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James Saurin on God’s Will for the Salvation of Sinners

July 1, 2008

James Saurin on God’s Will for the Salvation of Sinners1

1) St. Peter, as we said before, St. Peter meant to refute the odious objections of some profane persons of his own time, who pretended to make the doctrine of a universal judgment doubtful, and who said, in order to obscure its truth, or enervate its evidence, “Where is the promise of his coming, for since the fathers fell asleep all things remain as they were?” 2 Pet. iii. 4. I am aware that this comment is disputed, and some have thought that the destruction of Jerusalem was the subject of this whole chapter, and not the end of the world; but, however averse we are to the decisive tone, we will venture to demonstrate that the apostle had far greater objects in view than the fatal catastrophes of the Jewish nation. This I think clearly appears,

1. By the nature of the objection which libertines made. “Where is the promise of his coming, for since the fathers fell asleep all things remain as they were?” These libertines did not mean that from the beginning of the world the commonwealth of Israel had suffer ed no considerable alteration; they did not mean from that false principle, to draw this false consequence, that Jerusalem would al ways remain as it then was. How could they be such novices in the history of their nation, as not to know the sad vicissitudes, the banishments and the plunderings, which the Jews had undergone? They meant, that though some particular changes had happened in some parts of the world, the generality of creatures had always remained in the same state; thence they pretended to conclude that they would always remain so.

This appears further by the manner in which the apostle answers them in the verses preceding the text. He alleges against them the example of the deluge, “This,” says he, “they are willingly ignorant of, that the world that then was, being overflowed with water, perished,” ver. 5, 6. To this he adds, “the heavens shall pass away with a great noise, the elements shall melt with fervent heat, the earth also and the things that are therein, shall be burnt up,” ver. 10. On which we reason thus: The world that was formerly destroyed with water, is the same which shall be destroyed by fire; but the world that was destroyed with water, was not the Jewish nation only: St. Peter then predicts a destruction more general than that of the Jews.

3. This appears further by this consideration. The people to whom St. Peter wrote, did not live in Judea, but were dispersed through Pontus, Galatia, Cappadocia, Asia, and Bithynia. These people could have but little to do with the destruction of Jerusalem. Whether Jesus Christ terminated the duration of that city suddenly or slowly, was a question that regarded them indirectly only; but the day of which St. Peter speaks, interests all Christians, and St. Peter exhorts all Christians to prepare for it, as being personally concerned in it.

4. Add a fourth consideration, taken from what follows our text, ver. 15, 16. “Even as our beloved brother Paul also speaks of these things, in which are some things hard to be understood, which they that are unlearned and unstable, wrest unto their own destruction.” What are these things hard to be understood? Many interpreters, ancient and modern, have thought that the doctrine of justification was intended; a doctrine established by St. Paul, and wrested by many to their own destruction, as from thence they concluded that good works were useless. But, I think, it is more probable that St. Peter designs some parts of the First Epistle to the Thessalonians, where the apostle had spoken as if the day of judgment was very nigh, 1 Thess. iv. 13, &c. and in v. 1, &c. and from which many concluded, that it would immediately appear, and the mistake caused a general subversion of society. Since then, St. Paul had spoken of the day of judgment, and St. Peter speaks of the same things, it follows, that St. Peter designed to establish the truth of a general judgment, against those infidels who had endeavoured to subvert it.

But how is what the apostle says, “one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day;” how is such a proposition proper to refute the odious objection of infidels, who said, “Where is the promise of his coming?” If a man who possesses great riches, promise a small sum to an indigent person, if he defer the fulfilment of his promise, in vain ye endeavour to exculpate him by saying, the promiser is so opulent that a small sum with him is as great riches, and great riches are as a small sum. In like manner, to say that “a thousand years with God are as one day, and one day as a thousand years,” is that to answer the objection? The question is not what the time of delay is to the eternal Being; the question is, what that time is to poor mortals, who are con fined to the earth, loaded with miseries, and to whom one day is as a thousand years, and not a thousand years as one day.

