Images de page

with the wicked, whom he calls 'the vessels of wrath;' but why angry, if not for their wickedness, and abuse of his patience? Surely it could not have been the meaning of this saint, that God was angry with them for no reason, for nothing; and surely, if in sinning they had been necessary agents, and had only done, what they could not avoid doing, he must have been angry at them without cause or reason. On the other hand, why was he better pleased with such as are here called, 'vessels of mercy,' but because, having seen them well disposed to a free election of righteousness, he had, even ere he called them, prepared them by a portion of preventing grace, for the glory of that election, and of the high improvements in piety and virtue, to be made in them, as naturally consequent there to? If in pursuance of this reasoning, we conclude, that God, having foreseen the dispositions and actions of all men, did decree and predestinate, for the well-disposed, assistance sufficient to conform them with the image of his son; and decreed also, that the ill-disposed should not have the offer of this assistance, only to be slighted and abused; or, which is equally and perfectly just, should have predestinated them to the dishonour and misery, he foresaw, they would choose; we shall, I believe, safely rest in a great truth, consistent in itself, and perfectly consonant to infinite mercy in regard to the former, and infinite justice in regard to the latter. St. Paul sets forth predestination as the effect of foreknowledge, and under this position, as explanatory of his subsequent reasonings, proceeds to that passage, the more difficult part of which we have endeavoured to clear up by a short, but, I hope, satisfactory descant upon each.

God then, from all eternity foresaw, with certainty, the being, and actions, whether good or bad, of every man ; and from all eternity decreed or predestinated his fate, as to happiness and misery, disgrace or glory. It was long after this, that he entered on his work of creation, and after that again, but immediately, on the work of providential interposition. If therefore in the course of either work, or of both together, he hath formed some vessels to honour and some to dishonour, what hath St. Paul done more, than every other man must do, in justification of God's dealings with men? Most certainly every man must confess there

was in God a perfect foreknowledge of every thing; must consequently believe, that he prejudged every man; must be fully convinced, that he afterward peopled heaven with angels, and earth with men, among which orders of being some have voluntarily transgressed, and have inherited, or shall inherit, the punishment, previously threatened to their transgression. Must he not, to conclude, have therefore, either as Creator, or as the providential Governor of his works, made some vessels to dishonour, since, with absolute certainty, he foresaw both the actual existence, and obstinate impenitence in wickedness, of some, who had it in their power to adorn his creation with shining examples of piety and virtue? Hath he not then made some to dishonour, since, ere he made them, he perfectly foresaw what they were to be, and what they would actually do? We cannot possibly take the words of St. Paul in a more rigorous sense than this; yet nothing can be more clearly true, than this. Let him who dares, call the rectitude and justice of his Maker in question for it. The moral freedom of angels and men sufficiently accounts for the whole to my understanding. The truth is, God made them all upright, but they have sought out to themselves many inventions,' and made themselves wicked. God foreknowing this, nevertheless did give them being, and in that sense only, and so far only, is said to have made them to dishonour, but to a dishonour of their own choice. A man begets a son, gives him good instructions, and sets him a good example; is he to be blamed, if the youth proves a villain, and ends his days on the gallows, though the father, by begetting, may be said to have made him a vessel of dishonour, for had he not begotten him, he had never been either wicked or unhappy. I do not propose this as a parallel case, in any sense, but that of our apostle, to whose meaning, if I mistake not, it comes fully up.

The reasonings of the apostle, thus cleared respectively on the particular parts, that seem to require elucidation, may be briefly summed up in the following manner, beginning at the 29th verse of the 8th, and ending with the 33d of the 11th chapter. The candid, intelligent, and attentive reader will easily perceive, that in this short sketch I do justice to the drift of our apostle.

Whom God foreknew to be of good dispositions towards religious truth, towards faith and virtue, he predetermined to a resemblance of Christ in true holiness of life. These he called into his church; these he justified as partaking by faith the righteousness of Christ; and these he exalted into the glorious liberty of the sons of God. What shall we say then to these things? Why, we shall readily say, If God be for us, who shall be against us? He hath freely given his Son for us, and with him every thing we stand in need of, as his children adopted in Christ Jesus. Nothing therefore shall be able to separate us from our love of Christ, nor from the love which God bears to us as members of Christ.

