1780 – 1847
Chalmers was a very influential leader in the early Free Church of Scotland. He held to Limited Atonement, as is evidenced below.
On the Universality of the Gospel Offer, a sermon on Luke 2:14, in Sermons, vol. 4 of Select Works of Thomas Chalmers, 1845, Edinburgh. See the whole sermon here.
pp. 411-14, this quote was compiled by Rev. Sherman Isbell
“Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.”
The goodness of the things to which you are invited is one thing: the good-will with which you are invited is another. It is the latter argument which we are at present called upon to address to you. What we offer to your notice is — not the happiness you will enjoy by the acceptance of the gospel call, but the kindness which prompts the call. There is no doubt a mighty effect upon some minds, in the displeasure of God manifested against all who refuse to obey the gospel of His Son; and knowing His terrors, it is our part make use of them in the business of persuading men. But others again are more drawn by the cords of love; and the tender voice of a beseeching and inviting God will sometimes soften that heart into acquiescence, which would have remained in shut and shielded obstinacy against all the severity of His threatenings. It is the desire of God after you — it is His compassionate longing to have back again to Himself those sinful creatures who had wandered away from Him — it is His fatherly earnestness to recall His strayed children — it is this, which, by moving and subduing the will of man, exemplifies the assertion of the apostle when he says — “Know ye not that the goodness of God leadeth to repentance?” [Rom. 2:4] And thus while Jude says of some in his general epistle, “these save with fear, pulling them out of the fire”; he says of others — “on them have compassion, making a difference.” [Jude 1:22]
Understand, then, that the good-will of the text consists not in the actual bestowment of eternal life upon all in the next world; but in holding out in this world the gift of eternal life to the free and welcome acceptance of all. We hold out a gift to two people, which one of them may take and the other may refuse. The good-will in me which prompted the offer was the same in reference to both. God in this sense wills that all men shall be saved. [1 Tim. 2:4] We are doing His will when we lay the gift of eternal life before each and all of you. Some may refuse to know God, and to obey the gospel of His Son; but this does not impair the frankness and the freeness and the cordiality with which the gift is shown to all, and all are invited to take hold of it. Nay, the good-will of God to those who have rejected the salvation of the gospel, may look more conspicuous in the day of judgment than His good-will to those who have received it.
No page number, this quote was compiled on Colin Maxwell
No plan can be more injudicious, than to mix up the doctrine of election with the original overtures of the Gospel. The doctrine of ‘goodwill to men’ will light up joy in all, for all know they are men; but the doctrine of ‘good will to the elect’ will light up joy in none, for no man can tell at the outset whether he is elected or not. By implicating, as some theologians unwisely do, the final acceptance with the original offers of the Gospel. Instead of pointing it with a surer aim to any, they may virtually be said to deny it to all. In no part of the Gospel is pardon offered to man on the ground of his being one of the elect but everywhere on the ground of his being on of the species. In the Gospel the flag of invitation waves in the sight of all. It is not written upon it, ‘Whosoever of the elect will, let him come and take of the water of life freely;’ it is not said, ‘Whosoever of a select and favored few shall call upon me, shall be saved;’ but ‘Look unto me, and be ye saved, all the ends of the earth. [Isa. 45:22]
Fury Not in God, a sermon on Isa. 27:3-5, in Sermons, vol. 4 of Select Works of Thomas Chalmers, 1845, Edinburgh, pp. 452-53, 458, this quote was compiled by Rev. Sherman Isbell
“I the Lord do keep it; I will water it every moment: lest any hurt it, I will keep it night and day. Fury is not in me: who would set the briers and thorns against me in battle? I would go through them, I would burn them together. Or let him take hold of my strength, that he may make peace with me; and he shall make peace with me.”
First, then, Fury is not in God. But how can this be? — is not fury one manifestation of His essential attributes? — do we not repeatedly read of His fury — of Jerusalem being full of the fury of the Lord — of God casting the fury of His wrath upon the world — of Him rendering His anger upon His enemies with fury — of Him accomplishing his fury upon Zion — of Him causing his fury to rest on the bloody and devoted city? We are not therefore to think that fury is banished altogether from God’s administration. There are times and occasions when this fury is discharged upon the objects of it; and there must be other times and other occasions when there is no fury in Him. Now, what is the occasion upon which He disclaims all fury in our text? He is inviting men to reconciliation; He is calling upon them to make peace; and He is assuring them, that if they will only take hold of His strength, they shall make peace with Him. In the preceding verses He speaks of a vineyard; and in the act of inviting people to lay hold of His strength, He is, in fact, inviting those who are without the limits of the vineyard to enter in. Fury will be discharged on those who reject the invitation. But we cannot say that there is any exercise of fury in God at the time of giving the invitation. There is the most visible and direct contrary. There is a longing desire after you. There is a wish to save you from that day in which the fury of a rejected Saviour will be spread abroad over all who have despised Him. The tone of invitation is not a tone of anger — it is a tone of tenderness. The look which accompanies the invitation is not a look of wrath — it is a look of affection. There may be a time, there may be an occasion when the fury of God will be put forth on the men who have held out against Him, and turned them away in infidelity and contempt from His beseeching voice; but at the time that He is lifting this voice — at the time that He is sending messengers over the face of the earth to circulate it among the habitations of men — at the time particularly among ourselves, when in our own place and our own day, Bibles are within the reach of every family, and ministers in every pulpit are sounding forth the overtures of the gospel throughout the land — surely at such a time and upon such an occasion, it may well be said of God to all who are now seeking His face and favour, that there is no fury in Him.
It is just as in the parable of the marriage-feast: many rejected the invitation which the king gave to it — for which he was wroth with them, and sent forth his armies and destroyed them, and burned up their city. On that occasion there was fury in the king, and on the like occasion will there be fury in God. But well can He say at the time when He is now giving the invitation — There is no fury in me. There is kindness — a desire for peace and friendship — a longing earnestness to make up the quarrel which now subsists between the Law-giver in heaven, and His yet impenitent and unreconciled creatures.
This very process was all gone through at and before the destruction of Jerusalem. It rejected the warnings and invitations of the Saviour, and at length experienced His fury. But there was no fury at the time of His giving the invitations. The tone of our Saviour’s voice, when He uttered–“O Jerusalem, Jerusalem,” was not the tone of a vindictive and irritated fury. There was compassion in it — a warning and pleading earnestness that they would mind the things which belong to their peace; [Luke 19:42] and at that time when He would willingly have gathered them as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings [Matt 23:37]– then may it well be said, that there was no fury in the Son of God, no fury in God.
