Sovereign Grace and Man's Responsibility

by Charles Haddon Spurgeon

" But Esaias is very bold, and saith, I was found of them that sought me not; I was made manifest unto them that asked not after me. But to Israel he saith, all day long I have stretched forth my hands unto a disobedient and gainsaying people" (Rom. 10:20-21).

Doubtless these words primarily refer to the casting away of the Jews, and to the choosing of the Gentiles. I believe, however, that as Calvin says, the truth taught in the text is a type of a universal fact. As God did choose the people who knew Him not, so has He chosen, in the abundance of His grace, to manifest His salvation to men who are out of the way; while, on the other hand, the men who are lost, after having heard the Word, are lost because of their willful sin; for God does all the day long "stretch forth his hands unto a disobedient and gainsaying people."

The system of truth is not one straight line, but two. No man will ever get a right view of the gospel until he knows how to look at the two lines at once. I am taught in one book to believe that what I sow I shall reap: I am taught in another place, that "it is not of him that willeth nor of him that runneth, but of God that showeth mercy." I see in one place, God presiding over all in providence; and yet I cannot help seeing that man acts as he pleases, and that God has left his actions to his own will, in a great measure.

If I were to declare that man was so free to act that there was no presiding of God over his actions, I should be driven very near to Atheism; if, on the other hand, I declare that God so overrules all things, as that man is not free enough to be responsible, I am driven at once into Antinomianism or fatalism. That God predestines, and that man is responsible, are two things that few can see. They are believed to be contradictory; but they are not. It is just the fault of our weak judgment. Two truths cannot be contradictory to each other. If, then, I find taught in one place that everything is fore-ordained, that is true; and if I find in another place that man is responsible for all his actions, that is true. These two truths, I do not believe, can ever be welded into one upon any human anvil, but they shall be in eternity. They are two lines, though so nearly parallel, which will meet somewhere in eternity, close to the throne of God, whence all truth springs.

In the 20th verse, we are taught the doctrine of sovereign grace_ "But Esaias is very bold, and saith, I was found of them that sought me not; I was made manifest unto them that asked not after me." In the next verse, we have the doctrine of man's guilt in rejecting God. "To Israel he saith, all day long I have stretched forth my hands unto a disobedient and gainsaying people."

I. Divine Sovereignty Exemplified in Salvation

If any man is saved, he is saved by divine grace, and by divine grace alone. We are not saved as the result of anything that we do or that we will; but we will and do as the result of God's good pleasure, and the work of His grace in our hearts. All that is good or ever will be good in us, is preceded by the grace of God, and is the effect of a divine cause within.

There never was a man saved yet who merited it. Ask all the saints of God, and they will tell you that their former life was spent in the lusts of the flesh; that in the days of their ignorance, they revolted against God and turned back from His ways. They will tell you that their being drawn by God, was not the result of any merit before conversion; for some of them, so far from having any merit, were the very vilest of the vile. Ask them whether they think they were chosen of God because of their courage; they will tell you, no; if they had courage it was courage to do evil. Question them whether they were chosen of God because of their talent; they will tell you they prostituted their talent to the service of Satan. There was in them no reason whatever why God should have mercy upon them, and the wonder to them is that He did not cut them down in the midst of their sins, blot out their names from the Book of Life, and sweep them into the gulf where the fire burns. that shall devour the wicked.

But some have said that God chooses His people because He foresees that after He chooses them, they will do this, that, and the other, which shall be meritorious and excellent. Refer again to the people of God, and they will tell you that since their conversion they have had much to weep over. Although they can rejoice that God has begun the good work in them, they will tell you that if they are abundant in faith yet there are times when they are superabundant in unbelief; that if sometimes they are full of works of holiness, yet there are times when they weep many tears to think that those very acts of holiness were stained with sin.

Appeal to the brightest saint and he will tell you that he is still ashamed of himself. "Ah!" he will say, "if you knew my heart you would see abundant reason to think of me as a poor sinner saved by grace, who has nothing whereof to glory, and must bow his head and confess his iniquities in the sight of God." Grace, then is entirely unmerited.

