by JOSEPH IRONS - Delivered in Grove Chapel, Camberwell, Sunday Morning, Nov. 26th, 1848
With God all that pertains to the salvation of the Church is infallibly sure, from one eternity to another; and one of the wisest steps that an awakened sinner can take, is to give diligence to make his salvation as sure, in his own experience, as it already is with God. The idea of a poor, ruined sinner being able to do anything towards his election or towards his calling, is preposterous ignorance and infamous blasphemy. It gives God the lie, when He says, "Man is dead in trespasses and sins." And though we reject this perverted view which carnal minds would take of the language of my text, yet there is a sense, and an important sense, in which we may, and must, urge the very persons whom the apostle urges, to "give diligence to make their calling and election sure."
There is something peculiarly striking in the order of my text; for I believe, in every other place in the New Testament, where the apostle speaks of election and calling, he puts election first, but here he puts calling first. In all other portions, the order is similar to that which we find in the 8th of Romans: "Whom He did predestinate," that is election, "them He also called." There predestination, or election, is put first; and so in many other passages of Scripture. But here he puts calling first. And why? Just simply because he is not merely propounding a doctrine, or proclaiming a truth, but giving an exhortation. When he represents them as emanating from God, he puts them in the right order: election first, and Divine calling afterwards, as a consequence or a result. When he puts the two before the sinner, and exhorts him to make sure of them, he puts calling first, as an effect, that he may be sure of the effect, and trace it up to its cause. This is the reason why the order is reversed in my text. The Lord says, in speaking of His true disciples, "By their fruits ye shall know them." Observe, then, the fruits or the effects, one of which is, the "calling" here mentioned: it is the effect of eternal election. Therefore, our beloved Lord says, "Look for their fruits." I do not want you to dig to the roots of a tree to examine what sort of a tree it is. But watch the fruit, and if the fruit is good, you will discern that the tree is good. So, if you discover as a matter of certainty, that your calling is of God, you may know that your election is as sure as God can make it. Keeping this order in view, the apostle, after having spoken so pleasantly of being partakers of "like precious faith," of being "partakers of the Divine nature," and receiving real godliness, gives a long string of exhortations, or, as I termed them when commenting upon the chapter, a sum in addition, and then says, "Beside all this, giving diligence," add. The word "diligence" is again employed; and he goes through the string of sacred injunctions, how the believer progresses and advances, adding thing to thing, in attainments and knowledge. Then comes the language of our text, "Do these things." What? Why, "give diligence to make your calling and election sure." Who is he addressing? "Them that have obtained like precious faith," and who are called in the text, "brethren."
It is for want of watching these things, that ignorant or misled men, or both, make such dismal mistakes about the exhortations in the Scripture, often speaking of them as if they were propounded alike to the dead and the living, to the swine as well as the children, to the world as well as the Church of God. You cannot find me, throughout the whole Word of God, either in the Old or the New Testament, a single exhortation addressed to any person upon the earth, relative to spiritual things, without a description of the character of those persons being connected with it. The character of the person is pointed out in every instance; and we cannot give that which is holy unto dogs, or cast pearl before swine; but let the children be fed.
And therefore we come, first, to notice the grace-family, here called "brethren." I call them the grace-family, because grace distinguishes them from all other families in the world; and we intend to say a little about them this morning. We will then go up to their origin, electing love, proved by Divine calling. Then say a few words about the diligence to which they are exhorted. And, lastly, the standing that is promised to them, "They shall never fall."
There is something very beautiful in this verse. And I pray the Holy Ghost to open it unto me, and enable me to bear up in delivering His truth, and showing it unto you.
1. First, let us have a little familiar conversation with this grace-family. I should like very much here to preach so pointedly and personally, as by no possibility to be mistaken. I should not like a stranger to come and claim relationship to God's children, through my mistake or neglect; and I should not like a child, however timid or weak, to run out of doors, and say, "I do not belong to the family," through my mistake or neglect. I want the children to be defined. I want them to know their own state and standing in Jesus: and therefore I shall be a little explicit on this first head of discourse.