Let us make the application to ourselves in the present day. On the last day there will be a tremendous discharge of fury. That wrath which sinners are now doing so much to treasure up will all be poured forth on them. The season of God’s mercy will then have come to an end; and after the sound of the last trumpet, there will never more be heard the sounding call of reconciliation. Oh, my brethren, that God who is grieved, and who is angry with sinners every day, will, in the last day, pour it all forth in one mighty torrent on the heads of the impenitent. It is now gathering and accumulating in a storehouse of vengeance; and at the awful point in the successive history of nature and providence, when time shall be no more, will the door of this storehouse be opened, that the fury of the Lord may break loose upon the guilty, and accomplish upon them the weight and the terror of all His threatenings. You misunderstand the text then, my brethren, if you infer from it that fury has no place in the history or methods of God’s administration. It has its time and its occasion — and the very greatest display of it is yet to come, when the earth shall be burned up, and the heavens shall be dissolved, and the elements shall melt with fervent heat, and “the Lord Jesus shall be revealed from heaven with his mighty angels, in flaming fire, taking vengeance on those who know not God, and obey not the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ; and they shall be punished with everlasting destruction from the presence of the Lord, and from the glory of his power.” It makes one shudder seriously to think that there may be some here present whom this devouring torrent of wrath shall sweep away; some here present who will be drawn into the whirl of destruction, and forced to take their descending way through the mouth of that pit where the worm dieth not, and the fire is not quenched; some here present who so far from experiencing in their own persons that there is no fury in God, will find that throughout the dreary extent of one hopeless and endless and unmitigated eternity, it is the only attribute of His they have to do with. But hear me, hear me ere you have taken your bed in hell; hear me, ere that prison-door be shut upon you which is never, never again to be opened! hear me, hear me ere the great day of the revelation of God’s wrath come round, and there shall be a total breaking up of that system of things which looks at present so stable and so unalterable! On that awful day I might not be able to take up the text and say — that there is no fury in God. But oh! hear me, for your lives hear me — on this day I can say it. From the place where I now stand I can throw abroad amongst you the wide announcement — that there is no fury in God; and there is not one of you into whose heart this announcement may not enter, and welcome will you be to strike with your beseeching God a league of peace and of friendship that shall never be broken asunder. Surely when I am busy at my delegated employment of holding out the language of entreaty, and of sounding in your ears the tidings of gladness, and of inviting you to enter into the vineyard of God — surely at the time when the messenger of the gospel is thus executing the commission wherewith he is charged and warranted, he may well say — that there is no fury in God. Surely at the time when the Son of God is inviting you to kiss Him and to enter into reconciliation, there is neither the feeling nor the exercise of fury. It is only if you refuse, and if you persist in refusing, and if you suffer all these calls and entreaties to be lost upon you — it is only then that God will execute His fury, and put forth the power of His anger. And therefore He says to us, “Kiss the Son, lest He be angry, and ye perish from the way, when His wrath is kindled but a little.”
On the Nature of the Sin Unto Death, a sermon on 1 John 5:16, in Sermons, vol. 4 of Select Works of Thomas Chalmers, 1845, Edinburgh, pp. 645-6, 648-50, this quote was compiled by Rev. Sherman Isbell
On His approach to the city of Jerusalem, it is said of Him, that when He came near and beheld the city, He wept over it, saying, “If thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace; but now they are hid from thine eyes!” [Luke 19:41] It looks a mystery, that our Saviour should weep for that which He had power to ward off from the object of his tenderness — that He who created these worlds, and who is now exalted a Prince and a Saviour, should abandon Himself to the helplessness of despair, when He contemplated the approaching fate of that city, which, after all the wrongs He had sustained from it, and all the perverseness and provocations He had gotten from its hands, He still longed after and sighed over in all the bitterness of grief, at the prospect of its coming visitation. Why, it may be thought, could not He have fulfilled the every desire of His sympathizing heart, by interposing the might and sovereignty which belonged to Him? Could not He have arrested the progress of the victorious armies? Could not He have been for a wall of defense around His beloved city; and whence that dark and mysterious necessity to which even the power of Him to whom all power was committed, both in heaven and earth, was constrained to give way — insomuch that the Being, in whom was vested an omnipotence over the whole domain of Nature and of Providence, felt that He had nothing for it but to sit Him down and weep over the doom that He saw to be irrevocable? It is true that the inhabitants of this devoted city were the children of darkness. It is true that they still put the calls and the offers of the New Testament away from them. It is true that their yet unpenetrated hearts were shielded round by an obstinacy which had withstood every previous application. But could not He who commanded the light to shine out of darkness, shine in their hearts with such a power and a splendour of conviction as would have been utterly irresistible? Could not He who is able to subdue all things unto Himself, have subdued His countrymen out of that obstinacy, which had hitherto stood immoveable to all the influence that was brought to bear upon it? Could not that influence have been augmented? Could it not have been wrought up to such a degree of efficacy, as would have overmatched the whole force and tenacity of their opposing prejudices — and had this been done, the people would have been converted; and the threatened vengeance been withdrawn; and the Savior would have seen in His countrymen of the travail of His soul and been satisfied; and the mysterious phenomenon of the greatest and the powerfulest of all beings weeping over a calamity, to avert which He had both the power and the inclination, would not have been presented; and how, then, does all this accord with what we know, or what we can guess, of the character of God’s administration?