This difficulty is solved by the connexion of our text with the following verses: “Beloved, be not ignorant of this one thing, that one day is with the Lord as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day. The Lord is not slack concerning his promise, as some men count slackness, but is long-suffering to usward, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” This answer is conclusive, as ye will more fully perceive by the following paraphrase. The delay of the day of judgment may be considered either in relation to men who must be judged, or to God himself who will judge them. If ye consider it in regard to men who must be judged, they have no room to complain that God defers this important period; on the contrary, they ought to consider the pretended slackness of which they complain, as an effect of the adorable love of their judge, who invites them to conversion. The manner in which God ordinarily takes men out of this life, is much more proper to incline them to conversion than the terrible retinue of his coming to judgment. How terrible will his appearance be! What eye will not be dazzled? Whose conscience will not be alarmed? Here blow the trumpets, the dreadful sounds of which proclaim the approach of the Judge of this universe. There, the heavens, which once opened to receive the Son of God, open again that he may return to the earth, to execute his threatenings on rebellious men. Here, earth and sea restore the bodies which they have devoured. There, those thousand thousands, those ten thousand times ten thousand, who are continually before God, Dan. vii. 10, offer their ministry to him, and are the witnesses, admirers, and executors of his judgment. Here, open the eternal books, in which so many unrighteous thoughts, so many unprofitable words, so many criminal actions, have been registered. There, sentences are preparing, destinies determining, final decrees just pronouncing. Who then could have presence of mind enough to recur to genuine repentance, even supposing there were yet time for repentance? Men then have no reason to complain that the day of judgment is not yet come. “The Lord is patient towards all men, not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance.” If ye consider the pretended delay of judgment in regard to God, as ye have considered it in regard to men, ye will readily acknowledge, that what appears delay to you, does not appear so to him. Why? Because “a thousand years are with him as one day, and one day as a thousand years;” because this long term that offends you is but as an instant to the perfect Being. James Saurin, “The Eternity of God, Sermon 2, 2 Peter 3:8,” in Sermons of Rev. James Saurin, Late pastor of the French Church at the Hague, (New York: Harper Brothers, 1843), 1:53-54.

2) I intend to-day, my brethren, to endeavour to dissipate the dark clouds, with which your security obscures the designs of a patient God, who has been patient towards you, “long-suffering towards all,” 2 Pet. iii. 9; and who is exercising his patience towards you this day. But who can tell how much longer he intends to bear with you? Let us enter into the matter. I design to consider our text principally with a view to “the riches of the forbearance, and long-suffering of God,” Rom. ii. 4; for it treats of a mystery of justice which interests all mankind. God bears with the most wicked nations a long while; and, having borne a long while with the rebellion of ancestors, bears also a long while with that of their descendants; but, at length, collecting the rebellion of both into one point of vengeance, he punishes a people who have abused his patience, and proportions his punishment to the length of time which had been granted to avert them. James Saurin, “The Patience of God with Wicked nations,” in Sermons of Rev. James Saurin, Late pastor of the French Church at the Hague, (New York: Harper Brothers, 1843), 1:105.

3) But to a poor sinner, who is awakening from his sin, who having consumed the great est part of his life in sin, would repair it by sacrificing the world and all its glory, were such a sacrifice in his power: to a poor sinner, who, having been for some time afraid of an exclusion from the mercy of God, revolves these distressing thoughts in his mind: Per haps ” the days of my visitation” may be at an end; henceforth, perhaps, my sorrows may be superfluous, and my tears inadmissible: to such a sinner, what an object, what a comfort able object, is the treasure of ” the forbearance and long-suffering of God that leadeth to repentance.” My God, says such a sinner, ” I am not worthy of the least of all thy mercies!” Gen. xxxii. 10. My God, I am tempted to think that to doubt of my interest in thy fa vour is the rendering of a proper homage to thy mercy, and my unbelief would arise from my veneration for thy majesty! But let me not think so; I will not doubt of thy mercy, my God, since thou hast condescended to as sure me of it in such a tender manner! I will lose myself in that ocean of love which thou, God, infinitely good! still discovers to me; 1 will persuade myself that thou dost not des pise the sacrifice of a broken and contrite heart; and this persuasion I will oppose to an alarmed conscience, to a fear of hell that anticipates the misery of the state, and to all those formidable executioners of condemned men, whom I behold ready to seize their prey! My brethren, ” the riches of the goodness, and forbearance, and long-suffering of God,’ are yet open to you: they are open, my dear brethren, to this church, how ungrateful so ever we have been to the goodness of God how much insensibility soever we have shown to the invitations of grace: they are open t the greatest sinners, nor is there one of my hearers who may not be admitted to these in exhaustible treasures of goodness and mercy

But do ye still “despise the riches of the long-suffering of God?” What! because “space to repent,” Rev. ii. 2; is given, will ye continue in impenitence? Ah! were Jesus Christ in the flesh, were he walking in your streets, were he now in this pulpit preaching to you, would he not preach to you all bathed in sorrows and tears? He would weep over you as he once wept over Jerusalem, and he would say to this province, to this town, to this church, to each person in this assembly, yea, to that wicked hearer, who affects not to concerned in this sermon, “O that thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace!” Luke xix. 42. What am I saying? he would say thus, he does say thus, my dear brethren, and still interests himself in your salvation in the tenderest and most vehement, manner. Sitting at the right hand of his Father, he holds back that avenging arm which is ready to fell us to the earth at a stroke; in our behalf he interposes his sufferings and his death, his intercession and his cross; and from the top of that glory to which he is elevated, he looks down and says to this republic, to this church, to all this assembly, and to every sinner in it: “O that thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace!” James Saurin, “The Long-Suffering of God,” in Sermons of Rev. James Saurin, Late pastor of the French Church at the Hague, (New York: Harper Brothers, 1843), 1:116-117

