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ON THE DECREES OF GOD.
HAVING considered what God is, the next inquiry will be concerning the divine operations and works. And in these are included the decrees, which are first to be considered; as they are the foundation and origin of all his exertions and works, ad extra, in creation and providence: For God worketh all things after the council of his own will. Indeed, every thing which is properly an effect, has its foundation in the purpose or decree of God, as its original cause, without which it could not 85have taken place. And every such effect is fixed and made sure of existence by the divine decree, and infallibly connected with it.
The assembly of Divines, in their shorter catechism, have given a concise definition of the decrees of God, which is both rational and agreeable to the holy scriptures, viz. “The decrees of God are his eternal purpose, according to the council of his own will, whereby for his own glory he hath foreordained whatsoever comes to pass.” And in their confession of faith, in words a little different, “God from all eternity did, by the most wise and holy council of his own will, freely and unchangeably ordain whatsoever comes to pass.”
The decrees of God must be from eternity, and not in time. He who exists without beginning, absolutely independent, omnipotent, infinite in understanding and wisdom, must know what is wisest and best, or what is most agreeable to him with respect to all possible effects or events; and therefore must determine what should actually take place, and what should not. Such determination or decree is, in such a sense, essential to the divine existence, that the former must be coeval with the latter, and is necessarily implied in it. Besides, if any of the purposes or decrees of God be in time, or later than his existence, he must be changeable, by having new determinations, new views and designs, which he had not before; which is inconsistent with his necessary existence, his infinity, and absolute perfection, all which are essential to God, as has been proved.
Therefore in scripture the purpose or decrees of God are said to be eternal, “Known unto God are all his works, from the beginning of the world,” or from eternity, as it should have been rendered. If God’s knowing all his works from eternity does not mean his purpose concerning them, it necessarily implies this; for how could he know what he would do, if he had no will or purpose to do? “According to the eternal purpose, which he purposed in Christ Jesus our Lord.”5151 Eph. iii. 11. See also Eph. i. 4. 1 Cor. ii. 7. 2 Tim. i. 9.
Though God be sovereign in his decrees, and all his operations; that is, he has determined every thing and every event just as he pleased, being infinitely above all 86control by the will or power of any one; and under no obligation to any other being; yet they are not arbitrary, that is, determined and fixed without any reason why he should purpose and decree as he has done, rather than the contrary, or otherwise: But they are all infinitely wise and good, or the dictates of the most perfect wisdom. For if God decree or act, he must decree and act like himself, an infinitely wise Being. Infinite wisdom is able or sufficient to form the wisest and best plan of creation and providence, of a world or system, be it ever so large and complicated, and however many creatures, things and events, it may comprehend; and though it include innumerable existencies and events without any end. Such a plan is therefore formed and fixed upon by the divine decrees, which is of all other possible plans the wisest and the best: For if it were otherwise it would be so far disagreeable, defective, unwise, and wrong. The scripture therefore ascribes wisdom to God in all his works, by which his wise purpose and decrees are brought into effect. “O Lord, how manifold are thy works! In wisdom hast thou made them all.”5252 Psalm civ. 24. “O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his judgments, and his ways past finding out!”5353 Rom. xi. 31.
The decrees of God are unchangeable; they are fixed from eternity, and cannot be altered, in any degree, or with respect to any thing, event, or circumstance. “The counsel of the Lord standeth forever, the thoughts of his heart to all generations.”5454 Psalm xxxiii. 11. “He is in one mind, and who can turn him?”5555 Job xxiii. 13. That the divine purpose is unalterable, is as evident and certain as that God is unchangeable; for alteration of God’s design or decree is a change in God: And this necessarily supposes imperfection. And it is unspeakably undesirable and dreadful to suppose, that the infinitely wise and good purpose and decree of God, as all his decrees are, should be capable of any possible change or alteration; so as to fail of the most exact and perfect execution. And the more stable and fixed the infinitely wise decrees of God are, and the farther from all possible change, the 87more agreeable, and the greater ground of joy, are they to every one who is a friend of wisdom.
It may be farther observed, concerning the decrees of God, that they extend to every thing, and every event, though ever so small, compared with others, and every the most minute circumstance that takes place, or will exist to eternity. For every one of these are necessary parts of the most wise and perfect plan; otherwise they could have no existence in it. And if one of these had been left out of the divine plan, it would have been so far less perfect, and really defective. It is not to be supposed that of any two possible existences, events, or circumstances of existence, there should be no difference in any respect; so that one could not be preferred to the other, by infinite wisdom, as better and more suited to answer the end proposed, than the other; though we, or finite discerning, may not be able to perceive any difference: Therefore infinite wisdom discerns and fixes upon that which is preferable and best, in every instance. No two proposed or possible objects, events or circumstances, being perfectly alike or equal in the view of omniscience, there is ground of choice and preference; so that the divine determination respecting the actual existence of all these, and their taking place in all respects exactly as they do, or will, is, in every instance, most wise: and no thing, event, or circumstance, would be in any other respect otherwise consistent with infinite wisdom.
Jesus Christ teaches us that God’s providence and care extend to the smallest things, and most minute circumstances, when he says to his disciples, “Are not five sparrows sold for two farthings? and not one of them is forgotten before God, or shall fall on the ground, without your heavenly Father: But the very hairs of your head are all numbered.”
It may be of some importance to observe here, that there is a distinction and difference between the decrees of God, and his foreknowledge, as the words are commonly used. Divine foreknowledge is God’s foreseeing future existence and events, and knowing from eternity what would take place in all futurity, to eternity, or without end. This foreknowledge is not only to be distinguished from the decree; but must be considered as, 88in order of nature, consequent upon the determination and purpose of God, and dependent upon it. For the futurition or futurity of all things depends upon the decrees of God; by these every created existence, and every event, with all their circumstances, are fixed and made certain; and in consequence of their being thus: decreed, they are the objects of foreknowledge; for they could not be known to be future, unless they were so; and they were made so by the divine decree, and nothing else. If we may so speak, God foreknew all things, that were to come to pass, by knowing his own purpose and decrees, by which their existence was made certain. Had God decreed nothing respecting future existences, by creation and providence, there could have been no foreknowledge of any thing whatsoever. Hence the decrees of God may be certainly inferred from his foreknowledge; for the former must be as extensive as the latter; and nothing can be foreknown or seen to have a future existence, the future existence of which has not been made certain by a divine decree.
All future existences, events and actions, must have a cause of their futurition, or there must be a reason why they are future, or certainly to take place, rather than not. This cause must be the divine decree determining their future existence, or it must be in the future existences themselves; for there is no other possible supposition. But the future existences could not be the cause of their own futurition; for this supposes them to exist as a cause, and to have influence, before they have any existence, even from eternity. And if they may be the cause of their own futurition, or become future of themselves, then they might actually exist of themselves; for by becoming future, their existence is made certain and necessary; therefore that which makes them certainly future, is really the cause of their existence. This therefore can be nothing but the divine decree, determining their future existence, without which nothing could be future, consequently nothing could be known to be future. They therefore who deny the doctrine of God’s decrees, and yet acknowledge the omniscience of God, and that all future events were known to him from eternity, are really inconsistent: for if the 89world, or any creature, or any event, could be certainly future, without being made so by God, it can actually exist without him: for the existence of it is certain and necessary, and it cannot but exist, when once it becomes certainly future.
Therefore, because the foreknowledge of God does necessarily imply and involve his decrees, the former is sometimes put for the latter, in the inspired writings. The following are instances of it. “Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain.”5656 Acts ii. 23. “For whom he did foreknow, he also did predestinate to be conformed to the image of his Son.”5757 Rom. viii. 29. “God hath not cast away his people whom he foreknew.”5858 Rom. xi. 2. “Elect according to the foreknowledge of God the Father.”5959 1 Peter i. 2.
As the decrees of God are most wise, this necessarily supposes some end in view, and that which is best, the most excellent, important, and desirable that can be; for wisdom consists in proposing and pursuing such an end, in ways and by means in the best manner adapted to accomplish that end. When no end is in view to be accomplished by any purpose or work, if this can be, there is no wisdom; and if there be an end proposed and pursued, if this be not the best that can be proposed and effected, the purpose and pursuit is not wisdom but folly. And if the end proposed be the highest and best that can be; yet if the means fixed upon to accomplish that end, be not in all respects the best suited to accomplish the end proposed, this must be a defect of wisdom. Therefore infinite wisdom discerns without a possibility of mistake, what is the best end, most worthy to be set up and pursued, and fixes on this end; and discerns and determines the best means by which this end shall in the best manner be answered. And this determination is the same with the decrees of God, and involves or comprehends every thing that comes to pass, every event, great and small, with every circumstance, be it ever so minute; and fixes them all; unerring wisdom being exercised with respect to them all; 90 so that to make the least alteration in any thing, event, or circumstance, would render the whole plan less perfect and wise. “The work of God is perfect. Whatsoever God doth, it shall be forever: Nothing can be put to it, nor any thing taken from it.” That which is perfect is not capable of the least alteration, without being rendered imperfect and defective. This is true of the infinitely wise plan of the divine operations, and all future events, which was formed by the eternal purpose and decrees of God.
If it be inquired, What that best, most important and desirable end can be, which must be proposed by infinite wisdom? The answer must be, that God himself, or that which respects him, is the end of his decrees and works. When the divine plan of operations was laid, there was nothing but God existing, or to be set up, or regarded as an end; and how could future existence be made an ultimate end with him, in proposing and causing it to exist? And when it does exist, it is infinitely less considerable and respectable than God; and as the dust in the balance; yea, as nothing, in comparison with Him. It would therefore be contrary to reason, and therefore contrary to infinite wisdom, to make creatures or the creation, considered as something distinct from God, the object of supreme respect in God’s designs and works, and not God himself, whose existence is infinitely greater, more important and excellent, and who is the sum of all being. Wisdom must have supreme respect to him in every design, and in every operation, as the first and the last, and all in all. Which is the same as to say, God makes himself his end in all his purposes and operations.
Divine revelation confirms this, in which God speaks of himself as the first and the last, the beginning and the ending, by which he represents himself as the first cause and supreme or last end of all things. And this is confirmed by the following passages, “For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things.6060 Rom. xi. 36. For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible, whether they be thrones, or dominions, or principalities, or powers: All things 91were created by him, and for him.”6161 Col. i. 16. Agreeable to this it is said, “The Lord hath made all things for himself.”6262 Prov. xvi. 4.
God makes himself his end in his decrees and works, in being pleased with the exercise and expression, exhibition and display of his own infinite perfection and excellence: And determining to do this in the best manner, and to the highest possible degree, in his works of creation and providence. This exhibition, display or manifestation, is in divine revelation called the glory of God; and is there abundantly represented as the supreme end of all God’s designs and works, which any one properly attentive to the Bible must have observed: It is therefore thought needless to illustrate this by a particular attention to those passages of scripture by which it is evident. This exhibition and display of the divine perfections, necessarily implies and involves, as essential to it, the communication of his own holiness and happiness to the greatest possible degree, which consists in effecting or producing the greatest possible moral excellence and felicity in his creation, or by his works. This consists hi the highest, the greatest possible good or happiness of creatures, whose capacities, circumstances, and their number, and all other things, circumstances and events, are contrived and adapted in the best manner to answer this end.
The moral excellence and perfection of God consists in love, or goodness, which has been proved in a former chapter. This infinite love of an infinite Being, is infinite felicity. This consists in his infinite regard to himself as the fountain and sum of all being; and ills pleasure and delight in himself, in his own infinite excellence and perfection; and in the highest possible exercise, exhibition and display of his infinite fulness, perfection and glory. And his pleasure in the latter, so as to make it the supreme and ultimate end of all his works, necessarily involves and supposes his pleasure and delight in the happiness of his creatures. If he be pleased with the greatest possible exercise, communication, and exhibition of his goodness, he must be pleased 92 with the happiness of creatures, and the greatest possible happiness of the creation, because the former so involves the latter that they cannot be separated; and may be considered as one and the same thing; and doubtless are but one in the view of the all comprehending mind; though we, whose conceptions are so imperfect and partial, are apt to conceive of the glory of God, and the good of the creature, as two distinct things, and different ends to be answered, in God’s designs and works.6363 The point has been more particularly, and with greater care and exactness, considered and examined in the light of both reason and revelation, by the late President Edwards, than by any other author, in his Dissertation concerning the End for which God created the world. The reader, who desires to see this subject more fully explained and explored, must be referred to that ingenious, elaborate performance.