Take into account only the power of the Savior to deliver the city of Jerusalem, and the strength of His kind and affectionate desires towards it; and you might think that there lay before Him a plain and practicable way for the fulfillment of the object. But there was another principle of the Divine administration which overruled the whole of this matter; and, without attempting to dive into the reasons of the counsel of God, or to inquire why He has adopted such a principle — enough for us the bare announcement of the fact that it is so. He has found out and He has published a way of salvation; and a message of peace is made to circulate round the world; and all who will are made welcome to partake of it; and the Spirit, urging every one to whom the word of salvation is sent to turn unto Christ from their iniquities, plies [diligently works] them with as much argument and holds out to them as much light, and affects the conscience of one and all of us with as much power, as ought to constrain us to the measure of accepting the Saviour, and relinquishing for Him the idol of every besetting sin and of every seducing vanity. But if we will not be constrained, it is the mode of His procedure with every human soul, gradually to cease from His work of contesting with them. And He will not always strive. And to him who has the property of yielding to His first influences, more will be given. And to him who has not, there will even be taken away from him such influences as he may have already had. And thus it is that the way of the Spirit, with the conscience of man, harmonizes with all that we feel and all that we experience of the workings of this conscience. If often stifled and repressed, it [conscience with the Spirit] will at length cease to meddle with us. And enough for every practical purpose that we know this to be the fact. Enough that it is made known to us as a principle of God’s administration, though we know not the reason why it should be so. Enough to alarm us into an immediate compliance with the voice of our inward monitor, that, should we resist it any longer, the time may come, when even Omnipotence itself will not interpose to save us. Enough to compel our instantaneous respect for all its suggestions, that, should we keep unmoved and unawed by them, even the God of love, who wills the happiness of all His children, may find that the wisdom and the purity and the justice of His government require of Him our final and everlasting abandonment. And oh, how we should tremble to presume on the goodness of God — when we see the impressive attitude of Him, who, though the kindest and gentlest and best of beings, looked to the great mass of His countrymen, and foresaw the wretchedness that was in reserve for them; and, instead of offering to put forth the might of His resistless energy for their deliverance, did nothing but give way to the tenderness of His nature, and weep for a distress which He would not remedy.
They had got beyond that irrecoverable point we have so much insisted on. They had tried the Spirit of God to the uttermost, and He had ceased to strive with them. At that time of their day, when, had they minded the things which belong to their peace, they would have done it with effect — they put away from them His every admonition and His every argument; and now there lay upon them the stern and unrelenting doom, that they were for ever hid from their eyes. Let us once more make the application. The goodness of God lies in the freeness of that offer wherewith He urges you now. And He backs this offer by the call of repentance now. And He tells you, that, to carry forward and to perfect this repentance, He is willing to minister help to all your infirmities now. And on this your day, He calls you to mind these things and to proceed upon these things now. But should this goodness not lead you to repentance — then it is not a goodness that you have any warrant to calculate upon at any future stage of your history. And the time may come when all these things shall be hid from your eyes. The goodness of God is perfect, as all His other attributes are; but then it is a goodness exercised in that one way of perfect wisdom which He has thought fit to reveal to us. It is a goodness which harmonizes, in all its displays, with such maxims and such principles in the way of God’s administration as God has thought fit to make known to us. It is a goodness that will not survive all the resistance and all the provocation that we may choose to inflict upon it. It is a goodness, in virtue of which every one of us now may turn to the God whom we have offended; and be assured of His abundant forgiveness; and be admitted into all the privileges of His reconciled children; and, rejoicing in the blood that cleanseth from all sin, stand with all the securities of conscious acceptance before Him; and be established in that way of new obedience for which He is both able and willing most abundantly to strengthen us. All this now, all this today while it is called today, should you harden not your hearts. All this on that critical and interesting now, which is called the accepted time and the day of salvation. But oh, forget not, that the same Savior who sounded just such calls in the ears of His countrymen, and would have gathered them together, even as a hen gathereth her chickens under her wings, ere a few years more had rolled over the city of Jerusalem, wept when He beheld it, and thought of the stern and alterable necessity of its approaching desolation.
Institutes of Theology, 1849, Edinburgh
“General Application of Our Views on the Evidences of Natural and Revealed Religion,” pp. 269-276
Appropriating the Calls of the Gospel, 8 pages, originally entitled, “On the Warrant which each man has to appropriate the Calls of the Gospel to himself, and what that is which marks his doing so”, pp. 262-270, as published in The Master’s Trumpet, Issue 3, April 2006, the magazine of the Free Church of Scotland (Continuing).
Chalmers writes about the perplexity in which a hearer may be entangled if he fails to respond with simplicity to the plain directions of the gospel call.
Ch. 8, “On the Universality of the Gospel”, see the whole 10 page chapter here
p. 404-5, This quote was compiled by Maurice Roberts
There must be a sad misunderstanding somewhere. The commission put into our hands is to go and preach the gospel to every creature under heaven, and the announcement sounded forth on the world from heaven’s vault was, peace on earth, good-will to men. There is no freezing limitation here, but a largeness and munificence of mercy boundless as space, free and open as the expanse of the firmament. We hope, therefore, the real gospel, is as unlike the views of some of its interpreters as creation in all . . .
We hope you may now understand that there is nothing in the doctrine of Predestination which should at all limit the universality of the gospel offer, and that in spite of that doctrine it is still this offer, honestly and affectionately urged on the one side upon each and upon every man, and received on the other in the very sense and character in which it is propounded – that is the great practical engine of all the success which Christianity meets with in the world.
p. 406-7, This quote was compiled by Maurice Roberts
The advocates of universal redemption are quite at one with ourselves as to the reception which the universal offer should meet with from all men. It should meet with universal acceptance, and should be pressed too on universal acceptance. We are quite at one with them in what may be termed the practices of Christianization. We only differ from them when we come to speculate on the results, and connect these either with the processes of cause and effect or with the preordinations of a God of whom we conceive that He foreknows all and overrules all. We agree in respect to the part which man has to do with the question. We differ in respect to the part which God has to do with the question. There is not an Arminian or Universalist who contends more zealously than we for the duty of the preacher to urge the offers of the gospel upon every man, and the duty of every man to accept of these offers. God has made the salvation of the gospel universal in point of proposition: the fault is man’s if it be not universal in point of effect.
p. 408, This quote was compiled by Maurice Roberts
There never was a more injudicious management than to mix up the doctrine of election with the first overtures of the gospel, as if this would give a more pointed and particular application to them, instead of which it is the direct road to a darkening of the whole message and making the application of it impossible.
