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part is happened to Israel, until the fulness of the Gentiles be come in. As concerning the gospel, they are enemies for your sake, but as touching the election, they are beloved for the father's sake. God bath included them all in unbelief, that he might have mercy upon all.
Here is the real drift of the apostle's argument, wherein he speaks entirely of providential dispensations, exhibited in this life to whole nations, Ishmaelites, Edomites, Israelites, Egyptians, and the Gentiles of all countries ; by no means of individuals, but so far only as they were concerned with large communities of men.
Neither does he enter into the points of election to eternal life, or reprobation, any farther, than as the aforesaid dispensations may ultimately result in either.
From what hath been already said, both the possible and actual origin of moral evil may be sufficiently seen and accounted for. About this a number of questions by far more nice and difficult, than useful, have been started, and are still agitated among the over curious. The Fatalists have one hypothesis, the Manichees another, and there is a third, held by those who deny that there is any evil in the universe. The first have no meaning for their word, fate. The second assert a flat contradiction; and the third are refuted by fact, nothing being more evident to reason, than that there is abundance of moral evil in the world, nor to sense, than that punishment, or the miseries consequent upon sin, are far from eligible things. To say that more good may, or will be, made to result from sin, than could have been hoped for without it, is to say nothing, for evil is evil, let its consequences be as profitable as you please. Besides, it is a great deal more rational to say, that God brings good out of evil, than that evil is naturally productive of good.
The questions relating to Providence are more mysterious, and at the same time more useful, as well as more akin to the subjects we have been handling. The natural world hath been thought by many to be governed wholly by stated causes, from which their proper effects must invariably and necessarily proceed. I cannot accede to this opinion, but think it more probable, that these works of God continue still to require his supporting and directing hand. However, whether they naturally do or not, it is certain, that as they were made for the intelligent part of the creation, and in some measure put in subjection to it, they are, in smaller matters, changeable, and often actually changed, by angels and men, who, though they cannot alter the courses of the heavenly bodies, can nevertheless kindle or extinguish a fire, and that to very important purposes, whether good, as to warm themselves, or evil, as to burn others, and give to certain parts of matter a situation or adjustment, which the natural influence of causes, or course of things, had not otherwise given. But though this might be disputed, it must be confessed, that God could, and most men believe, did, suspend, counteract, and overpower, in many cases, the stated efficiency of natural causes, in favour of the moral world, when conviction, virtue, and happiness, could not have been so well produced, without this species of providential interposition.
It is this species of interposition, which we call a miracle, whereon the proof of a divine revelation, the greatest instance of providential goodness, known to mankind, hath been made chiefly to depend. Accordingly every Christian, in a brief summary of revelation, begins with declaring his faith in God, not only that he is,' but also, that he is a rewarder of them that diligently seek him, and a protector of all who depend on him. The creed as repeated by each of us in person, and for himself only, sets out with a profession of faith and trust in God, that is, in the particular, as well as general, providence of God. There is no one point more insisted on in the holy Scriptures, than this, nor more amply vouched by experience. All faith, all prayer, without it, must be reduced to downright absurdity and presumption. The history of the world, whether sacred or profane, if well understood, is a mixed history of God's dealings with man, and of their behaviour towards him and one another.
Laying this down, as a doctrine admitted, the question may be asked, in what manner, and how far, doth the Divine Being interfere with the liberty of moral agents? Or how is it possible, that his providence, and our freedom can consist?
The manner and the degree of providential interposition are placed so far above all possibility of human comprehension, that nothing more presumptuous, than such questions
· See Strong's Providential History of Mankind.
can be conceived. If the wisdom and goodness of God are acknowledged, let us not dare to dispute his power, but rather earnestly pray for the highest exercise of it, and say to him, “thy will be done.' Are we not infinitely safer in his hands, than our own? We however frequently see the manner and degree of providential interposition in particular instances, and by what means, and how far, the hand of our heavenly King is employed in raising up one man, or nation, and putting down another. This is enough for our conviction. Let us not therefore propose our how, or our why, to the King of kings, at least while we are modest enough to believe, an earthly king may govern wisely on maxims, and by reasons, which we do not see into.