First of all, then, I insist that this grace-family are one, as brethren, in life, in likeness, and in love. Now, look well to it, and see if you have the marks of the family in you. They are one in life, and this too in a variety of senses. They are one in interest in that life, which is "hid with Christ in God." "For ye are dead," said the apostle, in addressing "the saints and faithful brethren in Christ which are at Colosse," "and your life is hid with Christ in God." So that all these "brethren," and we will not allow the fanatics of modern times to assume the name exclusively to themselves, but insist that "the brethren" includes all those whom Jehovah hath given to His dear Son in covenant, and who have a life from everlasting, treasured up in Him, which can by no possibility fail, in God's own time, to be communicated to them. "Christ in them the hope of glory." This I might call a judicial life, which exempts them from the sentence due to sin in the sight of God's law and justice, and which is, like His own, destined to exist eternally in His presence.
Moreover, they are alike in their spiritual experience. They are brought forth, and have "passed from death unto life." I pray you, beloved, do not read these strong expressions of Scripture as if they all meant nothing. "Have passed from death unto life," and "shall not come into condemnation." If the words mean anything, they must mean that, by nature, they were "dead in trespasses and sins," incapable of one spiritual act or thought; and that, by the mighty operations of grace, they have passed from the state of death unto a state of life, spiritual, heavenly, holy life.
Let me here warn you of one awful, fatal mistake, that is very prevalent in the day in which we live. It is that of supposing that the natural man, as born into the world, is capable of comprehending, receiving, and doing as he pleases with spiritual things. A more fatal mistake was never broached by Satan than that. My Bible declares, and I will believe it, that "the natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God, for they are foolishness unto him; neither can he know them, because they are spiritually discerned" (1 Cor. 2:14). And yet, with this plain Scripture staring them in the face, there are thousands upon thousands in the present day, who think that, to trim, and teach, and train up the people in a little of the external appearances of Christianity, is to make Christians of them, and that intellectual powers, natural reason, and endowments, by nature, are sufficient to comprehend the things of God. But, if this were so, we should want no Holy Ghost; if this were so, we should want no rich grace, we should want no belief in many portions of Scripture; but, blessed be God, we will take His testimony as it stands, and come to the conclusion, that to be one of the brethren who are addressed in my text, to be one of the grace-family, is to be a partaker of the Divine nature, is to be brought to possess the life of God in the soul; and without that you have no Christianity at all.
Moreover, these brethren are alike: they are one in likeness. As they have borne the image of the earthy in their carnal state, so they are brought in their spiritual state to bear the image of the heavenly. I cannot allow that that text is to be referred wholly to the resurrection day. It is so in measure in a spiritual point of view now; and wherever a person professes to belong to God, to be among the brethren of Christ, and of this grace-family, there I look for this likeness. I do not like to see them resembling the world in anything that can be avoided. And there is one particularly prominent feature of family likeness that I cannot do without. I cannot own those as brethren, who are without it. There may be a variety of shades of countenance and features, but this one is a family feature, a family portraiture, which we can by no means dispense with; I mean genuine spirituality. I know that they may vary in interests, and even in creed, that in some families there may be half-a-dozen boys, and not two of the same height; but, look into their faces, and you will see the family features, the family countenance in them all, with very few exceptions indeed. I know also, that in the Lord's family, among the brethren spoken of in my text, some are dwarfs, scarcely high enough to see a promise that is yea and amen, their own, scarcely tall enough to look over the difficulties that lie in their way, and fix their eye on the cross, and upon Jesus Himself; whilst, on the other hand, there are some in the family of God who have grown high, and almost reached the fullness of the stature of Jesus Christ. But they both, one as much as the other, belong to God's family; though I do not say that the one is so happy or so useful as the other. Still they are all of the same family, who thus prove that they possess genuine spirituality; that their souls are alive to the enjoyment of God; that they can discern in His Word the difference between "the letter and the Spirit," "the letter killeth, and the Spirit giveth life," that they can discover in themselves the difference between the two natures, between that which is born after the flesh, and that which is born after the Spirit, which is Spirit. And if you take the prominent feature of their lives, you will find that it is an habitual thirst and hunger after spiritual things. Now do not overlook or omit this in your meditations. Examine it closely. Your farms and your merchandize may, with propriety, occupy a certain portion of your time and attention, but if they get your hearts, they go very far, very far indeed, to give us ground for scrupling whether or not you belong to the "brethren." To provide things honest in the sight of all men, is a Christian duty; but to set your affections on things above, where Christ is, is a Christian privilege. The things of this world, and the fashions of them, pass away. Touch them not, let them go. But to look on eternal realities, my union with Jesus, my being clothed in His robes, my wearing His graces as His jewels, my living on His fullness, eating His flesh, and drinking His blood, glorifying His name, and thirsting after the rich manifestations of His love: they constitute my spiritual life.
