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THE SOVEREIGNTY OF GOD, ESPECIALLY IN
LUKE 4:28–30. And all they in the synagogue, when they heard these
things, WERE FILLED WITH WRATH, and rose up, and thrust him out of the city, and led him unto the brow of the hill whereon their city was built, that they might cast him down headlong. But he, passing through the midst of them, went his way.
Our Saviour had explained to the Nazarenes a prophecy of Isaiah, and in. formed them that it was accomplished in himself. This seemed to afford them much pleasure. But after all, he was aware that they entertained ob. jections to him, on account of the obscurity of his birth. He also knew that they had heard of the miraculous cures he had performed at Capernaum, and expected him to do at least as much for the people of Nazareth, " where he had been brought up.” This expectation, he, for wise reasons, did not intend to gratify. He proceeded therefore to show them that he had an un. doubted right to perform his miracles when and wherever he pleased, accord. ing to the dictates of his own wisdom and goodness: and if he should withhold his favors altogether from them, he would be fully justified by their unbelief. In making such discriminations, he was acting just as the prophets Elijah and Elisha had done. Vs. 25,26,27. The proud self-confident Nazarenes im. agined they held an irresistible claim to the miraculous services of the Lord Jesus; and could not brook the idea that they deserved to be passed by in the distribution of the divine favors. To perform cures at Capernaum, and none
ventured to justify himself, by asserting his sovereign right, to “ do what he would with his own," and to conser unmerited favors as his own infinite wis. dom and goodness might direct; they were all on a sudden transported with rage. And forgetting the sacredness of the day, and the purpose for which
*This discourse, (furnished at the request of the Editor,) is an abridgment of a small treatise lately published by the author.
they had assembled, they rushed upon him with one accord, and made a bold and desperate attempt to destroy his life.
The Nazarenes were by no means singular in their resentment. The doctrines preached by our Saviour have always aroused the enmity of the carnal heart. This has been especially the case with those doctrines which exhibit God in the character of a sovereign. Of this kind, I shall refer you to two examples, which I design to make the subject of my further remarks.
1. God's sovereign disposal of All events.
II. His SPECIAL purpose of mercy.
I. There are few things taught in the Bible which have given more offence than the doctrine that God is the disposer of all events. And as it is well known to be a doctrine of our branch of the church, it has, towards her, occasioned no small share of hostility. Men have undertaken to deduce from it a long list of absurdities and blasphemies, which they have exhibited to the world as parts of our theological system: such as that “ God is the author of sin,”-" that we deny man's free-agency, and make him a mere machine," – that " we set aside the necessity of means, and maintain a system of fatali. ty.” To support these charges they produce a detached passage of our Con. fession of Faith, which says, that “God ordained whatsoever comes to pass." If, however, we turn to our standards and read the whole sentence, all these slanders will be effectually silenced. God " ordained whatsoever comes to pass; yet, so as thereby neither is God the author of sin; nor is violence of fered to the will of the creatures; nor is the liberty or contingency of second causes taken away, but rather established.” Chap. III. § 1. Here are three very important limiting clauses, to which I wish to call your attention. .
1. The first of the clauses declares, that God has SO ordained all things, as not to be the author of sin. And you may now see upon what grounds men have labored to fix upon us the odium of a tenet, impious and shocking in the extreme, and worse, if possible, than atheism itself.
2. The second limiting clause, denies expressly any such foreordination as would set aside free-agency. “ Thereby, neither is violence offered to the will of the creatures." Here again you may see with what justice the clam. or is raised against us, “ that we deny free-agency and make man a mere machine.” You may now be assured that such a charge has nothing in our standards for its support. Turn to Chap. IX. § I., and you will read thus, “God hath endued the will of man with that natural liberty that it is neither forced, nor by any absolute necessity of nature determined to good or evil.” This indeed is a truth of which we are all perfectly conscious. And we are aware that to deny it would be to set aside man's accountability to God.