Thus whatsoever comes to pass from the beginning of time to eternity is foreordained, and fixed from eternity by the infinitely wise counsel and unchangeable purpose of God. He being infinite in understanding, power, wisdom and goodness, must perfectly know, what was the wisest and best plan of creation and providence, of operations and events, which includes everything desirable and good, and excludes whatever is not so; and he must fix upon this plan, without any possible error, and determine to prosecute it; for if any thing be left undetermined and uncertain, even the most minute existence, event, or circumstance and appendage of any existence or event, it must be owing to a defect in wisdom and goodness, or in power to execute. No truth ever was, or can be more demonstrably certain than this; and none can be more agreeable to wisdom and goodness, or more important. If a man be to contrive and make any machine or building, the end which it is to answer must be in view, and fixed; and the plan of his operation must be laid, including every thing that is to come into the composition, so as in the best manner to answer the end designed. And the more skill and wisdom the workman has, the more clear and perfect will be his idea and view of the whole plan, and of every part, even the most minute, which is included in it; and the more fixed and determined he will be to prosecute this plan, without the least variation from it. 93And if he have skill and wisdom sufficient to lay a perfect plan of operation, without the least mistake or error, he will be esteemed and prized above all others of less skill; and the more certain and fixed his plan of operation is, and the farther he is from a disposition to make any alteration, or a possibility of being impeded in his work or unable to execute his design, according to his present purpose, the more agreeable it will be to all who are interested in his work which he is to execute; and to all who have the least spark of wisdom and goodness; and that in proportion to the excellence and importance of the design.
What a source of unspeakable satisfaction and joy must it then be to all the children of wisdom, that the most High, omnipotent, infinitely wise, just and good, has laid a plan to express and exhibit his own character; which therefore must be wise and good, like himself; and which comprehends and fixes every thing, and all events, from the greatest to the least, from the first to the last; and which is absolutely perfect, infinitely wise, and comprehends all possible good; so that not the least thing, event, or the smallest appendage and circumstance, can be altered, left out, or added, without rendering it less desirable, excellent and perfect! And is it possible that any one who is not unfriendly to infinite wisdom and goodness, and to the most absolute perfection and excellence, should have the least objection to this? Yea, will he not highly approve of it, and make it the ground of his chief comfort and joy? And is not this infinitely preferable to a world and series of events, if this were possible, fixed by blind fate, or existing and taking place by mere, undesigning chance? Most certainly this demonstrable truth, that God has, by the infinitely wise counsel of his own will, from eternity foreordained whatsoever comes to pass, is infinitely more desirable than any other supposition whatever, were it possible; and is a foundation on which a pious mind, a true friend to God, may rest with the greatest security and satisfaction. And if he should give this up, what support and comfort could he have? Where could he fly for refuge from evil? He must fall into the most awful darkness, and horror.94
Objection, It is granted that this doctrine of the divine decrees, as it has now been stated, might readily be admitted as certain and desirable, were it possible, and was it consistent with known fact, which it most certainly is not: Therefore, however great and clear the evidence of this doctrine may seem to be; and though it appear most desirable that all events should be determined by infinite wisdom and goodness; yet it cannot be true, because it is impossible and inconsistent with what has actually taken place. It is impossible, because inconsistent with moral government, and with the freedom and moral agency of creatures; and so excludes all possibility of virtue or vice, praise or blame, reward or punishment. And if this doctrine were consistent with all this; yet it is inconsistent with the evil which has taken place, both moral and natural evil, which could have no place in a plan formed and fixed by infinite wisdom and goodness, and comprehending the greatest possible good. Besides, to suppose all this evil was foreordained by God, and takes place in consequence of his purpose and decree, represents the Most High as the origin, cause or author of it all, even all the moral evil in the universe: And what can be more shocking and horrible than this!
In this objection are three distinct things, which re« quire a separate and particular consideration.
First. It is to be inquired. Whether the doctrine of God’s decrees, whereby he hath foreordained whatsoever comes to pass, is inconsistent with the liberty and moral agency of creatures, by fixing all events and all actions, so as to render them infallibly certain. And here it may be proper to observe several things, in order to prepare the way to a more clear determination of this question.
1. If the doctrine of God’s decrees be inconsistent with the freedom and moral agency of man; then the foreknowledge of God is equally so: Therefore the objection under consideration is as much against the latter, as it is against the former. For if it be foreknown what events and what actions will take place, then they must be fixed and certain; since it is a contradiction to say, an event is certainly foreknown, and yet it is uncertain 95 whether it will come to pass; just as great and palpable a contradiction as to say, an event is certain and fixed, and yet precarious and uncertain whether it will take place or not. Nothing can be the object of the divine foreknowledge, which is not fixed as certainly future. If it be not fixed by the decree of God, it must be fixed by blind fate, or by something else, if this were possible; and this surely is as inconsistent with the freedom of man, as if fixed by the counsel and decree of God: Yea, infinitely more so. This is observed, to show that he who makes the objection under consideration, and yet believes the foreknowledge of God, is inconsistent with himself; and must, would he be consistent, withdraw his objection, or give up the doctrine of God’s foreknowledge.
II. It being confessedly so very important and desirable that whatsoever comes to pass should be determined and fixed by infinite wisdom and goodness, if this can be done consistent with moral government; and since God is infinitely great, powerful and wise, there is reason to conclude this is not impossible; but that both are perfectly consistent: Is it not presumption and arrogance for fallen man, ignorant and deceived in a thousand things, peremptorily, and with assurance to determine that it is impossible with God to make creatures, who shall be absolutely dependent upon him, in all respects, and so as to act perfectly conformable to his most wise plan, and fulfil his counsel, and yet exercise all the freedom necessary to moral agency? If this were certainly known to imply a contradiction, it might safely be pronounced impossible: But since many things have appeared to short sighted, partial man, inconsistent and impossible, and have been confidently pronounced to be such, which afterwards have been found to be otherwise, it may be so in this case. And if both these be really and perfectly consistent, how happy! Let this point then be examined without prejudice, and with the utmost care and attention, reviewing it again and again. And if the consistence may be discovered, what matter of consolation and joy will it afford!
III. It does not appear from our feelings and experience, that a previous certainty respecting our actions in 96the least takes away or diminishes our freedom and moral agency. We feel ourselves free and accountable in our voluntary actions; and the supposition of a previous certainty that we should act just as we do, does not alter our feeling ourselves free, and knowing we act so, so far as our experience is to be regarded. Is not this a just ground of suspicion at least, that all objections and reasonings against this, by which it is concluded to be impossible, are fallacious and without foundation: Especially when it is considered, that a mistake respecting the divine decrees and superintendency, determining and fixing all events, which are so infinitely high, and above our reach; or about the nature of human liberty, &c. will lead to groundless and very erroneous conclusions on this point?
IV. Since it is so consonant to reason, and even demonstrably certain, that a Being of infinite understanding, power and wisdom, who is absolutely independent, and on whom all creatures and events wholly depend, must determine and foreordain whatsoever comes to pass; and at the same time it is equally certain that men are free and moral agents: And since Divine Revelation most expressly and abundantly asserts both these; he who admits and believes them both to be true, however unable he may be to reconcile them, and show or conceive how they are consistent, acts a more reasonable and wise part, than those who reject one as not true, and impossible, merely because they cannot see their consistence.
There are innumerable instances in the scriptures of God’s determining and foretelling the voluntary actions of men, and the events dependent on them: And yet, in those actions, they are represented as free and accountable, as sinful or virtuous, and blameable or commendable; as much so, as if their actions had not been thus fixed and foreknown. There is not perhaps a prediction in the Bible, which is not an instance of this; and most of those predictions do fix and declare to be certain, innumerable voluntary actions of men, which are either expressly foretold, or necessarily implied in the prophecy. Only a few instances, out of the many, will here be mentioned, as sufficient to illustrate this observation. The 97 conduct of Pharaoh and the Egyptians, towards the children of Israel, was determined and foretold long before it took place, to Abraham and to Moses: And yet they were considered and treated as moral agents, and culpable, and were punished for those very actions which were foreordained and foretold. God said to Abraham, “Know of a surety, that thy seed shall be a stranger in a land that is not theirs, and shall serve them, and they shall afflict them four hundred years. And also, that nation, whom they shall serve, will I judge.” And God told Abraham that he would bring his seed from Egypt into the land of Canaan, after four hundred years, which event depended on millions of millions of voluntary free actions of that people, and of others. And he promised the same thing to Moses, and that they should hearken to him, when he seat him into Egypt to deliver them; and that they should worship God in Mount Sinai; and he said to Moses, “I am sure that the king of Egypt will not let you go. And I will stretch out my hand, and smite Egypt, and after that, he will let you go.”
God told Moses that the people of Israel would apostatize after his death, and practise idolatry, &c. and that he would punish them for it. Upon which Moses said to them, “I know that after my death ye will utterly corrupt yourselves, and turn aside from the way which I have commanded you: And evil will befal you in the latter days, because ye will do evil in the sight of the Lord, to provoke him to anger, through the work of your hands.”
The rise, grandeur and ruin of particular kingdoms and empires are foretold as fixed and certain, which depended on innumerable voluntary actions of innumerable men, and could not be accomplished without them; which therefore must be fixed and certain. The Persian, Grecian and Roman empires, are instances of this, as well as many other kingdoms.
The evil that Hazael did to the children of Israel was foretold, and therefore determined and fixed, long before he did it. And the particular actions of Cyrus, and of Josiah, were determined and foretold long before they were born: Yet this did not render them the less free and accountable as moral agents, in what they did.98
But one instance more, among the many thousands that might be produced from the Bible, will now be mentioned. It is that of the Jews crucifying our Lord. It was before fixed and written that thus it must be; and by their voluntary conduct in this affair, God fulfilled those things which he before had shewed by the mouth of all his prophets: And, in putting Christ to death, they did the very things which his hand and counsel determined before to be done. Surely he who will well attend to this must be sensible that to say, that God’s foreordaining whatsoever comes to pass, is inconsistent with the liberty and moral agency of man, does at the same time affirm, at least implicitly, that it is impossible the Bible should be from God.
Therefore, seeing the previous infallible certainty of all things which come to pass is necessarily implied in the foreknowledge of God, and the former cannot be rejected, without denying the latter: And since reason teaches that a Being of infinite power, wisdom and goodness, on whom all things absolutely depend for their existence, and every mode and circumstance of it, must determine by the counsel of his own will, and foreordain whatsoever comes to pass; and that it is infinitely important and desirable that he should do it, and that all events should be determined by infinite wisdom, rather than by any thing else: And since, according to our own feeling and experience, this is consistent with our freedom and moral agency: And since Divine Revelation abundantly asserts both these; and declares men to be moral agents, and accountable in those actions which have been foreordained and fixed by divine counsel and decrees; and therefore to deny these to be consistent, is really to renounce the Bible: When all these things are well considered, will it not appear to be amazing boldness, and the height of stupidity and arrogance, in a fallen, short sighted, ignorant man, liable to a thousand prejudices and mistakes, confidently, and without hesitation to pronounce these two doctrines absolutely inconsistent with each other? How much more modest, reasonable, and becoming us, is it to believe them both to be true and perfectly consistent? And if any have not yet been able to see how they may be reconciled; 99 let them not rashly conclude that no man ever did, or ever will see their consistence with each other, and reduce it to a plain demonstration: Nor ought they themselves so to despair of receiving light and full satisfaction on this point, as to neglect ail means and attempts to obtain it; but aught rather, with a proper sense of the importance of the matter, and their accountableness to God, for their belief and feelings respecting it; and with humble, fervent, constant application to the Father of Lights, for a wise and understanding heart; carefully to attend to the subject, and diligently improve every opportunity and advantage they may have to obtain that understanding which is pleasant to the soul, and more precious than the finest gold.
Attention to the foregoing preliminaries, it is hoped, has, in some measure, prepared the mind to a careful and candid examination of this point, about which there has been so much dispute in our world. Therefore the question will now be resumed, which is, How the divine decrees, foreordaining whatsoever comes to pass, can be consistent with the freedom and moral agency of man?
There can be no light respecting this question; nor can it be determined, without proper, precise and consistent ideas of both these subjects, about which the inquiry is made, the divine decrees, and the freedom essential to moral agency. Without this, it will be impossible to determine whether they be consistent with each other, or not; and if we affirm, or deny, we shall talk in the dark, “not knowing what we say, or whereof we affirm.” My neighbour now comes into my study, and asks, whether a table he has made for me, can be introduced and have room here? I ask him, what is the length and breadth of it? He answers, it is three yards square. I tell him, it can then be of no use to me, nor can it be introduced. He is confident I am mistaken. And after some dispute, we at length conclude to take a common measure and apply it to the table, and to my door and study. Upon this the matter is soon decided, and it is found that the former agrees exactly with the latter; for his yard-stick was found to be but twelve inches long.100
To prevent, as far as possible, all mistakes concerning the doctrine of God’s decrees, it must be observed, that it may be justly considered as a medium between the two extremes, viz. of a supposed fatality in all things; every thing, and all events, being unalterably fixed by blind and undesigning fate on the one hand, and on the other, of a perfect contingence and uncertainty respecting all future events, there being no cause or reason of their taking place; but all things come to pass by mere chance. It would be infinitely undesirable, and dreadful, if either of these opposite extremes were true, or possible, as they certainly are not, each of them implying such absurdity, contradiction and impossibility, that it may be presumed no one ever yet had a real idea or conception of either.