Can I look in your faces, and distinguish this family likeness? Who of you are like my God? Who of you carry about with you the image, the spirit, the mind, and the temper of Jesus? Who of you stand clear of all condemnation, when we address you with the sober appeal, "If any man have not the Spirit of Christ, he is none of His?" This is the family likeness: have you got it?
Moreover, the Lord's children, or the "brethren," are one in love. "By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another." And where there is an absence of that love, there is strong ground for questioning the existence of the brotherhood. "Whoso hath this world's good, and seeth his brother have need, and shutteth up his bowels of compassion from him," and saith, "Depart in peace; be ye warmed and filled, notwithstanding ye give him not those things which are needful to the body; what doth it profit?"
"How dwelleth the love of God in that man?" I cannot see how it does. It is a question, you see. It is put in the form of an inquiry: "How dwelleth the love God in him?" Well, then, if there be no love to the disciples, if there be no love to the Master, if there be no resemblance to His image, if there be no love to the brotherhood, I cannot understand where the claim is to be found to belong to the brethren at all. These are the brethren to whom the apostle is writing.
Moreover, those brethren whom he exhorts to such diligence, have their names written in heaven, as saith their glorious Elder Brother. "Rather rejoice," says He, "because your names are written in heaven;" that is, in the family register, as was common with our parents in the good old-fashioned times, when they kept a register in the house. I took the example from my beloved parents, and have done the same. And shall not our beloved Lord have His family register too? And shall it not encourage us, rather to rejoice because our names are written in heaven!" The apostle Paul took the same view of the register, when he sent his salutations to a number of the disciples of Christ, whom he mentions, and summed up with, "whose names are in the book," the family register. In the closing up of Scripture, too, I read, "I will not blot out his name out of the book of life; but I will confess his name before my Father, and before His angels."
I must hasten on to observe, that this brotherhood, this grace-family, are new-born and nourished in Divine life; and it is this nourishment, which they are constantly in quest of. I presume that you are come here to day with that object in view. They are new-born by the power of the Holy Ghost; not by creature-efforts, not by creature-attainments, not by rites nor by ceremonies, nor by forms, nor by the superstitions of man, or the will of man, but of God. Their birth is supernatural. Their regeneration is by the mighty power of the Holy Ghost. They are beings brought forth as into a new existence, into another world, into a sacred, celestial, spiritual atmosphere, and being so born of God, they want nourishment. And therefore, the apostle uses this simile, "As new-born babes desire the sincere milk of the Word, that ye may grow thereby." Now, I presume that new-born babes would not thrive very well if the parent's milk were to be drawn from the breast, and diluted in some vessel before the child receives it. I presume that those children thrive best who take it direct from the breast themselves; and therefore we are told that God will nourish His people with the "breasts of consolation," and "new-born babes" are commanded to "desire the sincere milk of the Word, that they may grow thereby." Now this is an outline of the description of persons to whom my text is addressed. And I would have you closely investigate for yourselves, whether or no you belong to the brethren, the grace-family. Have you been received at the family table? Is Jesus precious to your souls? Is news concerning Him pleasant and agreeable to your ears? Is the Holy Spirit your teacher and instructor? And do you "love one another with a pure heart, fervently?" Oh, that I could witness more of this genuine Christianity amongst the brethren in the grace-family?