5. We ought therefore to proceed on the obvious representations which Scripture gives of the Deity, and these beheld in their own immediate light, untinged by the dogma of Predestination. God waiting to be gracious—God not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance [2 Pet. 3:9]—God swearing by Himself that He has no pleasure in the death of a sinner, but rather that all should come unto Him and live [Eze. 32:11]—God beseeching men to enter into reconciliation [2 Cor. 5:20], and this not as elect, but simply and generally as men and sinners;—these are the attitudes in which the Father of the human family sets Himself forth unto the world—these the terms in which He speaks to us from heaven. Now what we affirm, what we zealously affirm, is, that the gospel is not adequately rendered, if the full and natural force of these exhibitions be not brought to bear on the hearts of all men. It is a distorted gospel, if through any doctrinal medium whatever, the spectacle of a God beckoning their return to forgiveness be at all darkened or transformed. Any charm which there is in Christianity to recall or to regenerate some, lies in those of its overtures which are so framed as to hold out the offered friendship of God unto all. We strip our religion of its moral efficacy if we do not so represent it. It is not a limited, it is a universal offer in the gospel, which is the instrument of every particular conversion. This is not superseded by the system of necessity. The same God who makes the manifested good-will of one man an instrument for gaining the confidence and affection of another towards him, makes His own manifested good-will the instrument for gaining the confidence and affection of sinners unto Himself; and it is an instrument, we repeat, which may be brought to bear upon all. It is an open manifestation on which every man is invited to look, and in which all have an equal warrant to trust and to rejoice. All that necessity does is to make sure the concatenation between antecedents and their consequents, between means and their ends; and this it does whatever the antecedents and whatever the consequents are. There is nothing, therefore, in necessity, or to substitute the theological term, there is nothing in predestination, which hinders the antecedent in the work of conversion from being the general offer of pardon to all men, and the consequent from being the repose of a confiding acceptance on the part of all or of any who are willing to enter on the path of reconciliation. The index to this path is lifted up in the sight of all. The bidding to walk in this path is addressed unto all. The Sun of righteousness hath arisen for the general behoof of human spirits, just as much as the sun of nature hath arisen for the general behoof of human eyes. We can imagine so violent a perversity as that of shutting one’s eyes against the light of day, and so walking willfully in darkness. And we are not left to imagine, for we see it exemplified of thousands, that they shut the eyes of their understanding against the light of the gospel, and so walk willfullly in spiritual darkness. He who does evil comes not unto the light, says our Savior [John 3:19]. It is because of our own perversity, it is because of our own resistance, if we do not obtain the pardon of the gospel. We have it for the taking. The book of revelation is open to us, and we may read our welcome there, even in the very passages where the elect read it, for they have no more access than others to the book of destiny. The demonstration held forth in the gospel is that of a God not only commanding but even beseeching His strayed creatures to return unto Him. If one man be carried by this demonstration and another resist it, it is not because the external demonstration has been differently given to the two men, but because it has been differently received by them. God, in the gospel of Jesus Christ, holds forth the very same overtures to both; and the only distinction is, that it is not responded to in the same way by both. The command on both to believe is alike imperative. The entreaty for both to return is alike importunate. The love wherewith God loved the world so as to send His only begotten Son into it, ought to be urged on both these inhabitants of the world—in the very same style of entreaty and unreserved assurance—and that for the purpose of awakening in them the same confidence, and calling forth the same gratitude for the good-will from heaven thus manifested to the one just as it is to the other. We are aware that there may be and often is a difference in the result, but the cause of this must be looked for inwardly, to a difference between the men, and not outwardly, to the application that has been brought to bear upon them. The application is a free pardon held out for acceptance to them both—the assurance of God’s readiness in Christ Jesus to forgive, coupled with the call of repentance to them both—the declaration of a blood that cleanseth from all sin, and that will most assuredly cleanse them from their sin if they will only put their trust in it, made equally to them both—the proclamation of an open way of access, towards which our very first movement will cause joy in heaven, and God Himself—like the father in the parable—to meet them with the encouragements of His parental welcome, lifted up in the hearing of both, a longing affection on the part of their Creator, lifted up in such touching expressions as—Oh, that they would remember the things which belong to their peace [Luke 19:42]; and, Oh, that there were a heart in them to keep my commandments [Ps. 81:13], this, we say, pointedly and with the same force of moral earnestness addressed to them both. Such is the outward engine made to play on the hearts of each; and that minister is untrue to his commission who does not bear it indiscriminately round, and cause it to operate with equal freeness and importunity at every door. We are aware that the effect within will not be the same, but the application from without ought to be the same; and that theologian has wildered himself among speculations which he knows not how to manage, and which therefore as too high for him he had better let alone, who suffers his views on necessity, on predestination, on the sovereignty of Divine grace, or the decrees of a past eternity, to embarrass the plain work that has been put into his hands, which is to make full tender of the mercy of God in Christ to all who will; and an equally full tender of the strength from on high, by which he might perfect the indispensable repentance of the gospel to all who will.
“On the Moral Uses of the Doctrine that Christ is God”, pp. 456-465, this quote was compiled by Rev. Sherman Isbell
Notes on Hill’s Lectures in Divinity, in Select Works of Thomas Chalmers, (Edinburgh: Thomas Constable and Co, 1854), 8:424-442. This quote was compiled by David Ponter, the larger context is here.
Book 4, Ch. 6
This seems the proper place for the introduction of a question, whereof it is greatly to be lamented that the necessity should have occurred for its ever being raised at all, as a topic of speculation. The [erroneous] question relates to the amount or value of the sufferings of Christ. It proceeds on an arithmetical view of the ransom which He paid for sin, and hinges on the consideration whether it was equivalent, looking at it in the character of a price, or a purchase-money whether it was equivalent to the salvation of all men, or only to the salvation of that limited number who pass under the denomination of the elect. I have ever felt this to be a distasteful contemplation, and my repugnance, I feel no doubt, has been greatly aggravated by my fears of the danger which might ensue to practical Christianity, from the injudicious applications that might be made of it, especially in the work of the pulpit, and when urging hearers to accept of the offered reconciliation of the gospel. It is always to be dreaded, and if possible shunned, when a transcendental question, relating to the transactions of the upper sanctuary, or to the part which God has in our salvation, should be so treated, or take such a direction as to cast obscuration over, or at all threaten to embarrass, the part which man has in it. There may not merely be an intruding into things unseen, when thus scrutinizing into the agreement or terms of the bargain, as it were, between the offended Lawgiver and the Mediator, who had undertaken to render satisfaction for the outrage inflicted on the authority of His government; but the [erroneous] argument might be so conducted as to mislead and perplex the heralds of salvation in the execution of their plainly bidden task–which is to go and “command all men everywhere to repent”–to “go and preach the gospel to every creature.”