Again, the grace of God is sovereign_ God has an absolute right to give that grace where He chooses, and to withhold it when He pleases. He is not bound to give it to any man, much less to all men; and if He chooses to give it to one man and not to another, His answer is, "Can I not do as I will with mine own? I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy." Notice the sovereignty of divine grace illustrated in the text: "I was found of them that sought me not, I was made manifest to them that asked not after thee." You would imagine that God would say, "When men feel their need of mercies and seek me diligently with their whole heart, day and night, with tears and supplications, then will I bless them, but not before." But, beloved, God says no such thing. It is true He does bless them that cry unto Him, but He blesses them before they cry, for their cries are not their own cries, but cries which He has put into their lips; their desires are not of their own growth, but desires which He has cast like good seed into the soil of their hearts.

It is mercy indeed when God saves a seeker; but how much greater mercy when He seeks the lost Himself! Mark the parable of Jesus Christ concerning the lost sheep; the shepherd went after the sheep: it never would have come after him; it would have wandered farther and farther away. And when at last he laid hold of it, he carried it himself all the way, and said, "I have found the sheep which was lost." Men do not seek God first; God seeks them first; and if any of you are seeking him today it is because He has first sought you. The only reason why any man ever begins to pray is because God has put previous grace in his heart, which leads him to pray.

I remember, when I was converted to God, I thought I had begun the good work myself, and I used sometimes to sit down and think, "Well, I sought the Lord four years before I found him," and I think I began to compliment myself upon the fact that I had perseveringly entreated of Him in the midst of much discouragement. But one day the thought struck me, "How was it you came to seek God?" and in an instant the answer came from my soul, "Why, because He led me to do it; He must first have shown me my need of Him, or else I should never have sought Him." And at once I saw the doctrines of grace as clear as possible. God must begin. It is not in human nature to seek the Lord. Human nature is depraved, and therefore, there must be the extraordinary pressure of the Holy Spirit put upon the heart to lead us first to ask for mercy.

But mark, we do not know any thing about that, while the Spirit is operating; we find that out afterwards. We ask as much as if we were asking all of ourselves. But although we do not know it, there must always be a previous motion of the Spirit in our heart, before there will be a motion of our heart towards him.

Consider Saul on the road to Damascus. Where are you going, Saul? "I will vex the church of God in Damascus. I have dragged both men and women into the synagogue. I have scourged them, and compelled them to blaspheme; and I have this commission from the high priest to drag them to Jerusalem, that I may put them to death." What do you say of this man? If he be saved, will you not grant that it must be divine sovereignty that converts him?

But God says, "I will do as I will with mine own." The heavens open, and the brightness of glory descends_ brighter than the noon-day sun. Stunned with the light he falls to the ground, and a voice is heard, "Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks." He rises up; God appears to him: "Lo, I have made thee a chosen vessel to bear my name among the Gentiles." Is that not sovereign grace, without any previous seeking? God was found of him that sought not for Him.

Some will say that it was a miracle_ but it is one that is repeated every day in the week. We are, each of us who are saved, the very people who are the best illustrations of the matter. To this day, my wonder is that ever the Lord should have chosen me. My only answer to the question is, "Even so, Father, for so it seemed good in thy sight."

Let the doctrine of the free grace of God be brought to bear upon the minds of men, and away go the doctrines of penance and confession, away goes paying for the pardon of your sin. If grace be free and sovereign in the hand of God, down goes the doctrine of priestcraft, away go buying and selling indulgences and such like things; and the efficacy of good works is dashed in pieces like Dagon before the Ark of the Lord.

I must confess, however, that there are some men who preach this doctrine who are doing ten thousand times more harm than good, because they don't preach the next doctrine I am going to proclaim, which is just as true. They will not preach the whole of the Word.