2. Let me now lead on your attention, in the second place, to their election. This, when scripturally set forth, is one of the most offensive doctrines that we can deliver; and therefore Satan has employed not a few of his agents in softening it down, and in explaining it away. In fact, to contradict it, or otherwise so to dilute it, and mix it with that which pertains to the creature, that there can be no accurate discernment of what election is; it is a mass of confusion for some, and a mass of discouragement and distress for others. All sorts of non-sense have been put forth about the doctrine of election. Some would have it conditional. Some would have it national. Some would have it nominal. And some would not have it at all. What does all that prove? Why, just that their carnal minds are all enmity against God. Take the man or woman, be they whom they may, and brought up how or where they may, who have the family likeness which I have placed before you, and I know they will at once be ready to bow to the doctrine of election, as set forth in this precious Word of God, receive it in its fullness and clearness, aye, and rejoice in it too, as the main pillar and ground of the truth.
Now let me, for a minute or two, dwell upon the doctrine itself; and then upon the manner in which it is proved by my text: by calling. The doctrine amounts simply to this: That we were chosen, all this brotherhood in Jesus Christ were chosen, from before the foundation of the world: "According as He hath chosen us in Him before the foundation of the world." There is the language of Scripture, and if any man has hardihood enough, if any man has temerity enough, to contradict or to deny the positive statement of Scripture, I give him over to Infidelity at once: he cannot be a Christian, chosen in Christ, as the covenant Head. Oh, how important it is, that the official character of Christ should never be lost sight of; for if it be lost sight of by us, then even election has no center, has no security; we shall not know where to trace it. But I love to trace it, as Dr. Watts does:
"Christ be my first elect, He said; Then chose our souls in Christ, our Head."
So that while Jesus is set up from everlasting, as the covenant Head of His people, all His members were seen complete in Him in that sovereign choice; and this was an act of Divine sovereignty without incentive or foresight, even by the angels, of what God had determined to do, and centering wholly in Christ; so that the members of His mystical body, here called "brethren," are adopted, loved, owned, and registered, as we have seen, along with Christ, in the book of life.
Now, two or three things I must say about this election, before I go further. The first is, that it is personal, "loved me," "gave Himself for me," said St. Paul. Oh, the blessedness of recognizing, which I hope you and I shall be able to do, before I quit this part of the subject, of recognizing clearly, our personal interest in electing love, to be brought to the full discovery of this blissful, fundamental fact, that Jehovah, in the Trinity of Persons, in the council of peace, ordained you and me unto eternal life! "As many as were ordained to eternal life believed." He made choice of me as His child, as His jewel, as His special treasure, as part of his own inheritance, to be in the full occupation of a place in the mediatorial crown of Christ unto all eternity.
And this He did in the foresight of all my sins, in the foresight of all my depravity, and in the foresight of, and before Adam's fall. "I knew that thou wouldst deal very treacherously." There is His foresight, "And thou wast called a transgressor from the womb." That was His foresight. Yet, in the foresight of all this, "I have loved thee with an everlasting love." I made choice of thee, thought thou wouldst not make choice of me. As our beloved Lord said, in after days, to His disciples, "Ye have not chosen me, but I have chosen and ordained you." This choice must be personal, in order to their names being registered above. If it were a kind of general, a sort of nominal election, which some people represent it to be, indeed I do not know what nonsense they do not make of it, there could be no register of names. But the Father chooses: the Son betroths and loves; and the Holy Ghost registers; and the eternal Three in One make the matter certain from everlasting, on behalf of every elect vessel of mercy. A multitude of Scriptures might be quoted here; but you can easily discover and refer to them yourselves, in your New Testament. They cannot be mistaken, if they are read with open eyes and unprejudiced hearts, taught of God.