All things, and every event, are indeed fixed by the decree of God; but they are wisely, and therefore most happily contrived and adjusted, as has been before observed, so as to make one most wise, consistent, and absolutely perfect plan: And in which the freedom and moral agency of rational creatures are effectually secured (if this can be done by infinite wisdom, clothed with omnipotence; and whether this be possible is now to be considered) and made a necessary and essential part of the divine plan.
This leads more particularly to observe, that this doctrine does not imply, but totally excludes a notion, which many have had of the divine decrees, which supposes that certain events, especially those which are the greatest and most important to man, are fixed and made certain, independent of the agency of man, and of any means whatsoever; and wholly unconnected with any thing of this kind; so that they will come to pass just as they are decreed, let man’s conduct be what it may. For instance, they suppose that if the time of a man’s death be appointed; he will live to that time, whatever means necessary to preserve his life shall be neglected, as eating and drinking, &c. and whatever may be done to take away his life. And if it be decreed that a particular person shall be saved, or he be elected to life, he shall certainly be saved, let him conduct as he will; and though he live and die in impenitence and unbelief: 101 And if he be not elected, he must perish, let him do what he can, and though he sincerely seek salvation, and however humble, penitent and obedient he may be.—The scripture doctrine of God’s decrees does not imply, but absolutely excludes, such an absurd notion and fatality as this; and makes the use of means, and agency of man, as important and necessary, in order to accomplish any proposed end, as if there were no decree respecting it: And, indeed, much more so: For if there were no appointed connection between means, and the attempts and exertions of men, and the end, then they would be of no importance, and have no tendency to the end; and there would not be the least reason or encouragement to do or attempt any thing, or use any means to accomplish any end whatsoever.
It cannot with truth be said, that according to the doctrine of God’s decrees, he who is elected to salvation, shall be saved, let him do what he will, and live and die in impenitence and unbelief; for there is no election or decree inconsistent with the declaration of Christ, “He that believeth not shall be damned.” They who are appointed to salvation by the decree of God are “elected according to the foreknowledge of God the Father, through sanctification of the Spirit unto obedience.” And none are appointed to destruction, whether they believe or not; for “he that believeth shall be saved.” This is particularly observed here, because the true scripture doctrine is so generally misunderstood in this point, and consequently misrepresented; especially by those who do not believe this doctrine, but oppose it.
The doctrine of God’s decrees, including the means as well as the end, and connecting one with the other, so as to render the former important and necessary as the latter, as has been now stated and explained, in opposition to the absurd notion of fatality just mentioned, may be illustrated by a piece of history which we have in the Acts of the Apostles.6464 Acts xxvii. The apostle Paul being in a terrible storm at sea, and “all hope that they should be saved was taken away,” had a revelation from heaven, that not one of them in the ship should lose his life; but they should all get safe to land. Upon which he 102 stood forth, and declared it unto them, and his assurance that this revealed decree would come to pass. Thus Paul and his company were elected to be saved from the danger of the sea; the preservation of their lives was unalterably fixed, and certain. Yet, soon after this, while they were yet in danger, and the seamen, who only could manage the ship, were about to quit it, to provide for their own safety, “Paul said to the centurion, and to the soldiers, except these abide in the ship, ye cannot be saved.” Here the doctrine of the fatalist above mentioned is contradicted, and declared not to be true; and that the decree, making their salvation absolutely certain, did not exclude the necessity of the use of means, in order to its taking place; but included this, and made their agency in the use of means important and necessary, there being a connection between these, and the end. It appears that in this instance, the means, and the exertions and agency of those who were to be saved, were as much appointed and fixed, as their salvation: and the latter could not come to pass without the former. And this is equally true of ail other instances of the purposes and decrees of God; so that this instance is an illustration of all others that can be mentioned, or that do exist. And they who separate the means from the end, and say, or expect, that what God has appointed will come to pass, whether any means are used to bring it to pass or not, do separate what God has joined together by infallible connection. And they assert what is not true, and believe and trust in a falsehood.
And, by the way, if Paul and his companions were free moral agents in all they did in this affair, and which was necessary in order to their getting safe to land; and the declared decree respecting it, which fixed the whole train of actions and events that took place, w as not in the least inconsistent with their acting freely, but implied it; and they felt, and really were, as perfectly free as if there had been no decree in the case: Then the divine decrees, by which all events are made certain, cannot, in any instance, be inconsistent with the free moral agency of men. But no one, it is presumed, who reads this story, or ever has read it, thought or can think, that 103 their freedom was taken from them by this decree, so as to render them no longer moral agents; or that it could have the least influence in rendering them in any degree, less free and accountable in their exercises and conduct on this occasion: And it would not alter the case a whit with respect to their freedom and moral agency, had there been no decree determining what should take place; and had there been no previous certainty whether they should be saved or perish, or how they would conduct in those circumstances, and at that time. Does not every one who attends to this story, and consults his own sense and feeling, consider them as exercising all desirable or possible liberty of action, and blame or approve of their conduct, as much as if there had been no decree respecting it, and the event? If so, then we have the verdict of the common sense and feelings of mankind in favour of the consistence of the doctrine of the divine decrees, with human liberty and moral agency. What need is there then of proceeding any farther on this subject?
However, as more light may perhaps be thrown upon it by considering what is free moral agency, and wherein it consists; it may be of advantage to attend to this matter more particularly; by which it is hoped it may be more clearly seen, whether this moral freedom be consistent with the certainty of all events, which is implied in the doctrine of the divine decrees; and if consistent, how they are so, and may be perfectly reconciled.
It has been before observed, that nothing can be determined on this point, without forming an idea of the liberty essential to moral agency, and determining what it is, and wherein it consists: For he who knows not what liberty is, is not in a capacity to determine what is consistent with it, or what is inconsistent. Men will differ on the question before us, as they have different notions respecting human liberty; and if they be agreed in this, they will agree in the decision of it. The question then is. What is liberty? What is that freedom which is essential to moral agency?
The only way, perhaps, for any one to obtain the most satisfactory answer to this question, is to consult his own 104 feelings, and inquire what that is: what are the exercises and exertions in which he supposes, yea, is certain, he acts freely, and is a moral agent. He will doubtless find that the internal freedom of which he is conscious, consisteth in his voluntary exercises, or in choosing and willing; that he is conscious that in all his voluntary exertions he is perfectly free, and must be accountable; and has no consciousness or idea of any other kind of moral liberty; or that the liberty he exerciseth hath any thing more or less belonging to it; or that it could be increased, or made more perfect freedom, by the addition of any thing that is not implied in willing and choosing.6565 It is to be observed, and kept in mind, in attending to what is here said on human liberty, that every degree of active inclination and moral exercise of heart, is included in willing and choosing, as well as what are called the imperate and overt acts of the will: For such inclination or exercise of heart, in every degree and instance of it, is not distinguishable from exercise of will and choice; but is really the same thing. He may indeed not be able to accomplish the thing or event which is the object of his choice; and, in this respect, be under restraint; but this is not inconsistent with his exercising perfect freedom in his choice, and in all his voluntary exertions, or in all he does with respect to such object or event. And in these exercises of will and choice his moral character does wholly consist; and therefore here he looks, even to his inclination and choice to determine what is his moral character, whether he be sinful or virtuous, and approves or condemns, according as he judges of the nature and quality of his inclination and choice; and they appear to him to be right or wrong, according as they are conformable or not to the rule or law, under which he considers himself placed.
And where can freedom, moral agency, virtue and vice be found, if they consist not in voluntary exercises? Shall we look to something which takes place in our minds antecedent to choice and voluntary action, by which acts of choice are determined, and out of which they spring, and place liberty and virtue and sin in that? This will be to place these wholly in that, in which we have no concern as agents, as we are no more 105active in that which precedes our exercise of will and choice, than a rock or tree; or than we were in those events which took place ages before we were born.
Shall liberty and moral agency be considered as consisting in what follows the exercise of will, or voluntary exertions, and takes place after the will ceases to act? There is indeed as much propriety and reason in placing them here, as in any thing that is antecedent to the exercise of will: But surely no man in his senses can imagine, that there is the exercise of liberty and moral action, where there is no liberty, choice or action, whether it be antecedent to these, or consequent upon them, and after they cease. When our will and choice are over, or we cease to will, our agency is at an end; and most certainly there can be no liberty exercised, when there is no exercise of any kind, no action.
If voluntary action, or the exercise of will and choice, be not freedom and moral agency: and if all virtue and sin do not consist in this, and are not to be found here, even in the will and choice itself; it will be impossible to find them any where, or that there should be any such thing: And they are therefore but empty names. Every exercise of the will in choosing or refusing is the exercise of freedom: And it is impossible for man to will and choose without exercising moral liberty; and as impossible to exercise liberty without voluntary action, or exercising choice. Therefore, to say a man is not free in exercising will and choice, is to say he is not free in that, in which freedom wholly consists, and is the only possible exercise of liberty; or that he is not voluntary or does not choose in willing and choosing: And, it is no more improper and absurd to ask, whether a man is rational in reasoning, or to say he is not, than it is to ask, whether he is free in willing and choosing; or to affirm that he is not. And that because the exercise of freedom and the exercise of will, are convertible terms, and are indeed one and the same thing; as really as reasoning is the exercise of reason; or existence is existing. And if there be any such thing as moral agency, it consists in the exercise of will and choice, and in nothing else: and virtue and vice, praise and blame, are predicable of this only, and belong 106wholly to the exercises of will or voluntary action, and are as the inclination, will or choice is.6666 It is therefore certain that man is perfectly free, or has all the freedom that in the nature of things is possible, in the exercise of will and choice, or in acting voluntarily; and God, in forming man a voluntary agent, made him a free moral agent, and he cannot be deprived of this freedom and moral agency, unless he be made to cease from acting from motive, and exercising will and choice.
It may therefore be safely presumed, that no man, by consulting his own exercise and feelings, or in reasoning properly about them, ever had any other idea or conception of liberty, and that moral agency by which he is accountable for his exercises and conduct, but that which consists in voluntary action, or in will and choice; though many have confused and bewildered themselves on this point, by using words without any real meaning, and with mere chimeras and imaginations, which are perfectly inconsistent, and have no real existence.
For instance; it has been often said, that there can be no liberty in man without a self determining power; and that freedom consists in this, even in determining his own volitions, what they shall be, Sec.
Upon this it may be observed, that if it be meant, that man himself exerts his own volitions, and they are his own actions, and that he determines his own choice in actively willing and choosing; so that there can be no choice without his exertion and activity, and where he is wholly passive; and that, in this sense, he is the cause and author of his own volitions; then nothing is meant more than will be granted, and has been asserted above, viz. that he does act in willing and choosing, and is really the author, or actor of his own acts. But if by self determining power be meant, a power or capacity to determine, previous to any act of choice, what he will choose, (which must be their meaning, if they are not satisfied with that now expressed; and if that which is self contradictory can be said to have any real meaning) then what they mean to assert is, that in order to a man’s being free in his choice, he must, by a foregoing act of power, exerted before he begins to will and choose, determine what his choice shall be. That is, he must act and determine, before he begins to act by choice; or he must make a choice before he begins to choose, and in 107 order to it; which cannot be exceeded in self contradiction and absurdity: It being as absurd as to say, that a man can have no motion unless he do, previous to all his motion, move himself; that is, move himself before he begins to move. Or that his existence was produced by an exertion of his own, before he existed, putting himself into existence.
Agreeable to this notion of a self determining power, and in support of it, it is said, that a man cannot be free in his voluntary actions, unless he has a freedom to either side; that is, has a freedom to choose or refuse, to prefer one thing, or the contrary; or has power and freedom to choose that, which is directly contrary to that which is actually the object of his choice. If by this be meant that whenever any one freely chooses any particular object or act, or is inclined any particular way, he is at liberty to prefer a contrary object or act, and to incline the contrary way, if he please, or wills and chooses so to do; this is no more than to say, that in the exercise of liberty, a man must choose agreeable to his choice; or has his choice; that is, must be voluntary: And therefore is not a contradiction to that which has been above asserted, viz. that liberty consists in the exercises of will and choice, or voluntary action.
But if by a freedom to choose either side, be meant, that in order to the exercise of a free act of choice, he must, at the same time, be as much disposed or inclined to choose the contrary, or be no more inclined one way than the other; there is no need of saying any thing to expose the absurdity and inconsistence of this, to those who allow themselves to think: For it is the same as to say, that in order to a moral agent’s choosing freely, he must really have no choice; or when he inclines one way, in order to be free, he must be equally inclined the contrary way, so as to make no preference of the one to the other. This assertion, thus understood, (if such an inconsistence, which destroys itself, can be properly said to be understood) is inconsistent with any possible liberty, and with all preference and choice, moral agency, virtue and vice, and utterly excludes all these out of the universe.108
They who have contended for a self-determining power, as essential to the freedom of moral agents; and a freedom to either side, as now mentioned, do hold to what they call a liberty of indifference. That in order to the exercise of free choice, in the time of choosing or making a preference, or immediately antecedent to it, there must be no inclination of the mind to one thing more than to another; and that every act of choice must arise out of a perfect indifference to either side, by a sovereign determining act, turning the will one certain way, and causing or producing an inclination, where there was none before.
