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CONCERNING THE DIVINE DECREES IN GENERAL, AND ELECTION
ġ l. Whether God has decreed all things that ever came to pass or not, all that own the being of a God, own that he knows all things beforehand. Now, it is self-evident, that if he knows all things beforehand, he either doth approve of them, or he doth not approve of them; that is, he either is willing they should be, or he is not willing they should be. But to will that they should be, is to decree them.*
* Were the true ORIGIN of moral evil, that is, the adequate reason of its taking place as a consequence, more generally known, there would be less un. profitable disputing about the divine decrees in general, and about predestination and election in particular. It is to the want of this knowledge, that we must ascribe many things advanced by ancient as well as modern writers, who, in other important respects, are truly valuable and judicious. Our excellent author appears never less at home, than when he touches upon those points which are immediately connected with that knowledge; and his reasoning in the short section to which this note refers, is a striking specimen. The couciusion he draws, is true in one sense, but not in another. It is applicable only to real entities, while it does not affect negative causations, and consequences flowing from them. That God knows beforehand” all things, (whether of a positive or negative kind,) is an important truth; but things coming to pass, or not coming to pass, is no proper criterion of his “approving" or not approving them.” He may approve of what does not come to pass, and he may not approve of what does. He approves of all possible excellencies, and he disapproves of all possible moral evil. But who will say that there are as many excellencies among creatures, or as much moral evil, as it is possible there might be ?
When it is said, "he either is willing they should be, or be is not willing they should be," the terms require a distinction, apu the sentiment an explanation. If by "they,” or “things,” be meant real entities, it is very proper to say, that "God is either willing they should be, or not willing they should be;" and, if the former, they must exist from his will, and, therefore, are decreed; but, if the latter, they must not exist, for there is no other adequate cause of their existence. But this reasoning is not valid when applied to negations and defects. For there are multitudes of things, (as all failings, wants, and negative considerations,) concerning which there is no decretive will exercised for their existence, (if existence it may be called,) nor yet any contrary will to prevent their existence. What intelligent person can suppose, for instance, that a mathematical point, a relative nothing was decreed either to be, or not to be ? and yet, when it stanus related to real entities, which are decreed, what innumerable demonstrative consequences follow from it?
By whomsoever sanctioned, it is an erroneous notion, that a decretive will is implied in, or is at all requisite for the production of a negative cause. It is not less erroneous, than to suppose, that negative causes may produce real entities. That the latter is an erroneous notion, may be easily made to appear. Millions of inhabited systems are among possible effects, but who would say that there must be a decretive will, or any will, to prevent their existence?-$ 2. The Arminians ridicule the distinction between the secret and revealed will of God, or, more properly expressed, the distinction between the decree and law of God; because
Would they start into being of themselves, if not prevented by an act of will?To suppose that an exercise of divine will is requisite for confirming the negative consideration of their non-existence, is an absurd idea, except these ideal possibles had an inherent tendency towards actual existence of themselves, And, as there is no will requisite to prevent their existence, so neither is there any required to continue their non-existence. But though a negative cause, like a Mathematical point, be a relative nothing, yet on the supposition of existing free agents, in given circumstances, millions of sins would come to pass, more than do in fact, were they not prerented by a counteracting will.
This counteraction is very properly termed " restraining, or preventing grace ;” for the object of a decree which counteracts evil, is the positive existence of an opposite good. And, if moral evil be the object of prevention, it must be prevented by divine gracious will and influence, which counteracts the operation of that negative principle in the agent, from which the moral evil takes its origin.Therefore, our author's conclusion, " to will that they should be, is to decree them,” applies only to one sort of "things," vis. real entities; but negative considerations, defects, and moral evils, no more imply a decree concerning their causation, and their appropriate consequences, than does absolute non-existence imply it.