Mark, further, that the election was private. It was not known to the angels. It was not known to the devil. It was not known to Adam, though he was made a partaker of it. It is not known to any being upon earth to the present hour, until the Lord brings it forth and makes it conspicuous. It is a secret thing, which belongeth unto God. And therefore, when people set about making their election sure before their calling, they evidently begin at the wrong end. Who hath ascended into heaven to examine the records there? Who hath looked into the secrets, and searched the archives of glory, to see what names are written there? None of us; and, therefore, it seems to be a gross absurdity to put things foremost in the matter of examination, which God has set hindermost. We must first ascertain that we have the Divine calling, until which our election continues a secret, and it may be said of us, as the Lord said unto Daniel, "God thy way, for the words are closed up and sealed till the time of the end." But when thou hast discovered thy calling, and what God has wrought in and for thee, then thou mayest sing with the apostle, "He loved me, and gave Himself for me."
Moreover, this election is not only private and personal, but permanent; and being permanent, it cannot be revoked or reversed. Jehovah would as soon reject His chosen well-beloved Son, as any one of the members of His mystical body. He would as soon erase the name of Jesus Christ out of the book of the covenant of grace, as any one who has been chosen in Him. All their names are there written, and must all be continued and preserved. There can be no breach or blemish in the precious body of Christ, and there is no security for its preservation but that election, which first fixes on their persons in Christ, and then calls them, and secures and preserves their names unto the day of Divine manifestation, when grace takes possession of them, and carries on perpetually and perseveringly the work of grace in their souls, until they are ripe for glory, and are taken home to dwell with God. There is something solid in this.
But let us now take the contrast. I suppose, according to the contemptible trash, which sets poor sinners imagining that there is something very doubtful about their election, even with God; that if they do not behave themselves well, He will cross their names out of the book after all; that He only named them conditionally, and that their election can be rendered permanent only through their own efforts. I would as soon preach Paganism as that. It would go to contradict all the Bible in every sentence and syllable of it. And what would it do for the soul? After travailing and toiling with sin and the powers of darkness ten, twenty, or thirty years, as some of us have done, after all, we may perish and be lost. After the Holy Ghost has sanctified me; after the Son has manifested Himself unto me; after the Father has given me eternal life; after all this, I may be lost, because there is so much depending upon myself! Why, this is nothing else than a doctrine of devils. There is nowhere for a poor sinner to rest and to glorify God, and everything to contradict Scripture in it. But, now view your election as in Jesus Christ, your covenant Head, and your salvation and your glorification are as secure as His own; for, says He, "The glory which thou gavest me, I have given them; that they may be one, even as we are one." So that this election is personal, private, and permanent, and nothing can overturn it. Thus you have a firm foundation, a solid ground and resting-place; your feet are set on the rock, and not to be moved. You can then take "a new song into your mouth, even praise unto our God."
But you are waiting for the next point in this head of discourse, being ready to admit this doctrine is the doctrine of the Bible; and it must be admitted, or your are an idiot or a rebel. Yes, you admit that this is the doctrine of the Bible, and that it is very glorious for those that are interested in it; but, ah, there comes the "but," "but how may I know that He has chosen me?" The apostle does not say, Give diligence first to make your election sure, and after that your calling; but, as I hinted in our exordium, he gives us the effect, the fruit, and testimony, as a subject for our diligence. What is Divine calling, then? say you; because it is written, that "many are called, but few are chosen;" but that calling is not Christ's. All that Christ calls are chosen. He never lets a sinner hear His voice with quickening power, but the sinner whom God the Father has chosen and given