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They concur in will and operation, and of course, their agency is co-extensive. How far it extends is determined by the apostle in another place, where he represents the Son as “ upholding all things by the word of his power.” Heb. 1:3. All things, therefore, are the objects to which the Divine acts extend, and about which they are employed-examine also Dan. 4:34,35. Ps. 135: 6. Acts 17:25,26,28. Job 38-39-40-41. Matthew 10:29— 31. 6:26,30,
Indeed unless we admit the universality of God's providential acts, we shall find it difficult to maintain that they extend to anything. For the same arguments which would prove that any one thing might exist and operate without providential agency or control, would prove that all might: and thus an universal independency would be introduced into creation, totally subversive of the dominion of God, and incompatible with all just conceptions of the relations existing between creatures and their Creator. Few, however, I presume, are prepared to adopt this Atheistical absurdity, and withdraw our world and the universe from the dominion of Him who ruleth in the heavens.
I am aware that some who do not reject the providence of God altogether, tell us that when God created the universe, he impressed on it general laws for its government, and that these laws are amply sufficient to that end, without any particular and continued
of God. That there are what are called laws of nature, I do not feel inclined to deny. But if these laws can operate without any agency of God, then they are independent of God. And if they are independent of God, they must have been so in the first moment of their existence. For that which is dependent in the first moment of its existence, must be so in the second, and the third, and so on as long as its existence is continued; as it is evident that no lapse of time or series of operations, can change the essential character of a dependent being, and clothe it with the attributes of independence. If therefore, the laws of nature were independent in the first moment of their existence, they must have been self-existent; for it is contrary to all correct notions of God, to assert that he could create a being independent of himself. But to affirm self-existence of the laws of nature, is to place them on an equality with God. It is to make them very God. This is the obvious and necessary result of maintaining that the laws of nature operate in the government of the universe, without any agency of the Creator. The scheme, therefore, which involves such impious absurdities cannot be true, but must be rejected as contrary to the word of God, and the established principles of all sound philosophy.
Allowing, therefore, the infallible correctness of the Apostle's language and doctrine, that God " worketh all things;” I proceed to remark, that what is true in this respect of the divine acts, is true of the divine purposes. For the Apostle affirms that he " worketh all things after the
counsel of his ain will.” God acts according to a fixed plan. For, “known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world.” Acts 15:18. The operations of his providence, are only the evolutions of his purposes or decrees. The providence of God, therefore, being universal, his purposes must also be universal. His acts cannot be more extensive than his purposes of action. The one being universal, the other must be so too. For it cannot be endured for a moment, that an infinitely wise God should act without settled purposes, and that all the results of his providential agency should be fortuitous and contingent.
The declaration of the Westminster Catechism, that God "hath fore-ordained whatsoever comes to pass,” seems to be fairly sustained by this view of the text. If in the administration of the divine government there be any thing about which providential agency is not concerned, then there is something respecting which there is no purpose. But if the providence of God extends to all things, then all are the objects of divine decrees. For God “worketh all things, after the counsel of his own will."
Some explanation may be necessary here to avoid misapprehension. While it is asserted and believed that the decrees of God are universal, it is not maintained that they extend to all things in the same manner. There is a difference in relation to different objects. With regard to sinful actions, for example, the purposes of God are not concerned about them, in the same manner in which they are about holy actions. In holy actions God works by an immediate divine agency in their production. "For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus unto good works.” Eph. 2:10, “Put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness." Eph. 4:24. Now, creation is a work of God which necessarily involves an exertion of divine power in its production. To such power, therefore, these "good works," and that "righteousness and true holiness" to which men are created by the Spirit of God, must be ascribed as the efficient cause,
But we cannot say that God thus creates sinful actions. He is not the efficient cause or author of sin, in the same manner in which he is of holiness. “ Let no man say when he is tempted, I am tempted of God: for God cannot be iempted with evil, neither tempteth' he any man: but every man is tempted when he is drawn away of his own lust and enticed.” James 1:13,14. But while it is thus certainly true that God is not the efficient author of sin, still both the agency and purposes of God extend in some form or other to sinful actions. “For of a truth against thy holy child Jesus, whom thou hast anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles, and the people of Israel, were gathered together, for to do whatsoever thy hand and thy counsel determined before to be done." Acts 4:27,28. “Him being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain.” Acts 2:23. Now the crucifixion of Christ which is referred to in these passages, was evidently a sinful act; yet it took place “by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God." In its accomplishment, the human agents concerned, did what God's " hand and counsel determined before to be done." Still God was not the author of the sin involved in that transaction. This is pointedly charged upon others. “Him-ye have taken and by wicked hands have crucified and slain."
As then, we have the revealed fact, that the purpose of God does extend to sinful actions, and yet that he is not the author of the guilt involved in these actions, we are obliged to believe that there is a difference in the manner in which he decrees acts which are sinful and those which are holy. The decrees of God in relation to these sinful acts, have been usually called permis. sive. Whatever exceptions have been taken to this term, it appears to us certain, that God does permit such actions, or they would not take place. If committed contrary to his permission, it would seem to imply a want of power to prevent or control them. They would possess an independency of character, which would place them beyond the restraints of Omnipotence. And if such be the fact, that God does permit sinful actions, I cannot see that there is either contradiction or absurdity, in saying that he decreed to permit them.