As to the Jews, who are my brethren according to the flesh, I am in extreme pain for them, on account of their general unbelief, so great indeed, that I would willingly suffer any thing, even the second excommunication, or separation from Christ, though not a final nor total excision, if by that means I might bring them into his gospel, or render them objects of his mercy. However, they are not all infidels. There is a remnant or number of them, who, by the grace of God have embraced the gospel, and are brought within the terms of salvation. In regard therefore to the Jews, the word of God hath taken some effect. They are not, it is true, all Israelites, who are descended from Israel. The children, to whom the promise of God was given, are not to be reckoned according to the flesh, for the carnal minded are rather the enemies of God. This is no new thing, for it was just so in the days of Abraham and Isaac. The promise went in favour of Isaac, the son of Abraham by Sarah, and not in favour of Ishmael; and again in favour of Jacob, though the younger son of Isaac by Rebecca. These and their posterity, as children of the promise, were counted for the seed; and these as foreseen by God to be of proper dispositions, were beloved and chosen by him, ere they were born. Their brothers, foreseen too as unfit objects of divine preference, were hated or rejected, so as that the designation of a peculiar people, and the birth of the Messiah, by whom all the nations of the earth were to be blessed, were affixed to the line of Isaac and Jacob. God now, on account of this preference, unjust? No, for


surely he hath a right to bestow his unmerited favours on whom he will, and reject whom he will, especially as their personal merits and demerits respectively, were with certainty foreseen. As to demerits, the case of Ishmael and Esau may be well illustrated by that of Pharaoh, who blinded by himself, and hardened against the most glaring causes of conviction, was raised up to worldly power, and farther hardened, that God, in him, might shew the superiority of his own power over all kings, and their gods, in the sight of his people, and of all mankind. No doubt, Ishmael, Esau, and Pharaoh, with their will, would have wished for, and chosen a better lot, than that which fell to their share, though a great deal happier, at the worst, than they deserved. But their will was no rule with God, who saw farther, and schemed with infinitely higher wisdom and goodness, mercy, let me call it; for the best of them, on either side, had no right to claim any thing from God. If Isaac and Jacob were better men than their brothers, they were not good enough to bring in God as their debtor for any thing. It may be here objected, why did God find fault with Ishmael, Esau, and Pharaoh, since they did not in any thing resist his will? And it may be as easily answered, that they did resist his will, or they had been better men than they were. It may be also asked of the objector, whence he conceived the impious boldness to arraign the dispensations of Providence, who hath surely as much right to choose out of mankind, whom he shall raise to honour, or throw into disgrace, as a potter hath to make, out of the same lump of clay, one utensil for a higher, and another for a lower purpose, all mankind being his own property. This is allowed to a potter who cannot distinguish any part of his clay as finer than another; but undoubtedly much greater is the right of God over men, whose comparative fitness or unfitness, for any purpose, he can distinguish with infinite exactness. But if God was willing to shew his wrath to, and his power over, a worse kind of men, and did, for that end, exalt the one and debase the other, in the place of infidel Jews, adopting the believing Gentiles, what shall we say to it, but that the Gentiles were preferred, on account of their faith to the Jews, who went about presumptuously to establish their own righteousness by the works

of the law? Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to every one that believeth in him, and shall confess with the mouth that God hath raised him up from the dead. This man shall be saved. There is no difference made by God, under the Christian dispensation, between Jew and Greek, for the same God is Lord of both. Whosoever shall call upon the name of the Lord, be his country and nation what it will, shall be saved; but indeed this calling upon the Lord is not to be expected from such as know not the Lord. But who are they who have not had an opportunity of knowing him? Is not the sound of his preachers gone out into all the earth, and their words unto the ends of the world? But if other nations may apologize for their want of faith by their ignorance, the Jews at least can have no pretence to such excuse, who have apostatized from their own prophecies, and resisted the evidence of miracles. Hath God then cast away his own people? No, none of those whom he foreknew as his, but hath reserved a remnant to himself, according to the election of grace. These he foreknew, he chose, he called, he sanctified. Thus he hath dealt with them, and they are thankful for it, as men who did not deserve it, though they were qualified to receive it, and as fully sensible, that it is the effect of God's free grace and mercy. Israel then at large hath not obtained that which he is in search of, but only the remnant, the election. As to the rest, they were blinded, and God gave them, pursuant to their own perverse choice, a spirit of slumber, with eyes, that they should not see, and ears that they should not hear, unto this day. They hardened themselves in pride and worldly-mindedness against all opportunities of conviction. They rejected the truth. They crucified the Lord of life. On this, that they might continue to give the testimony of enemies to Christianity, they were farther so blinded and hardened, that, with their eyes open, they could not see the light of the gospel; with their ears open, they could not hear its loud and powerful sound. In this condition, they are still of signal service to the Gentile world, and shall be more so, when God shall open their eyes, and call them by faith into his church. This, after all I have said on the subject, must still be a mystery, of which, as such, you ought not to be ignorant, that blindness in

« PrécédentContinuer »