to Him in charge, under solemn responsibility. Therefore, if you can make your calling sure, you need not trouble yourself about the security of your election. Do you remember what the Son of God said upon the point, when He was on the earth? "The dead shall hear the voice of the Son of God, and they that hear shall live." Now you may hear the voice of the preacher, as he endeavours to exalt the Son of God in your hearing, and yet never hear the Son of God's voice. There is the difference. The promise dropping from the dear Redeemer's lips, is, that they shall hear His voice, the voice of the Son of God. Some of you seem to be thankful to have the opportunity of hearing my voice, and I pray God that it may always sound such things as shall be profitable to your souls; then you will like to hear it. But, if you hear my voice until my last discourse is delivered, and then hear my voice exulting in the great salvation, as I quit the wilderness, it will be of no use to you for salvation matters, unless you also hear the voice of the Son of God. This is the Divine voice: Jesus speaking to a sinner's heart; Jesus sending with His own voice an arrow of conviction into the sinner's conscience; Jesus singling out the objects of electing love, and by His Word commanding them to His feet, saying, "Follow me, follow me." Just as He did, only in an audible manner, but in a spiritual sense, with the poor fishermen of Galilee, with the tentmaker, and with Matthew at the receipt of custom. He looks, and He says "Ah, there is Matthew; that is a soul whom my Father gave me to redeem, and whom He entrusted to my care." There he is at the receipt of custom, counting the money; and perhaps Jesus is eyeing how much he pockets. "Matthew, follow thou me." He heard the voice of the Son of God; and the money, and the tables, and the books, and the tax-gathering, he leaves them all, and follows Him. A mighty, irresistible voice had penetrated his soul, and God's call proved his election. In another case that we read of, a poor sinner had determined to hide himself. He will not be called. He hikes to satisfy his curiosity, however, and see this wonderful being, Jesus of Nazareth, and away he runs up into a sycamore tree. Supposing himself to be well concealed, he peeps through the foliage, to have a glimpse of the Saviour; but Jesus, coming under the tree, stands still and looks up into the outspread branches. I dare say the disciples and the people around Him wondered why He should come out of the way to look up there. But, oh! there was an elect vessel of mercy in that tree, beloved from eternity, and given in charge to Christ. Zaccheus, make haste and come down," said He; and all the sycamore trees in the world could not have prevented him. If he had tied his legs and his hands to the branches, he must have obeyed the call. "Make haste and come down, for today I must abide at thy house." It will not do tomorrow. Yesterday would not have done; it must be "today." I do not mean to say that the external or audible voice is to be heard; but I insist that the inward, penetrating call, the precious, powerful voice of Christ, even though it be but the accents of the "still small voice," is as effectual, as forcible, as successful in piercing the poor sinner's conscience, when Jesus speaks to him from the pulpit or the press, in the closet, or by the Bible. Whenever Jesus speaks, there is no resisting Him. It is an effectual call.
Now, beloved, ask yourselves this question: Have you heard the voice of the Son of God? When He changes the metaphor, He speaks of His people as sheep, and says, "My sheep hear my voice, and they know it." And when He has spoken peace, and pardon, and comfort, and joy, in your personal experience, you know His voice, and can distinguish the difference between it and any other. Then it is said to be a calling out of darkness into light. He spake before of it as from death unto life. Here is another expression to describe it. Then the whole world are in darkness, until Jesus calls them; and it is truly appalling to witness the darkness of multitudes, who have the light of reason, the light of nature, the light of literature, and of science, and of some system or scheme of theology, as it is termed; and yet, in gross, palpable darkness. The very light that is in them is darkness; and, believe me, beloved, as you must meet me at the bar of God, there is not a soul of the whole race of Adam, but lives and dies in the gross darkness which covers the people, unless the voice of Jesus is heard calling it out of that darkness into His marvellous light.
