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EXAMINATION OF THE EPISTLE
In your Epistle to the Reader, you lay down two fundamental principles, on which this doctrine of Predestination and Divine Grace, can and must be built. The first is "the written word of God;" the second "the common ideas, and the principles which God has infused into the minds of men," I have no opposition to make at this point, only let this be added, that, when, on account of the darkness of our minds, and the weakness and diversity of the human judgment (which you regret), it is not possible for us to agree concerning these matters, we must recur, for definite and final decision, to that which is first and equivalent to all other things—the word of God.
Of the first principle, laid down by you, I remark that it is true; but care must be used, lest any thing, which is not in accordance with human judgment, should be attributed to God, and defended as just, on the consideration that it is declared to be unjust by corrupt human judgment; unless it can be made clear, by a conclusive argument, that it is suitably ascribed to the Deity. For, it is sufficient, for the sake of referring any action or work to God, to say that He has justly performed it; though, from the antecedent, God has done this, will follow, of necessity, the consequent, therefore, it is just.
Of the second; -- I concede that it is true. For He is the first cause, and the cause of causes, who, from the foreseen free act of rational creatures, takes occasion to make any decree, and to establish a certain order in events; which decree He would not have made, and which order He would not have established, if the free second causes had acted otherwise. The Apostle says, "the creature was made subject to vanity, not willingly, but by reason of Him who hath subjected the same," (Rom. viii. 20.) To this vanity the creature would not have been subjected, if he, for whose sake it was created by God, had remained in his original integrity. The decree, in reference to sending Christ into the world, depends on the foresight of the fall; for he is "the Lamb of God, which taketh away the sin of the world," (John i. 29.) He "was made a little lower than the angels, for the suffering of death," (Heb. ii. 9); "as the children are partakers of flesh and blood, he also himself likewise took part of the same; that through death he might destroy him that had the power of death, that is, the devil," (Heb. ii. 14.) He was constituted a "high priest, ordained for men, that he might offer both gifts and sacrifices for sins," (Heb. v. 1.) The decrees of God, by which He ordains to punish His creatures, are universally on this principle, according to the Scriptures: "That be far from thee to do after this manner, to slay the righteous with the wicked: shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?" (Gen. xviii. 25.) "Whosoever hath sinned against me, him will I blot out of my book," (Exod. xxxii. 33.) "I said, indeed, that thy house, and the house of thy father, should walk before me forever, but now the Lord saith, be it far from me; for them that honour me I will honour, and they that despise me shall be lightly esteemed," (1 Sam. ii. 30.)
But it is not therefore to be supposed that the imposing of penalties depends on second causes; so far from it, they would put forth every effort to escape punishment, if they could do so either by reason or force. I could wish also that the word "ordaining" were used in its proper sense: from which they seem to me to depart, who interpret it—to decree that something shall be done. For its true meaning is to establish the order of things done, not to appoint things to be done that they may be done; though it is used sometimes by the fathers in the latter sense. But then God is denied, by the fathers, to be the ordainer of evils. Thus says Augustine: "God knows how to ordain, not crime, but the punishment of crimes."
Of the third; -- It is characteristic of a wise being to do nothing in vain. But he does something in vain, who does it not to attain some end. But God is infinitely wise. Let me caution you, then, not to extend the phrase, "to regard with indifference," farther, or to interpret it otherwise than is suitable. There is a real distinction between doing and permitting. He, who permits any thing, that he may attain some end, does not regard it with indifference. From this it is clear that not to regard with indifference is not the same as to do or to make. Of this also I remind you for a certain reason. Then consider whether the phrase, which you use, is correct. The word "prudently" seems to be too feeble to be applied to so great wisdom. And it is not a usual form of expression to say that an action is performed "in view of a certain end," but for the sake of that end. The statement, He does not will or decree that which He can not, is ambiguous, and not sufficiently full. It is ambiguous, because it may be understood to mean that He can not will or decree, or that He can not do. It is not sufficiently full, because there should be an addition, so that the statement would be this: "He does not will or decree to do or permit that which He can not do or permit." For which reason also your conclusion is likewise imperfect, and, to the expression, "He has decreed thus to do," add, "or permit."
