James Relly: The Great Salvation Contemplated, epistle V

If Jesus gave himself a ransom for all, then are all ransomed: the prey is taken from the mighty, and the lawful captives are delivered – they are ransomed from the dominion of sin, from the curse of the law, and from everlasting death. Thus stands the case with all the children of Adam, as ransomed by Jesus Christ, who, in consequence thereof, are spotless before God.

This is the fith letter of Relly’s The Great Salvation Contemplated. Here Relly discusses the meaning of the words from The First Epistle to Timothy, where it is said that God’s will is that “all human beings are saved, and come to the knowledge of the truth” (1 Tim. 2:4). This does not merely express a “wish” or “desire” on God’s side. Creatures do not have “the power to put negative” upon the choice of God. Creatures do not determine their own destiny. This is Relly at his most ‘Calvinistic’, insisting that the will of God is absolute and sovereign. All that God wills to be saved will in fact be saved. From this follows that if God wills all human beings to be saved, then all human beings will be saved. All are saved in Christ, with an everlasting salvation, says Relly. However, not all have yet come to the knowledge of the truth. This is the meaning of the second part of the passage from The First Epistle to Timothy. In conclusion Relly introduces some themes (restitution of all things, etc.) that will be discussed further in the following letters.

Read the foregoing epistles here: I, II, III, IV

Letter V.

Dear Brethren,

I concluded my last letter with some remarks on that sacred testimony of the apostle, “As in Adam all die, so in Christ shall all be made alive.” I shall begin this with another quotation from the same great and glorious witness of Jesus, who, speaking of the infinite love of God our Savior, says, “He will have all men to be saved, and to come to the knowledge of the truth,” (1 Tim. 2:4). These words are not only expressive of the love of God, with the pity and tenderness of Emanuel’s heart; but they declare his positive will: “He will have all men to be saved, and to come to the knowledge of the truth.” Who has resisted his will? It is the happiness of mankind to submit, but their non-submission and resistance prevents not the execution of his will.

Some are weak enough to imagine, that the Almighty must first get his creatures’ leave, before he can perform his will respecting them; hence they plume themselves on their submissions, and compliment their own great humility, in being content that the will of the Lord should be done. I am aware of some men’s affecting to say, that the text only intends the willingness and desire of God our Savior, that all men should be saved, and come to the knowledge of the truth. But, say they, it does not follow that all shall be saved: because the greater part choose death rather than life, refuse to comply with the terms of salvation; and thereby frustrate God’s holy will and desire.

What a jumble of error and inconsistency! The Creator of the ends of the earth is not absolute; he may will, yes, he may desire the salvation of his creatures, yet both may be frustrate, if the creature chooses to stand out, and will neither comply with his will, nor gratify his desire! God has but one choice, which is, that all should be saved, and come to the knowledge of the truth, but his creatures have power to put a negative upon the choice of the Almighty, whereby his will and desire are rendered of non-effect: whereas they are absolute and uncontrollable in their choice. If they choose death rather than life, die they must, for the Lord God of truth, who made them and redeemed them, cannot prevent it, howsoever desirous he may be of it.

I believe I have stated the matter fairly, according to the above: shall therefore leave it to you to determine of its propriety, and consonance to truth: lest you should accuse me of misspending time and words to expose, what (but to such who are intoxicated with enmity and pride) is in itself most notoriously false, absurd, and blasphemous.

In the sacred book, we read much of submission to the will of God; and his worshipers have been often heard to say: The will of the Lord be done. But is this written, that we should admire their humility, and condescension, in permitting God to do his will, though it should be trying and grievous to them according to the flesh? God forbid. Yes, the scriptures were written that man might be abased, and the Lord alone exalted.

The will of God our Savior is absolute, immutable, and irrefutable. The scriptures teach this. After many trials, possibly experience corroborates it. Is it then a mark of humility, self-denial, or lowliness of heart, to submit to his will, the fixed unalterable will of God, which neither men nor angels can refill? No, there is no virtue in submitting to what we cannot avoid.

The true worshiper knows, that the will of his God is determinate: hence he will no longer strive, as the potsherd of the earth, with his Maker. He is withal assured, that according to the mystery of the divine will, all things work together for his good; and therefore he not only submit, but rejoices in His will. Hence the expression, The will of the Lord be done: and the prayer which the Savior taught his disciples, “Thy will be done on earth as it is done in heaven.”