II. Man's Responsibility.

"But to Israel he saith, All day long I have stretched forth my hands unto a disobedient and gainsaying people." Now, these people whom God had cast away had been entreated to be saved; but they would not, and inasmuch as they were not saved, it was the effect of their disobedience and their gainsaying. That lies clearly enough in the text. God sent His prophets, He entreated the people of Israel to lay hold on spiritual things, but they would not, and though He stretched out His hands all the day long, yet they were "a disobedient and gainsaying people," and would not have His love; and on their head rests their blood.

God stretched out His hands. You have seen the child who is disobedient and will not come to his father. The father puts out his hands, with tears in his eyes, and says, "Come, my child, come; I am ready to forgive you." That is what He has done. You that are not saved today are without excuse, for God stretched out His hands and said, "Come, come." Oh! God does plead with men that they would be saved, and this day He says to every one of you, "Repent, and be converted for the remission of your sins. Turn ye unto me." And with love divine He cries, "Whosoever will, let him come and take of the water of life freely."

And note, this invitation was very frequent. The words, "all the day long," may be translated "daily"_ "Daily have I stretched forth my hands." Sinner, God has not called you once to come, and then let you alone. From the first dawn of your life, He wooed you.  How often your youthful heart was affected; but you put all that away, and you are still untouched by it. It is probable that God will keep on stretching out His hands to you until your hairs grow gray, still continually inviting you.

But if you still persist in hardening your heart, do not imagine that you shall go unpunished. Oh! I tremble sometimes when I think of that class of ministers who tell sinners that they are not guilty if they do not seek the Savior. How they shall be found innocent at God's great day I do not know. It seems to be a fearful thing that they should be lulling poor souls into sleep by telling them it is not their duty to seek Christ and repent, and that when they perish they will be none the more guilty for having heard the Word.

My Master did not say that. It was not the way Paul preached. Hear the apostle's words once more: "Ķhow shall we escape, if we neglect so great salvation, which at the first began to be spoken by the Lord, and was confirmed unto us by them that heard him."

Sinner, at the great day of God you must give an account for every warning you have ever had. Remember, no one will be responsible for your damnation but yourself, at the last great day. God will not be responsible for it. "As I live saith the Lord"_ and that is a great oath_ "I have no pleasure in the death of him that dieth. but had rather that he should turn unto me and live." God has done much for you. He sent you His gospel. He has given you the Book of Books; He has given you an enlightened conscience; and if you perish under the sound of the ministry, you perish more fearfully and terribly, than if you had perished anywhere else.

This doctrine is as much God's Word as the other. You ask me to reconcile the two. I never tried to reconcile them to myself, because I could never see a discrepancy. If you begin to put fifty or sixty quibbles to me, I cannot give any answer. Both are true and what you have to do is to believe them both. With the first one, the saint has most to do. Let him praise the free and sovereign grace of God, and bless His name. With the second, the sinner has the most to do. O sinner, humble yourself under the mighty hand of God, when you think of how often He hath shown His love to you, and yet how often you have spurned His Word and refused His mercy and have gone your way to rebel against a God of love, and violate the commands of Him that loved you.

Some of you may go away and say, that I was Antinomian in the first part of the sermon and Arminian at the end. I care not. I beg of you to search the Bible for yourselves. To the law and to the testimony. Where I separate from the truth, cast my words away. But if what I say be God's teaching, I charge you, by Him that sent me, give these things your thoughts, and turn unto the Lord with all your hearts.

Abridged from a sermon delivered August 1, 1858, at the Music Hall, Royal Surrey Gardens.

From the New Park Street Pulpit

About the Author

C. H. Spurgeon (1834-1891) was the son and grandson of preachers. He was converted at age 15 when he was admonished by a Primitive Methodist layman to "Look to Jesus!" He began preaching at a Baptist chapel in Cambridge the next year, and at age 20 he was called to the New Park Street Church in London. In 1861 the Metropolitan Tabernacle, which seated 6,000 persons, was built to accommodate the congregation. Spurgeon was widely acknowledged as "the prince of preachers," though he himself wished only to be a "John Ploughman," keeping his hand to the plow and plowing a straight furrow. His books of sermons and devotions are still very much in demand.

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