hear. In the dark and agonizing hours when sickness and death assail us, oh! how much, how much shall we need the support and the consolation which no human arm, no human voice can supply--the support and consolation that come only from the living God! Alas, alas! in the days of health and prosperity we [221/222] despised his warnings, we rejected his merciful invitations, we would none of his counsel; and our perplexed and fearful spirits are left, solitary, unsustained, to look back on a life of folly and of sin, whereby we have forfeited our title as children of God and heirs of heaven, and made ourselves the bond-slaves of Satan and the heirs of hell.
But if to secure the privileges of our Christian calling be our supreme concern--if truly repenting of our sins, and depending on the merits and grace of the Saviour, and faithfully using all the means of divine instruction and grace, we seek supremely to love and to serve him who hath called us with our high, and holy, and heavenly calling--then we shall enjoy here a happiness which no changes can subvert, no afflictions blast; and which even death, the universal spoiler, cannot wrest from us; for death will then be stripped of his terrors, and welcomed as the messenger that leads us to the consummation of the privileges of our Christian calling, in the eternal vision and enjoyment of God--infinite truth, supreme good, exhaustless felicity.