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our will and power of choice, and can give us the opportunity of serving him, or the opportunity of wandering from him; dealing with us in his providences according to our moral nature, and leaving to us that power of choice without which service would be but slavery, and obedience would be but fatalism.
Now our Saviour here speaks to us and says, So likewise shall my Heavenly Father do also unto you if ye from your hearts forgive not every one his brother their trespasses likewise :" thus God is represented as doing with his servant, whom he had forgiven all debt, afterwards calling upon him to pay that debt. It suggests to us that we may be forgiven our sins and yet lose that pardon, and be delivered over to the tormentors. Now while this is a great truth that is taught in this parable, that we may not mistake that truth, I purpose with God's assistance this morning to consider how this principle is not opposed to what our Blessed Saviour tells us of the safety of his people, of the unalterable nature of the everlasting pardon given to God's elect, and how men may be in God's counsel safe while they are in God's providence in a state of probation, or in danger of being lost, as they are in our text. There are in scripture those promises which are unchangeable, coming from God's unalterable covenant: there are in scripture too, those promises which are changeable proceeding from God's moral dealings towards his people. We have in scripture the marks by which we can know whether we have laid hold of the unalterable promises, and also the feelings which ought to occupy our whole being in thinking of God's alterable promises.
I. I shall first therefore consider the scripture testimony respecting the unchangeable covenant of God's love
towards his own elect people, that he has in his secret counsels determined to save his people, and that he will accomplish that purpose, to the praise of the glory of his grace; so that in the last day it will be seen that it was not the will of man but the unchangeable counsel of God that rescued a fallen church, that disciplined it to all the providences of life, and that finally will bring it to that spotlessness of glory in which it shall be a faultless bride for his own service. He hath chosen us in Christ,” says
the apostle, “ before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy and without blame before him in love." That choice was upon no other condition than the obedience of the Lord Jesus Christ, he fulfilled the conditions of that covenant of scripture, the salvation of his own people. In him they are safe, and in him they have so far as they are concerned an unconditional salvation, “my sheep shall never perish nor shall any man pluck them out of
Father which gave them me is greater than I, and no man is able to pluck them out of my Father's hand.” If we turn to the 54th chapter of the Prophet Isaiah, we shall see there, the unchangeable covenant of God's love declared to be founded upon unconditional promises, not resulting from the foreseen obedience of God's people, but in despite of their foreseen disobedience resting alone upon the unchangeable love of God. We there see in the 6th to the 13th verse, “For the Lord hath called thee as a woman forsaken, and grieved in spirit, and a wife of youth, when thou was refused saith thy God. For a small moment have I forsaken thee, but with great mercies will I gather thee. In a little wrath I hid my face from thee for a moment; but with everlasting kindness will I have mercy upon thee, saith the Lord thy Redeemer. For
this is as the waters of Noah unto me: for as I have sworn that the waters of Noah shall no more go over the earth, so have I sworn that I would not be wrath with thee, nor rebuke thee, For the mountains shall depart, and the hills be removed, but my kindness shall not depart from thee, neither shall the covenant of my peace
be removed, saith the Lord that hath mercy on thee.” It is impossible for any sophistry of man to bring in conditions, human conditions into the covenant of salvation as presented to us here. It is declared to be as the waters of Noah, the sworn covenant of God! on the same conditions as God's covenant with Noah. Now if we turn to the 8th chapter of Genesis we find that God's covenant with Noah was this, that he never would drown the world again with a flood, although man after the flood, was to be as sinful as man before the flood. It is said then in the 21st and 22nd verses, “And the Lord smelled a sweet savour, and the Lord said as in his heart, I will not again curse the ground any more for man's sake; for the imagination of man's heart is evil from his youth. Neither will I again smite every thing living as I have done. While the earth remaineth, seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease.” Although the imagination of man's heart was evil from his youth, yet because the Lord smelled the sweet savour of Noah's sacrifice, he promised he never would again drown the earth with the waters of the flood. Let us suppose that some preacher were to take this promise and in his earnestness for his view of holiness was to warn the world that a flood would again come upon the world, and we were to reply to him we have this promise that it shall not be: and suppose he were to say it was only a
conditional promise, would any as a believer in the bible listen to him ? Does not every one that believes the bible believe that that there will not be a flood to drown the world again ? And if we see wickedness prevailing, do we fear that the waters of the flood will again come upon the world? Do we not rely upon this conditional promise of God ?-a promise made in the foresight of man's sin, telling us for our comfort that this world shall never be drowned again with the waters of the flood. If this be the case with the waters of Noah, so is it with the covenant of God; the Lord hath said, “For this is as the waters of Noah unto me, for as I have sworn that the waters of Noah shall no more go over the earth, so have I sworn that I would not be wrath with thee, nor rebuke thee.” The token that is mentioned here is a very instructive token. The conditional promises of God are without an oath; the promises of God that have an oath are unconditional promises, unchangeable. The apostle reasons upon them in the 7th chapter of the Epistle to the Hebrews, where he is comparing the Aaronic Priesthood with the Melchisidec Priesthood of the Lord Jesus Christ. He declares that the priesthood that was given to Aaron's sons could be transferred from one to another and might pass away, but that the Melchisidec Priesthood that was given to the Lord Jesus Christ was never to pass away, that theirs was given to them without an oath and therefore changeable, but His was given with an oath and was therefore unchangeable. In the 19th to the 24th verses the Apostle makes this comparison between the two Priesthoods, "for the law made nothing perfect, but the bringing in of a better hope did, by the which we draw nigh unto God. And inasmuch as, not without an oath he was made priest; (for those priests were made without an oath; but this with an oath by him that said unto him, the Lord swear and will not repent, thou art a priest for ever after the order of Melchisidec :) by so much was Jesus made a surety of a better testament. And they truly were many priests, because they were not suffered to continue by reason of death: but this man because he continued ever, hath an unchangeable priesthood." The oath is that which the apostle tells us makes the difference of these two promises, the sworn promises of God that are unconditional, and the unsworn promises of God that are conditional.
II. Now if we clearly see in this scripture that there is this covenant with God's people, we have with equal clearness in scripture the secret point that there is a conditional covenant with God's people. The unconditional are belonging to God's elect, the conditional are equally applicable to the whole world, it includes the elect within it for they need the moral discipline the same as the whole world. You will find in the 18th chapter of the Prophet Jeremiah, that the Lord speaking of his promises and his threatenings, says in the 7th to the 10th verses, “At what instant I shall speak concerning &
, nation, and concerning a kingdom, to pluck up, and to pull down, and so destroy it; if that nation against whom I have pronounced, turn from their evil, I will repent of the evil that I thought to do unto them. And at what instant I shall speak concerning a nation, and concerning a kingdom, to build and to plant it; if it do evil in my sight, that it obey not my voice, then will I repent of the good wherewith I said I would benefit them." Here is a general principle laid down by the Lord in his threatenings and his promises, that where