3. The third limiting clause in the sentence says, that God, “ so" ordain. ed all things as not to take away human liberty, nor the necessity of means, but rather to establish them. " Thereby, the liberty or contingency of se. cond causes is not taken away, but rather ESTABLISHED." Here again, you may see the dishonesty, or rather I should say, the ignorance of those who charge us with denying human liberty, or the efficacy of means, or with maintaining a system of fatality. Charity should perhaps leads us to the conclusion that they have never seen, or never attentively examined the standards of our church. Any other supposition would be attended with such an imputation against their morals, as I am unwilling to bring. Those who hold the doctrine of our church, as you now learn, must believe in human liberty, in the necessity and efficacy of means, and must be, if possible, more free from fatalism than any others. If any have held contrary to this, they did not believe our doctrine; and it is uncandid, it is illiberal, it is unchristian to blame the whole body with the eccentricities of a few individuals.
All truly Calvinistic divines, distinguish foreordination into efficacious and permissive. By the former, is denoted, whatever God accomplishes by his positive agency; by the latter, whatever for wise reasons, he chooses to permit. This distinction you will find is admitted by our church. Chap. V. $ IV, and Chap. VI. & I. In this view of the subject, the doctrine will be fully presented in these two propositions,
- 1. Nothing comes to pass, without the agency or permission of the Deity.
2. What God now does, he always intended to do, and what he now per: mits, he always designed to permit.
The first of these positions needs no proof. The second is evidenced by the unchangeableness of God. To make this matter plain, let us suppose that God creates a new world to-day; you will admit that he does it from design. And if so he must always have had that design, or else he has formed a new purpose and is changeable; which he denies, saying, “I am the LORD, I change not.”
Again; if God creates a world to-day, and does so from design, when did he form that design? Not till to-day? Why not sooner? Is he more wise, more mighty, more benevolent to-day, or does he see something new, which induces him to form an intention which never existed in his mind before.
It may also be demonstrated from his foreknowledge. For whatever any being foreknows he will do of his own accord, that he must already have resolved to do. If, for example, you know that you will, of your own ac. cord, take a journey to-morrow, you must already have resolved upon that journey. Now God foreknew that he would, of his own accord, make a world to-day. He knew it from eternity. How did he know it? If his de. termination was unsettled at that period; if he had not already come to a decision on the subject, how could he certainly know that he would create a world to-day? The same reasoning applied to any thing else that God does in creation or providence, will issue in the same conclusions. Indeed if we deny the principle, that what God now does he always meant to do, we disrobe him of his perfections, and reduce him to the level of a creature.
In the same manner it may be shown, that what God now permits he always meant to permit. Did God know from eternity that he should permit a wicked man to persecute his church to-day? How did he know it? If his purpose was not settled, how did he know.certainly that he should permit him. From what has been said, you may easily understand what is meant by foreordination. But I think proper now to present the subject in another point of view. To foreordain, in the technical sense in which the word is used by Calvinists, signifies to determine to render a future event certain, whether by positive agency or permission. Thus: if you could know that the giving of a tract to a drunkard, would, with infallible certainty, issue in his reformation, and you determine to give the book; in this case you fore. ordain the reformation of the drunkard. You determine to do what renders his reformation certain, and you fulfil your decree by positive agency. Now suppose you could know with equally infallible certainty, that the reformation of the drunkard will occasion some of his friends to attack him with much profane abuse. I say you know it with absolute certainty, and yet rather than lose so great a good as the drunkard's reformation, you adhere to your determination; you give the book and thus render it certain that a min will commit the sin of profanity. Here then you foreordain, or are the innocent occasion of the ceriainty of an evil action. But it is plain that you did not “ordain” it in the same sense as you did the other event. You did not, properly speaking, will it. In itself considered you hated it. Yet rather than lose the great good you had in view you chose to bear with the evil. We say then, that you foreordained these disagreeable things permissively.