The true notion of moral evil, or the sinfulness of a free act, is the absence or the want of conformity to rectilude. And if God were the decretive cause of moral evil, by “ willing it should be,” the will of the agent would be only the instrument of the first will in producing an intended or decreed event. But if such event be decreed, and if there he no cause of failure in the agent but what is decreed, it is impossible to avoid the consequence that God is the primary author of sin. And how could he hate and blame the effect of his own causation, any more than he hates natural evils, or blames volcanoes and storms, diseases and death ? Hei: never said, or even supposed, to hate or blame these, because he is the primary source of them, according to established laws and instruments of his own appointment. If moral evil were decreed by him, he must be the efficient of it: for, whatever he decrees, he effects; and, notwithstanding any kind, whatever, of instrumentality in its production--the human will or any thing else--he could no more disapprove of it, than he does of lightuing and earthquakes.
But if "willing they should be” denote, nol exercising a will to prevent moral evils, the expression is inappropriate, and implies a contradiction. For a decree implies the exercise of will; but not exercising a preventing will (by which alone the event can be arrested.) is an idea directly contrary; and the two ideas are absolutely incompatible. The same intelligent cause, indeed, may produce effects different from itself; and this must be the case, as cause and effect cannot be identified, (for identity is that which excludes difference) but the same intelligent cause cannot produce effects contrary to itself. All the decrees of God are holy, like himself; but to suppose a decree of moral evil, is to suppose an effect contrary to its cause, which is to suppose incompatible ideas to be a truth. The intervention of a secondary. will make no real difference, if there be not another cause of failure in the act, totally different from decretive will.
But is there any adequate cause, or sufficient reason, of the consequence, why moral evil takes place, if we exclude a divine decree of it? Most assuredly there is; as sure as all the decrees of God, and the exercise of those decrees, are holy; and, as sure as moral evil is an effect which he blames and infinitely hates. And this cause is of such a nature, that if God decrees one kind of good, but not another also, moral evil is certain to follow. That is, if he decree the existence of an active will, in perfect liberty from constraint to evil, together with a variety of objects, all of which are good in themselves; but at the same time, has not decreed preserving grace--a continued, holy influence, enlightening
we say he may decree one thing, and command another. And so, they argue, we hold a contrariety in God, as if one will of his contradicted another. However, if they will call this a
and purifying the mind-the intellect will be certain, (as chance is out of the question.) to give a defective representation of good, because it is necessarily connected with the source of failure, viz. comparative detect, and, therefore, the want of infallibility. If the choice be right and virtuous, it is the infallible index of two good things decreed, the natural ac', and a holy principle in the heart, which is the source of moral actions. If the choice be wrong and vicious, · it is, also, an infallible index of two things, the natural act which is good, and, therefore, decreed, and a principle of limitation and failure, which neither is, nor can be, an object of decree. This negative principle in fallen angels and men, is intimately connected and intermixed with moral depravity, yet in itself, abstractedly considered, it is not sinful, but is the cause of all sinfulness It is an esseutial property of creatures in every state of their existence, and, therefore, cannot be in itself sinful; nor is it possible for any thing sinful, to be the origin of sin, for then sin would be the origin of itself, or self-exietent, which is infinitely absurd. How can the same thing be both before and after itself?
Here it may be asked. if the origin of moral evil be not itself sinful, why may not God be its origin? The reason is plain, because God is absolute perfection, and has not in him a principle of defection, and therefore it is impossible for him to in part what he has not. He can no more impart imperfection, than he can impart falsehood. Why is he a God that cannot lie? Becaue he is absolute truth. Why cannot he impart imperfection, or decree sinfulness? Because he is absolute goodness and holiness. But though that principle which is the origin of sin is not sinful, it is not a perfection, in any sense, but a relative defect. This is its real character, and such character must necessarily be the origin of moral evil. Were it sinful, it could not be the cause of sin, for this wouid be absurdly to identify the cause and the effect, or to ascribe to imperfection, the perfection of self existence. And were it a perfection, or something that was not an imperfection, the effect would be contrary to the tendency of its cause, which would be to subvert the first principles of knowledge, reason, and truth.