Of the fourth; -- The decree of God is two-fold; that of efficacious action and that of permission. Both are immutable. The creature, however free, can not change himself by his own act, or receive any change from another, contrary to either of these decrees, and without the certain and fixed determination of the former or the latter. But it is not merely necessary that God should fix these, and not other, limits of the change, as if the creature—if this was possible without the divine superintendence of the change—might be able either to change himself, or to receive change from another, to such an extent that God could not bring it into order, and have occasion for the illustration of his glory. For to Him even NOTHING ought to be material for the declaration of His glory: and any change from Nothing to Something, produced by Him, ought to serve the same purpose.
Of the fifth; -- All the judgments of God, "whatever they may be, whether hidden or partly known to us, are to be honoured, and to be adorned with the praise of righteousness, provided, however, that it be manifest that they are the judgments of God. But under this pretense, no judgments are to be attributed to God which the Scripture does not assign to Him; much less those which are contrary to the righteousness of God revealed in the Scriptures. Thus Augustine says: "As man becomes more like God, so the more does the damnation of perishing men move him: it moves also our saviour himself, and caused his tears, not once only, to flow. It moves also God Himself; who says: "What could have been done more to my vineyard that I have not done in it?" (Isa. v. 4.) "O that my people had hearkened unto me." (Psalm lxxxi. 13.) "Have I any pleasure at all that the wicked should die," (Ezek. xviii. 23.) But it so moves God, that He is yet delighted in the destruction of His enemies, who are refractory and refuse to repent. For His righteousness demands this. It moves Him, I say, because they are unwilling to be saved, not because, when they are unwilling to be saved, He may devote them to just destruction. It so moves Christ, the saviour, that he shall yet, willingly, banish, from his presence, unbelievers and evil doers, and adjudge them to eternal fire. For this is demanded by the office of Judge. It so moves a pious man, that he may not utter any objection against God in reference to His various decrees, and the execrations of His righteous judgments on the obstinate. This is required by the obedience which the creature owes to his Creator and Redeemer."
Concerning that objection, I may be allowed, with the leave of Augustine, to say that it is not the offspring of infirm and weak human nature, but of the refractory disposition of the Jews and of those like them, of whom the apostle speaks, (Rom. ix. 20.) It is indeed true that we, when compared with God, "are as grass-hoppers," yea, and "are counted to Him as less than nothing," (Isa. xl. 17, 22.) But, in such exaggerations of human insignificance, we are to be careful not to do injustice to the creation of God. For man was made in the image of God, and therefore, even to God Himself, man, not any beast, is the noblest creature, with whom, as the wisdom of God declares, are His delights, (Prov. viii. 31.)
Of the sixth; -- The concurrence of God with second causes to perform any act, or produce any work, is two-fold, of the general, and the special aid of His grace. It is most certain that nothing good can be performed by any rational creature without this special aid of His grace. But whether it is the province of the divine will, absolutely willing it, to communicate this gracious aid, and by this communication, to absolutely work good in us, is in controversy among Theologians. This is not improperly so, since the word absolutely can not be found in the Scriptures, and it has not yet been proved that its equivalent is found in the Scriptures.
Of the seventh; -- So also it is certain that "no evil can be avoided if God does not prevent it." But there is dispute concerning the mode of prevention; -- whether it is by the omnipotent action of the Deity operating on the human will according to the mode of nature, from which there exists a necessity of prevention, or by such an action as operates on the will, according to the mode of the will as respects its freedom, from which the certainty of prevention exists.
