My dear Ibhar,
The important subject upon which I addressed your brother Elimelech, involves the topic on which I shall write to you, praying, that the Holy Ghost may render it as consoling and profitable to you as he has to me.
The election of grace must necessarily follow upon the admission of the absolute sovereignty of God: but as this doctrine has always been, and still is, so offensive to those who have only a name to live, but are spiritually dead; and as your comfort and peace so much depend on your “knowing your election of God,” I will endeavour to present you with a concise view of it, and to assist you in coming to some decision concerning it.
That the Lord has a chosen people, peculiarly his own, cannot be denied by a spiritual Bible reader; but the grossest misapprehensions of the act of choosing them, have warped the judgements, and harassed the minds of young disciples; while many have been afraid to read, hear, or speak of it, lest the enemies of the Lord should be hardened in sin; and awakening sinners be discouraged and distressed, forgetting, that the only firm ground of consolation is ELECTING LOVE.
The Holy Spirit has directed the apostle Peter to address the household of faith, with the sacred appellation of “elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, &c.” Now, we must either deny the foreknowledge of God, or admit his choice of his people; “for whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate, to be conformed to the image of his Son.” When he foreknew that my dear Ibhar would repent, and pray, and believe in Christ; he also foreknew, that he should give you the grace by which you repent, pray, and believe, which was in the strictest sense of the phrase, electing you to be a subject of his grace; and if a subject of his grace, then an heir of his glory.
Therefore, beloved, I am “bound to give thanks always to God for you, because God hath from the beginning chosen you to salvation, through sanctification of the Spirit and belief of the truth.” 2 Thess. 2:13.
It is then very absurd to suppose, that God elected you because he foreknew you would repent, &c. when even that fore-knowledge was no less than an absolute decree to give you repentance unto life.
I feel persuaded you are convinced, that had repentance, prayer, and believing, been the cause of election, you would never have been elected; each of these exercises have been performed so imperfectly, and with such a mixture of sin, that they appear to you more likely to incur divine displeasure, than to secure electing love; but when you find upon the authority of God’s word, that the first cause of election is sovereign love, and that repentance, prayer, and believing, are its fruits and effects, you take encouragement to trace your broken petitions, and your godly sorrow up to the electing love of God: and this is as warrantable, as from the eating of fruit, to enquire after the tree on which it grew, and from the sight of the tree, to acknowledge its root, though unseen.
That sweet declaration, “my people,” which so often occurs throughout the sacred volume, is a striking testimony of electing love; but the personal comfort of this testimony was not enjoyed by you, my dear Ibhar, till the Holy Spirit blessed you, with the experience of the Lord’s people, gave you a capacity to enjoy God himself in all his covenant relations, and thus distinguished you from the world.
Having done all this for you, it would be ungrateful in the highest degree to deny, or neglect the source from whence such precious streams descend: nor would it be less baneful to your peace of mind; for when the streams of sensible enjoyment cease to flow for a while, the keenest distress of soul will be felt, unless the spring of electing love is explored, and the thirsty pilgrim enabled to drink there: and even while they are flowing, the nearer we get to the source, the more pure and salubrious will be the streams of which we partake.
It was the act of God the Father to choose his people from among the ruined posterity of Adam, in which he consulted nothing but his own will; and who shall dare dispute his prerogative to choose? May not the architect choose the stones with which he will erect his own residence? May not the husbandman choose the plants which he will introduce to his own vineyard? And shall not God be allowed, in building and planting his church, to elect whom he pleases, and pass by whom he pleases? Rom. 9:18,24
How delightful is it, for the trees of righteousness to grow up into Christ Jesus, under the sweet consciousness of being chosen in him to bring forth fruit to the glory of God; aud how blessed is the assurance that you stand in the garden of the Lord, as the object of his irrevocable choice; yea, “the planting of the Lord, that he might be glorified.” Isa. 61:3. The grand first cause is electing love; the final issue is the glory of God.
Read, my dear young friend, that soul-animating description of the economy of grace, which the Holy Spirit has given, in the commencement of the epistle to the Ephesians; in which, after recording the believer’s portion, viz. “all spiritual blessings in heavenly places,” he points out the grand depository of them, ‘in Christ,” and then traces them up to electing love, “according as he hath chosen us in him, before the foundation of the world.”
See here, my brother, how the reception of spiritual blessings proves your interest in Christ, and how your interest in Christ leads you up to the Father’s electing love, as the source whence all spiritual blessings come. And shall this be considered a dangerous doctrine? Yes, it is dangerous to the existence of pharisaical pride, and the interest of the prince of darkness! Shall this be called high doctrine? Yes, it is highly honourable to God — highly characteristic of his word — and highly encouraging to every awakened sinner!
There is something striking in the expression just cited, “chosen in him before the foundation of the world;” which at once instructs us, both in the order and antiquity of election.