Moral evil, which is the sinfulness of a free act, is a defect, a failure of conformity to rectitude, and therefore, though a socrce of misery to the subject of it, (a misery generated by the defect itself.) it can no moře be caused by the divine will, than pure nibility, or a mathematical point, can be so caused. The entity of the free act is indeed effected by divine will and energy, operating on a secondary cause, but this constitutes no part of its defect, its failure of conformity, or sinfulness. Thus the very nature of sin proves that the divine will neither is, nor can possibly be, the cause of it. To suppose that God decrees, or any way wills a defect, or a failure of perfection of any kind, is even more absurd than to suppose that he decrees mere nihility ; because it involves more absurd consequences, when compared with his declared opposition to sin. Though he counteracts nihility by actual creation, and providential preservation, it is no object of blame, or holy batred, as moral evil is.
As the point under discussion, though deep, is far from being a mere speculation which has no practical advantage-but has an extensive influence on many important theological subjects, and on the rational ground of experimental religion--it may be advantageous to view it in different lights. Still, it may be asked by some, if moral evil does not take place because God wills it should be,” whence does it originate ? It may be replied, its immediate origination is a moral agent's abuse of his free will, or of his will acting freely, without restraint from good, or constraint to evil. But the question still returns, What is the ultimate cause of that abuse? Every one must allow, that, as an effect, it must have some cause, come adequate reason why it takes place in a moral system; and it must be further allowed, that this cannot be chance, or absolute contingence, for then there would be no ground of its being foreknown. To foreknow what is in itself uncertain, is a direct contradiction; and a contradictory position cannot be an object of foreknowledge,
contradiction of wills, we know that there is such a thing : so that it is the greatest absurdity to dispute about it. We and they know it was God's secret will, that Abraham should not
because it cannot be an object of any knowledge, except as a falsehood. To attempt an evasion of this argument, by recurring to the infinitude of the divine knowledge, is a weak subterfuge ; for, if any thing be in itself uncertain, the more perfect the knowledge is, the more perfectly it is known to be uncertain What is contingent with respect to us. is only relatively so, because our knowledge is limited; but with respect to God, whose understanding is infinite, there is nothing contingent; that 19, there is no absolute contingence, or mere chance, in the nature of things. There diust, therefore, of necessity, be an origin of moral evil, which is certainly foreknown, or foreknown as a certain fact. And it has been proved that it is not, and that it cannot pos. sibly be, divinely caused; it must, therefore, originate in the creature, and in something of which he is the subject, which is pot an object of divine causation.
It may still be objected, Is there any thing in a creature, as such, which is not divineiy caused ? If, by thing," be meant, what has positive existence, there certainly is not; but, in another sense, there certainly is, otherwise there would be a creature without any relative defect, compared with the Creator. If he has no defect or imperfection of any kind, then the Creator and the creature must necessarily be identified. For what can constitute the difference between a caused and an uncaused being, if not the absolute perfection of the latter, and the comparative imperfection of the former? And this comparative imperfection cannot be sinful, otherwise there could be no creature without sin, which is absurd in thought, and contrary to revealed facts. This relative defect, which constitutes an essential difference between a derived and an underived existence, is an adequate (and indeed the only possible) origin of moral evil; but it is, however, only hypothetical, that is, on supposition, that there is no decreed operation of a contrary principle, to prevent the occurrence of moral evil as a cousequence. And there can be po doubt, that God actually does, in millions of instances, “ overcome this evil with good,” in preventing the inhabitants of this world from being worse than they are. That interrogation, “ Who hath made thee to differ from another?" is full of important meaning. It iaplies a strong affirmation, that God alone makes any man to differ for the belter from another, and that no one has any excellency, either natural or spiritual, but what is a divine gift. But, on the other hand, the agent alone makes himself to differ for the worse, whether from others, or trom his former self, otherwise he could not be the object of divine displeasure and blame. It is not, however, the cause of sin that is the object of blame and displeasure in the exercise of holy government, but the sin itself, and the person who commits it.