If by particular redemption it be meant that Christ so died for men, as that the salvation obtained by His death only took effect on a particular number, this we cannot question; but if it be meant by particular redemption that the salvation may not be made the subject of a universal proclamation, may not be tendered honestly, while urgently tendered, to all men, or severally and individually to each of them, this we promptly and indignantly deny, resenting it as we would any mutilation of the gospel of Jesus Christ. It is because these two propositions are so apt to be confounded that we do feel a sort of sensitive antipathy, the dread of a great practical evil, on the mention of either of them. And then what daring as well as distasteful language is often employed by the defenders of the orthodox proposition. Even when I consent to their doctrine, I abominate some of their arguments. I cannot bear this great and solemn transaction, the decease that was accomplished in Jerusalem, to be spoken of in the terms of a mercantile negotiation between the Father and the Son. I think they transgress the limits of a becoming and reverential silence when they as sign a precise arithmetical value to the blood that was shed, and then tell us that this must only form a commensurate price, or a commensurate expiation, for the guilt of those who were saved actually, else there must have been a superfluous expense of suffering–the injustice, as it were, of laying more upon Christ than He obtained a return for as the fruit of the travail of His soul. This whole nomenclature of the market and the counting-house I utterly dislike; and my repugnance thereto is not the less violent, that it bears the character of a presumptuous and inter-meddling speculation. I should feel it a most unwarrantable inroad on a region too high for us did we attempt to reason on the matters contained in the book of life. And really, if I may say it without irreverence, judging from the style of certain theologians on this topic, they seem to me as if they could scarce have spoken otherwise though they had access to a ledger-book kept in the upper sanctuary, and where the worth of the ransom, or amount of the redemption-money, and number of the redeemed, had been set off as equivalents against each other. It is monstrously revolting to my ears, when I hear certain statements, almost in the form of calculation, respecting the blood of the atonement, as if it were computable and divisible like purchase-money, as the price paid and told out, under the old economy, in shekels, for the redemption of the souls of the children of Israel. The simple majesty of the truth as propounded in Scripture has often undergone sad desecration at the hands, I will not say of merely unphilosophical, but of most unsavoury and untasteful theologians, whose speculations on this subject are often absolutely hideous. Enough for us to learn the terms of the New Covenant viewed as a covenant between God and man. We step beyond our province when we presume to inquire into the terms or overlook the accounts of this great transaction, viewed in the light of a covenant between the Father and the Son.
But it is not merely because of the offence done by it to the true Christian philosophy that we deprecate many of the views which have been given, and many of the expressions which have been uttered by theologians in their treatment of this question. A still more serious calamity is the practical disturbance which it [an arithmetic view of the atonement] has given to the work of the pulpit, as well as the initial perplexities which it has thrown across the path of the inquirer at the outset of his religious earnestness. I have heard my deceased friend, Robert Hall, say of the great majority of evangelical preachers in England, that they were so encumbered with the dogmata of their creed, as positively not to know in what terms so to lay down the gospel as that a plain man should know how to take it up. And this dogma of particular redemption, ill understood, forms the main cause of their embarrassment. If Christ died not for all, how I can make a tender of His salvation to all? If He died only for the elect, in what terms can I declare the readiness of God to take into acceptance the multitude before me? How can I represent Him as waiting to be gracious, if, in the exercise of a discriminating grace, He has purposes of mercy only for certain some who are unknown to me, while He has no such purpose for certain others, who are alike unknown to me? In these circumstances, it would appear as if I could neither single out those to whom I might deliver the overtures of reconciliation, nor am I free to cast these overtures abroad in the hearing of all the people. It is thus that clergy men, manacled and wire-bound in the fetters of their wretched orthodoxy, feel themselves impeded and restrained in the exercise of their functions as the heralds of mercy to a guilty world. They know not to whom they should deliver the message, or from whom they should withhold it, and are uncertain of the very first footstep they should take in prosecution of the work which has been given them to do. They cannot properly limit their proposals to the elect, for they do not know them; and, after all, this is not the proposal wherewith they have been charged, which is, to preach the gospel to every creature under heaven, to call on all men everywhere to repent and turn unto God, and do works meet for repentance.
Now this is a sore evil; and is fitted, if anything, to spoil the gospel, or rather the declaration of the gospel, of all its efficacy. Yet to make this declaration, and to make it freely or without exception to all, is one of the plainest injunctions in the New Testament. What then ought to be the inference, but that this doctrine of particular redemption is either not a doctrine at all, or is grievously misunderstood if in virtue thereof, a minister feels himself restrained from making the open proclamation of its offered forgiveness to all within his reach, or from beseeching every man to enter through Jesus Christ into peace and fellowship with the Lawgiver whom he had offended.
Now, which term of this alternative do we take–whether that Particular Redemption is not a doctrine, or that it is grievously misunderstood? We take the latter term. It is a doctrine, but a doctrine sadly misunderstood and misapplied…
But while thus stating what I hold in the general to be the relative importance of the two great co-ordinate branches of our course, let me at the same time state, that in regard to the particular doctrine before us, as well as to the rest in order I mean the doctrine of Predestination, I think it of fully greater necessity to guard against their abuses than even to establish their truth…
…These are undoubted premises, yet I would forbear to ground thereupon the arithmetic of our Particular Redemptionists. The truth is, that save for the purpose of framing a counter-proposition to meet some heresy capable of being turned to a practically mischievous application, I should feel disinclined for any further prosecution of the question, at least on this side of it. I would abstain from any numerical consideration of the value of Christ’s sufferings, nor entertain the difficulty whether they were equivalent for the salvation of all, or only of the elect. This is a matter which belongs rather to the transaction between the Surety and the Lawgiver–a supernal or transcendental theme, therefore, and which, as lying in that direction, it is both our philosophy and our piety not to intrude into. It is our part to look in the other direction, to view it [redemption] as a question between God and man, or rather as a question between God and each man individually: and it is thus, that in every case of real practical earnestness, the question is generally entertained. We read that Christ died for the world; but did He die for me in particular? Is the foundation laid in Zion by His atoning death, a foundation broad enough for me to rest upon? Are the overtures of reconciliation that have come from heaven such as I can entertain in the form of overtures addressed to myself? How can I so take them up, after being told that Christ died only for some; and it is nowhere said that I am included in the happy number? The perplexity felt by a minister in the pulpit as to the terms in which he should propose the message of reconciliation, is the very perplexity felt by the individual hearer as to the terms in which he should receive it. It is thus that the trumpet has been made to blow uncertainly; and that many a spirit, mystified and bewildered among the difficulties of a theme too high for it, has been unable to grope its way to a place of enlargement and safety.
