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part of the Epistle, that interpretation of the ix. ch. which refers “ the purpose of God according to election,” (ver. 11 et seq.) to an unconditional election of individuals to eternal life, seems to be wholly irreconcileable : whereas that, which refers it to an appointment, free and unconditional, to the participation of privileges, not only comports well with the general design of the Epistle, but makes the latter part of it a continuation of the former, and a completion of the design, that prevails in the whole preceding part.
This appears again not less clearly, when we come to a separate examination of the passage itself.
The first instance mentioned of the accomplishment of “ the purpose of God according to election,” is that of the appointment of Isaac, and pretermission of Ishmael and the other children of Abraham. But what purpose of God was accomplished by this ? Not the salvation of Isaac, but the fulfilment of the promise to Abraham in the whole series of dispensations for promoting the knowledge of God and true religion in the world; and especially in raising up one from among his descendants, in whom “ all the families of the earth were to be blessed."
The next instance, is the choice of Jacob in preference to Esau, a choice which preceded their birth, and could therefore have no respect to their good or ill desert. And this, the whole reasoning of the Apostle assures us, is applied, not to Jacob personally, but to the race descending from him ; and not to them in their personal character, but solely to their designation, as a people, to a certain part in accomplishing the great purposes of heaven.
In this appointment, the same free, sovereign, uncontrouled will was exercised, which is seen in the appointment of all the other circumstances, which make up the state of trial of every human being. It is “ the power of the potter over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel to honour, and another to dishonour.” Upon this interpretation there is room for the appeal, (ver. 20) “ shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, why hast thou made me thus ?” Upon that interpretation, which supposes a reference to the final lot of individuals as determined by a decree that has no respect to different desert, the appeal could not be sustained.
In each of these cases we perceive a peculiar propriety in the expressions, which the Apostle applies by way of reflection, (ver. 16) “ So then it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy. It was the wish of Abraham, that the blessing might be given to his eldest son Ishmael. It was the desire of Isaac, that it should descend with his eldest son Esau. But the will of neither of them was permitted to prevail ; nor yet the prompt obedience of Esau, by which he hoped to secure it to himself.
I am ready to admit, with Dr. Woods, that this reflection of the Apostle implies a general principle; but it is a principle to be applied to similar cases only, not those that are dissimilar. Now similar cases are those and those only, which relate to privileges, opportunities,
blessings, which are disciplinary in their design, temporal in their duration, and make a part of human probation. That which relates directly to final salvation is dissimilar, and the same principle is not to be applied.
The case of Pharaoh is as little to the purpose as either of the others. For when it is said, (ver. 17) “For this same purpose I have raised thee up, that I might shew my power in thee, and that my name might be declared throughout all the earth ;" whether by the phrase, raised thee up, be meant, as some suppose, his recovery from the effects of the preceding plague, which had been inflicted on his person and his people ; or as others understand it, his being exalted to high power, and placed in a situation to act so important a part; in either case, there will be no reference to his final personal destiny. For how did God actually show his power in him, and make him the instrument of his glory? It was by giving him the opportunity to act out his character, by allowing full scope for displaying the incorrigible obstinacy of his disposition, and by then inflicting upon him exemplary punishment, for the instruction and warning of mankind ; thus making him the instrument of promoting some of the best purposes of heaven, in the free and voluntary exercise of his power.
. I should have passed by what is said (p. 72) on the doctrine of Reprobation, as expressing no other sentiment than what all Unitarians, as I believe, hold on the subject, but that I think it calculated (unintentionally I am persuaded as respects the writer) to mislead the reader, as to the opinions of the Orthodox on that point. Dr. Woods has in fact given us, not as he professes to do, the doctrine of the Orthodox, as to the decree of Reprobation ; but only his opinion of the character of the doctrine. He says, “it is the determination of God to punish disobedient subjects for their sins, and according to their deserts.” Now this, I observe, is not a statement of the orthodox doctrine, but his opinion of the character of that doctrine. What it belongs to him to state and defend is, not an opinion upon the subject, which he holds in common with all Christians, but that, by which the system he defends is distinguished from others. That opinion I will now state in the language of one of the most approved symbols of Calvinistic faith ; and it is such as follows very clearly from his own statement of the counterpart of the doctrine. " The rest of mankind," i. e. all but the elect," God was pleased, according to the unsearchable counsel of his own will, whereby he extendeth or withholdeth mercy as he pleaseth, for the glory of his sovereign power over his creatures, to pass by, and to ordain them to dishonour and wrath for their sin, to the praise of his glorious justice.” Again, “ Others, not elected, though they may be called by the ministers of the word, and may have some common operations of the spirit, yet they never truly come to Christ, and therefore cannot be saved ; much less can men, not professing the Christian religion, be saved in any other way whatsoever, be they never so diligent to frame their lives according to the light of nature, and
the law of that religion, which they do profess: and to assert and maintain that they may, is very pernicious, and to be detested." (Westminster Confession.)
I am very willing to believe that the doctrine, as thus stated in the orthodox confessions, does not make a part of Dr. Woods' faith ; though I am unable to perceive with what consistency he can reject it, while he retains the other parts of the system that are connected with it.
If the doctrines of original hereditary depravity, absolute personal election, effectual calling, and special irresistible grace be true; that of reprobation, as stated above, follows of course, and must be true also. Whether it be that Dr. Woods, with a fair and inquiring mind, actually shrinks from this doctrine, because he finds it cannot be defended consistently with the moral character of God : or only thinks it desirable to keep out of view a feature of Calvinism, which shocks our moral feelings more than any other; in either case, I deem it an auspicious circumstance, a favourable omen.
Men will not long continue to hold an opinion, after it has got to cause a painful struggle with their moral feelings, such as to dispose them to endeavour to keep it out of sight. They will not suffer themselves to be long encumbered with that, which they are unable to defend or unwilling to avow. Besides this, it cannot fail to open the eyes of men to the difficulties of the other parts of the system, which are intimately connected with this, which necessarily flow from it, and are in fact no better supported by Scripture nor by reason than this.