It is of little moment, by what words, or in what language, this essential principle is expressed : whether by passive power, (perhaps the most significant and convenient as a technical term,) con parative imperfection, the evil of imperfect existence, metaphysical evil, the want of ulterior perfection, an essential tendency to detection, &c.; the thing itself, as possessing a relative influence in the demonstrations of moral science, is absolutely certain. If we reject it, nothing in morality can possibly be the subject of scientific demonstration, any more than in geometry, any proposition can be demonstrated if we reject that relative nothing, a mathematical point, which is implied in every diagram. But, if we admit it, there is nothing important in moral science but is capable of being reduced to rigid and fair Jemonstration. It should, how ever, be carefully remembered, that though it 19 an adequate reason of the event, and is the only ultimate origin of moral evil as the consequence, it is suspended on this condition, "If the all-sufficient first cause do not communicate to the agent's mind a supporting holy influence.” Grant the agent (that is, a created, und, therefore, a dependant agent,) active powers and freedom, (that is, freedom from decretive constraint to an evil choice, and from restraint as te a good choice,) and nothing but sovereign or arbitrary goodness can, in the na.
sacritice his son Isaac; but yet his command was, that he should do it.
§ 3. It is most certain, that if there are any things so contingent, that there is an equal possibility of their being, or not being, so that they may be, or they may not be ; God foreknows, from all eternity, that they may be, and also, that they may not be.
All will grant, that we need no revelation to teach us this. And furthermore, if God knows all things that are to come to pass, he also foreknows whether those contingent things are to come to pass or no, at the same time that they are contingent, and that they may, or may not come to pass. But what a contradiction is it to say, that God knows a thing will come to pass, and yet at the same time knows that it is contingent whether it will come to pass or no; that is, he certainly
knows it will come to pass, and yet certainly knows it may not come to pass ? What a contradiction is it to say, that God certainly foreknew that Judas would betray his master, or Peter deny him, and yet certainly knew that it might be otherwise, or certainly knew that he might be deceived? I
ture of things, (that is, in the nature of God and of the creature.) prevent the consequence, moral evil. What an argument for godly fear, profound humility, and constant depeаdence on God all-sufficient; and what a proof of our need of gracious influence, (even abstracted from the additional consideration of our sinful apostacy,) to keep us from sin; and considered as a postate creatures, what a powerful recommendation of a life of prayer, and the gospel system of salvation !
COROLLARIES. 1. Hence we may see that a decree of good does not imply a decree of evilpredestination to life, does not imply predestination to death-in other words, that a decree of election, does not imply a decree of reprobation, as maintained by some of the reformers. The 17th article of the church of England steers clear of this dangerous rock.
2. Since all the disputes between Calvinists and Arminians, are founded in differing notions about the divine decrees and free will, and since these differing notions are thoroughly removed by a right knowledge of the origin of moral evil, which is capable of demonstrative evidence-we may inser, that in proportion as Calvinists and Arminians are capable of estimating absolute demonstration, their disagreement will be annihilated—and that nothing but ignorance and prejudice can prevent their harmonious coalition. O happy period, when all God's people shall “see eye to eye!”—Let the Calvinist, from full conviction, assure his opponent, that God decrees only good, whether natural, moral, or spiritual; but in no sense, whatever, decrees, or any way wills moral evil-let him further state, that the origin, or cause of moral evil, is in the creature in such a manner, as to be neither created nor willed by the author of our being, but yet is inseparably related to our existence-and let him further insist, that God could, if he saw it best, prevent by his grace the commission of sin, in every possible instance, while he leaves the human will perfectly freeand that to him alone we should look for assistance to enable us to avoid sin, as well as for pardon and acceptance-firmly persuaded of these things, on the clearest ground of evidence, let him invite his opponent to give him the right hand of fellowship-if
, after all, the Arminian draws back, he must, in the view of every intelligent mind, appear either profoundly ignorant, or most unreasonably bigotted. In this case, though not blameless, he should be the subs ject of pity and of prayer.-W. Vol. VII.