Part 2 Chapter 2

Section 7—Acts 8:48.

And as many as were ordained unto eternal life believed.

This act of ordination to eternal life, is no other than God's act of predestination of some persons to glory, or his eternal choice and appointment of them to life and salvation by Jesus Christ, which the scriptures frequently speak of. Now, seeing that as many as were ordained to eternal life, did in the times of the apostles, and do in all ages, believe in consequence thereof, election must be an act of God's grace, irrespective of faith, is not on account of the foresight of it; faith being not the cause, but a fruit and effect of it; and it must also relate to particular persons only; since all men have not faith, nor will enjoy eternal life; both which are firmly and infallibly secured by this act of grace to all those who are interested in it. To which is objected,

1. That these words speak not of preordination,[1] much less of divine preordination. The persons spoken of are not said to be protetagmenoi foreordained,but tetagmenoi, ordained;and not said to be ordained by God,but were such who disposed themselves unto eternal life. To which I reply, that the words are rendered both by the Vulgate Latin, and by Arias Montanus, quotquot erant praeordinati, as many as were preordained.And it is certain, that they speak of an ordination to what is future, eternal life, and to that antecedent to believing, and why not then before the foundation of the world, agreeable to other scriptures? especially since there was a promise (and therefore why not a purpose?) of eternal life made by God before the world began (Titus 1:2). And though here is no mention made of God, yet who can ordain to eternal life, or dispose of it but God? Eternal life is the gift of God through Jesus Christ our Lord (Rom. 6:23). And could these words be understood, even of an internal disposition in man unto eternal life; who can dispose unto it, any more than of it, but God? For we are not sufficient of ourselves, to think anything as of ourselves, but our sufficiency is of God (2 Cor. 3:5).

2. It is said,[2] "That these words cannot signify that there is a fixed number of persons absolutely by God ordained to eternal life, is evident from this consideration, that if the reason why these men believed were only this, that they were men ordained to eternal life, the reason why the rest believed not can be this only, that they were not by God ordained to eternal life. And if so, what necessity could there be, that the word of God should be first preached to them? as we read verse 46. Was it only that their damnation might be the greater? This seems to charge the Lover of souls with the greatest cruelty; what could even their most malicious and enraged enemy do more? This is to make God as instrumental to their ruin as he very devil." To which may be replied, that though faith is a fruit of, and what follows upon, electing grace, and therefore is called the faith of God's elect,yet election is not the immediate cause of it, but the grace and power of God: hence it is said to be the gift,and of the operation of God (Eph. 2:8; Col. 2:12; Rom. 10:17), and comes by hearing the word, as an instrumental means. So, likewise, though unbelief follows upon God's denying his grace, which is agreeable to a previous determination, yet neither the denial of his grace, nor his determination to deny it, is the cause of unbelief, but the vitiosity and corruption of nature, and, therefore not to be charged on God's not ordaining them to eternal life, which is no instance either of cruelty or injustice, for then it would have been both cruel and unjust with God to deny and determine to deny his grace to fallen angels. And whereas it is asked, to what purpose was the word of God preached to them; was it for their greater damnation? I answer, that the preaching of the Gospel to men is not to aggravate the damnation of any; for, though the condemnation of men becomes the greater by it, yet this is only accidental to it or owing to the wickedness of men, but is not the end and design of God in it, which is partly to gather out his elect from among them, and partly to leave the rest inexcusable, who would be apt to say, Had we heard of Christ, we should have embraced him; had the Gospel been preached to us, as unto others, we had believed, even as they.

3. It is observed,[3] that "the apostle gives this reason why he turned from the Jews to the Gentiles, because the Jews thrust away, the word of God from them, and judged themselves unworthy of everlasting life (v. 46). Whereas, according to this supposition, that could be no sufficient reason; for it was only they among the Jews, who were not ordained to eternal life, that refused to believe and obey the word of God; and as many among the Gentiles, who were not thus ordained, must necessarily do the same." I reply, that the reason was a sufficient one; for these Jews, as a body of men, rejected the Gospel; not one gave heed unto it; wherefore the apostles rightly concluded, that God had no more work for them to do among them; that there were no more of his elect to be gathered out from them, and therefore, they turned to the Gentiles, as the Lord had commanded them; expecting and believing that God would take out of them, through their ministry, a people for his name and glory. And it is easy to observe, that this was the rule of their conduct among the Gentiles; for, according as they were directed by the Spirit of God, or were able to make a judgment, whether God had a people to be called by grace or not, they continued, or departed, or turned aside. Thus they were forbidden by the Holy Ghost,at a certain time, to preach the word of God in Asia; and when they assayed to go into Bithynia, the Spirit suffered them not; and passing by Mysia, they carne down to Troas (Acts 16:6-10), where by a vision, they were directed to Macedonia;from whence they assuredly gathered, that the Lord had called them to preach the Gospel to them, and that some persons were to be converted there, and not in the other places at that time where they were not permitted to go. The apostle Paul, when he went to Corinth, first preached among the Jews; but they opposing, themselves, and blaspheming, he turned to the Gentiles, and had this encouragement from the Lord to continue in his ministrations to them, from this consideration (Acts 18:10), that he had much people in that city.