We see no other method of resolving the perplexity than just by disentangling the celestial from the terrestrial of this whole speculation, and, foregoing all curiosity about the part which God has in it, to look singly and intently on the part which man has in it. If salvation be not destined for all, of this at least we may be very sure, that salvation is proposed to all. If Christ did not so far die for me, as that He is yet mine in possession, He at least so far died for me, as that He is mine in offer. This is truly the matter on hand; this is the word nigh [near] unto us. I cannot run the speculation upward to the heights of the past eternity, nor onward to the depths of the future ever lasting. But with neither have I at present or practically to do. The thing immediately before me the only thing I am called at this moment to entertain–is the invitation of the gospel, which invitation, I, as minister, have the full warrant to throw abroad without limitation or reserve among all and every of an assembled congregation; and they, as hearers, have each individually for himself as full a warrant to close with and confidently to appropriate as an invitation to him in particular. He may not be able to reconcile the absolute with the relative in this question–the whole and just perspective thereof as seen from the point of view in heaven, with the partial, though, as far as it goes, the equally just perspective thereof, as seen from the point of view on earth–the wide and general contemplation taken of it by God above, who looks from beginning to end, from one extreme to the other of the scheme universal, with the lower and limited contemplation taken of it by man below, who may cast a far and wildering look on both sides of him, yet can see no further into the scheme than to the brief evolution of it in his own little day–the ephemeral and intermediate passage where upon his own history is cast, and wherewith he himself is closely and immediately implicated. And it were his wisdom to be satisfied with thus seeing–it were truly his wisdom to recall himself from the distant to the near–from gazing on the infinite, behind and before him, to the besetting realities of his present condition–to the urgency and plain meaning of present calls. His business is not with the counsels which were fixed upon before the world, nor yet with the consummations which take place after it; his business is not even with the matter as it respects the species, but with the matter as it respects himself. He may not be able to adjust all the parts of the complete and comprehensive whole; but enough if he is able to discern his own part in it, and rightly to proceed thereupon. Let all the perplexities of the general speculation be what they may, they affect not what to himself should be the weightiest and yet the most applicable of all truths–that God is beseeching him to be reconciled–that in reference to him, God is waiting to be gracious–that He is now plying him with the offers and entreaties of the gospel, saying, “Come now, let us reason together;” [Isa. 1:18] and, “Turn thee, turn thee, for why shouldst thou die?” [Eze. 33:11] This is the topic for the minister to preach, and for the people to listen to; this is the revealed thing which belongs to them and to their children [Deut. 29:29]; this is the right demonstration to make from the pulpit, extricated and set free from the demonstrations of an ambitious philosophy. It is the sounder and better philosophy which keeps a man within his own sphere, and leads him to take the part which the great Artificer and Governor of all has specially assigned to him. His business is to look to himself: his concern is not with the scheme universal, or that part of it which is out of sight in heaven, but with that part of it which, brought nigh to him on earth, is made to bear on the fears and the feelings of his own heart, or on the urgent interests of his own little home–the question, so often exemplified at the first promulgation of the good tidings, What shall I do, that I and those of my household might be saved? The materials, most ample and satisfying materials, for the solution of this question, are within the reach of every man who himself is within reach of the Bible. He needs only attend to its plain lessons, and forego his own adventurous and most unfruitful speculations. Instead of roaming over the wide expanse in pursuit of the distant and the indeterminate, he has only to busy himself with the distinct and definite matters which are brought to his own door. The some who are ordained to eternal life–the sheep out of all the species, for whom Christ died–the elect for whom the Lamb was slain before the foundation of the world; it is his part to recall himself from the perplexity of his spirit upon these, and turn him to the sayings which serve for the guidance of his own footsteps: “Repent and be converted, every one of you.” Let whosoever believe, and he shall not perish [John 3:16]. God is not willing that any should go into perdition [2 Pet. 3:9]; He beseeches every man; He wills all to repent; He wills all to come to the knowledge of the truth, and be saved [1 Tim. 2:4].
* * * * * * * *
I would again revert to this topic with the view of making you clearly understand the distinction between one kind of universality and another[:]  the universality of redemption effect, and  its universality in point of proposition. And again, there is a distinction in regard to the first of these–the universality in point of effect, which I beg you will keep in mind. Most of the Arminians agree with all the Calvinists in not allowing the universality in point of actual effect, but they do not agree with the Calvinists in affirming any want of such universality in point of necessary effect. There is an actual limitation, they admit, upon the universality, but no necessary limitation. There stands, they [the Arminians] contend, nothing like a fatality in the way of its being universal. In short, they contend that there is no predestination, no antecedent decree upon the subject. They, generally speaking, admit that all historically, or in point of fact, will not be saved; and that, so far from there being an actual universality, the number really and indeed saved will fall greatly short of the whole family of mankind; but then they affirm, that what this number shall be is not a matter of predetermination, but a matter of contingency–that it is not determined beforehand by God, but depends on the course that shall be taken by the self-determining power of man, in the exercise of that liberty which, in the metaphysical sense of the term, they most zealously assert for him.
On this particular point the Arminians and the Calvinists are at issue; and there are certain ultra-Calvinists, who understand the limitation of the decree, or the limitation caused by the predestination of God, in such a way as not only to deny the universality of redemption, in the first general sense of the phrase, but to deny it in the second general sense also that is, they not only deny, in toto, the universality of the Christian redemption in point of effect, but they even deny it in point of proposition. In virtue of their notions on the subject of election, they not only believe in the absolute impossibility of the gospel salvation being ever realized by all, but they even feel restrained from proposing it to all. In laying the very first overtures of Christianity before the people, there is often mingled–I think most injudiciously and unwarrantably mingled a most perplexing reference on their part to the doctrine of election, and often a positive discouragement, amounting in some instances to positive prohibition on the great bulk of the people from entertaining the subject at all, saying, that for aught they know, they may have no part whatever in the matter. I must do my utmost to clear the whole matter of this disturbing and complicating influence; and meanwhile I satisfy myself with announcing, that I know nothing of more vital importance to the efficacy of your preaching, than your proceeding, as I believe you fully warranted by Scripture, on the free and boundless universality of the gospel salvation in point of proposition, and that you fall short of your commission as the heralds of God’s mercy to the children of men, if you ply riot, with the assurances and the honest assertions of His good will, one and all of the human family.