It is not needful to point out all the absurdities of such a notion; as supposing an exertion or act of the mind, previous to an act of will or choice (by which alone the mind can act) determining what the choice shall be; and that while the mind is perfectly indifferent, as to any preference or choice; and so inclination and choice must originate from, and rise out of that which is no inclination or choice; as its true cause, in order to be a free choice! And yet liberty does not consist in this free choice; for there is no indifference in choice; but it lies in that indifference to all choice or inclination, which is as far from choice as nonentity is from existence; and which by some inconceivable, impossible exertion of its own, produces inclination or volition, as contradictory to itself, as nothing is to something!
These things have been observed, to confirm the truth under consideration, viz. that liberty, moral agency, virtue and vice, blame and praise worthiness, consist wholly in the exercise of will and choice, made in the view of motives; and in nothing else beside, or which is antecedent to, or consequent upon voluntary action. That this is the highest and most perfect liberty in nature; and no other freedom of moral agents can be conceived of, or is possible. That this is the freedom which we feel and experience, when we consider and pronounce ourselves free; and that of which we have an idea in others, when we view them as accountable for their conduct, as 109 virtuous or vicious, and worthy of praise or blame, reward or punishment.6767 It was thought proper and necessary briefly to consider in what liberty and moral agency consist, in order to determine, whether real liberty be consistent with the absolute previous certainty of all events and actions, implied in the doctrine of God’s decrees. But the subject is by no means exhausted here; nor is there need of it, since it has been more particularly and fully considered by those able writers. President Edwards, in his careful and strict inquiry into the modern, prevailing notions of that freedom of will, which is supposed to be essential to moral agency, virtue and vice, reward and punishment, praise and blame. And Mr. West, in his Essay on moral agency. The reader who desires to see a more thorough and clear discussion of this point, is with pleasure referred to those performances, where he will, it is presumed, find abundant satisfaction.
And now, from the view we have had of the doctrine of God’s decrees, and of the nature of human liberty and moral agency, and in what they consist, it may be easily determined whether they are consistent with each other; and that their perfect consistence is demonstrably clear and certain. For if liberty and moral agency consist in the exercise of will and choice, or voluntary exertions; which is all the liberty of which we are, or can be conscious, can have any conception, or is possible, as has been shewn; then the absolute fixedness and certainty of all events is perfectly consistent with liberty: For though all events be decreed, and every motion and exercise of the will, and all moral actions, be determined from eternity, this is so far from destroying the liberty of man, that it establishes it, and makes it certain, viz. that he shall thus will and choose. The exercise of this liberty and agency is as important and necessary, as if there were no fixed certainty of events; and more, much more so. This liberty is consistent with the moral agent’s absolute and universal dependence on God, while he acts freely and is under moral government and is accountable to the supreme Being, in all those exercises by which the events comprehended and fixed in the divine infinitely wise plan, do come to pass: This therefore is the only desirable as well as the only possible liberty. If there were, or could be any other liberty of moral agents, it would be infinitely dreadful! As it would be inconsistent with the real, absolute supremacy of the Deity, and with his perfect universal providence, and infinitely wise, uncontrolled government.110
Secondly, It is to be considered whether the evil, both moral and natural, which has taken place, and may continue without end, be really inconsistent with the decrees of God, foreordaining whatsoever comes to pass.
It is probable that the existence of evil in God’s world, and before our eyes, has been with many the chief, if not the only ground of dissatisfaction with this doctrine, and the opposition made to it. If no action or event had taken place, but such as appeared to men perfectly right, wise and good; and therefore most agreeable and desirable, none surely would object against God’s ordaining every thing that was to take place, in the best manner possible. But since evil has actually taken place, both sin and suffering; and is like to continue forever, to a dreadful and amazing degree; men have been ready to think and say, “Surely this world had been infinitely better, more desirable and happy, if all evil had been effectually and forever excluded, both moral and natural; and nothing but perfect, eternal holiness and happiness had taken place. This is certainly an imperfect, disorderly, confused system, undesirably marred, and in a great measure ruined, by the rebellion of creatures against their Maker, and their consequent sufferings. How then is it possible that an infinitely wise, powerful and good God, should decree and foreordain all this? To say he has done it, is rather to represent him as unwise and evil, than wise and good; though this might be done, consistent with the freedom and moral agency of man.”
It is of great importance that this difficulty and objection should be removed, if possible; for it is not only an objection against God, foreordaining whatsoever comes to pass; but is equally irreconcileable with his supreme, uncontrolled, wise and good government of the world. This leads to observe,
I. This objection does not really lie against those who hold that God has foreordained whatsoever comes to pass, more than against those who do not admit this doctrine. And therefore it is far from being just, or agreeable to truth, to consider and represent it, as militating only, or in a peculiar manner, against such a doctrine. For, if the matter be well considered, it will appear, 111 that the objection may be with equal reason and force urged against the objector himself, or those doctrines which he professes to believe. This difficulty, if it be one, is not peculiar to predestinarians, but is common to all, who believe in one supreme, infinitely powerful, wise and good Creator and Governor of the world. It has therefore been represented as the Gordian knot in philosophy and theology, and a question above all others unanswerable, Whence cometh evil? God is infinitely good; and therefore could not be willing or consent it should take place: But it could not take place, contrary to his will; for he is infinitely wise; and therefore must know how it might be prevented; and he is almighty, and nothing is impossible with him; therefore he was able to prevent it, if he had pleased to do it. How then is it possible that evil should take place, under the government of this God; while he sits at the head of the universe; has all things in his hand, absolutely dependent upon him, and rules infinitely above all control?
This question cannot be answered, on any plan, to the satisfaction of a rational, inquisitive mind, or the difficulty in any measure solved, unless it be supposed and granted, That all the evil which does take place, is necessary for the greatest possible general good; and therefore on the whole, all things considered, wisest and best that it should exist just as it does.
All who believe the divine foreknowledge, or admit that an infinitely perfect Being made and governs the world, must adopt this solution, and grant that, on the whole, it is best that evil, moral and natural, should take place; or be left wholly without any satisfactory solution at all: And indeed, they do either expressly or implicitly grant it, however they may differ as to the mode of explaining the matter, and the reasons why it is better that evil should exist, than otherwise. They who oppose the doctrine of the divine decrees, and yet allow that God could have prevented evil taking place, had he pleased to do it, cannot account for his not preventing it, unless they allow that he saw it was on the whole best, that it should not be prevented; and therefore it was, on the whole, best it should exist.112
And they who suppose that sin could not be prevented, if God made free moral agents, and continued them in the exercise of their freedom; and account for the introduction of evil in this way; yet must grant that, all things considered, it was better that there should be sin, rather than that there should be no moral agents; and that the system or plan which includes evil, is the best that was possible. For if God foresaw, that if he made moral agents, vast numbers of them would, in the exercise of their freedom, fall into sin and ruin, he would not have made them, and continued them in the exercise of their liberty, if it were not best, on the whole, that evil should take place; and if this was not preferable to any other possible plan; and he did not, all things considered, choose that evil should exist, just as it does. For to say that God made free moral agents, when he knew that they would sin, if he made them; and yet knew that it was not best, all things considered, that moral evil should exist; is to say, that he is neither wise nor good, as well as not omnipotent. This is so plain that it is needless to say any more to make it intelligible and evident to the lowest capacity.
And the same thing, in effect, must be granted even by them who deny the divine foreknowledge of the actions of creatures made free. For if God knew that sin might possibly take place, if he made moral agents; and at the same time knew that it was not, all things considered, best that it should take place; but infinitely to the contrary, it could not be best to make any such creatures, and run this dreadful venture; and open a door for the possible introduction of this infinite evil, which never could be remedied: and therefore it was not consistent with wisdom and goodness to make them free, and continue them so, on this supposition. They must therefore grant that it was, in God’s view, on the whole, better that evil should take place, and to have the world fall into sin and ruin, than not to create moral agents, and have no moral kingdom; and that he preferred such a world, and to have sinful miserable creatures, rather than not to create; or they must allow that their God was deceived, and is dreadfully disappointed, and now heartily wishes he had not created; or is 113neither wise nor good: Which is to have no God, or something infinitely worse! It must therefore be observed,
II. It is abundantly evident and demonstrably certain from reason, assisted by divine revelation, that all the sin and sufferings which have taken place, or ever will, are necessary for the greatest good of the universe, and to answer the wisest and best ends; and therefore must be included in the best, most wise and perfect plan.
1. This appears evident and certain from the being and perfections of God. God is omnipotent; his understanding is infinite, and he is equally wise and good. He is infinitely above all dependence and control; and hath done, and can and will do whatsoever pleaseth him. It hence is certain that he will do no thing, nor suffer any thing to be done or take place, which is not, on the whole, good, wisest and best, that it should take place, and is not most agreeable to infinite wisdom and goodness. It is impossible it should be otherwise. Therefore, when we find that sin and misery have taken place in God’s world, and under his government, we may be as certain that it is, on the whole, best it should be so; and that all this evil is necessary in order to answer the best ends, the greatest good of the universe, as we can be, that there is a God, omnipotent, and possessed of infinite wisdom, rectitude and goodness; and he who denies or doubts of the former, equally questions and opposes the latter. If it be once admitted that any evil, or the least event may, or can take place, which is not, on the whole, best, and therefore not desirable that it should be, it must with equal reason be granted, that nothing but evil, and what is, on the whole, undesirable, may take place; and that the universe may become wholly evil, or infinitely worse than nothing: And all would be left without any ground or reason to trust in God, or any thing else, for the least good for himself, or any other being. The divine perfections and character are the only security against this, and are the ground of an equal certainty that nothing has taken place, or ever will, which is not on the whole best, or necessary for the greatest good of the whole. And this is a sure and ample foundation for the trusty confidence, 114comfort and joy of him who is a true friend to God, and desires the greatest good of the whole; and consequently is irreconcileably opposed to every event which is not, on the whole, wisest and best. If this foundation were taken away and destroyed, what could the righteous, the truly pious and benevolent do? They must be left without any possible support, and sink into darkness and wo!
There can nothing take place under the care and government of
an infinitely powerful, wise and good Being, that is not on the whole wisest and
best; that is, for the general good; therefore, though there be things which are
in themselves evil, even in their own nature and tendency, such are sin and
misery; yet considered in their connection with the whole, and as they are necessary
in the best system, to accomplish the greatest good, the most important and best
ends, they are in this view, desirable, good, and not evil. And in this view, “There
is no absolute evil in the universe.” There are evils, in themselves considered;
but considered as connected with the whole, they are not evil, but good. As shades
are necessary in a picture, to render it most complete and beautiful, they are,
in this view and connection, desirable; and the picture would be imperfect and marred,
were they not included in it; vet considered separately, and unconnected with the
whole, they have no beauty, but deformity, and are very disagreeable: So moral evil
is, in itself considered, in its own nature and tendency, most odious, hurtful and
undesirable; but in the hands of omnipotence, infinite wisdom and goodness, it may
be introduced into the most perfect plan and system, and so disposed, and counteracted
in its nature and tendency, as to be a necessary part of it, in order to render
it most complete and desirable,6868 “Sin, in its own nature, hath no tendency to good, it is not an
apt medium, hath no proper efficacy to promote the glory of God: So far is
it from a direct contributing to it, that, on the contrary, it is most real dishonour
to him. But as a black ground in a picture, which in itself only defiles,
when placed by art, sets off the brighter colours, and brightens their beauty; so
the evil of sin, which, considered absolutely, obscures the glory of God; yet, by
the overruling disposition of his Providence, it serves to illustrate his name,
and make it more glorious in the esteem of creatures. Without the sin of man, there
had been no place for the most perfect exercise of his goodness.”
Bates, on the Harmony of the Divine Attributes, Edit. iii. p. 81
It has been said by some, that it is not becoming us, but presumption and arrogance, to say, that the system in which moral evil takes place is, on the whole, preferable to one in which it is wholly excluded; and is, all things considered, the best system, containing the greatest good. It is said, we are infinitely unable to determine this, unless we could comprehend the whole of each opposite system, and compare them together, and without error, determine the advantage of either, and see the good of each in their final issue, and exactly balance the account.