4. Whereas the apostle preached the doctrines of remission of sins, and justification to the Jews, and exhorted them to beware, lest what was spoken of in the prophets should come upon them. It is asked,[4] "Could God have determined that these very persons should not believe to life eternal, and yet commission his apostles to tell them these things? Could it be revealed to St. Paul that they could not believe to life eternal, as being not by God ordained to it; and yet would he so passionately exhort them to that faith in Jesus which he well knew, by virtue of this revelation, belonged not to them, nor could they possibly exert?" But who says that God had determined they should not believe, or that it was revealed to St. Paul that they could not believe to life eternal, as being not by God ordained to it? The apostle Paul, with the rest of the apostles, had a commission to preach the gospel to all nations, beginning with the Jews, which, as it was designed to gather in the elect of God among them, so it was faithfully executed by them. They preached these doctrines of grace promiscuously to all, not knowing who were ordained to eternal life and who were not, or who would believe and who would not; the judgment they were able to form in anywise of these things, did not arise from any special or extraordinary revelation, but from the success of their ministry. Thus, from the Jews rejecting the gospel, and thereby judging themselves unworthy of everlasting life, they might justly fear they were left of God, and did not belong to him, and might rightly conclude that many among the Gentiles were ordained to eternal life, from their believing in Christ; and, therefore, in perfect consistence both with the design of God and the nature of their commission, could, and did preach and propose these things to them.