Before terminating this subject, I should like particularly to make you understand in what respect I agree with the statement of Dr. Whitby, and, in fact, with all that is ascribed in the text book to universal redemptionists, in the most important, that is, in the practical sense, of these affirmations, and how, consistently with this, I hold by the Calvinistic doctrine of an absolute predestination. I should hold it a most grievous effect of that doctrine on your conduct of the business of the pulpit, if you did not address all men, as the subjects of the proposed pardon and justification–if you did not assure them of a reconciliation on their turning to God, and having faith in the Lord Jesus Christ–if you did not, for this purpose, urge them so to turn, and expound to them, affectionately as well as fully, the truth as it is in Jesus–if you did not tell them, just as these universal redemptionists do, that their salvation depends on their faith. The remedy, in fact, is much more extensive in proposition than it is in effect. It may be held out, and honestly held out, in proposition, to all, while at the same time, and effectively, it is limited to those who repent and believe, while most assuredly all who do so repent and believe shall be saved. And it is also quite true, that though the offer of redemption were rejected by all, there is a sense in which that redemption might still be called universal. The offer could not have been given without it; and now that Christ has died, the offer might be made to one and all of the species. The qualification which I want you to lay on certain passages in the text-book, where the tenets and views of the universal redemptionists are explained, is not so to understand it as if there were not Calvinists who did not subscribe, and that most cordially, to much that is there ascribed to them, and I fear so ascribed to them as to give you the impression that the Calvinists stand opposed to the whole of it. You will act the part of unfaithful representatives of the King of heaven; you will have put a sore misrepresentation on the terms of that embassy wherewith He has entrusted you, if you do not make open proclamation of the gospel as a universal offer, and do not make use of this moving argument with one and all of your hearers–that in relation not to some one, but to every one, God is waiting to be gracious.
Were I commissioned by an earthly monarch with the overtures of reconciliation to the inhabitants of a province that had risen up in arms against him, and were I authorized by the terms of that commission to hold forth the overtures of pardon, and not of pardon only, but of pardon and preferment to all who should cast away from them the weapons of their rebellion, the line of my duty at least is quite plain. I have but to urge their acceptance of the offered terms. I have to assure them of the perfect honesty of my master, and the perfect safety wherewith they might place their reliance on him. I may be conceived to have the advantage of being able to appeal to bygone instances in which their brothers in rebellion had been persuaded by my entreaties to give in, and how they now lived in perfect security, and had been raised to happiness and honor on their compliance with the gracious proposal. With this invitation I would keep plying all who still held out and were obstinate; and however much I may be at a loss to account for the difference between those who consented to my proposals and those who resisted them, still it would be quite clear that the only way in which I could do a real practical service to those people would be to persevere in that earnest solicitation by which alone I had ever succeeded in gaining the surrender of any, and on which surrender they had never in a single instance failed to obtain the full possession of those blessings which I was authorized to hold out as the sure effect of their compliance.
I might feel myself greatly baffled and at a loss did I attempt to philosophize in a speculative way on the question, How comes it, after all, that two sets of human beings should be so differently constituted as that the first, after perhaps a good deal of resistance, should at length give way under the power of my earnest and repeated assurances, while the second stand their resolute ground, and at length die hard under all the pathos and urgency I can bring to bear upon them? This might present a dark, perhaps an unresolvable subject to my understanding; and yet the path of my practical duty might remain perfectly dear and obvious notwithstanding, which is just to persevere in widely circulating and affectionately urging the overtures wherewith I had been entrusted, seeing that it is in the prosecution of this business only that the number of the pardoned is increased, and the number of the impenitent lessened, whether I can comprehend or not the theoretical question which I have started about the difference between them.
It would add greatly to my wonder and perplexity, too, if in the course of my inquiries into the cause of this difference I had learned that the very king whose ambassador I was, possessed a before unheard of power to work a receptive disposition in certain- of these rebellious subjects, while he left others to the native obstinacy of their own rigid and uncomplying tempers, and that in point of fact it was he who gave this disposition to those who did accept of my published overtures, while he withheld it from others. His policy–wherewith, however, I had nothing to do–would present itself to my notice as a profound mystery; yet my practice, wherewith I had everything to do, would remain on precisely the same footing as before. It would still be as much my duty as ever to knock at the door of every heart, seeing that it was only by my thus knocking that the door of any heart was opened to my terms of reconciliation. It matters not on what cause, known or unknown, the difference depended between those that withstood my application and those that gave way to it. It affects not the line of my incumbent duty as the herald of those overtures in the least, though I should come to know that it depended on the will and power of him from whom I had received the charge of them. It might throw a deeper shade over his counsels, and make them all more incomprehensible than ever. The duty of plying men with these overtures would still remain. After this new discovery of the principle on which the success depended, the measure of the success might still remain the same, and the encouragement founded on the experience of this also remain. In short, there may be much in this doctrine to aggravate my speculative difficulties; but the way of duty, and the motive to the performance of it, are just what they used to be.
But a further information may be presented on this subject. I may be made to know that this same sovereign gave a disposition to receive his overtures on a proper request being sent to him to that effect, whether from myself, the herald of his merciful proclamation, or from those who were the objects of it. There would be nothing in this to alleviate the mysteriousness of the whole procedure, perhaps rather to enhance it; but still the part I had to perform in it would be perfectly clear and obvious. I might not understand how to reconcile the merciful character and universal terms of his proclamation, with the partial exercise of his power in giving a disposition to receive it only to some and not to others of his rebellious subjects. This may be a great deep altogether beyond the reach of my soundings; yet, with all the difficulty in theorizing on his conduct, there needs not rest the shadow of a doubt on what the incumbent footsteps are of my own conduct, which would just be to ply [offer] the people among whom I had been sent with the most importunate entreaties to return to the sovereign who sits with open arms to receive them, and to ply [offer] my sovereign who had sent me with my importunate requests that he would speed the success of my message among a people made willing by him in the day of his power. And if my uniform, nay unexcepted, experience should be, that never did a single creature return in the terms of the amnesty whereof I was the bearer, but, in spite of his bitter provocations, he had all its promises and all its immunities made out to him; and did I also experience that never did the request for a willing heart, if only preferred without any mixture of dishonesty or any misgiving of distrust, that never was such a request sent without the plenteous effusion of a right and a relenting spirit on him who was the object of it–surely all that is palpable in these transactions might well bespeak him to be a merciful, while they are only those recondite things wherewith my conduct and my practice have nothing to do, which bespeak him to be a mysterious sovereign.
