When it pleased God to draw us out of the darkness of unbelief, and give us the light of the gospel, He looked not at any service which we might have performed, or at any virtue we might have possessed: but He called us, having chosen us before. This is the order in which St. Paul maketh mention in Romans 8: that knowing God, we must not take the glory to ourselves. Thus, the calling of the faithful resteth upon this counsel of God; and we see how far the Lord maketh known to us that which He had decreed before we were born. He toucheth us with His Holy Spirit, and we are ingrafted, as it were, into the body of our Lord Jesus Christ. This is the true earnest of our adoption: this is the pledge given us, to put us out of all doubt that God taketh and holdeth us for His children, when by faith we are made one with Jesus Christ, who is the only begotten Son of God, unto whom belongeth the inheritance of life.
God giveth us such a sure testimony of His will that notwithstanding our ignorance, He putteth us out of doubt of our election; He giveth us a hope, of which we should be entirely void, if Jesus Christ did not call us to be members of His body. Thus we see how profitable this doctrine of election is to us: it serveth to humble us, knowing that our salvation hangeth not upon our deserts, neither upon the virtue which God might have found in us: but upon the election that was made before we were born, before we could do either good or evil.
When we know that according to this unchangeable election, God hath called us to Himself, we are so much the more put out of doubt of our salvation. Jesus Christ saith, no man taketh from Me that which the Father hath given Me (John 10). What is it that the Father hath given Jesus Christ? They whom He hath chosen, and whom He knoweth to be His. Seeing the case standeth thus, that God hath given us to His Son, to be kept and defended by Him, and that Jesus Christ promiseth that none of us shall be lost, but that He will exercise all the might and power of the Godhead to save and defend us, is not this a comfort surpassing all the treasures of the world? Is not this the true ground upon which all the assurance and certainty of our salvation is settled?
We are as birds upon the boughs, and set forth as a prey to Satan. What assurance then could we have of tomorrow, and of all our life; yea, and after death, were it not that God, who hath called us, will end His work as He bath begun it. How hath He gathered us together in the faith of His gospel? Is it grounded upon us? Nay, entirely to the contrary; it proceedeth from His free election. Therefore; we may be so much the more freed from doubt. We must not strive to know any more of God’s counsel than what is revealed in Holy Writ.
The will of God is opened to us, as often as we hear His Word preached, whereby He calleth and exhorteth us all to repentance. After He hath once shown us that we are all damned in His sight, and that there is nothing but condemnation in us, He showeth us that we must renounce ourselves, and get out of this bottomless pit. In that which God exhorteth all men, we may judge that it is His will that all men should be saved: as He saith by the prophet Ezekiel, "Have I any pleasure at all that the wicked should die? saith the Lord God; and not that he should return from his ways and live ?" (18:23). "Say unto them, As I live, saith the Lord God, I have no pleasure in the death of the wicked; but that the wicked turn from his way and live" (33:11).
How will God have sinners turn themselves? and how shall we know it? Seeing He will have repentance preached to all the world. When it is said that God will have mercy upon sinners, upon such as will come to Him, and ask forgiveness in Christ’s name, it is a general doctrine. So then, it is said that God will have all men to be saved, not having respect to what we devise or imagine, that is, as far as our knowledge can comprehend it. When the Scripture speaketh of the love and will of God, let us see if men can have repentance by their own actions, being self taught, or whether it is God that giveth it.
God saith by His prophet, I will that all men turn and live. Can a man by his own works turn himself? No: for if that were in our power, it were more than to make us. It is an undoubted doctrine throughout the whole Scripture that our Lord Jesus Christ giveth Himself the praise of turning us. He saith, "I will put a new spirit within you: and I will take the stony heart out of their flesh, and will give them an heart of flesh" (Ezekiel 11:19). To be short, there is nothing that the faithful ought so much to do as to give God the glory, confessing that it is He alone that can turn us; and that He hath adopted us in such a manner that He must needs draw us by the grace of His Spirit.
Have men such knowledge that they are able to attain this faith, this wonderful wisdom which is contained in the gospel, such as the very angels themselves reverence? Let us mark what God saith to us in His Word: that He will open our eyes, and unstop our ears; because the natural man understandeth no part of the secrets of God; for it is the Holy Ghost that revealeth them to us. It is hardly possible to read a single passage in Holy Writ, without finding some sentence, which informeth us that men are utterly blind by nature until God openeth their eyes. They can in no wise come to Him, until He draw them, and enlighten them by His Holy Spirit.