Moreover, the calling is from uncleanness unto holiness. Man, by nature, is as unclean as dark, and as dark as dead. An awful position this! But it is the doctrine of the fall that he is wallowing in sin, in love with uncleanness, and never washed from his filthiness. Even though the external appearance be decent, and the life moral, yet multitudes of such answer the description which the Holy Ghost has given, "There is a generation that are pure in their own eyes, and yet are not washed from their filthiness." They may be pure in the eyes of others too, and no blemish appear in their daily life, yet never have been "washed from their filthiness." And I tell you, that the fountain which is open for sin and uncleanness, must pour forth streams of atoning blood into your consciences, before you can be washed from your filthiness. Therefore, the apostle, in congratulating the Church of God at Corinth, exclaims, "But ye are washed, but ye are sanctified, but ye are justified," that is, recovered from uncleanness unto holiness, "in the name of the Lord Jesus, and by the Spirit of our God." Then the Lord's family are said to be like sheep, loving clean pastures and pure rivers of water, and they cannot bear that which has been defiled by the foot of abominable Arminianism; their delight is in the pure river of water which flows from the throne of God itself. But we need go no further here, than the language preceding our text, in which the apostle says, "His Divine power hath given unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness, through the knowledge of Him that hath called us to glory and virtue; to glory in the cross, to glory in the accomplishment of full salvation, by Jesus, in His official character, and in our relationship the Him. So also to virtue, which is the purity and cleanliness of which we have been speaking. One text more on this point, before passing on to the following particular of our discourse, "We know that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them who are the called according to His purpose." And surely that is enough, in speaking of this calling, to enable you to prove the matter for yourselves.
I have now traced the effect to the origin, the "calling according to His purpose." The purpose of God must stand; and that purpose is, that every elect vessel of mercy shall be called by grace in due time, shall be called out of darkness into marvellous light. Now, if you cannot read the purpose, can you discover the calling? Can you make sure of that? Has the calling of the voice of the Son of God made you hate sin, and love holiness? Has it led you from self unto Christ? Has it led you out of darkness into light, so that the light of the gospel of the blessed God shines into your heart? Has it led you from death unto life, and from Satan's slavery to Christ's liberty; and to glory and virtue, according to the statement I have just referred to? Oh, beloved, examine this matter well.
3. And now I shall proceed to give a little advice and counsel with regard to the diligence here set forth: "Give diligence to make your calling and election sure;" but, before doing so, let me make this remark, to connect the two things, that if you can prove that God has called you by His grace, you can prove that God has elected you by His love. The one shall never be separated from the other. Whom he loves and predestinates, He loves and calls; whom He loves and calls, He preserves and saves; and whom He preserves and saves, He glorifies, without the possibility of losing one.
Now, then, a word or two relative to the diligence mentioned in my text. "Rather, brethren, give diligence." I suppose I should be heartily laughed at, if I were to go to the graves in the churchyard, and mingle among the tombstones, and the congregation of the dead, and exhort them all to diligence; to make haste and come to the dinner-table, or to look after an estate, which was no doubt theirs. Why, I should be laughed at, and justly; yet we are told that this diligence is to be urged upon dead sinners. It is not so in my Bible. I cannot find it there. That speaks only of the "brethren," the grace-family, the persons who have "like precious faith," and are made partakers of the Divine nature. These are the persons who are exhorted to diligence, in the additions of which we read at the commencement of this service, in the chapter from which the text is taken.
Now, I conceive that there are two things of vast importance here; namely, diligence to obtain evidence of the Holy Spirit's witnessing with our spirit, that we are the children of God; and diligence for an increase of the life bestowed, and the blessings connected with it: Diligence in the use of means. If the closet be neglected, even though by the Christian, for I speak unto the "brethren," if the Bible be neglected, if the house of prayer be neglected, where is your diligence? The lack of it may lead to a fall; if not to a fall, certainly to a loss of peace and comfort; for it is a robbery of God, for that honour is not brought to this name which is His due. Oh! "worship the Lord in the beauty of holiness," is the exhortation of Scripture. Well, say some, we do worship Him once a week, or once a fortnight; but that is not using diligence, "Rather, brethren, give diligence." I would that my hearers never neglected one sermon that it is at all within their reach or power to hear, at whatever sacrifice. I sometimes sigh when I think of this, and especially when I perceive an empty pew. I sigh over it, and say, Well, they may not hear any more from my lips; and I should wish, if it were the will of God, that they might hear more of these things, and have them in remembrance after my days are numbered, and I am gone. I ardently long after your souls' prosperity and growth in grace, or I would not be thus urgent with you. Ah! but I must debate my time to business. "Rather, brethren, give diligence to make your calling and election sure." Oh, but I must throw my energies into the increase of my property, and the accumulation of a fortune. Rather, brethren, throw them into God's cause, and be diligent in the use of the means of grace and obtain therein the witnessing of the Holy Spirit with your spirit, that ye are the children of God. It is not enough for me, and I hope it is not enough for you, that you should once have had the witnessing of the Spirit, that ye are the children of God; I want that witnessing often, I want it repeated in every sermon, and at every prayer-meeting, whenever I prostrate myself at the family altar, and in every season of my spiritual experience, the Spirit of Jehovah taking of the things of Christ, and applying them unto me. Oh, for more of this enjoyment! "Give diligence to obtain it." Everything may be spared, rather than the use of the means whereby God descends to bless your souls. Therefore, the "rather give diligence."