We arrive, then, at this result: that the purposes of God extend to all things, but not in the same manner. To holy actions they extend, so that he is their author, or originating cause: to sinful actions, so as not to incur their guilt, or make him their author. If you
ask me, how can this be? I answer frankly, I do not. know. Nor am I concerned to explain how it can be-It is enough for me that the fact is revealed. I would not be wise above what is written. And I have no doubt, but one great cause of the difficulties connected with the treatment of this sub ject is, that men attempt to explain what cannot be explained.
Let us take things as they are stated in the word of God, and cease to go beyond our depth, and we shall less frequently “ darken counsel by words without knowledge."
And here, I would dispose of another difficulty in the same way. I refer to the common objection against the doctrine of God's decrees, that it is destructive of human liberty. To this I reply, by saying that both are revealed, that is, the purposes of God, and the free agency of man. How they consist, I am not concerned to explain. The fact, that they do so, is evident. The Jews and others who were concerned in the crucifixion of the Saviour, acted freely. This none will deny. At the same time, they acted in exact accordance with the “ determinate counsel of God,” though they intended it not. Now, the reason of this complex fact, involving the fixedness of the divine purpose, and the entire freedom of the human will, is not explained, and we must content to take it as it stands in the word of God. The certainty of the event, arising out of the decree of God, destroyed neither the accountability nor the liberty of those engaged in this transaction. These remained free from all encroachment, while the counsel of the Lord stood firm and received its full accomplishment. Why, then, in the view of this fact, should men so positively assert that the decrees of God are destructive of human liberty? Is it certain that the decrees of God, and the liberty of man cannot consist, because the narrow intellects of men cannot comprehend or explain how these things can be! A proper degree of reverence for God's word will teach us to bow to its decisions, though we may not be able to fathom all their incomprehensible depths.
In addition to the universality of the divine decrees, it may be remarked here that they are eternal, holy, just, wise, absolute, unchangeable and sovereign. Various scriptures assign to them these attributes. The apostle Paul expressly mentions "the eternal purpose" of God. Eph. 3:11, also 1:4. Their holiness, justice and wisdom, are fairly deducible from these attributes in the divine nature. Examine the following texts in this connection, Rom. 11:33, Eph. 3:10, Rev. 15:3,4. Their absolute character is indicated in Romans 9:188.8.131.52. They are also unchangeable. “I am the Lord, I change not.” Mal. 3:6. With God there is no variableness, neither shadow of turning." Jas. 1:17. “ The gifts and calling of God are without repentance." Rom. 2:29. Heb. 6:17. Their sovereignty is often referred to. " In that hour Jesus rejoiced in spirit, and said, I thank thee, O Father, Lord of heaven and earth, that thou hast hid these things from the wise and prudent, and hast revealed them unto babes. even so, Father; for so it seemed good in thy sight.” Luke 10:21. Matth. 2:25,26. " He doeth according to his will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand, or say unto him, what doest thou?” Dan. 4:35. See, also, Ps. 135:6. At these particulars, however, we can only glance. I proceed, therefore, to notice,
II. THE DECREE OF ELECTION, particularly as it relates to men. “By the decree of God, for the manifestation of his glory, some men are predestinated unto everlasting life." Con. of Faith. templating all men as fallen, God, "out of his mere free grace alone,” determined to rescue some from destruction, and exalt them to glory. This election and predestination of men to eternal life, is taught in many places in the holy scriptures. Thus in the text, Paul and others are said to be " predestinated” to the inheritance which they had obtained-also, in Romans 8:29, “ Whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate," &c. The same is taught in Eph. 1:4, “according as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world." Believers are also said to be called, “ according to the purpose of God.” Rom. 8:28. Certain distinctions are made between man and man, " that the purpose of God according to election might stand.” Rom. 9:11. Hence the apostle, speaking on this subject, says, “ the election hath obtained it.” “ So then, it is not of him that willeth, nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy.” “ For he saith to Moses, I will have mercy on whom I will have mercy, and I will have compassion on whom I will have compassion.” Rom. 11:7. 9:15,16. The following scriptures are full to the same purpose; Rom. 9: 22,23. 2. Tim. 1:9. 1 Thess. 5:9. 2 Thess. 2:13. Indeed the apostle Paul enters into an elaborate argument, in the ninth and eleventh chapters of the Romans, to prove this very doctrine. And it is difficult to conceive how any one can read Paul's epistles with but a small degree of attention, without meeting with this doctrine on almost every page.
The doctrine of the predestination of men to eternal glory, embraces the means, as well as the end. So it is stated in our Confession of Faith. “As God hath appointed the elect unto glory, so he hath, by the eternal and most free purpose of his will, foreordained at the means thereunto." Chap. III, $ 6. This is evidently the scriptural, view of the subject. For the scriptures no where encourage the belief that men are appointed absolutely to eternal glory in heaven, without any regard to holiness of character and conduct. On the contrary, they always include in the appointment of God, the means of salvation, and the qualifications for its enjoyment, as well as ultimate salvation