The weakness, error, and impiety of such an objection, will be sufficiently discovered and exposed, by observing, that though man is infinitely unequal to this, to take a comprehensive view of all possible systems, and determine which would be the best, and comprehend the greatest possible good; and is far from seeing all the ends that moral evil will answer; and though he could not see how it could be the occasion of any good, and why a plan, in which all evil is forever excluded, is not infinitely preferable to that in which evil exists and continues forever: Yet we know that One, infinitely able to judge and determine in this matter, has actually chosen and fixed upon a system in which moral evil takes place, and preferred it to all other possible systems; from which known fact, we may be as certain, that it is, on the whole, the best possible system, containing the most real good, as we are, that he is omnipotent, infinitely wise and good; and to question the former, is equally to deny, or doubt of the latter. If God be infinitely perfect, wise and good, his plan of operation, and all his works, must be so too; and we cannot entertain the least doubt whether it be not, on the whole, best, and for the greatest general good, that evil should take place, without impeaching the divine character and perfections. And to say that it would have been better, on the whole, if sin and all the consequences of it had never taken place, is the same as to say, that God is neither wise nor good, or had not power to execute what he saw was best, and desired to do, had he been able. It is not necessary that it should be determined and known what is the greatest good; or what is the best plan to 116effect this, were it known in what it consists, in order to decide this matter. It is enough, that God knows and has certainly fixed upon the wisest and best method to accomplish it; and therefore it is certain, that in order to this, it is necessary that moral evil, in all its eternal consequences, should take place. But if the greatest possible manifestation and display of the divine perfections, and the highest possible degree of moral good and happiness in the creation, be the greatest good, which it certainly is, according to reason and divine revelation: yet a great degree of moral evil and of misery may be necessary, in order to produce the highest possible degree of this good; and therefore that system which includes this evil may contain the greatest good, and be infinitely preferable to any other possible one, in which there would be no evil. And that this is really so, we may be absolutely certain, since we have the infallible evidence before our eyes in the fact which has taken place, under the direction of infinite wisdom.
It has been suggested by some, that this argument may not be conclusive: For though it be granted that infinite wisdom and goodness could not fix on a worse plan, when there was a better possible; yet there may be two or more possible systems equally good; and if one of these be fixed upon, rather than the other, we cannot hence infer that this is the wisest and best. Therefore, though the system in which evil takes place has been actually fixed upon, we do not know that a system might not be equally good, in which there is no evil. And then it will not follow that it is wisest and best, on the whole, that evil should exist. Upon this the following things may be observed.
1. If two or more possible systems be supposed to be exactly alike, in all respects, the supposition is inconsistent, and destroys itself: For if there be no kind or degree of difference , there are not two or more, but only one. There cannot be two, where there is not, in any respect, the least diversity.
2. But if there be any considerable diversity in any two or more possible systems, it is not to be supposed that they are, or can be, equally good and eligible, in the 117sight of infinite, unerring wisdom. The least difference must render one more eligible than the other. But if not, if two different proposed systems be equally good, and eligible in the view of infinite wisdom, and this were possible; then, by the supposition, one could not be chosen and preferred to the other; for, in such a case, it is supposed there is no ground of choice or preference: therefore no choice can be made. And if it were possible to choose the one and reject the other, there would be no wisdom in such a choice, it not being made from any reason or motive, or with any design. Indeed, such a supposed choice and preference is impossible, and therefore never did take place. It therefore could not be from choice, that one of two systems equally wise and good, exists, rather than the other, but must be from mere chance or accident, which is also impossible.
3. If two or more possible systems, though different in some respects, might be equally good and eligible, and it were possible that one of these should be preferred and chosen before the other; yet it is not to be supposed, and it is really impossible, that two systems, so infinitely diverse and opposite as those must be, in one of which is infinite evil, and from the other all evil is excluded, should be equally good and eligible. The evil which has taken place in this world will continue forever, and in this respect is infinite; and all moral evil is infinite in its nature and criminality; aid the effects of this extend to all the views, feelings and exercises of moral agents; of all the subjects of God’s moral government and kingdom, without end, and render them, in many respects, vastly different from what they would have been, or could be, had there been no evil. And the divine perfections and conduct appear in a very different light to all intelligences from what they would have done; and circumstances and events in God’s eternal kingdom are, and will forever be, infinitely different from what would have been, if no evil had ever taken place. If this then be a good system, and worthy of the preference and choice of an infinitely wise Being, is it supposable, is it possible, that a system infinitely 118 different from this, and diametrically opposite to it; in the great events of it; in the divine conduct; in the displays of the perfections of God; and in the views and exercises of all his subjects to all eternity, should be equally good; as well suited to display the divine character, and promote the holiness and happiness of the kingdom of God; and answer all the infinitely important and glorious ends, which are accomplished by the divine plan, which has actually taken place?
Surely, as there is an infinite difference in two such opposite systems, that which has been actually chosen by infinite wisdom and goodness is infinitely the best; and all the evil that takes place is the occasion of infinitely overbalancing good, so that the former is wholly swallowed up by the latter; and, in this view and connection, is not evil, but good, being the occasion of infinitely more beauty, holiness, happiness and glory, in God’s moral, eternal kingdom, than could have been in any possible system, in which evil has no place. The evil involves so much good, and is so absorbed in it, that, all taken together, and in the view of infinite wisdom, there appears the greatest possible beauty, perfection and glory. As shades, which appear deformed and disagreeable, when they stand alone, being introduced into a picture, by the art of a limner, add to the beauty of it, and are absorbed in the beauty and perfection of the whole, of which they are the occasion.6969 If any one desires to see this subject more particularly and accurately considered, he must be referred to Mr. West’s Essay on Moral Agency.
2, That all moral evil is designed by God to answer a good end, and is overruled for die greatest good, is evident from divine revelation. This is certain, if we can find one instance of this recorded in the Bible. For, if sin may be overruled for good, so that, on the whole, there is much more good, than could have been, had not that instance of sin taken place; then an infinitely wise and omnipotent Being can do it in every instance, and an infinitely good Being certainly will do it. Therefore though numberless instances of this might be produced from scripture history, but two or three will be mentioned, as sufficient to support the argument.119
The sin of Joseph’s brethren, in hating him and selling him, was overruled by God for great good, and appears to be an important and necessary part of his benevolent plan to bring about the good he designed for Joseph himself, and the people of Israel: Therefore it is said God sent Joseph into Egypt, and meant to accomplish good by it. The sin of Pharaoh, king of Egypt, in refusing to hearken to Jehovah, and hardening his heart, and obstinately opposing the God of Israel, was designed by God for great good, and overruled to answer this end. The happy consequences of this instance of rebellion are too many to be mentioned here; and they will abide, and have influence, and a good effect to the end of the world; yea, to all eternity.
It is sufficient for the present purpose to recollect what God himself says of this instance. “And in very deed even for this purpose have I raised thee up, that I might shew my power in thee, and that my name might be declared throughout all the earth: And I will get me honour upon Pharaoh and upon all his host.” He who is sensible of the desirableness, worth and importance of the display of the name and character of Jehovah, surely will not say that the sin and ruin of Pharaoh was not the occasion of good, which infinitely overbalances the evil. And who can say that God hath not more glorified himself by the sin and ruin of Pharaoh, and that he is not the occasion of immensely more good to the church and people of God, than if he had been perfectly obedient? Who can say, or has any reason to believe that the sin and destruction of Pharaoh has not been, or will not be the occasion of so much good, of so great a manifestation of the divine character and glory, and of so much holy exercise and happiness of the friends of God, as his obedience, holiness and happiness would have been? Is it not rather certain that the contrary is true, and that to a degree beyond all conception? And therefore he was raised up, that by his sin and ruin he might, by the all directing hand of God, answer this infinitely important end. Had not Pharaoh existed just such an one as he was, and such as he is, and will be forever, the great and good end of which he is made the 420occasion, could not have been answered; and had not infinite wisdom seen that such a character as that of Pharaoh was necessary in order to the greatest good of the whole, it would not have had an existence.
We have another instance of this kind in the condemnation, sufferings, and death of the Lord of glory. This is an instance of sin, the most aggravated and criminal, doubtless, of any other that has ever taken place. And yet all this sin and suffering was foreordained, and actually took place, by the wise counsel and decree of God, because it was absolutely necessary in order to accomplish the most benevolent purposes of Heaven, and produce the highest good of the universe. In order to this, it was necessary that Christ should die on the cross; but this could not be, unless he died by the hands of sinful men. Had he not been thus put to death, there would have been no redemption of man, nor any of that remarkable, glorious display of the divine character, which is exhibited in this work. It was most certainly desirable, and of infinite importance, that all the sin should take place which was necessary in order to bring to pass this event, the suffering and death of Christ, which though infinitely evil, in itself considered, is of most happy and glorious consequence. All this sin and evil sinks into nothing, when compared with the good, the glory that follows; and the whole appears to be an infinite good; the evil being covered, and vanishing, in the splendour and glory occasioned by it, and with which it is connected. Better, infinitely better is it, that the Jews should commit that sin, and that Christ should thus suffer, than that the infinitely good and glorious consequences should not take place. And may it not with safety and the greatest assurance be added, it is better that all the sin and misery that ever has been, or will be, should take place, than that there should not be such a character as that of the Mediator; such works as he has done and will do; such manifestation s of the divine character, as he has made and will make; such happiness and glory; which will be the eternal consequence of redemption? But to return.121
If the sin of putting the Son of God to death was the occasion of the greatest good, which could not otherwise have taken place; and therefore God ordained that this should come to pass, for the sake of the infinitely overbalancing good J and brought it about, consistent with the freedom of man, and his own hatred of that sin, in itself considered, and the total inexcusableness and infinite ill desert of those sinners; then here is an instance of the most horrid wickedness, which is necessary to promote and bring about the greatest good; and, in this view, very desirable, and of infinite importance that it should take place. And it may be hence safely concluded, that every instance of evil that ever has been, or will be, is as really necessary to promote the greatest possible good; and, in this view, a desirable event; and therefore determined by the infinitely wise counsel and decree of Heaven, however undesirable, odious or detestable it may be, in itself considered.
But that all the sins of men are overruled by God for good, and are appointed to take place for this end, may not only be inferred from the instances mentioned, and from many others; but it is expressly asserted in the following words of Sacred Writ, “Surely the wrath of man shall praise thee: The remainder of wrath shalt thou restrain.” If by the wrath of man, here be meant the furious exertions of sinners in their opposition to God and their neighbour, this comprehends all the sins of men, as they are all of the same nature. It is here declared as a most certain truth, that these sins of men, however numerous, and though they rise ever so high, shall turn to the praise of God, and promote his declarative glory. God will so overrule the sin of man, that he will get honour thereby: And that sin which would not answer this good and infinitely important end, he will not suffer to take place; but will effectually prevent it.—The following things are clearly contained in this passage,
1. That God does superintend and direct with regard to every instance of sin: He orders how much sin there shall be, and effectually restrains and prevents all that 122which he would not have take place. Men are, with respect to this, absolutely under his direction and control.
2. That all the sin which does take place shall answer the best and most important end; even that for which all things were made, the glory of God. “Surely the wrath of man shall praise thee.”
3. That therefore God wills and orders it to take place, that he may answer this end by it. If he effectually restrains and prevents that which will not praise him; it is certain that he could prevent all sin, if he pleased, and that he would do it, were it not necessary to answer this end; and that he wills the existence of it. not for its own sake, but for the sake of the end to be answered by it; or the good of which it is to be the occasion.
4. From this it follows, that the sin of man is the means of a good which so far overbalances the evil of sin, and all the evil consequences of it, that it is desirable, on this account, that it should take place: Therefore there is more good in the universe, and this is a better world, than could possibly have existed, had no evil come into it; and every instance of sin and evil is conducive, and necessary to the greatest possible good of the whole.
5. All this is here asserted in the strongest terms as a most certain and important, pleasing truth. The evidence and certainty of it are as clear and great, as of the existence of an almighty, wise and good Creator and Governor of the world. And it is a truth of the highest importance to be known, and believed with the greatest assurance, as it is implied in the exercises of true piety, especially in a joyful acquiescence in the divine government; joy in the supremacy and infinite felicity of God, and implicit cheerful trust in him: And as it is necessary to the support and comfort of the friends of God, in all the darkness and evil in this world; and the only proper ground of their rejoicing that the Lord God omnipotent reigneth; and that their God is in the heavens, and hath done whatsoever he pleased.
Thus it appears demonstrably certain, both from the being and perfections of God, and from divine revelation, that all the evil which takes place in God’s world, 123and under the influence of his government, is necessary in order to the greatest possible good; and is made the means of this; so that in this view, it is desirable, and perfectly agreeable to infinite wisdom and goodness, that it should take place just as it does. Therefore God, infinitely wise and good, has determined and decreed that evil should exist, as necessary to the highest perfection, beauty, happiness and glory of the system which was to be formed by his hand. Consequently, the evil which does actually take place, does not afford the least ground of objection against the doctrine of God’s decrees, by which he has foreordained whatsoever comes to pass; but is perfectly reconcileable to this doctrine: And this truth is the great support and ground of comfort to the truly pious mind, in the view of the abounding evil with which this world has been so long filled. God has foreordained all this, and all that ever will take place, for his own glory, and the greatest good of the universe: He superintends the whole, and brings good out of all this evil, infinitely greater good than could have been, without the evil. Therefore all is perfectly agreeable to the dictates of infinite wisdom and goodness.