Moreover, I want diligence, for the express purpose of increasing light and life, and love and liberty. Oh! say you, where are these things to end? End? they are endless. I will just name a few, however. A diligence in the use of the appointed means of grace for the increase of life; for, says Jesus, "I am come," in the public means of grace, "that they might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly;" that they might have it increased, and strengthened, and made to grow. Then, with an increase of life, is an increase of light, a more clear discernment of the truth. And with an increase of life and light, is an increase of love; for the more we cling together in the use of the means of grace, the more will our hearts be knitted together in love. Therefore, give diligence for this purpose; and them, increasing in life and light, and love for one another, you will increase in the liberty of the gospel. Now I want you to give diligence to get at this liberty of the gospel; for if the Son makes you free, then are you free indeed.
4. But I find both my time and my strength almost worn out; and therefore I must come to the last head of my discourse somewhat abruptly. The standing promised: "If ye shall do these things, ye shall never fall." I shall not detain you to speak of final falling, for that is utterly impossible with the "brethren," the election of grace; "though he fall, he shall not be utterly cast down; for the Lord upholdeth him with His hand." But the falling here spoken of, is of a description that is distressing to think of; because we have witnessed many, to whose end we had good hope, who have fallen from their profession, who have fallen from their usefulness, who have fallen from their happiness and enjoyment, who have fallen into sin, who have fallen so as to disgrace the cause of God, who have fallen so as to pierce themselves through with many sorrows, and, like David, so as to break their bones, and therefore he prays that the bones which are broken may rejoice.
There are a variety of ways in which the poor believer may be left to fall: but the best way to avoid these falls, is the use of diligence. The apostle says, concerning those who "will be rich," that they "fall." What? Yes! into temptation and a snare, and into many foolish and hurtful lusts, which drown men in destruction and perdition." Though this may not be the case with God's children, yet it is a terrific and dreadful thing to see a man that we believe to belong to God's family, so fallen as to have lost all his comfort, and all evidence of an interest in God, and all his honour among the children of God; so fallen, as to be of no further use in the Church of God. I want you, then, to "give diligence to make your calling and election sure," for my text says, "if you do these things, you shall never fall."
Then there is a promise of standing in confidence, in comfort, and in circumspection. That is the standing I want you to maintain; and it is what my text points at. I have insisted that the standing of the brethren for glory, is in Christ, that He holds them up, and will never allow one of them to perish; but they may fall, and fall distressingly and disgracefully, so as to ruin all their happiness and comfort in this world, and say, with Hezekiah, "I will go softly all my years in the bitterness of my soul." In the diligent use of means, those who are called by God's grace His own elect, are promised that they shall never fall. "They that trust in the Lord shall be as Mount Zion, which cannot be removed, but abideth for ever." They stand fast on their Rock, they hold fast their confidence, and do not cast it away, because it hath a great recompense of reward. The Holy Ghost, their Comforter, dwelleth and resideth in them; and, standing fast in their circumspection, they are as a light before men; and others, seeing their good works, do glorify their Father which is in heaven.
May the eternal Spirit, whilst satisfying you of your Divine calling, lead you from thence to lay fast hold of electing love, and to be so diligent in the use of all appointed means, as never to fall, but stand fast in the Lord and the power of His might; and His name shall have all the praise. Amen.