4) All the reiterated declarations of Scripture are carefully collected, all the tender expostulations, all the attracting invitations, which demonstrate that man is the author of his own destruction, and that “God will have all men to be saved, and to come to the know ledge of the truth,” 1 Tim. ii. 4. Are we called to resist adversaries, who weaken the empire of God over his creatures? God is made, I do not say an inexorable master, I do not say a severe king; but, O horrid! he is made a tyrant, and worse than a tyrant. It has been seriously affirmed that he formed a great part of mankind with the barbarous design of punishing them for ever and ever, in order to have the cruel pleasure of showing how far his avenging justice and his flaming anger can go. It has been affirmed, that the decree, pronounced against the reprobate before his birth, not only determines him to punishment after the commission of sin, but infallibly inclines him to sin; because that is necessary to the manifestation of divine justice, and to the felicity of the elect; who will be much happier in heaven, if there be thousands and millions of miserable souls in the flames of hell, than if all mankind should enjoy the felicity of paradise. James Saurin, “The Price of Truth,” in Sermons of Rev. James Saurin, Late pastor of the French Church at the Hague, (New York: Harper Brothers, 1843), 1:140.

5) Fourthly, we require them to reconcile this system with many express declarations of Scripture, which inform us, that “God would have all men saved.” How does it agree with such pressing entreaties, such cutting reproofs, such tender expostulations as God discovers in regard to the unconverted; “O that my people had hearkened unto me! O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, how often would I have gathered thy children together, even as a hen gathers her chickens under her wings, and ye would not?” Matt, xxiii. 37. James Saurin, “The Deep Things of God,” in Sermons of Rev. James Saurin, Late pastor of the French Church at the Hague, (New York: Harper Brothers, 1843), 2:105.

6) He has given this answer in those pathetical expostulations, in those powerful applications, and in those exhortations, which he employs to reclaim the greatest sinners. Now if the decrees of God forced sinners, if they did violence to their liberty, would the equity of God allow him to call men out of bondage, while he him self confined them in chains?

God has given this answer by tender complaints concerning the depravity of mankind; yea, by tears of love shed for their miseries. “O that my people had hearkened unto me! O that thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace!” Ps. Ixxxi. 14, Luke xix. 42. Now if the decrees of God force sinners, if they offer violence to their liberty, I am not afraid to say, this sort of language would be a sport unworthy of the divine majesty.

He has given this answer by express assurances, that he would have all men to be saved; that “he hath no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way and live;” that he is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. Now if the decrees of God force sinners, and do violence to their liberty, contrary propositions are true; it would be proper to say, God will not have ail men to be saved, he will not have the sinner come to repentance, he is determined the sinner shall die.

He has published this answer by giving us high ideas of his mercy; when he prolongs the time of his patience and long-suffering, he calls it ” riches of goodness, forbearance, and longsuffering.” Now if the decrees of God force sinners, if they offer violence to their liberty, God would not be more merciful, if he grants fourscore years to a wicked man to repent in, than if he took him away suddenly on the com mission of his first sin.

He has given this answer expressly in the text, and in many other parallel passages, where he clearly tells us, that after what he has done to save us, there are no difficulties insurmountable in our salvation, except such as we choose to put there. For if the divine decrees force men to sin, and offer violence to their liberty, the proposition in the text would be utterly false, and the prophet could not say on the part of God, “O Israel, thou hast destroyed thyself.” James Saurin, “The Cause of Destruction of Impenitent Sinners,” in Sermons of Rev. James Saurin, Late pastor of the French Church at the Hague, (New York: Harper Brothers, 1843), 2:117.

