"For therefore we both labor and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living God who is the saviour of all men, specially of those that believe." (1 Tim. 4:10)
If we were to compare the apostle's doctrine, here, with the views that are commonly entertained at the present day, we should find one thing, in this present age, which is received in every quarter without hesitation and without modification.
1. All agree that "God is the Saviour of those who believe." And here people commonly stop. It should be observed, however, that our text does not stop here; our text asserts, that God is indeed the Saviour of believers, in some special sense, but this is not all, it goes further. It asserts that he is also the Saviour of all men; that he is the universal Saviour! in distinction from his being, nothing more than the special Saviour of a particular class, -- "the living God, who is the Saviour of all men, specially of those that believe." If we inquire, what it is that makes the "specialty " here mentioned in the case of believers, it is very easily answered. It is because that, to believers, God has already given the first-fruits of their salvation. In some degree they have already come into possession of the joy set before them, and realized the inheritance that awaits them. As St. Paul says, in another place, "Believing, they rejoice with joy unspeakable and full of glory." But then, we must not forget, my friends, that even these believers, who are at present distinguished with this specialty, were once unbelievers themselves. They once belonged to the common mass, and they were taken out of it and converted, only because "God would have all men to be saved," and because he had instituted the dispensation of the gospel for this purpose. These believers had been brought into the faith at that early stage of the great enterprise. But if God had not purposed and undertaken the salvation of the whole world, there would have been no gospel given, and of course there would have been no believers. As St. Paul says again , "God hath concluded all in unbelief, that he might have mercy upon all." The same Divine Power, who has already brought multitudes to believe, and saved them by the washing of regeneration and the renewing of the Holy Spirit, is continually carrying on the work with those who belong as yet to the class of unbelievers. He is daily bringing them over, one by one, or in greater numbers. Unbelievers, sinners, are as the raw material out of which God makes all his saints. Pardon the homeliness of the expression, for its truth. For you know, there never was a believer but was taken out of the mass of unbelievers, never a saint but was taken out of the mass of sinners. Unconverted sinners are like one in the mine, loathsome, perhaps, and unfit for use in their present condition. But there is one who "sits as a refiner and purifier of silver," who knows the value of the crude mass, as the metallurgist knows the value of those unsmelted heaps of rubbish, which the simple, in their ignorance, would be for throwing away. But the all-wise Creator knows a better use to which he can put sinners, than to throw them away. He can make saints of them. And it should be remembered that this is the very purpose for which he instituted the whole economy of the gospel. As St. Paul said once more, "This is a faithful saying, and worthy of all acceptation, that Jesus Christ came into the world to save sinners." They were precious in his sight; not so much for what they now are, as for what they may be made. He gave himself for them; he never will throw them utterly away. We know that he is every day, adding new subjects to his kingdom from among them; and the great enterprise of redeeming them can never stop in its victorious progress, till all are brought in.
2. We see, then, the strict propriety of the proposition in the text. That "God is the Saviour of all men." This is the idea that stands foremost, and gives. character to all the rest. We see likewise that there is a specialty in the case of believers. They have already received the salvation, in some measure, which is in progress for the whole human race.
It is not our design, however, to dwell, at present, on the proofs of the final result; nor even to enter on a consideration of the facts. It is a different train of thought that we propose, now, to enter upon. If you look into the text, you with see that the direct object of St. Paul, was, to speak of the hardships which he and his brethren underwent, for maintaining this truth before the world. The doctrine of God the Saviour of all men, was a matter of reproach in those times. ''For therefore we both labor and suffer reproach, because we trust in the living God, who is the Saviour of all men, specially of those that believe." For this trust, for this faith, and for their open maintenance of it, they lay under a popular odium. It was not agreeable to the feelings and prejudices of the world, at that day. And you know it continues to be the case, in some measure, down to our day. Notwithstanding many exceptions that we find at present, it would still be very appropriate for us to repeat the language with reference to ourselves, and to say, we both labor and suffer reproach, on the same account.
3. And now we wish to inquire, from what cause, or causes, does this general reproach arise? Why is it that the world continues from age to age, to dislike the truth that God is the Saviour of all men?