Of the eighth; -- It can not be concluded from an event that God has willed something, but we may know either this fact, that He was unwilling to hinder an event which He foresaw would occur.—Otherwise the distinction, which exists between the action and the permission of God, is destroyed. For some things occur, because God produces them, but others, because He permits them to occur, according to Augustine and to truth itself. But to will that any thing should occur, and to be unwilling to prevent its occurrence, are not the same things. For, in the former case, the event is resolved into the will of God as its first and special cause; in the latter, it is resolved affirmatively into a second cause, and negatively into the divine will, which has not prevented it, which prevention also is produced either by power according to the mode of nature, or by persuasion according to the mode of free-will. But concerning permission and prevention we shall treat more fully hereafter in their own place. Of the ninth; -- But let us examine this idea; "to be able to perform," "to will to do," and "actually to do," are divine gifts and effects on men. But there should be this additional remark, that God gives to no one the power of doing right, unless He is ready also to give the will and the act itself, that is, by the further aid of grace, to concur with man in willing and in actually doing that good, for which He has received sufficient strength, unless the man on his part may interpose, or, as the school-men say, may have interposed some obstacle. "For unto every one that hath shall be given; but from him that hath not shall be taken away even that which he hath." (Matt. xxv. 29). Were this not so, the power would have been given in vain. But the all-wise God doth nothing in vain. Thus He gave to Adam the faculty of observing the law which He had enacted, and He was prepared to give him whatever else was needed, in addition to that faculty, for actual obedience, namely, both to will and to do, unless Adam willingly and by voluntary motion turned himself away from God, and from His grace. I see here a labyrinth which I will not now enter, because I should not be permitted to make my egress from it, except by the thread and guidance of an accurate explication of the mode of the concurrence of God with man in the performance of any good thing; which explication does not belong to this place, or, as I indeed, acknowledge, to my abilities.
Of the tenth; -- That "God presides over the whole world, and all things created by Himself, and administers and governs all and each of them" is certain. But this is not only in justice, but also in mercy, even so far as He, in His infinite wisdom, knows what place ought to be assigned to each. But, indeed, do all those axioms seem to you to be natural and common notions, They, indeed, belong to nature, as it was when it come from the hand of its Creator, surely not to it, as it has been darkened by sin. For to few among men is it given to know and understand those things. The whole troop of Pelagians and Semi-Pelagians in the church itself, do not know them. What the opinion of many of the Greek and Latin philosophers was concerning most of them, is apparent from an expression used by not one of them only:
"What we are, is given to us by the Gods; what of good we are, we have from ourselves." To this notorious falsity, Augustine in more than one passage, sharply opposes himself.
On these principles in part, as a foundation, you build up a doctrine of Predestination, which is, indeed, beset with difficulties. This is caused by the fact, that men do not fear to add to the Scriptures, whatever they think proper, and are accustomed to attribute as much as possible to their own conceptions, which they style natural ideas. I can not but praise your effort. For light ought, by all means, to be thrown upon truth by all, to the utmost of their ability. Calumnies and accusations, by which the truth is assailed and beset, are to be refuted. Minds, embittered against it, are not only to be softened and soothed, but also, to be induced to embrace it. It can not be made an objection against you, that you adduce the opinions of the ancient Theologians, especially those whom you quote, some caution being observed, lest we go too far in that direction. For the Fathers are themselves also liable to diverse interpretations, and, indeed, more than the divine and inspired writers, as they were endued with knowledge of the truth, which was less in degree and in clearness, and they could express the thoughts of their minds only with less accuracy and fitness. When I consider this, I doubt whether they have consulted the best interests of the church, who have thought that, in this age, the opinions of the Fathers are to be considered by them as authority in matters of religion. But the die is cast, and we must advance, whithersoever the fates of the Church bear us. In reference to your declaration, that you present the testimony of the ancient Doctors and School-men, for the sake of exhibiting an agreement in that part of doctrine, I do not see how that is so. For I am quite persuaded that nothing can be thought of, more adapted to bring that whole doctrine of Predestination and the grace of God into confusion, and to overwhelm it with darkness, than the effort on the part of any one to bring forward and unite together all the opinions of the Fathers and the School-men, in reference to it. But I desire that you may not at once pronounce him an unjust estimator or judge, who dares to assert that the dogmas, which you present in this treatise, are found neither in the Scriptures nor in the Fathers. For if you shall, after reasons have been adduced by that estimator, arbiter or judge, be able to sustain your statement, you will find him not struggling against it, with an unfair and obstinate mind, but ready to yield to what is proved to be the truth with becoming equanimity. Nor will it be an easier matter to persuade me that the dogmas of which you here treat, are, in that same mode and sense, proposed and set forth in all the Reformed Churches. I say this, lest you should think that you can bear down one thinking differently by the prejudgment of those churches.
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