Neither let us doubt the divine interference with the will of moral agents, and their actions, merely because we cannot comprehend the manner or degree of that interference. If our Judge will hold us to account only so far as he permits us to be free, we have no reason to impeach his justice. He will not judge us for his actions, but our own. The truths of his holy religion are revealed to us in order to deliver us from the slavery of error and sin. "You shall know the truth,' saith Christ to his disciples, and the truth shall make you free.' The unbelieving Jews, to whom he also said it, thought themselves free, without that truth; but he soon convicted them of slavery to sin, the worst sort of servility. Now, it was by the assistance of the Holy Spirit, that he promised to guide them into all truth, and through the truth, into the glorious liberty of the sons of God.' Does the grace of God then enslave us, or force our wills or actions ? No, it finds us miserable slaves, but gives us strength to exert and maintain that liberty, to which we are born as the children of God, whose service is perfect freedom. I know nothing of compulsory grace, nor of compulsory faith, but that of devils, who would be infidels, were not the causes of faith too powerful for their resistance. If there are men who are able to resist even its historical evidence, it is true, then, that there are men more blind, at least in this respect, if not worse in others, than devils.
God governs the world, which he made, and will judge it. His government is founded on infinite wisdom, sweetened by infinite goodness, and authorized by right of creation, and almighty power. This government I call his providence, to which I not only submit with my whole soul and heart, but rejoice in it as my sole anchor of safety, as well when I do not, as when I do understand the reasons for this or that dispensation. This deference, in a limited degree, I pay to the chief magistrate of that civil society, whereof I am a member; and know full well, that if it is not paid by me and others, there can be no civil society. For want of it, in this year, 1770, we are on the point of anarchy among ourselves, or of slavery to some foreign power. But is it not enough to conceive and utter rebellion against the state ? Must we also call in question the providence and government of God? In making these reflections I grow sick, while under that, which gives occasion to them, the nation sickens too, but without reflection.
Having delivered my sentiments, and finished the reasonings, on which they are grounded in my weak understanding ; I shall conclude with two or three observations.
There are men who conceitedly square every thing by the extent of their own capacities, which they are not apt to under-rate. As often as any two propositions do but seem to contradict each other, although each hath been demonstrably proved, the casuists I am speaking of, do not hesitate a moment to pronounce one of them false. This they do in regard to the doctrine of the Trinity. This they do in regard to the foreknowledge and decrees of God, on the one hand, and the moral freedom of man, on the other. Hence some, taking the side of foreknowledge and decrees, have denied the existence of created spirits, made mere machines and necessary agents of all men, and consequently ascribed their vices, as well as virtues, to God alone. Others, adopting the moral liberty of angels and men, have undeified the Infinite Being by limiting his knowledge, and charging him with the creation of a world, whereof he knew not the grand result. They do not consider these two propositions, God foreknew every thing, and, man is morally free, but as opposites; nor reflect, that although to a bounded understanding they may seem irreconcilable, yet in that of God they may most easily consist with each other. Hence a large book to prove the great truths of divine foreknowledge and predestination, and to run down the moral freedom of men and angels. Hence too another, as large, to prove the important truth of moral freedom in both these ranks of
agents, and to refute the doctrines of foreknowledge and predestination. In these times of more candour, I have ventured to assert and prove both those seemingly contradictory doctrines; and, for the sake of many good Christians, who have often, in conversation, put me on these subjects, and still remain bewildered, I have attempted to shew how far we may proceed towards a reconciliation of the great truths in question, and where we ought to rest our inquiries, as in points above our comprehension, which indeed every thing else is, if pursued beyond our abilities and wants.
Were we to climb up into the highest heavens, we should not be able to comprehend the mysteries of mercy, revealed in the work of our redemption and salvation, but still revealed as mysteries, to be partly known, and partly believed. Or were we to dive into the deepest hell, we should never be able to comprehend the mysteries of justice threatened, but still threatened as mysteries, in the punishment of the guilty, which we can only conceive in part, and believe
All true religion, rightly understood, takes its rise from predestination, rightly understood. On the part of God, what is true religion, but that immense plan, whereby, ere the world was made, he purposed to create and govern all things ? Every act of his providence, the paradisaical state, the first and second covenant, the judgment to come, were predetermined. These predeterminations, all of them just and good, were founded on infinite and perfect knowledge, which could not have been either infinite or perfect, if all was not perfectly and certainly foreseen. On the part of man, all true religion is founded on such knowledge of God and his will, as man can acquire, and on faith, where knowledge fails. To man too, as a necessary part of religion, a foreknowledge of such events as concern him most, is imparted; and on these two is erected the predestination or predetermination freely made in the breast of every Christian, to keep the covenant between God and his soul, to lead, as far forth as he is able, a new and holy life; and to stand issue at the last day for all the thoughts, words, and actions of that life. On these terms, as not only just, but good and gracious also, every believer freely embraces the covenant, in his judgment, an infinite and wholly undeserved benefit.