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§ 1. God has such a Plan.
The Scriptures speak of an Economy of Redemption; the plan or purpose of God in relation to the salvation of men. They call it in reference to its full revelation at the time of the advent, the οἰκονομία τοῦ πληρώματος τῶν καιρῶν, “The economy of the fulness of times.” It is declared to be the plan of God in relation to his gathering into one harmonious body, all the objects of redemption, whether in heaven or earth, in Christ. Eph. i. 10. It is also called the οἰκονομία τοῦ μυστηρίου, the mysterious purpose or plan which had been hidden for ages in God, which it was the great design of the gospel to reveal, and which was intended to make known to principalities and powers, by the Church, the manifold wisdom of God. Eph. iii. 9.
A plan supposes: (1.) The selection of some definite end or object to be accomplished. (2.) The choice of appropriate means. (3.) At least in the case of God, the effectual application and control of those means to the accomplishment of the contemplated end.
As God works on a definite plan in the external world, it is fair to infer that the same is true in reference to the moral and spiritual world. To the eye of an uneducated man the heavens are a chaos of stars. The astronomer sees order and system in this confusion; all those bright and distant luminaries have their appointed places and fixed orbits; all are so arranged that no one interferes with any other, but each is directed according to one comprehensive and magnificent conception. The innumerable forms of vegetable 314life, are not a confused mass, but to the eye of science arrange themselves into regular classes, orders, genera, and species, exhibiting a unity of design pervading the whole. The zoologist sees in the hundreds of thousands of animals which inhabit our globe, four, and only four original typical forms, of which all the others are the development in an ascending order, no one ever passing into the other, but all presenting one great comprehensive system carried out in all its details. At the head of these innumerable lower forms of animal life, stands man, endowed with powers which elevate him above the class of mere animals and bring him into fellowship with angels and with God himself. As in all these lower departments of his works, God acts according to a preconceived plan, it is not to be supposed that in the higher sphere of his operations, which concerns the destiny of men, everything is left to chance and allowed to take its undirected course to an undetermined end. We accordingly find that the Scriptures distinctly assert in reference to the dispensations of grace not only that God sees the end from the beginning, but that He works all things according to the counsel of his own will, or, according to his eternal purpose.
The Importance of a Knowledge of this Plan.
If there be such a plan concerning the redemption of man, it is obviously of the greatest importance that it should be known and correctly apprehended. If in looking at a complicated machine we are ignorant of the object it is designed to accomplish, or of the relation of its several parts, we must be unable to understand or usefully to apply it. In like manner if we are ignorant of the great end aimed at in the scheme of redemption, or of the relation of the several parts of that scheme; or if we misconceive that end and that relation, all our views must be confused or erroneous. We shall be unable either to exhibit it to others or to apply it to ourselves. If the end of redemption as well as of creation and of providence, is the production of the greatest amount of happiness, then Christianity is one thing; if the end be the glory of God, then Christianity is another thing. The whole character of our theology and religion depends on the answer to that question. In like manner, if the special and proximate design of redemption is to render certain the salvation of the people of God, then the whole Augustinian system follows by a logical necessity; if its design is simply to render the salvation of all men possible, the opposite system must be received as true. The order of the divine decrees, or in other words, the relation in which the several parts of the divine 315plan stand to each other, is therefore very far from being a matter of idle speculation. It must determine our theology, and our theology determines our religion.
How the Plan of God can be known.
If there be such a preconceived divine scheme relating to the salvation of men; and if the proper comprehension of that scheme be thus important, the next question is, How can it be ascertained? The first answer to this question is that in every system of facts which are really related to each other, the relation is revealed in the nature of the facts. The astronomer, the geologist, and the zoologist very soon discover that the facts of their several sciences stand in a certain relation to each other, and admit of no other. If the relation be not admitted the facts themselves must be denied or distorted. The only source of mistake is either an incomplete induction of the facts, or failing to allow them their due relative importance. One system of astronomy has given place to another, only because the earlier astronomers were not acquainted with facts which their successors discovered. The science has at last attained a state which commands the assent of all competent minds, and which cannot be hereafter seriously modified. The same, to a greater or less extent, is true in all departments of natural science. It must be no less true in theology. What the facts of nature are to the naturalist, the facts of the Bible and of our moral and religious consciousness, are to the theologian. If, for example, the Bible and experience teach the fact of the entire inability of fallen men to anything spiritually good, that fact stubbornly refuses to harmonize with any system which denies efficacious grace or sovereign election. It of itself determines the relation in which the eternal purpose of God stands to the salvation of the individual sinner. So of all other great Scriptural facts. They arrange themselves in a certain order by an inward law, just as certainly and as clearly as the particles of matter in the process of crystallization, or in the organic unity of the body of an animal. It is true here as in natural science, that it is only by an imperfect induction of facts, or by denying or perverting them, that their relative position in the scheme of salvation can be a matter of doubt or of diversity of opinion. But secondly, we have in theology a guide which the man of science does not possess. We have in the Scriptures not only the revelation of the grand design of God in all his works of creation, providence, and redemption, which is declared to be his own glory, but we have, in many cases, the relation which one 316part of this scheme bears to other parts expressly stated. Thus, for example, it is said, that Christ died in order that He might save his people from their sins. We are elected to holiness. Therefore election precedes sanctification. We are chosen to be made holy, and not because we are holy. These revelations concerning the relation of the subordinate parts of the scheme of redemption, of necessity determine the nature of the whole plan. This will become plain from what follows.
As men differ in their understanding of the facts of Scripture, and as some are more careful than others to gather all the facts which are to be considered, or more faithful in submitting to their authority, so they differ in their views of the plan which God has devised for the salvation of men. The more important of the views which have been adopted on this subject are, —
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