Now it is just so with the overtures of the gospel. We have a warrant from the King of heaven for placing them at the door and plying [working] with them the heart and conscience of every individual. We have a further warrant to pray for a blessing on our endeavours; and He tells us that a believing prayer for this will be effectual, descending so far, in fact, as to ask that we should put Him to the proof: Only prove me, and see whether I will not pour out a blessing upon you. It is a mysterious thing that all hearts should not be overpowered by the touching and tender demonstrations of the upper sanctuary. It is a still more mysterious thing that He who constructed overtures which are addressed to all, should only give the susceptibility of being impressed by them to some. It alleviates not, perhaps it enhances, the mysteriousness, that He should profess a readiness to give a clean heart and a right spirit to those who ask them–for these I must be inquired after. Still it is but a mysteriousness resting on His counsels, for all is noon-day light and simplicity in regard to our conduct, whether it be the conduct of Christian ministers or of Christian individuals. None who accept of these gospel overtures will be disappointed; and none who pray for the power of accepting them, if they do it honestly and in good faith, will have that power withheld from them. The salvation of the gospel is free to all who will, and the overtures of it may be addressed with perfect sincerity to one and all of the human family.
I have not yet broken ground on the main question, but I want to possess you at the very outset with what the conclusion is which I want to establish–Predestinarian though I be, it is not so much the dogma of Predestination as the innocence of the dogma that I want to establish. I further hope to vindicate in some degree its usefulness; but my main object is to satisfy you that it interferes not with the universality of gospel calls and gospel invitations.
On entering upon this topic, I cannot but express my regret that the question between universal and particular redemption should ever have been stirred. I do not think that the interests of truth or the maintenance of essential orthodoxy required it. The controversy, I think, has assumed an unfortunate shape when stated in the terms, whether Christ died for all men, or only for those who shall finally be saved. I regret that these two terms should have been put together in this alternative method, as if the affirmation of the one necessarily involved in it the denial of the other. There is a sense in which Christ died for all men–by His death He brought in an everlasting righteousness, which, in the ipsissima verba [very words] of Scripture, is unto all and upon all who believe; and our business is to urge this gospel on the acceptance of one and all. This is true; and yet it is just as true that none but they who believe shall finally be saved. This is all I should feel inclined to state on the head of this particular controversy; and then, were there a disposition to stir the question in another shape, and to inquire whence the difference in point of phenomenon–of mental phenomenon–between those who believe and those who believed not, might not this difference be ascribed to the power and pre-ordination of Him who hath the hearts of all men in His hand? I would enter on this special track of investigation, and proceed in it as far as the light of nature and the light of revelation could carry me. We think that all which is essentially Calvinistic might be established in this way; while, at the same time, when we had got to the impossible difficulties of the question, we think that a man of a wise and philosophic spirit could not fail to perceive that, after all, this greatly maligned and misunderstood Calvinism left the urgencies, and the duties, and all the plain and popular and practical bearings of the religion of Jesus on the souls and consciences of all men on the very footing in which it found them.
Self-Examination, 1825, from Chalmers’ introduction to a printing of William Guthrie’s The Christian’s Great Interest, 1658. This quote was compiled by Rev. Sherman Isbell.
Nor is his [William Guthrie’s] clear and scriptural exhibition of the dispensation of grace less fitted to guide the humble inquirer into the way of salvation. As a faithful ambassador of Christ, he is free and unreserved in his offers of pardon and reconciliation, through the death and obedience of Christ, to the acceptance of sinners; but he is no less faithful in stating and asserting the claims of the gospel, to an unshrinking and universal obedience, and to an undisputed supremacy over the heart and affections.
Memoirs of Dr. Chalmers, 1847, edited by William Hannah
vol. 1, Appendix, p. 529, 1827, this quote was compiled by Maurice Roberts
The natural inability of man to accept the offers of the gospel no more supersedes the duty of the offerer than the impotency of the withered hand superseded the command of our Saviour that it should be stretched forth. Power was given in this instance along with the command, and it is given still along with the preaching of the gospel. Do, my dear Sir, continue to preach it freely, universally, urgently. It is well that you feel the impotency of the preacher’s voice. But the inference from this is not that you are to chill, in obedience to any worthless dogma, the warmth and earnestness of your preaching; but it is that to preaching you must add prayer. Throw yourself upon God for the success of all your ministrations, while you suffer nothing to blunt the force or the fervor of these ministrations, and He will add the efficacy of His Spirit to the testimony of His word.
vol. 4, ‘His Last Sabbath’, this quote was compiled by Maurice Roberts
There are what are called Baxterian errors, I am aware, and one of these is in relation to the extent of the sacrifice of Christ; Baxter, I think, holding that Christ died for all men. Dr Chalmers answered
“yes: Baxter holds that Christ died for all men; but I cannot say that I am quite at one with what some of our friends have written on the subject of the atonement. I do not, for example, entirely agree with what Mr. Haldane says on that subject. I think that the word world, as applied in Scripture to the sacrifice of Christ, has been unnecessarily restricted; the common way of explaining it is that it simply includes Gentiles as well as Jews. [John 3:16] I do not like that explanation, and I think that there is one text that puts that interpretation entirely aside. The text to which I allude is, that “God commandeth all men, everywhere to repent. [Acts 17:30]””
Here the Doctor spoke of the connection between the election of God, the sacrifice of Christ, and the freeness of the offer of the Gospel. He spoke with great eloquence, and I felt as if he were in the pulpit, as some of his finest bursts rolled from his lips. “In the offer of the gospel”, said he, “we must make no limitation whatever. I compare the world to a multitude of iron filings in a vessel, and the gospel to a magnet.”
Letters of Thomas Chalmers, pp. 348-9
Insisting against Thomas Erskine, “All men are not pardoned – but all men have the pardon laid down for their acceptance.”
Sabbath Scripture Readings, vol. 1 (Edinburgh: Sutherland and Knox, 1848, p. 173
Chalmers regretted the teaching of “those Particular Redemptionists who explain away the universality of the gospel, by telling us that it only bears on some men in all nations.”