There are two remarkable circumstances with respect to the matter which I will mention. In the first place, it is a common saying that the doctrine of "God the Saviour of all men," is very pleasing to the carnal heart; though we read that it is the will of God. There have been great pains taken to show that it accords perfectly with the corrupt and ungodly passions of the unregenerate world. And yet, when we turn to matter of fact, we see that there is no doctrine, to which this same unregenerate world is so much opposed. How do we account for that? Somehow, and from some cause, there is an instinctive hostility against it, in the mass of the unsanctified. They do not like it, and I think we shall discover the reason to be this, -- its very nature conflicts with certain wicked feelings that rise in their hearts; and no wonder it is not pleasing to them. In the second place, among all the several doctrines that are current, this is the one and the only one which every good man wishes at least might be true. It is what all his better feelings harmonize with. The spirit of this doctrine is that in which every good man lives, and by which he strives to govern his practice. The final salvation of all men, is what Christians of every name and creed have prayed for, ever since the gospel was first preached on earth; they are praying for it, all over the world, this day. They are pouring forth their souls before the altar of divine grace, and beseeching God to make it true. And now, why is it that they treat it with so much repugnance, and may I not add, often with downright abuse, when it is presented to them as the truth of the living God, with the assurance that what they pray for will be accomplished. There is a great deal of short-sightedness and inconsistency in the religious world, with respect to this point. No doubt, one reason why the cause of this truth has been frequently reproached, is found in the unworthy conduct of some of its professors. And so far as this has been the case, the blame must be borne by these professors themselves, rather than by those who censured them. But this reproach does not relate exclusively to the truth we are now considering; it is common to all truth which has ever been disparaged by the imperfections, follies, and vices of its advocates.
II. In order to account for so long-continued and general a repugnance, as has appeard among mankind to the truth of infinite grace and universal salvation, we must look for some cause lying very deep in the human character, one that operates nearly the same, the world over, under all changes of mere circumstance.
1. It may be well for us to begin, by looking back into the apostolic age, and observing the reasons why this gospel was treated with so much reproach, at that time. ''We both labor and suffer reproach," says St. Paul. Why? From whom? Now, you are aware of the quarter, from which the contempt and abuse came, in his case. Among the Jews, it was from the Priests, doctors of the law, Scribes and Pharisees; in one word, from the foremost patrons of the religion which had long occupied every town and village in that country. Among the Gentiles, the opposition came from the zealots and devotees of the heathen system of worship. It is a circumstance which I wish were more generally taken notice of, that the common people, especially those who were then called the sinners, heard Christ and his apostles gladly, and were by far the most disposed to receive the truth while, on the other hand, the whole body, speaking in general terms, of those who were regarded as the righteous, stood up in opposition to the gospel, warned the community against it, pronounced it an imposition, a dreadful delusion, cast its believers out of the synagogues, and roused up the public prejudices.
I am not disposed to liken the older sects, in our times and country, to the ancient Pharisees; for that would be unjust, and in many respects untrue. But I think you will see, that, considering how the case was in the age of the apostles, it is not strange, in the least, that a strong tide of reproach against the doctrine of God the Saviour of all men, should be found to come, in our day, from a religious quarter. Pharisaism, alas! did not wholly die out with the old Jews. It has found an entrance into the Christian Church. Who, among ourselves even, can claim to be entirely free from it! And all the Pharisaism, which there is in the older and prevailing forms of religion around us will act now just as it did then, will oppose and despise the idea of impartial grace and salvation. Wherever there is a taint of Phariasaism, even if it be in the heart of an otherwise good man, it will show itself on this point. It cannot bear that all mankind should be received to the equal mercy of our common Father. And so long as such a spirit continues in our world, there must be this reproach.
2. There is another consideration. Keeping in view the quarter whence much of this hostility arises, we can see a very natural cause for it, in the grounds on which the gospel of God, the Saviour of all men, places religion, experimental and practical; grounds that are of a very different kind from those on which every other form of the gospel must place it. The doctrine of universal grace and salvation makes experimental religion to rest on the love of God. It cannot say to the sinner, "There is eternal torment for you, if you do not speedily repent," nor on the other hand can it say to the sinner, "There is eternal glory for you, if you will only secure it now." This doctrine cannot drive people to serve God, at the point of the bayonet, as it were, by the fear of endless punishment. Nor can it make a mere traffic of their affections, and hire them to love God, by the offer of heaven as wages. The gospel, must speak in the language of free grace, and not of barter, if it speaks at all. Its voice must always be turned to accordance with the annunciation of the angels, "Fear not," &c. That is its keynote, and, through all its variations, from encouragement to admonition and warning, it cannot change that grand tone. It appeals to the goodness of God to lead men to repentance. Though it presents the divine goodness as manifesting itself in judgments as well as in mercies, yet back of all inflictions, back of all punishments and sufferings, here or hereafter, it opens to our view time unchangeable principle of infinite love, as a boundless expanse of sunshine that swallows up the transient clouds which sometimes darken our horizon for a while. All begins in love; all is conducted in love; all ends in love. This is the influence which it relies upon to convert sinners, and to secure obedience. While it denounces the retributions of Heaven on all sin, it still holds them up as the retributions of a father and unchangeable friend.