It is certain that evil, both moral and natural, is in itself undesirable, and must be considered as infinitely contrary to divine holiness and goodness, viewed in this light only; and could not possibly have place in a system formed by God, and absolutely under his direction and government, were it not necessary in order to the greatest good of the whole, to make the system in the highest degree perfect, happy and glorious: And, in this view and connection, the existence of evil is desirable, and must be introduced, if infinite wisdom and goodness dictate and govern. And all the children of wisdom will approve and rejoice. And very unhappy are they who are dissatisfied with die works and ways of God in the moral or natural world; and think they have wisdom enough to see many things defective and wrong; and to have ordered matters better, had they been to contrive and direct them. This seems to be the situation of those who make the objection under consideration; which, it is presumed, will appear to all who well 124 consider what has now been said in answer to it, to be altogether groundless and unreasonable.7070 There have been many objections to what has been here asserted and proved, viz. That sin is necessary in order to the greatest good of the whole, and is the occasion of good in every instance of it. It has been said, that such a position gives the greatest encouragement to sin; for the more sin there is, the better, the more good there will be—That sin, according to this, is really no crime—That this is therefore inconsistent with its being forbidden in the law of God, and the punishment of the sinner, &c.—The distinction which has been made between sin, considered in itself, in its own nature and tendency; and as it is connected with the whole, and as overruled and used by God for the greatest good of the universe, is sufficient, it is supposed, if well considered, to show how groundless such objections are. All sin is infinitely odious, in its own nature, and has the most evil tendency, as it consists in opposition to God, and his glory, and to all good; God’s law, therefore, which requires love to him, must condemn and forbid sin, as infinitely wrong, and odious to him. The sinner cannot take encouragement to sin, from the good of which God makes it the occasion; because this is no good to him, so far as he is inclined to sin; and therefore cannot be a motive to sin: Because it is directly crossing to all inclination to sin. A son who desires not his fathers honour, but is of a disposition to be gratified in his disgrace, could not be persuaded to rebel against his father, from the consideration that his father would get honour by it: But if he be a friend to his father, and to his honour, he will not, from this friendship, be induced to act like an enemy, and do that which tends to hurt and dishonour him. Therefore man never did do evil with a desire and design to promote the good of which God makes it the occasion, it being a contradiction, and therefore absolutely impossible. And as rebellion against God is as evil in its own nature and tendency, when God makes it the occasion of good, and the disposition, views and motives of the sinner are as vile and criminal, as if no good, but infinite evil were the consequence, the sinner is as blameworthy, and deserves punishment as much, as if no good, but all the evil which his sin tends to produce, took place. It is not thought necessary or proper to give a more particular answer to these objections here. This has been done in three sermons, on the subject of the good of which sin is the occasion, published in the year 1759, and reprinted in Boston, and at Edinburgh in Scotland, in 1773.
Thirdly, It is now to be considered, whether God’s foreordaining whatsoever comes to pass, does imply that he is the origin, cause and author of sin, in a sense which is contrary to infinite holiness, and therefore very dishonourable to him. This is confidently asserted by many; and they have on this ground exclaimed against this doctrine, and all that is implied in it; and represented it in a most shocking and horrible light. Therefore, though what has been said of the nature of sin, as consisting wholly in the disposition and will of the sinner, and of the good of which it is the occasion, which renders it desirable that it should take place, may serve to throw some light on this point, and show that God’s choosing and determining that sin should take place, as 125 necessary to accomplish the greatest good, is a wise and holy choice: Yet it may be proper and important more particularly to consider this subject, and attend to it in the light in which it is set by the objection which has been introduced, and is now under consideration.
We ought to attend to this point, and think and speak of it with care and caution, and in the exercise of fear and reverence of the infinitely great and holy God, lest, under the notion of thinking and speaking for him, and to his honour, our thoughts and words should be really against him, and tend to his reproach. And this caution and reverential fear ought to possess the minds of those who make the objection under consideration, as well as of those who believe and assert the doctrine against which the objection is made. For if indeed God has foreordained whatsoever comes to pass; then all objections against it, however plausible they may appear, are really replying against God, and very dishonourable and displeasing to him. But if, on the other hand, the objection be reasonable and well founded, they who believe the doctrine of God’s decrees, do really dishonour and displease him. We are happy that we have a revelation from God, in which this point, as well as every important one, is set in a clear and easy light; so that no man can, with this in his hand, run into an error concerning it, and be blameless. In the light of reason, and this revelation, let the following things be well considered.
I. It is of importance to observe here, and fix it as certain, that when the origin or cause of evil is inquired after, or is ascribed to God, or any other being; the moral evil itself is not meant by the origin or cause of it. The origin or cause of any thing is necessarily before the thing which is the effect, and must exist and take place antecedent to the evil, and before the evil can exist. It is therefore certain that there can be no moral evil in the origin or cause of this evil, in whatever and wherever it may be found: For to suppose the contrary, is a direct and plain contradiction. Moral evil cannot be the origin or cause of moral evil, any more than any effect can be the cause of itself, or a child be the 126 cause of his father. We, in considering what is the origin of moral evil, are going back to something which is antecedent to the evil, and where, or in which, no such evil does, or can be supposed to exist, to find the cause of moral evil, or a reason why it does take place, rather than not. We must go back, therefore, till we get to that in which there is no moral evil, before we arrive to, or can find that which is the origin or cause of it. If we find an existence, object or exertion, in which there is moral evil, we may be sure, we have not yet found, or arrived to the origin and cause of it; and must yet go a step farther back, even to that in which there is no moral evil, in order to find the origin of this evil.
It hence follows that if man, or any creature is, in any instance, the origin or cause of sin, (meaning by cause, that which is antecedent to the existence of sin, and of which sin is properly the effect) that man or creature cannot be the sinful cause of that sin: And there is no moral evil in any conceptions, thoughts or exertions of such a creature, which are necessary to take place, antecedent to the existence of sin, and in order to it, whatever they may be, or if any be necessary.
It is also certain that if God, the first cause of all things, be the origin or cause of moral evil; (and this can be proved, and may be asserted, as a most evident truth,) this is so far from imputing moral evil to him, or supposing that there is any thing of that nature in him, that it necessarily supposes the contrary; and that in being the first cause of moral evil, there is no sin; and therefore that he may be the origin or cause of it, consistently with infinite holiness, and exercise it in whatever exertions or influence may be necessary or implied in being thus the cause of sin.
If any should say or imagine, that the thought, exertion, or influence, which tends to produce sin, and is in fact the cause or origin of it, must be itself sinful or wrong; this is only to contradict himself, and say that such exercise or exertion is not the origin of sin, but sin itself; consequently, as has been observed, we must go farther back to find the origin of this sin, till we find something in which there is no sin. And, according to 127this notion, we must go back without end, and never find the origin of sin, unless sin itself be the origin and cause of all sin; which is a contradiction. It therefore still appears demonstrably certain, that if there be any origin or cause of moral evil, which is supposed by all those who inquire after it, there is no moral evil, nothing morally wrong in this cause, wherever it may be found, and whatever it may be. Therefore God, in foreordaining whatsoever comes to pass, may be, in this sense, the origin and cause of sin, consistent with infinite holiness; and the contrary cannot be supposed without a contradiction.
If it should be said, “There is no origin or cause of moral evil except what is in the evil itself: It is the cause of itself, so far as it has any cause: Therefore the question concerning the origin of sin, meaning something antecedent to it, is groundless and vain, there being no such thing in nature. Moral evil has no cause, in this sense of cause.” Upon this it may be observed,
1. If this be admitted, then the objection under consideration, against the divine decrees, foreordaining all actions and events, as making God the origin, cause or author of sin, falls to the ground, and is given up: For, according to this, sin has no cause out of itself, or previous to its existence. But this cannot be admitted , for,
2. If moral evil may exist without a cause, there being no thing antecedent to its actual existence, which had any more influence or tendency to the existence of sin, than to the contrary; and there was no ground or reason of its existence, or why it should be, rather than not be, antecedent to its actually taking place; then there is an end of arguing from any effect whatever, to a cause; and we have not the least evidence that We ourselves, or any thing around us, or the world, have any origin or cause. For if moral evil may exist without a cause, so may every thing else which comes under our notice; and we have not the least evidence that there is a God, as the cause of the things which we behold. Which is not only directly contrary to the assertion of St. Paul, but to the reason and common sense of mankind 129in general. And why should one choose to embrace such an absurdity, and assert that sin has no origin or cause, antecedent to its actual existence, and is the cause of itself, rather than to admit that God is the origin of it; since by admitting this, it is not supposed there is any moral evil in him; but the contrary is necessarily implied, as has been observed above?
It will, perhaps, be farther said, “It is not meant that sin has no cause whatsoever in any sense; but that it has no positive cause: It has a negative cause; and God may be the cause, in this sense, that is, he permitted moral evil to take place, by determining not to prevent the existence of it, when he had power to prevent it, had he been pleased to do it.”—Upon this the following remarks may be made.
1. If God could prevent every sin that is committed, and yet has determined to permit all that takes place, which renders the event certain; then his determining to permit it, is really decreeing that it shall take place; or foreordaining that it shall come to pass: So that the objection that God’s foreordaining sin, makes him the cause and author of it, is not the least obviated by this supposition or scheme. And it may be worth while to consider whether any other supposed difficulty is removed by this. This leads to observe,
2. This does not in the least obviate what has been just observed upon the assertion that sin has no cause: For a negative cause is really no cause. Therefore to say concerning any existence, It has no cause but a negative one, is really denying that it has any cause. This therefore makes sin to exist without a cause or reason of its existence, rather than of its nonexistence. If the world has only a negative cause of its existence, then there is no cause of its existence, and no reason can be given why it does exist.
Moreover, this notion of a negative cause of moral evil supposes some positive cause, by which sin would come into existence; a cause of sufficient force, and positive energy to produce this effect, unless the operation of it be counteracted by God, by preventing the existence of it, by a positive energy; and therefore it has actual existence, as an effect of this cause, by the 129 determination of God not to hinder it. If an effect will certainly take place upon a mere permission, or not preventing it, it is necessarily supposed there is a cause sufficient to produce this effect, if not counteracted. And it must be now asked, what is this cause? Does it exist in God, or in the creature? If in the creature, from whence is the origin of this positive cause? Is its origin in itself; or in the creature? Or must we go back to the first cause? If either of the former be admitted, then we are again involved in the absurdity of sin being the cause of itself; or of a cause and effect existing independent of the first cause.
3. Even this supposition, that God is only the negative cause of moral evil, were it consistent, and did not leave sin really without any cause; yet relieves no difficulty respecting the existence of sin. It will be asked, why God suffered sin to exist, when he could have prevented it? If we could account for its existence without any reason or cause of it, if permitted or suffered to exist, that is, if not prevented; how shall we account for God’s suffering it to exist? It is presumed all must agree in the following answer. Because He, on the whole, all things considered, saw it best, or chose it should exist, rather than not. And if so, he must, he certainly did, choose things should be ordered so ns to make its existence absolutely certain; and consequently did order them so, and did every thing that was necessary to be done, previous to the existence of sin, in order to render the existence of it certain. Indeed, if it be granted that God, on the whole, chose moral evil should exist (which all must grant, who allow that he has permitted sin) and that this is a wise and holy choice; such a choice implies his doing every thing that is necessary in order to render this choice effectual; and that God is wise and holy in willing or doing all this, whatever it may be. And all this is really nothing more than his choice or will that it should exist; as all that God did in creating the world, so far as we can conceive, was to will its existence, or say. Let it be; there being a certain connection between his willing the existence of any 130thing or event, and the actual existence of it. He is in no other sense the origin or cause of any thing. And in this sense, it is granted by all who allow he permitted it, that he is the origin of moral evil.
Some may, perhaps, think all which has been now said of the origin or cause of moral evil may be evaded, and proved to be nothing to the purpose, by observing, that sin is purely a negative thing; that it is so, at least, in its original and foundation; and therefore has no origin or cause; or, at most, can have nothing more than a negative one.
On this it may be observed, that if it be meant that sin is a nonentity, and has, properly and in truth, no existence, and therefore is really nothing; and if this can be proved, then certainly a negative cause, or, which is the same, no cause, is quite sufficient in this case, to account for that which is not an effect, and is really nothing: And the inquiry, and all assertions about origin, cause or effect, are nugatory and absurd.
But will any man say, or can he believe, that there is nothing positive in moral evil, and that it has no positive existence? If such an one can be found, he must, if he will be consistent, say and believe that it is nothing or that there is no such thing; for not positively to exist is non-existence; and what is this more than nothing? And why is not moral good or holiness a negative, or nonentity also? Reason and divine revelation join to assert both to have a real, positive existence. Is there not as real, positive existence and exertion in selfishness, or self love, as in benevolence, or love to God? Or in enmity against God, as in the highest exercise of friendship to him?
