Robert South (1634-1716) on election and the efficacy of Christ’s death

Robert South

Robert South (1634-1716) was a high churchman, prebendary of Westminster, canon of Christ Church, Oxford, and one of the preeminent Reformed conforming divines of the post-Restoration era. South was renowned particularly for his numerous sermons, which were very much “in vogue” in the late seventeenth and early eighteenth centuries, and which were known by his contemporaries for their sometimes outspokenly Reformed contents.

One such example is found in a Good Friday sermon preached before the University of Oxford in Christ Church cathedral, on March 20, 1668. The excerpt below is taken from the 6th edition of South’s Twelve Sermons Preached upon Several Occasions, vol. 3, p. 368-370. The text for this sermon was Is. 53:8, “For the transgression of my people was he stricken,” and South raises the question of how the people mentioned in the text came to be God’s people:

If it be here asked, upon what account the persons here spoken of were denominated and made God’s people? I answer, that they were so by an eternal covenant and transaction between God the Father and the Son; by which the Father, upon certain conditions to be performed by the Son, consigned over some persons to him to be his people. For our better understanding of which we are to observe that the business of man’s redemption proceeds upon a two-fold covenant.

First, an eternal covenant made between the Father and the Son, by which the Father agreed to give both grace and glory to a certain number of sinners, upon condition that Christ would assume their nature, and pay down such a ransom to his justice, as should both satisfy for their sin, and withal merit such a measure of grace as should effectually work in them all things necessary to their salvation. And this covenant may be properly called a covenant of suretyship or redemption. Upon which alone, and not upon any covenant made between God and man in their own persons, is built the infallibility of the future believing, repenting, and finally persevering, of such as Christ from all eternity undertook to make his people.

Secondly, the other covenant made in time, and actually entered into by God and man, by which God on his part promises to men eternal salvation, upon condition of faith and repentance on theirs. And this is called in Scripture, the second covenant, or the covenant of grace, and stands opposed to that which is there called the first covenant, or the covenant of works.

Now by that eternal compact or transaction between the Father and the Son (of which alone we now speak) was this donation of a certain determinate number of persons made to Christ to be his people, by virtue of which agreement or transaction he was in the fullness of time to suffer for them, and to accomplish the whole work of their redemption from first to last. For to affirm that Christ died only to verify a proposition (that whosoever believed should be saved) but in the meantime to leave the whole issue of things in reference to persons so loose and undetermined, that it was a question, whether ever any one should actually believe, and very possible that none ever might, and consequently that after Christ had suffered, had been stricken, and died for transgression, yet for anything that he had done in all this, he might never have had a people; this certainly is a strange and new Gospel, and such as the doctrine of our Church [of England] seems utterly unacquainted with.

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