I just got a copy of Ichabod Spencer’s A Pastor’s Sketches. This book is a collection of spiritual conversations Rev. Spencer had with the “seekers” of his day. I haven’t read very many of his “sketches” yet, but one I did read today was quite helpful. It was about a man who came to Spencer with a serious intellectual resistance to the doctrine of election. Spencer gave some good counsel in his answer. I really appreciated the following section (it is a bit lengthy, but stick with it because it’s worth the effort!):
[The third use of the doctrine of election is] to comfort God’s people. The grand trial of a life of religion is a trial of the heart. We have sins, we have weaknesses and temptations, which tend to a dreadful discouragement. Sin easily besets us. We easily wander from God. Holiness is an up-hill work. Our feet often stagger in the path of our pilgrimage, and tears of bitterness gush from our eyes, lest such weak, and tempted, and erring creatures should never reach heaven. Devils tempt us. The world presents its deceitful allurements, and more deceitful and dangerous claims. What shall cheer us when our heart sinks within us? Whither shall we fly for comfort, when our hearts are bleeding, when our sins are so many, when our gain in holiness is so little, when our light goes out, and the gloom of an impenetrable midnight settles down upon our poor and helpless soul?
We cannot, indeed, mount up to the inner sanctuary of God, open the seven-sealed book, and read our names recorded in it by the pen of the Eternal. But we can know that such a book is there; and that the pen of our Father has filled it with his eternal decrees, not one of which shall fail of accomplishment, as surely as his own throne shall stand. And when we find in ourselves, amid our tearful struggles, even the feeble beginnings of holiness, we know that God has commenced his work for us, a work which he planned before the world was; and that he who has ‘begun a good in work in us, will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ,’ carrying into effect his eternal plan. Just as well as we know our likeness to God, we know our election to God.
We know that our holiness is his work, a work which he purposed from the beginning. If he had purposed it but just when he began it, if it were a work undertaken from some recent impulse, then we should have good reason to fear that some other impulse would drive him to abandon it. But when we know it from a part of his eternal counsels, and is no sidework, no episode, no interlude, or sudden interposition not before provided for – then we are assured that God is not going to forsake us; and deep as is our home-bred depravity, and many and malignant as are our foes, we are cheered with the assurance, that God will bring us off victorious, and ‘the purpose according to election shall stand.’ We love to see our salvation embraced in the eternal plan of God; and we know it is embraced there, if we are his children by faith in Christ Jesus.
We cannot read his secret counsels; but we can read his spiritual workings in us. We know the counsels by the evidence of the workings; and then we are cheered and encouraged amid our trials, by the idea that God will no more abandon us than he will abandon the eternal plan which his wisdom formed before the foundation of the world. ‘Who shall lay anything to the charge of God’s elect?’ He had their names in his book before they had shed a tear, before a devil existed to tempt them.