But may it not be urged, that it is indeed granted that sin has something positive in it, when it comes to actual exercise, and is exerted in opposition to God and man: But is not this consistent with its having a negative original, or arising from a privative cause?
Answer. If there could be sin where there is not, in any sense, the least exercise, which it will be difficult, if not impossible to prove; still this must be nothing, if a mere negative or privation; and can have no existence. And a privative cause is no cause. But granting that 131 a negative or privative cause is a real cause, and that a negative effect, is a reality; yet, this does not account for this negative becoming a positive existence of its own accord, without any positive cause. If that which is merely negative, were any such existence possible, may start into positive existence, without any positive cause; then the whole world might come into existence without any positive exertion or cause. This supposition therefore does not appear to help the matter in the least, or to remove any difficulty.
But it may still be asked, is not the true and only origin of sin overlooked in all that has been yet said? Is not the sinner himself the only true and proper cause of his sin, as he produces it, and there is no other cause or author of his sinful exertions?
Answer. If in this question it be meant, that he with whom moral evil is found is the sinner, and that we must not look beyond him, or out of him, to find the sin of which he is guilty; but that he is, in this sense, the origin, cause and author of all the sin that is found with him; it being his own act, which he has exerted voluntarily, and without any compulsion; and for which he only is blameable: If this be the meaning, it is granted the sinner is, in this sense, the sole cause and author of all the sin found with him; and we are not to look any farther for it. But still there is a reason why things were so ordered and disposed, as that he should thus sin, rather than not. Something must have taken place previous to his sin, and in which the sinner had no hand, with which his sin was so connected, as to render it certain that sin would take place just as it does. This is the origin or cause of sin, which the question we are upon respects, and concerning which inquiry is made: And in which it has been observed, there can be no sin, as by the supposition it takes place and is exerted before the existence of moral evil, of which it is the origin or cause, and in order to it. Therefore, if we find that the great first cause of all things is, in this sense, the origin of moral evil, by foreordaining whatsoever comes to pass, this does not suppose any moral evil in him, but the contrary; and is perfectly consistent with his infinite holiness, as has been before observed.132
Objection. But after all the above reasoning about the origin of sin, which seems to prove that the first cause of all things is in a true and important sense, the cause of this evil; he having foreordained that it should take place, and disposed and done every thing that was necessary to be done, antecedent to the existence of sin, and in order to it, by which this event was made certain; and that in all this there can be no moral evil, but the contrary: Yet it will appear to the common sense and feelings of men, that to will the existence of sin, and to make any exertion or do any thing in order to it, in consequence of which it does actually exist, is wrong and sinful; and therefore infinitely unbecoming the supreme and infinitely holy Being. And to assert any such thing, or even to suppose that God is, in any sense, the origin of sin, is shocking, and fraught with impiety!
Ans. 1. It may be that many under the gospel, by not attending candidly and without prejudice to this subject, and not thinking closely upon it, nor making proper distinctions; and by habituating themselves to a wrong association of ideas on this point; may be shocked at the above representation; and feel as if it carried in it a degree of blasphemy; and yet, this not be any evidence that it is not agreeable to the truth, and consistent with the highest degree of real piety, and veneration for the Most High; and even the proper dictate and language of it.
The Jews had, by education, and otherwise, imbibed such prejudices in favour of their temple and worship, and had habitually formed such an association of ideas, that they thought and felt that Stephen was guilty of blasphemy, when be intimated, that their place of worship should be destroyed, and the customs which Moses delivered to them be changed. And they were shocked, and stopped their ears, when he told them that he saw the heavens opened, and the Son of Man standing on the right hand of God. And when Christ said to the Jewish council, “Hereafter ye shall seethe Son of Man on the right hand of power, and coming in the clouds of heaven,” the high priest was so shocked, that he rent his clothes, and they all cried out, blasphemy! The present Jews, and those of many generations 133 past, have thought it a piece of high impiety to pronounce the Tetragrammaton, as it is called; that is, the sacred name Jehovah, and shudder at the thought of doing it; and are to the last degree shocked to hear it done. This is the effect of a false association of ideas, and superstition, introduced by the force of education, by which it comes to pass, that the pronunciation of a name, which was spoken freely, and with the highest exercise of pious veneration of the Deity, by the prophets and holy men of old, is now considered by the Jews as an instance of shocking impiety.
If we look into the popish world, we shall find innumerable instances of this kind. If a protestant pay no veneration to the host, and refuse to bow, and worship the breaden god, when it is carried in public procession, the populace will be shocked with a degree of horror: and it will be no wonder if he gets a broken head for his impiety. And if he do not worship and pray to the virgin Mary, and venerate her image; but speaks against it as idolatry, their pious feelings are most sensibly excited, and they abhor the impious wretch; while he considers himself to be following the dictates of true piety in all this, and honouring the Most High.
From these and many other instances of the same kind, it appears, that what is sometimes called the common sense and feelings of men, is not to be depended upon, in determining what is true or false; especially in those things which respect the Deity: And more especially, when the dictates of this sense and feeling are contrary to the most clear dictates of sober, sound reason, and to the plain and abundant declarations of divine revelation. For as that which is often highly esteemed among men, is an abomination in the sight of God; so that which is most important truth, in his sight, and honourable to Him, is in too many instances an abomination to men. This leads to,
Ans. 2. That God did will the existence of moral evil, in determining, at least, to permit it, when he could have prevented it, had he been pleased to do it, must be granted by all who would avoid ascribing to Him that imperfection, impotence, and subjection to that power, be it what it may, which introduced sin, contrary to his 134will; which is indeed shockingly impious, and real blasphemy, to every considerate, and rationally pious mind. We may inter from this, with the greatest certainty, that it is, all things considered, or in the view of the omniscient God, wisest and best that moral evil should exist. For to suppose that it was his m ill that it should take place, or that he has permitted it, when he could have prevented it; and yet that it was not wisest and best in his sight, that it should exist, is beyond expression impious, and at once strips the Deity of all moral good or holiness; and gives him the most odious and horrid character!
But if God did will and choose that sin should exist, this being, on the whole, most agreeable to his holiness or his infinite wisdom and goodness; this necessarily implies, as has been before observed, ail that energy, exertion and disposal of things, that is necessary, previous to the existence of sin, in order to its actually taking place; and without which it could not have existed. For there is an infallible connection between the will of God that sin shall exist, and the actual existence of it; and this will of God is the cause or reason why it has taken place, rather than not. And if it be wise and holy to will and determine the existence of moral evil, it is wise and holy to order and do every thing which must be ordered and done, antecedent to its existence, in order to its taking place, be that what it may: And not to order, dispose and do all that, would be contrary to wisdom and holiness. Therefore, to assert that God is, in this sense, and so far the origin and cause of sin, is so far from imputing any thing dishonourable to him, that it is the only way in which his infinite wisdom and holiness can be consistently asserted and maintained: and to assert the contrary is highly impious, and very opposite to the sense and feelings of the pious mind of him who is truly judicious, sensible and discerning.
The sum of what has been said on this point may be expressed in
the following words. Moral evil could not exist, unless it were the will of God,
and his choice, that it should exist, rather than not. And from this it is certain,
that it is wisest and best, in his view, that sin should exist. And in thus willing
what was wisest and 135best, and foreordaining that it should come to
pass, God exercised his wisdom and goodness; and in this view and sense, is really
the origin and cause of moral evil; as really as he is of the existence of any thing
which he wills; however inconceivable the mode and manner of the origin and existence
of this event may be; and however different from that of any other.7171 “If by the author of sin is meant the permitter, or a not
hinderer of sin: and at the same time, a disposer of the state of events, in such
a manner, for wise, holy, and most excellent ends and purposes, that sin infallibly
follows; I say, if this be all that is meant, by being the author of sin, I do not
deny that God is the author of sin, (tho’ I dislike and reject the phrase, as that
which, by use and custom, is apt to carry another sense) It is no reproach for the
Most High to be thus the author of sin. This is not to be the actor of sin, but
on the contrary, of holiness. What God doth herein, is holy; and the glorious
exercise of the infinite excellency of his nature And I do not deny, that God’s
being thus the author of sin, follows from what I have laid down: And I assert
that it equally follows from the doctrine which is maintained by most of the
Arminian divines.” Edwards, on Freedom of Will.
Edit. I. Part iv. S. xi. P. 254.
“If it would be a plain defect of wisdom and goodness in a being, not to choose that should be, which he certainly knows it would, all things considered, be best should be, (as has but now been observed) then it must be impossible for a Being who has no defect of wisdom and goodness, to do any otherwise than choose it should be; and that for this very reason, because he is perfectly wise and good. And if it be agreeable to perfect wisdom and goodness for him to choose that it should be, and the ordering of all things supremely and perfectly belongs to him, it must be agreeable to infinite wisdom and goodness, to order that it should be. If the choice be good, the ordering and disposing things according to that choice must also be good. It can be no harm in one to whom it belongs to do his will in the armies of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth, to execute a good volition If the will be good, and the object of his will be, all things considered, good and best; then the choosing or willing it, is not willing evil. And if so, then his ordering according to that will, is not doing evil?” Idem. P. 267.
It may be proper to observe here, that all which has been above asserted respecting the origin and cause of moral evil, is contained and fully expressed in the following words, in the Shorter Catechism. “The decrees of God are, his eternal purpose, according to the counsel of his own will, whereby, for his own glory, he hath foreordained whatsoever comes to pass. God executeth his decrees in his works of creation and providence. God’s works of providence are, his most holy, wise and powerful preserving and governing all his creatures, and all their actions.” And in their confession of faith, they say, “God, the great creator of all things, doth uphold, direct, dispose and govern all creatures, actions and things, from the greatest even to the least, by his most wise and holy providence, according to his infallible foreknowledge, and the free and immutable counsel of his own will, to the praise of the glory of his wisdom, power, justice, goodness, and mercy. “The Almighty power, unsearchable wisdom, and infinite goodness of God, so fur manifest themselves in his providence; that it extendeth itself even to the first fall, and all other sins of angels and men, and that not by a bare permission, but such as hath joined with it a most wise and powerful bounding, and otherwise ordering, and governing them, in a manifold dispensation, to his own holy ends.” It is here asserted that God hath foreordained, decreed and willed the existence of moral evil; for this has come to pass. And it is said God brings this decree or will of his into effect, by creation and his governing providence, by which he, in the exercise of wisdom and holiness, does powerfully govern his creatures, and superintend and direct, dispose and order all their actions. These assertions, which have been justly considered as essential to what has been called Calvinism, and are professed and espoused by all consistent Calvinists, have been strongly objected to by many, ever since they have been made and published, as full of impiety, and involving horrible consequences, making God the author of sin, &c. It is therefore no wonder, when this same doctrine is revived, explained and vindicated, that the same objections should come into view, and be urged, as they have been heretofore.
This is observed, with a view to rectify a mistake which some seem to imbibe, while they oppose the doctrine above asserted, respecting the origin and cause of moral evil: and yet do not consider or believe they are equally opposing the Assembly of Divines, and all who have espoused the confession of faith and the catechism composed by them; and not as a proof of the truth of the doctrine; for it is presumed this has been exhibited in what has been said above; and will be yet farther confirmed b/ what is to follow; and needs not the testimony of man for its support.
II. Divine Revelation must be examined carefully to find in what light this point is there represented; whether it does warrant any to say, God has foreordained the existence of sin: Or that he is in any sense the origin and cause of it. This ought to be done with fear and reverence of these sacred oracles; with impartial, upright hearts, and a religious concern and desire to think and speak according to this word, since they who do not “have no light in them.”
In order to obtain the light which is contained in the holy scriptures, respecting this subject, it may be of advantage to observe the following particulars.
1. According to divine revelation, God superintends, orders and directs in all the actions of men, and in every instance of sin; so that his hand and agency is to be seen and acknowledged in men’s sinful actions, and the events depending on them, as really and as much, as in any events and actions whatever. Of this every person must be sensible, who has read the Bible with any proper attention and true understanding; as it is held up to view throughout the whole of it, and is suited to impress this idea on the mind of every one who reads it. All the historic part of the Bible, and the predictions of events, whether great or less, to be accomplished by the wicked agency of man; and of innumerable particular sinful actions of men, are an incontestible evidence of 137 this. So are all the acknowledgments of the divine hand and agency, in the events brought to pass by the sinful conduct of men; which are too many to be particularly mentioned here. But the truth of this observation may perhaps be more fully illustrated, and set in a stronger point of light, by attending to the following passages of scripture.
The very sinful deed of the brethren of Joseph, in selling him, which was the necessary mean of his going into Egypt, is represented as so ordered by God, as to be as really done by him, as if it had not been done by the hands and agency of these wicked men. Joseph says to his brethren, that God did it, and that he had a particular and good design in it. “God sent me before you, to preserve you a posterity in the earth, and to save your lives by a great deliverance. So now it was not you that sent me hither, but God, who meant it unto good.”7272 Gen. xlv. 7, 8, to 20. “He sent a man before them, even Joseph, who was sold for a servant.”7373 Psalm cvii. 17.