5. It is urged,[5] that "the words will very well admit of this sense, as many as were disposed for eternal life believed." Which sense is pleaded for from the use of the word tetagmenov, in this very book of the Acts of the Apostles, and in the Son of Sirach, from some passages in Philo the Jew, from Simplicius on Epictetus, and from the opposition in the context between the indisposed Jews and the disposed Gentiles. To which I reply, that the place referred to in this book is no proof of such a sense of the word; for it is not the same word in the same simple form with this here that is there used, but as in composition with the preposition dia; it is not tetagmenov, but diatetagmenov; nor does that signify disposition of mind, but determination and fore-appointment. The words are these (Acts 20:13). We went before to ship, and sailed unto Assos, there intending to take in Paul,outw gar hn diatetagmenov , for so had he appointed,not as Dr. Whitby renders it, for so was he disposed:the disposition of his mind is expressed by the following phrase, minding himself to go afoot.It is plain that it was a determined case, which had been concerted and agreed upon between Paul and his associates, that they should go with the ship to Assos, and he would go afoot thither, where they should take him in; so that this place, instead of making for, makes against the sense of the word contended for. The Son of Sirach says, (Eccl. 10:1) that the government,or principality of a wise man, is tetagmenh,which the Vulgate Latin renders stabilis erit, shall be stable or firm.The reason is, because it is ordained by God; for, as the apostle Paul says (Rom. 13:1), the powers that be are tetagmenai, ordained by God,which is an instance of the use of the word in favor of our sense of it. The passages out of Philo are no proof of the word signifying an internal disposition of mind, being allusions to the marshalling and ordering of persons in a military form, which is the frequent use of tattw, in Xenophon and other writers. Though Simplicius interprets tetagmenov upo qeou,in Epictetus,[6] by protrepomenov upo qeou, yet both the one and the other phrase signify the force and power of the fatal decree, ordaining things; which is made use of as an argument with the philosopher, why he should choose and retain them. For in another place, says Epictetus,[7] Lead me, O Jupiter, and thou fate,opoi poq umin eimi diatetagmenov whither I am by you appointed, and I will cheerfully follow.So wra tetagmenh, is used by him for a stated hour,[8] just as hmera tetagmenh is by Porphyry,[9] for a fixed day, or appointed time.But, after all, to settle the true sense of the word in the text, it will be proper to inquire in what sense it is used by the historian Luke, in this book of the Acts of the Apostles, where we shall always find it signifies determination and appointment, and not disposition of mind. So in Acts 15:9, When therefore Paul and Barnabas had no small dissension and disputation with them,etaxan, they determined that Paul and Barnabas, and certain others of them, should go up to Jerusalem.Again, in Acts 22:10, The Lord said unto me, Arise, and go into Damascus, and there it shall be told thee of all things which,tetatkai, are appointed for thee to do.Once more, in Acts 28:23, And when taxamenoi autw hmeran, they had appointed him a day, there came many to him.By these instances we may judge of the sense and translation of our text. Besides, both the ancient and modern versions agree in favoring the translation and sense we contend for; nor does the opposition in the context favor the other; for the comparison is not between the blaspheming Jews and the believing Gentiles, but between one part of the Gentiles and the other; the one believing, and the other not; the one being ordained unto eternal life, and the other not ordained to it. Add to this, that the phrase of being disposed to,or for eternal life,is a very unusual, if not a very improper, and an inaccurate one. Men are said to be disposed to a habit or an action, as to vice or virtue; but not to reward or punishment, as to heaven or hell. Nor does it appear that these Gentiles had any good dispositions to eternal life, antecedent to their believing; for, though they are said, in verse 49, to beseech the apostles to preach the same things to them the next sabbath, yet the words may be rendered more agreeable to the order in which they lie in the original text thus: They, that is, the apostles, parekaloun ta eqnh, besought the Gentiles, that these words might be preached to them the next sabbath;[10] that is, they entreated them that they would come and hear them again at such a time. And as for their being glad,and glorifying the word of the Lord,it is not evident that it was before their believing; and suppose it was, this has been found in persons who have had no true, real, inward dispositions to spiritual things, as in many of our Lord's hearers; and, indeed, there are no such dispositions in men previous to faith in Christ, for whatsoever is not of faith is sin.Before believing, men are dead in trespasses and sins, given up unto them, live in them, and fulfill the lusts of the flesh, and are insufficient either to think well or do well. Besides, admitting that there are in some persons good dispositions to eternal fife, previous to faith in Christ; and that desiring eternal life, and seeking after it, be accounted such; yet these may be, where faith does not follow. The young man in the Gospel had as many dispositions of this sort, perhaps, as ever any had, who were destitute of faith; and yet was so far from believing in Christ, that he went away from him sorrowful. As many, therefore, as are so disposed unto eternal life do not always believe, faith does not always follow such dispositions. And, after all, one would have thought that the Jews themselves, who were externally religious, and were looking for the Messiah, though they did not believe that Jesus was the Christ; and especially the devout and honorable women,were more disposed unto eternal life than the ignorant and idolatrous Gentiles; and yet the latter believed, and the former did not. It follows, then, that their faith did not arise from previous dispositions to eternal life, but was the fruit and effect of divine ordination.

6. Another sense which these words are said[11] to be capable of, is, that as many as were well disposed, believed unto eternal life. But it has been already proved, that tetagmenoi,does not signify well disposed;and as for joining the phrase eternal life,to the word episteusan, believed;that stands at too great a distance to admit of such a construction: and should it be allowed, it would make no considerable alteration in the sense of the text; which would be read thus, as many as were ordained, believed unto eternal life; that is, as many as were chosen of God, and appointed by him to obtain salvation by Jesus Christ, believed in him to the saving of their souls. Let the words be placed in construction either way, the sense is the same.


[1] Remonstr. Coll. Hag. art. I. p. 93; and Act. Synod. circa art. 1:p. 61; Hammond in loc.; Limborch, p. 342, 739.

[2] Whitby, p. 57; ed. 2.56, 57.

[3] Whitby, p. 58; ed. 2. 57: Limborch, p. 342.

[4] Whitby, p. 58.

[5] Ibid. p. 59; ed 2. 58; Remonstr. and Limborch, abi supra.

[6] Euchirid, c. 29.

[7] C. 77.

[8] C. 35.

[9] De Styge, c. 285; ed Cantabr.

[10] Vide Lightfoot, vol. 2: p. 692.

[11] Whitby, p. 60; ed. 2.59.

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