3. Now, a person who has been brought up and indoctrinated in the idea, that all which religion in this world is good for, is to save us from hell, and introduce us into heaven, hereafter, cannot understand how it is possible there should be any religion at all in the gospel of which we have just spoken, because it recognizes no eternal perdition to terrify. He says that it is irreligious in its tendency, and immoral, corrupting; and he thinks so. Why? Because it does not present the love of God to the sinner? No; not on this account; but there it does present this love, in its infinite fulness, to all men, and because it acknowledges no punishment but such as is paternal in its nature, no endless perdition by the fear of which to drive mankind to obedience. What would Nebuchadnezzar have said, when he set up his burning fiery furnace, on the plain of Dura, to make the people bow down to his image, had some one proposed to quench the furnace, and dispense with its aid in the work? Nebuchadnezzar knew very well that the peculiar kind of homage that he wished to secure for his golden image, was not to be had, without his terrible apparatus of torment; and that if he gave this up, the whole service would stop at once. You can easily fancy how he would have abhorred the proposition, as fatal to the kind of worship he was engaged in promoting. And, even within own our days, I can remember the time when it was a common remark, that, on our ground, there was no use in religion; that if all were to be saved at last, there was no reason why we should trouble ourselves to serve God any more; that we might, in that case, just as well give ourselves full license in sin, and take our pleasure, as we live. Now, wherever this notion of religion prevails, there must be felt a very strong and deep-seated antipathy to the gospel of universal grace. For it is plain that if the service of God, in the present life, were such an intolerable burden that nothing but the fear of endless damnation would drive people into it, and keep them steadfast; if it were true that religion consists in obeying God, not through love, but by the constraint of terror, and that the chief value of it, is, that it is the means of securing our everlasting welfare; then indeed we should have to acknowledge that our views of the gospel are irreligious in their influence. But I need not remind you that there neither is, nor can be, any true religion but what flows from the love of God, and is its own reward. Says St. John, "We love him, because he first loved us." And he, whom we profess to follow, has given us this example, that we should regard it as "Our meat and our drink to do the will of our Father which is heaven."
4. We have now pointed out one cause which has operated, more or less, in all ages, to occasion the reproach spoken of. But there is another set of causes, which lie still deeper, and occupy a wider space in the human heart. There are elements of vanity, proud exclusiveness, revenge, and all hateful passions, lurking in every mans bosom; and the principle of impartial favor comes in direct conflict with all these, and meets reproach from them. It is unwelcome, offensive to them. Go to a man who really loves his race with unbounded philanthropy; make him believe that all share in the equal love of God, and are heirs of immortal blessedness, and he will rejoice in the conviction with joy unspeakable and full of glory; for it is what his heart yearns to behold realized. Give the same assurance to a man who is at enmity with his neighbor, and he does, not like it; there is a repugnance to the idea, here, in the elements at work in his breast. It is not agreeable to his feelings that his neighbor should be included; he would rather that he were shut out.
Other evil propensities within us operate in a similar manner. Our vanity, or rather our ambitious love of distinction, cannot very well submit to the thought that all mankind shall be raised to an equality with ourselves. We want that some should be placed below us, to give us prominence, and the pleasure of looking down upon them; or that they should be wholly shut out, so that we may have the gratification of exclusive privilege. I believe that most people have a love of aristocracy in its worst sense, aristocracy for themselves; they like to bring those who are above them down to their level, but not those who are below them, up to it. You may detect this disposition working in all classes; and in none more than in those who cry out against it the most bitterly. Now, wherever this feeling exists, it naturally inclines people to prefer a religion that will gratify it with the promise of an exclusive share in God's regards, at present, and an exclusive heaven hereafter. You remember that our Saviour charged much of the opposition of the Pharisees to this cause, and held up a representation of their envious spirit, in the parables of the elder brother, and the murmuring laborers in the vineyard.
5. To this list of evil passions which stand in hostile array against the gospel, we must add all the lusts of the world, from whence come wars and fightings among men; the elements of cruelty in the human heart, the destructive propensities, the eagerness to witness the sufferings of others, an eagerness so widely diffused that, on any occasion when there is a prospect of its being gratified, it will bring tens of thousands together, from city and country, to feast their eyes on time sight; the love of martial glory, which exults in fields of carnage, to say nothing of the passion of private revenge which plays its part on a narrower field. How can we expect that all or any of these will harmonize with the doctrine of infinite love, impartial goodness, universal salvation. How can we expect but that they will incline towards a very different system of faith? It is a great mistake, my friends, to suppose that the unsanctified passions of men lead them to prefer mercy rather than sacrifice, either in our faith or our practice; they lead us to prefer sacrifice rather than mercy.
6. I have thus endeavored to lay open the general as well as the particular causes of the reproaches which have so long been cast on the "Trust in the living God, as the Saviour of all men, specially of those that believe." I commit the whole subject to you, entreating you to remember that the grace of God, which bringeth salvation to all men, teacheth us that, denying ungodliness and worldly lusts, we should live soberly, and righteously, and godly, in this present world.