Now in one or other of these senses God ordained " whatsoever comes to pass.” No event would ever have taken place but for his agency or permis. sion. When he formed this world he had in view his own glory, which is necessarily connected with the highest good of the universe. He did not be. gin the work, as an ignorant architect commences a building, without a set. tled plan. No. He beheld with an intuitive glance, all the possible results of an infinity of systems, and out of them all chose ONE. All the long train of consequences which would flow from that systers, passed in review before him. He held his eye steadily upon every event-every action that would sooner or later flaw out of this plan of operations. He saw, as one certain result, that men would sin, that men would be punished. He knew that he could, by destroying free-agency, or by a variety of other alterations in the system, prevent the entrance of sin. But probably such alterations would have interfered with the main end he had in view and he saw it would be best to permit it. He might have determined to leave sin unpunished, but this would have tarnished the lustre of his glory. Besides, this plan was so admirable, that sin itself would be overruled for the promotion of his glorious designs. Perceiving then, all these results; being able to calculate to a certainty, all the holiness and all the sin, all the happiness and all the misery, that would take place through his agency or permission, from the commence ment to the end of time, he deliberately chose this system and ushered it into existence. He did not choose it for the sake of the sin and misery, which, through the freedom of man, would certainly attend it; but he chose it for the greater good which would be effected by it, in spite of the existence of sin and misery. I say, being able to calculate to a certainty all the events which would result from it, he put the system into operation; and thus, either efficaciously or permissioely determined the certainty of whatever comes to pass.
In support of this doctrine we appeal to the sacred oracles. Paul, in Eph.
1:11, says, “In whom we have an inheritance, being PREDESTINATED ACcording to the PURPOSE of him who worketh all things after the COUNSEL of his own will." Here is “ Predestination,” a “purpose” of God, and a "counsel,” according to which he worketh all things. The same apostle, in Rom. 11:36, speaking of God, tells us that « Of Him, and through him, and to him, are ALL THINGS.” Does this bear no resemblance to the doctrine? Again, in Acts 4:27,28, we read thus, “ Of a truth, against the holy child Jesus, whom thou hast anointed, both Herod, and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and people of Israel, were gathered together, for to do whatsoever thy hand and thy COUNSEL determined before to be done." Here we ask, Were not the sufferings and death of Christ ceriain events? And did not God for wise reasons intentionally permit the Gentiles and Jews to do as they did? And were they on that account deprived of free-agency? No. On the contrary they acted the more freely, for God had for a long time held them back from taking the life of Jesus, but when the appointed time came, he was delivered into their hands. I shall add but one more passage, although it would be easy to cite a hundred. The brethren of Joseph acted very wickedly in selling their brother to go into Egypt, and did it of their own accord. Yet Joseph says to them, Gen. 50:20, " But as for you ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass as it is this day, to save much people alive.” Does not this look as though the selling of Joseph was a certain event, and that God permitted it for wise reasons? Indeed how could the Most High certainly know any thing future, unless it were certain? That foreknowledge which God has of the actions of his creatures, must be certain; for nothing else deserves the name of knowledge. To foreknow that a thing may be, or may not be, is to know nothing about it. It follows, that all that was foreknown to God from eternity, was certain from eternity, and will infallibly take place, through his agency or permission. But this is nothing but the doctrine of foreordination. *
* Pressed with this kind of argument, and supposing the certainty of an action to be inconsistent with its freedom, some have denied that God is able to know all future events. What an idea is this! That God has set in operation a system, without being able to know whether its results will be for his glory! for this he cannot know, unless he knows all the future actions of his creatures Dark indeed must be the prospects of the Supreme Ruler of the universe; and awful must be his suspense and anxiety, while sitting at the helm of affairs. He can make no provision beforehand to meet an emergency, but must govern the universe by sudden shifts and expedients. This theory is not only contrary to sound reason, but is contradicted by all the prophecies, and by the whole tenor of scripture.
To avoid these dreadful consequences, some have invented a theory, if possible still more absurd, viz. that although God could if he pleased, foreknow all the voluntary actions of his creatures, yet that he chooses not to know them, lest by rendering them certain he should infringe the liberty of the will. This scheme is pressed with all the difficulties of the former one, and in addition has some that are peculiar to itself. It represents the all-wise God, as putting a systein into operation, shutting his eyes, and refusing to look at all its consequences, and of choice, remaining ignorant whether it will eventuate in his glory; plunging forward in the dark! According to the first of these theories, God is necessarily imperfect; according to the last he is voluntarily so.
This hypothesis was advocated by the Chevalier Ramsay, and from him, it was adopted by the learned and eccentric Dr. Adam Clarke. There is little danger of its being advocated by any reflecting theologian. But it serves to show how heavily the doctrino of the Divine foreknowledge presses upon Arminianism.