It’s order is “in Christ;” so the choice of Christ, as the new covenant head of the church, included the choice of all that shall be saved, as the members of his mystical body; every one of whom were as truly and essentially beloved, and chosen of the Father, as Christ himself was in his mediatorial character: this fact is clearly demonstrated by the prayer of our Lord, “that the love wherewith thou hast loved me, may be in them.”
The choice of your soul to eternal life, was therefore an act of the same love, that chose Christ himself to be the surety of his people, and head of the church; yea, in a sense, the choice of Christ as his people’s portion; and his people as his portion— the gift of Christ to his Church, and the gift of the Church to Christ, may be considered as but one grand transaction of electing love, fixing upon the head and its members— the vine and its branches— the foundation and all the stones of the building at once.
Cherish the sweet thought, my brother; chosen in the person and righteousness of Jehovah Jesus; to be atoned for by him— to be pardoned through him — to be vitally united to him, and everlastingly saved by him.
Observe, also, the antiquity of electing love, “before the foundation of the world;” the thought of your eternal salvation engaged the attention of Jehovah before the creation of the world; yea, from everlasting, and he has never lost sight of it through the ages of time which have rolled he has connected the glory of his own perfections with it, away; and you may therefore rest assured, he will never abandon it; learn his mind from his own word, “I have loved thee with an everlasting love, therefore with loving kindness have I drawn thee.”
Should the Tempter insinuate, that this is not personal but general election, allow him not to rob you of your comfort, by listening to him; but, remember every thing that pertains to salvation is personal.
Was not your effectual calling personal? Are not your justification, and sanctification personal? And will not your glorification be personal? Yes, and so was your election, or how could your name be written in the book of life, and your person given into the hands of Christ?
Let me now attempt to assist you, in appropriating the personal comfort of this precious truth, by pointing you to the fruits and effects of electing love in your own experience. Have you not chosen Christ as your portion? Then you have evidence that the Father chose you in him. Do you not love God, or at least desire to love him? Then it is, “because he first loved you,” for, “the carnal mind is enmity against God,” and no man can love God until divine love is shed abroad in his heart.
The apostle was directed by the Holy Spirit, to remind the Thessalonians of their experimental evidence, that they were the elect of God; and I trust it will not be difficult for my dear young friend to recognize the very same evidence in his own heart. “Knowing brethren, beloved, your election of God: for our gospel came not unto you in word only, but also in power and in the Holy Ghost, and in much assurance.” 1 Thess.1, 4, and 5. Now you have only to review those precious seasons, in which the gospel has come to your soul, in such convincing, melting, transforming, and constraining power, as proved it to be by the Holy Ghost, and contrast them with the seasons in which it has come in word only, to obtain positive evidence of your election of God. For if the Holly Spirit has communicated spiritual life to your soul, it is in consequence of Christ’s obedience and death for you; and, in Christ’s obedience and death for you, were in pursuance of the Father’s electing love to you.
Thus tracing effects up to their cause, you will be able to make your calling and election sure, and then your peace of mind will be permanent— your joy in the Holy Ghost will abound — and your unfeigned gratitude will excite to extensive and zealous obedience to the divine will. Thereby you will be enabled to put to silence the ignorance of foolish men, who (affecting to be “wise above what is written”) suppose that this doctrine should be kept in the back ground, or brought forward in the most guarded language, lest some evil consequences should result, which is in fact, calling in question the wisdom of God, relative to the phraseology of his own word. I tremble at the thought of attempting to dilute the language which the Holy Ghost has condescended to employ, in order to accommodate the taste of the carnal mind and erect the fence of human reason around the impenetrable truth of God, such however is in the awful practice of the present day, to which may be attributed the abounding of heresy and the barrenness of Christian churches. The Holy Spirit puts an honor upon scripture language, which he never confers upon the most elegant of mere human composition: “my word” he says, “shall not return unto me void,” but he has never said so much of the “excellency of speech” or of “man’s wisdom,” too frequently made use of, to the neglect of the express phraseology of inspiration.
Beloved, my heart’s desire and prayer to God for you is, that you may be able to maintain your hold of divine calling, the middle link of the chain of redemption go back in holy contemplation from this to electing love, and look forward with sweet assurance to eternal glorification, satisfied that what God has joined together nether sin, death, nor hell can put asunder.
I am, with much affection,
Yours, &c. for Christ’s sake,
Electing love, the great first cause of all
The grand displays of saving grace; the Sun
In Zion’s firmament illuminates, and warms
The hearts of all the ransomed Sons of God.
Its bright and cheering rays dispels the mists
Of unbelief—create celestial day—
And manifest the glory of our God.
What condescension ! God makes choice of worms
To be his special treasure, yea, his sons:
What matchless grace ! The heirs of life and bliss
Elected from the rebel race of man
And freely pardon’d justified, and sav’d.
My soul aspires, with holy longing pants
To know my interest in Jehovah’s choice.
