For the promise is to you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the LORD our God shall call.
From whence observe —
I. THAT ALL MEN TILL CALLED BY GOD ARE AFAR OFF FROM HIM.
1. In regard of the knowledge of God in a true and saving way. They are as little children, no more apprehensive in a right manner of God than the children in the dark are perceiving of the things of reason. Even Christians by birth are also far off from God till they have this spiritual eye-salve; and therefore in two respects men may be said to be far off from God.
(1) First, both in respect of inward grace and the outward means of salvation; and thus all the heathenish part of the world is afar off God.
(2) Or secondly, in respect of the inward grace only. When men do enjoy the outward means of salvation, and in this sense of their duties are said to draw nigh to God, but in respect of any saving work of grace are as far off as heathens and pagans; and this is the condition, as is to be feared, of many thousands. They are nigh God in respect of the Christian faith they profess in respect of the duties and ordinancies they exercise themselves in, but in respect of their affections and heart, so they are at as great distance from God and His holy ways as heathen and publicans. This distinction must be attended unto, that we do not vainly deceive ourselves as the Jews did with "The temple of the Lord, the temple of the Lord."
2. In respect of God's special and gracious love to justify their persons to pardon their sins. Do not thou please thyself with the thought that thou hast free access to the presence and into the favour of great ones on earth; for if thou art far off from God, if He regard thee not, if His displeasure be towards thee, thou art in the state of gall and wormwood.
3. We are by nature afar off from Christ the Mediator between God and man. And this indeed is the foundation of all calamity; for as in Christ we are blessed with all heavenly blessings, so without Him we are cursed with all spiritual and temporal curses.
4. Such as are afar off have no hope. They are a hopeless people; which way soever they look everything curseth and condemneth them; and no marvel, for, if without the promise, they have not the ground of hope, and if without Christ, the object of hope.
5. Such are afar off in respect of God and an universal constant obedience to His holy will. As God loveth not them, so neither do they love God. As God is not gracious in His promises to them, so neither are they obedient to His precepts.
II. THAT NOT ALL OF MANKIND, BUT SOME ONLY, DOTH GOD CALL WITH A LOVING CALL. The apostle plainly makes a difference of these that are afar off, and this only to come from God; some are so afar off that they never hear the voice of God in the Word calling them to repent and believe in Christ. Others again have salvation brought unto their house; and if thou ask why God calls such and not others, do not curiously pry in this mystery; God's ways are just, even when they are hidden to us. Too much gazing on this Sun may quickly blind us.
1. That there is a general and common invitation even of all in the world by God; and there is a special gracious one. The former invitation is by the creatures, by the works of God.
(1) This invitation and call by the creatures doth not nor cannot reveal anything of Christ, the only cause of salvation.
(2) The call by the creatures is not saving, because it discovers not the way of salvation no more than the cause — viz., faith.
(3) This call could not be saving, for the farthest and utmost effect it had upon men was only outwardly to reform their lives. But you may say, To what purpose is this call of God by the creatures and the work of His providence, if it be not to salvation? Yes, it is much every way.
(a) Hereby even all men are made inexcusable.
(b) God's purpose in these calls is to restrain sin and to draw men on further than they do. There is no man that hath no more than this remote and confused call that doth what be may do and can do. He doth not improve, no, not that natural strength that is in him. I do not say to spiritual good things; for so he hath no natural strength, but to such objects as by nature he might. He wilfully runneth himself in the commit-ing of sins against his conscience and knowledge. Now God calleth by these natural ways to restrain him to put a bound to these waves. For if there were not these general convictions, no societies, no commonwealth could consist.
2. Take notice of a twofold saving calling. The one is only external and saving in respect of the ability and sufficiency; the other is saving effectually and in respect of the event.
3. That God doth not call all men with this saving, gracious call will evidently de facto appear if you consider the ways of God ever since there was a Church till now.
4. It is no injustice in God, though He does not give this universal call of grace to all men.
(1) If we could not satisfy the reason and disputes of men in this Divine dispensation, yet if the Scripture be clear in this point we must all stop our mouths and not gainsay. Doth not the apostle (Romans 9.) expressly bring these carnal reasonings? "Who hath resisted His will? and why then doth He find fault?" But see how he rebukes this unruliness in man, "Who art thou, O man, that disputest against God?" If then Scripture and experience saith thus much, we must conclude God's ways are just, though hidden to us.
(2) Even reason enforced out of Scripture may satisfy us in many things; for it is no injustice in God if He had not called any man in the world with a gracious call; for seeing man by his fall had broken the covenant with God, all things became forfeited into His hand; He was not bound to set up man with a new stock after his first breaking.
(3) There can be no injustice where all that is done is done wholly out of grace and mere favour. The devil he thinks God is gracious too much and calls too many; he is tormented with malice because so many escape out of his jaws.
(4) Although God doth not call every man with this immediate call of grace, yet no man is damned merely because he wants this. The apostle saith, "That those that are without the law [viz., written and revealed to them], shall be judged without the law." And thus those that are without the gospel, that have not the means of grace they shall not be judged because they did not believe in Christ, because they did not submit to Him, but because they did not walk in the practice of those things they did know.
(5) God is not unjust, no, not to those that are afar off, because none among them have done what they might do in a natural and moral way; for although no man hath power in a gracious manner to any spiritual good thing, yet they may restrain from the outward actings of many gross sins.
(6) Though God do not call all men, and thereby they are wholly impotent and unable to any good; yet they do not sin so much because they want power as because they have a willing delight in it; and this indeed doth mainly remove all objections; for it is not a man's impotency so much as his wilful consent to sin that damneth him.
Parallel VersesKJV: For the promise is unto you, and to your children, and to all that are afar off, even as many as the Lord our God shall call.