The plain honest heart neither knows nor admits of such distinctions in the will of God, as permissive and decretive; as though, for causes arising from the capriciousness of the creature, he permitted that to be, which he had not foreseen nor decreed; or that what He had decreed; he, for like reasons, thought proper to dispense With.

To distinguish between God’s prescience and his decree, favors too much of human invention and subtlety, for the simplicity of Christianity: known unto God are all his works. What he foreknew, that he had decreed; and what he had decreed, that he permits. Foreknowledge differs not from the decree, respecting events: for as God cannot be deceived, neither can he be controlled. The distinction, that God’s foreknowledge of all events does not lay us under a necessity of acting, but that his decree does; appears to me, to be destitute of reason and common sense: for God is infallible in his foreknowledge, as in his decree: what he foreknew must most assuredly come to pass: nor can there be more attributed to his decree.

Having thus considered the will of God, as sovereign, absolute, and uncontrollable, let us weigh the purport of it, i.e. that all men should be saved, and come to the knowledge of the truth: note, the distinction between being saved, and coming to the knowledge of the truth. From the remarks already made, it is evident, that all men are saved in Christ Jesus the Lord, with an everlasting salvation: but all men are not yet come to the knowledge of the truth; nevertheless, he who willed the former, and executed it, according to the purpose of his will, has also willed the latter, and according to the same purpose will execute it in his own times when all men shall come to the knowledge of the truth.

Again, “Who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time,” (1 Tim. 2:6). In that God our Savior gave himself, he has given us an infallible proof of divine love. He has given himself unto and for all: and has hereby made manifest the extent of divine grace. He “gave himself a ransom for all”. The term is very significant, expressive, and powerful.

All mankind, by reason of sin, were in a state of bondage and captivity: he ransomed them, by giving himself in exchange for them. All mankind, by means of transgression, had rendered themselves obnoxious to everlasting punishment; but Jesus gave himself a ransom for all, by taking on him their condition, and exposing himself to all their woes. Hence on the ransom’s being found, they were delivered from going down into the pit.

If Jesus gave himself a ransom for all, then are all ransomed: the prey is taken from the mighty, and the lawful captives are delivered – they are ransomed from the dominion of sin, from the curse of the law, and from everlasting death. Thus stands the case with all the children of Adam, as ransomed by Jesus Christ, who, in consequence thereof, are spotless before God.

But this is to be testified in due time, i.e., to be made appear or known — which intends, that there is a time with God called the due time, when this truth, that all mankind are ransomed from sin, and from all its consequences, by Jesus Christ, shall be published on the housetop, shall be made manifest to all, not in the report only; but in the blessed, full, and eternal enjoyment thereof.

“Who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time.” O glorious words! and full of grace and truth! This is giving, not only like a King, but like a God: herein is love indeed. How this grace detects and exposes the paltry pride of human nature! The potsherds of the earth hesitate, yes, refuse to believe and live upon their Maker’s bounty. Their humility says it is too good, too free, too extensive: their goodness complains, that it leaves no guard against sin: their wisdom and justice cannot perceive the equity of it, because, to include all is to make no distinction between the evil and the good. But, if Christ died for all, then were all dead. The former is so palpable a truth, as to be taken for granted in the apostle’s argument, nor does the latter want, but has the same evidence, and is withal undeniably reducible from the former. Hence, no man can with truth object to the freeness and extent of the great salvation.

“Who gave himself a ransom for all, to be testified in due time.” Here is the distinction kept up as before: all are ransomed, but all have not yet received the testimony: does it follow, that they never will receive the testimony? Quite the reverse. The apostle says, “To be testified in due time.” — Which time is an appointed time; it will come, it shall come, and will not tarry.

Again, “That he, by the grace of God, should taste death for every man,” (Heb. 2:9). Here are three particulars to be considered — the taste of death — for whom — by what means. O death! who beside the Savior of mankind, can describe your taste? Who but him can remember, and explain the misery, the wormwood, and the gall? The word tasted here indicates the sense and consciousness which he had of every ingredient of misery in death. He became obedient unto death. He made no resistance, but submitted, body and soul, to their proper pain and distress. In his silent obedience, he tacitly acknowledged his guilt, as made sin for us. He tasted death, implying, that, though there was nothing in the first nor second death, but what he experienced from every sense of speculation and feeling; yet, in point of continuance, it was but a taste: for sometimes the word is taken in this sense. The dignity, eminence, and mystery of his person, qualified him respecting, power and equity, to sustain and finish, in a short period, what had tormented the finite creature, with the worm that dies not, and with the fire which is not quenched; had it fallen on such, it would have been more than a taste to them. To Jesus, mighty, glorious, and gracious as he is, it was but a taste; but to us it would have been endless woe.