How shall I satisfy my anxious mind?
If God the Spirit has renew’d my soul,
Then God the Son redeem’d me with his blood,
And I am God the Father’s sovereign choice.
Joseph Irons (1785-1852) was an Independent sovereign grace preacher, author and hymn writer. In 1819, he was appointed the minister of Grove Chapel, Camberwell, a position he held until his death thirty-three years later. John Hazelton wrote of him:
“Joseph Irons (1785-1852) was one of the ablest preachers of his day, and a powerful and prolific writer. His doctrinal teaching was pellucidly clear and consistent; he was a profound student and sound expositor of the Word of God, and many were influenced by his sermons, spoken and printed, and confirmed in the faith of God's elect. He was a determined foe of Romanism and Ritualism, deeply interested in the welfare of the young, and ready to aid any effort that commended itself to him on the basis of the faith for which he so earnestly contended. Many of his hymns have secured a permanent place in our hymnology, and his sermons are doctrinal, experimental, and practical in the best sense of the words. He never ceased to preach Christ, making Him the Alpha and Omega of all his discourses. He was born at Ware, in Hertfordshire, and brought up under the care and counsel of a godly father, who was a builder, and who trained his son in that trade. When he left his father's roof, he tells us the parting words were, "There's poor Joseph going to that wicked London. My heart bleeds while I bid him goodbye. I fear it will end in his ruin. You will be far away from a father's eye and a father's counsel, but never will I cease to pray for you that God may preserve and prosper you, although surrounded with so much that is evil." The youth was but eighteen when, in 1803, God led him to the Church of St. Mary Somerset, Thames Street, to hear W. Alphonsus Gunn, and there the arrow was directed into his conscience and he was brought to a saving knowledge of Divine truth. In 1808 his first sermon was preached over a smith's shop at Dulwich; he was actively engaged in business, but on most Sundays would walk from ten to twenty miles, preaching in various villages. "My only companions were my pocket Bible and its Divine Author, who often favoured me with the spirit of prayer on the way and shed many a ray of Divine light on the inspired page, so that I was furnished with a 'Thus saith the Lord.'"
After six years' service in Hertfordshire, he became pastor of the Church at Sawston, near Cambridge, and in January, 1818, he preached his first sermon in Camberwell. Ultimately, Grove Chapel was erected and opened on July 20th, 1819, and within its walls until the time of his death he continued proclaiming the Gospel; his mortal remains rest in a vault under the pulpit. In his last sermon, about ten days before his decease, he spoke of heaven in joyful terms: "I confess that my soul longs for it, and I anticipate meeting with prophets and apostles and patriarchs, and above all, with Jesus Himself, to behold Him face to face in glory, to be like Him, and to see Him as He is."
His published writings were numerous, some running into many editions. "Jazer," letters on Gospel doctrine; "Nathaniel," letters on Christian experience; "Nymphas," an exposition of the Song of Solomon; 611 original hymns; and a paraphrase of the Book of Psalms, are among the number. He established a Home Mission and other Societies for visiting and assisting the sick poor, and to the end of his life he was one of the best friends and helpers of the Aged Pilgrims' Friend Society. This great man was no idler in the Lord's vineyard. He talked not about "working for Christ," but delighted to magnify his glorious Lord. His sermons should be models for our preachers to-day in their perspicuity, plainness and power. He could not cut and trim to the times. His faithfulness gave offence to many whose creed and conduct could not bear the blaze of truth and the pointed appeals he made to conscience. Many hard speeches were made against him, but he remained unmoved as an iron pillar. As a man he had very tender feeling and often smarted under the unkind treatment of those of whom better things might have been hoped; but neither the fawning of one party nor the frowns of the other could shake his firmness. When at home in his "Shepherd's Tent," Grove Lane, he used very frequently to visit his chapel; to him it was a peaceful, private promenade, after the close confinement of his study, in which he spent many hours every day. Covenant love, covenant blood and covenant grace were his constant theme. His dying desire, so graciously fulfilled, was that Grove Chapel "might never be desecrated with another gospel." Someone told him that he put too much in his sermons and should reserve ideas for future use. He replied, "Thank God I obtain my materials from heaven; my Master knows what things I have need of, and having called me, He will not allow me to work alone. I get my sermons on my knees with the Word of God before my eyes and if I empty my seed-basket to-day, I know He will fill it to-morrow; therefore I will, God helping me, tell it all out, or it would be like a fire in my bones, burning its way out." Grove Chapel recalls many memories of those who have gone before; in its schoolroom is a unique collection of portraits of free grace ministers of various sections of the one Church. In No. 5 pew in the Chapel is the spot where the Lord first met with the "Wayside Notes" writer, broke him down in contrition of heart and revealed Christ to him as all his salvation, and there are friends still with us who can testify to the power of Mr. Irons' ministry, when in their early years they sat under it.”