7) Let us take care that we do not merit the censure which has been made on the most celebrated of the ancient advocates of grace [Augustine] (whether correct or incorrect I do not undertake to determine;) the censure is, that when attacking the Manicheans, he favoured the cause of the Pelagians; and when attacking the Pelagians, he favoured the cause of the Manicheans. Let us detest the maxims of certain modern preachers concerning the doctrines of grace; that a preacher should be orthodox in the body of his sermon, but heretic in the application. No; let us not be heretics either in the body or in the application of our sermons. Let us neither favour the system of Pelagius, nor that of the Manicheans. Let us have a theology and a morality equally supported. Let us take heed not to establish the doctrine of the divine aids, in a way that attacks the other doctrines, as those men do; for God, who is supremely holy, is not the author of sin. Let us take heed in expounding the passages which establish the doctrine of grace, not to do it in a way which makes them impugn those pas sages of Scripture, where God “invites all men to repentance:” Rom. ii. 4. and where it is said, that “he is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance,” 2 Pet. iii. 9; where he declares that “if we do perish,” “it is of ourselves,” and only of our selves, Hos. xiii. 9; where he calls upon the inhabitants of Jerusalem to confess, that he had taken all the proper care that his “vine yard should bring forth grapes, though it brought forth wild grapes,” Isa. v. 3, 4; where he introduces himself as addressing to man kind the most pathetic exhortations, and entreaties the most ardent, to promote their conversion, and as shedding the bitterest tears on their refusal; as saying in the excess of his grief, “O that thou hadst known, at least in this thy day, the things that belong to thy peace,” Luke xix. 41, 42. “O that my people had hearkened unto me,” Ps. Ixxxi. 13; “O that they were wise; that they understood this; that they would consider their latter end,” Deut. xxxii. 29. James Saurin, “On Regeneration,” in Sermons of Rev. James Saurin, Late pastor of the French Church at the Hague, (New York: Harper Brothers, 1843), 2:395-396.

8) But again, “There is no hope, how shall we live?” We have lived so long in our sins, it is too late for repentance. Too late did you say; those who now say it is too late, have often replied to our serious exhortations and earnest entreaties, it is too soon; “But why will ye die, O house of Israel?” It can never be too late to be converted, if you are really desirous of salvation. The irrevocable sentence yet remains unpronounced. At all events it is not yet executed the day of grace still remains the treasures of God’s mercy are still open his loving-kindness and long-suffering still remains the same; “Behold now is the accepted time, behold now is the day of salvation,” 2 Cor. vi. 2.

But, my brethren, do not suppose that the only security you have on this important point is the mortal voice, which now proclaims these consolatory truths. Listen while I declare who is our authority, and whence we derive our commission. Our warrant is the Holy One of Israel, and in confirmation of his promises, we have not only his word, but his oath. St. Paul says, “Men verily swear by the greater, and an oath for confirmation is an end of all strife,” Heb. vi. 6; but ” God, because he could swear by no greater, sware by him self (ver. 13,) when he made his promise to Abraham.” And he has confirmed with an oath the solemn truths that we have just been preaching to you. He sware the most sacred oath, he sware by himself, in the twenty-third chapter of the prophecies of Ezekiel, “As I live, saith the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wick ed turn from his way and live: turn ye, turn ye, from your evil way, for why will ye die, O house of Israel?”

Oh! how delightful must be the service of so merciful a God, what a motive have we for energetic exertions for the conversion of men, when we have such a security for its success. How must they be infatuated, who rush into the abyss of despair, when their Judge him self has declared, that he is willing to pardon our guilt. But how blind must they be, who, on the other hand, do not find abundant reason for Jove and gratitude towards him who has made us such rich offers of grace, and who are not willing to devote themselves to his service. Let us then, my brethren, let us say in the words of the psalmist, “O Lord, there is forgiveness with thee that thou mayest be feared,” Ps. cxxx. 4. “I will hear what God the Lord will speak; for he will speak peace unto his people, and to his saints, but let them not turn again to folly,” Ps. Ixxxv. 8. May God grant to us this pardon, and to him be all honour and glory, both now and ever. Amen. James Saurin, “The Address of Christ to John and Mary,” in Sermons of Rev. James Saurin, Late pastor of the French Church at the Hague, (New York: Harper Brothers, 1843), 2:417.


1Sample only.

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. July 1, 2008 7:35 pm

    David,

    I like #7. It is amazing how concepts are so easily presented as mutually exclusive. As if the idea of universal saving will must incompatible with Divine sovereignty, etc. I love how Saurin maintains what we see in Calvin and his contemporaries, i.e. the ability to speak easily in various places about things that many see today as antithetical to one another.

    Blessings,
    Terry

  2. CalvinandCalvinism permalink*
    July 2, 2008 6:45 am

    Hey Terry,

    Yes it’s a good one. What I liked about some of these is that Saurin just seemlessly wraps the expressions in with the gospel call and God’s character. He is also able to not fall into the trap of negating one aspect of God’s character for the sake of an another (alleged?) aspect. From what I have read of him so far, he is not interested in starting from speculative decretalism, but with the revelation of God to man.

    Thanks and take care,
    David

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