Jesus tasted death for every man, for all the descendants from Adam: for them, on their behalf — in their Head — and to exempt them from all pains and penalties. Can words be more express? For every man, without distinction of nation, name, or character: and if he has tasted death for every man, as above, what shall frustrate his grace? what shall prevent their salvation? Indeed, if righteousness came by the law, the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ may be frustrated; and his tasting death for every man, may have been in vain: but thanks be to God, righteousness comes not by the law, nor has he obeyed, nor died in vain. Therefore, as he has tasted death for every man, every man may expect to inherit the joy of his salvation.

It is by the grace of God, that Jesus has tasted death for every man: and his grace, in the scriptures, sits in direct opposition to all human works and righteousness whatever. Hence there can be no reason assigned, wherefore the most wretched and worthless of mortals should not inherit the kingdom of God and of Christ.

Another witness, speaking of Jesus, says, “He died not for our sins only, but for the sins of the whole world.” (Cf. 1 John 2:2) Here, the whole world is opposed to such who believe and obey the gospel: the apostles and Christians of that age were the latter; besides whom, all mankind were then lying in the wicked one, and in unbelief: but, lest the death of Jesus, respecting the intent and efficacy thereof, should be, by any Christian, limited to such only who believe and obey, the apostle says, “He died not for our sins only, but for the sins of the whole world, i.e. for the sins of all mankind; or of all who lay in the wicked one. Nor is it difficult to determine what the scriptures mean, by Christ’s dying for the sins of men: they certainly mean, that he endured the pains and penalties due to their sins: in consequence of which, they, the sons of men, are free; they are delivered from the curse of the law, by his being made a curse for them, and are entitled to all the benefits of his salvation: even the every man for whom Christ died.

“Until the times of the restitution of all things, which God has spoken by the mouth of all his prophets, since the world began,” (Acts 3:21). The times of the restitution of all things, seem to me to point out the grand and general jubilee, when the servant shall be eternally free from his master, and the inheritance shall return to go no more out: but a happy and joyful possession shall be the portion of all mankind, for whom Jesus tasted death, yes, for whose sins he died. Restitution signifies, to restore to a primitive state, or to bring back to original purity and glory.

“Restitution of all things”, i.e., of all things suffering or sustaining loss, by the entrance of sin into the world. Shall mankind be forgotten in those times, when all things shall be restored! Man, whose nature Jesus assumed, whose person he sustained, whose fashion he was found in, and for whose sins he died! A mother may forget her sucking child, so as not to have companion on the son of her womb: but God their Savior will not forget mankind, in the times of the restitution of all things. But I shall have occasion to speak of this more fully, by divine permission, in future letters; and shall now pass on to another scripture.

“That in the dispensation of the fullness of time, he might gather together in one, all things in Christ; both which are in heaven, and which are on earth; even in him” (Eph. 1:10). I intend to make use of this text, as well as the former, in future letters; and shall here but just take notice, that the gathering of all things into Christ, must either imply the gathering of them into his person, that they might be included in his life, sufferings, and death, and be entitled to the benefits of his resurrection, according to the promise of gathering the people to the Shiloh: or, of gathering together into one, all the children of God who were scattered abroad. Or, it must intend a gathering in some future period, of all things into the knowledge and enjoyment of Christ; even those, who, until that period, are in ignorance, unbelief, and suspense.

But the former it cannot be, as that redemption is not yet to be waited for: that gathering has been made long since, and all the promises relating to it have been fulfilled, and rendered Yes and Amen in Christ.

It must necessarily, therefore, intend the latter: that in some future period, the times of which are appointed of God, and at present only known to him; he will gather all things in heaven and on earth, i.e., either angels and men, or such who in time have believed and obeyed; and such who have not in time known the salvation of God, and are therefore, in companion of the other, considered as things on earth.

But here let me conclude this letter, with assuring you that I am,

Yours, etc.

J. R.