It is said, concerning Eli’s wicked sons, that “they hearkened not unto the voice of their father, because the Lord would slay them.”7474 1 Sam. ii. 25. It is here asserted that by God’s ordering and direction, they disregarded the admonition of their father, as necessary in order to his destroying them.
When Shimei cursed David, he acknowledges the hand of God in it, as much as if Shimei had done it in obedience to the divine command, or it had been done immediately by God himself. “So let him curse, because the Lord hath said unto him, Curse David. Let him alone, and let him curse; for the Lord hath bidden him.”7575 2 Sara. xvi. 10, 11. It is impossible David should express himself thus on this occasion, unless he viewed Shimei’s wicked conduct to be ordered and directed by God, so that his hand was to be seen in it, as, in this sense, the origin and cause of what took place.
“And Absalom and all the men of Israel said. The counsel of Hushai the Archite is better than the counsel of Ahithophel: For the Lord hath appointed to defeat the good counsel of Ahithophel, to the intent that the Lord 138 might bring evil upon Absalom.”7676 2 Sam. xvii. 14. This good counsel of Ahithophel was defeated by the folly of Absalom and the men of Israel; yet it is said, God had appointed it, to bring about his own purpose. His hand guided the whole affair, and superintended every motion of the hearts of those wicked men.
“Wherefore the king hearkened not unto the people; for the cause was from the Lord, that he might perform his saying, which the Lord spake by Ahijah the Shilonite, unto Jeroboam the son of Nebat. Thus saith the Lord, Return every man to his house; for this thing is from me.”7777 1 Kings xii. 15, 24. Here it is said, that God so superintended and directed in this affair, that he was the cause of that foolish and wicked conduct of Rehoboam; and that it was from him, as necessary to accomplish an important event, which he had determined and foretold. And who can say, that God is not, in the same sense, and as much, the origin and cause of every instance of sin, that he may accomplish his infinitely wise designs? Is not this passage alone a sufficient warrant for this? And if the divine character can be vindicated, in what is ascribed to him, in this instance, how can it be dishonourable to him to say, he so directs and orders with respect to every instance of sin, as that he is, in this sense, the origin and cause of it? When the enemies of Judah came to ravage and destroy that people and country, it is said, God sent them. “And the Lord sent against Jehoiakim bands of the Chaldees, and bands of the Syrians, &c. and sent them against Judah to destroy it. Surely at the commandment of the Lord came this upon Judah, to remove them out of his sight.” What can be the meaning of this, unless it be that God superintended, ordered and directed all the motions and conduct of these wicked men: and so made them his instruments to destroy Judah? “Through the anger of the Lord, it came to pass in Jerusalem and Judah, until he had cast them out from his presence, that Zedekiah rebelled against the king of Babylon,”7878 2 Kings xxvi. 2, 3, 29. Is it not here declared that God ordered the sinful rebellion of Zedekiah against the king of Babylon; and that his hand or agency 139 was to be seen, and his anger with the inhabitants of Jerusalem and Judah, was expressed in this?
“But Amaziah would not hear; for it came of God, that he might deliver them into the hand of their enemies.”7979 2 Chron. xxv. 20. It appears from the story that it was owing to the pride and folly of Amaziah, that he did not hearken to the admonition and advice of the king of Israel; and yet this was of the Lord. By his determination, direction and superintending influence, it came to pass, in order to answer his own wise purposes: and his hand was to be seen in the obstinacy of Amaziah, as really as in any event which takes place by the immediate exertion of divine energy. And if this instance of sin was of God, then every instance may be, and most certainly is so: And we are warranted to assert this, by the declaration before us, as well as many others of the same tenor to be found in holy writ.
In the tenth chapter of Isaiah, God, by his prophet, addresses the king of Assyria, as the rod of his anger, and the executioner of his indignation, against the hypocritical nation of Judah and Israel; and says he would send him to punish them; though he in going and doing die work, would have no design or desire to accomplish the ends God intended to answer by his pride and cruelty; And therefore after he had accomplished his ends by him, he would punish him for that wickedness of which he would be guilty, and which was necessary to fulfil the purposes of God: And while he was as really an instrument in the hand of God, and as much under his influence and direction, and as dependent on him, in all his motions, as is the ax or saw, in the hand of the workman. There is no need of any comment to show that this passage represents God as ordering, directing and bounding the sinful actions of wicked men; so that they are answering his ends in what they do, and his hand is to be seen and acknowledged in their sinful motions and actions, as really as the hand and exertions of the workman is to be seen in the motion of the axe or saw, by which he executes his designs.
In the same manner God speaks of Nebuchadnezzar, king of Babylon. He says, he would send and fecht 140him, and the nations under his command; and by him utterly destroy Judah, and the neighbouring nations; and speaks of him as his instrument, or weapon in his hands to lay waste and destroy. “Thou art my battleaxe and weapons of war. For with thee will I break in pieces the nations, and with thee will I destroy kingdoms, &c.”8080 Jeremiah xxv. 9.—li. 20.
To the same purpose are the following words, “Behold, I have created the smith that blow eth the coals in the fire, and that bringeth forth an instrument for his work; and I have created the waster to destroy.”8181 Isaiah liv 16. This is said to support and comfort the people of God, in all their dangers and troubles from evil men, telling them that they had no reason to be afraid of them, since they were made by him, to answer his ends; and they were absolutely in his hands: so that they should do nothing but what he ordered; and therefore could do them no real hurt.
“And before these days, there was no hire for man, nor any hire for beast; neither was there any peace to him that went out, or came in, because of the affliction; for I set all men every one against his neighbour.”8282 Zech. viii. 10. This warrants us to consider God’s hand, and efficacious influence, in all the hatred, quarrels and wars that take place among men.
“Wherefore I gave them also statutes that were not good, and judgments whereby they should not live. And I polluted them in their own gifts, in that they caused to pass through the fire all that openeth the womb, that I might make them desolate, to the end that they might know that I am the Lord.” This has reference to the statutes and judgments which they made for themselves, and practised in their abominable idolatries, &c. yet God says, He gave them these evil and destructive statutes and judgments; and He polluted them, in these abominable sacrifices, by which they polluted themselves. This strongly expresses his superintendency and agency in all this, in order to answer a wise and important end.8383 Ezekiel xx. 25, 26.141
The crucifixion of our Saviour, and all the circumstances that attended it, are expressly and repeatedly declared to have taken place, in consequence of the divine determination and decree, foreordaining them; and by his direction and superintending hand. It was so important and useful, that this whole affair should be viewed in this light, that special care was taken to keep it in view. “Thinkest thou that I cannot now pray to my father, and he shall presently give me more than twelve legions of angels? But how then shall the scriptures be fulfilled, that thus it must be?” “But all this was done, that the scriptures of the prophets might be fulfilled.”8484 Matt. xxvi. 53, 54, 56. “But behold the hand of him that betrayeth me, is with me on the table. And truly the Son of man goeth as it was determined.”8585 Luke xxii. 21, 22. “Him, being delivered by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God, ye have taken, and by wicked hands have crucified and slain. And now, brethren, I know that through ignorance ye did it, as did also your rulers. But those things which God before had shewed by the mouth of all his prophets, that Christ should suffer, he hath so fulfilled.”8686 Acts ii. 23.—iii. 17, 18.
Peter, in these passages, is careful to observe, that the death of Christ was part of the divine plan, which he had in his wise counsel determined; and had particularly foretold by the prophets; and which he had now fulfilled by their wicked hands, as it was necessary to be viewed in this light, in order to understand it, and see the reason and importance of this memorable event; And not consider it is an argument of the weakness and disappointment of the Saviour and his followers. Accordingly the disciples kept this constantly in view, and say, in a solemn address to God, “For, of a truth, against thy holy child Jesus, whom thou hast anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the people of Israel were gathered together, to do whatsoever thy hand and thy counsel determined before to be done.8787 Acts iv. 27, 28.”
If God had before determined, or foreordained, that all this should be done, with every act of sin which was 142necessarily implied in its being done; and his irresistible hand and operation was to be seen and regarded in all this; and the church did see and particularly attend to this, as matter of support, thankfulness and joy; and devoutly acknowledged all this, in a solemn address to God, in order to glorify him; all which must be owned to be true, as long as this passage is allowed to stand in the Bible: Then there can be no impiety, in believing and saying, that God has foreordained whatsoever comes to pass, and with his hand is executing his own wise purposes, in his governing providence, ordering and directing all the actions of men, even the most sinful, as well as others, for his own glory and the general good; and that his hand is to be seen in every event, and in every action of man, as really as if he was the only agent in the universe; yea, to view things in this light, and to have feelings and exercises answerable, is for the glory of God, is suited to support and comfort all his friends; and is implied in true devotion.
2. The holy scriptures represent God as, in some way or other, moving, exciting and stirring men up to do that which is sinful, and which, in itself considered, and as done by them, is very displeasing to him.
“And again the anger of the Lord was kindled against Israel, and he moved David against them, to say, Go number Israel and Judah.”8888 2 Samuel xxiv. 1. This, to which God is said to move David, was a great sin in him, and very displeasing to God. “And the Lord stirred up an adversary unto Solomon, Hadad the Edomite. And God stirred him up another adversary, Rezon, the son of Eliada.”8989 1 Kings xi. 14, 23. “And the God of Israel stirred up the spirit of Pul, king of Assyria, and the spirit of Tilgath-pilneser, and he carried them away, even the Reubenites, and Gadites, and brought them unto Halah, &:c.”9090 1 Chron. v. 26. “Behold, I will stir up the Medes against them, which shall not regard silver, &c.”9191 Isaiah xiii. 17. These passages express a divine agency, either mediate or immediate, on the minds of these persons, by which they were influenced and moved to those actions; and God is represented to be the first moving cause of what was done by them: 143 And what he did, be it what it may, was antecedent to their volitions and actions, and the latter the effect of the former. And if their liberty and sin consisted wholly in their voluntary exercises, as has been proved; then they were as free and as blameable, as if nothing had been determined and done, antecedent to their determinations and choice, and as necessary to their taking place, whatever it was. And whatever is implied in God’s moving them, and stirring up their spirits to act as they did, it was only in order to bring to pass his infinitely wise, important and good purposes, or executing his holy decrees; and therefore was infinitely wise and holy; and directly contrary to the views, inclinations and designs of these wicked men: and therefore consistent with his abhorring their doings: his displeasure with them, and punishing them for their wickedness.
3. Agreeable to the last particular, the scriptures represent God as moving the hearts of all men, just as he pleases; and even when they do that which is sinful.
“From the place of his habitation he looketh upon all the inhabitants of the earth, He fashioneth their hearts alike.” That is, He forms the heart of every one equally, of one, as well as another.9393 Psalm xxxiii 14, 15.
“He turned their heart to hate his people; to deal subtilly with his servants.”9494 Psalm cv. 25. “Incline my heart unto thy testimonies, and not unto covetousness.”9595 Psalm cxix. 36. “Incline not mine heart to any evil thing, to practise wicked works with men that work iniquity.”9696 Psalm cxli. 4. “For God hath put in their hearts to fulfill his will, and to agree, and give their kingdom unto the beast, until the words of God shall be fulfilled.”9797 Rev. xvii. 17. These are the ten kings and their subjects, mentioned in the preceding context, who join to support the beast, and make war with Christ and his people. God is here said to put it in their hearts, to do this, so far, and so long, as this is necessary, in order to answer his ends, and fulfil his infinitely wise and important designs. This cannot import less than that God 144 has the hearts of these kings, and all under them, so in his hand and under his direction, that he turns them as he pleases, to accomplish his purposes; so that he makes them answer his ends, in all their opposition to him. Agreeable to this, it is said, “The king’s heart is in the hand of the Lord as the rivers of water: He turneth it whithersoever he will.”9898 Prov. xxi. 1. If God does turn the heart of the king, whithersoever he will; then his heart, his will and choice, is always and in every instance under God’s direction and control; and there can be no motion, determination, or exertion of his heart, which is not as God wills it to be. Every turn of his heart then is an event which God wills should take place, and therefore foreordained that it should come to pass just as it does. And God, in thus turning the heart, is in this sense, the origin and cause of every motion, choice or volition, in which the heart turns this way, or that. And if the heart of the king is thus in the hand of the Lord, and he turneth it whithersoever he will; then the hearts of all his subjects, yea, of all men, may be, and actually are as much in the hand of God. This is implied in the assertion under consideration. The heart of the king is mentioned, as he has great power and influence over others, and is most absolute and despotic, and commonly most obstinate and inflexible. Even his heart, as well as the heart of all others, is in the hand of the Lord; wholly under his power and influence, and is turned by him just as he pleases. The same thing is asserted in many passages of scripture, some of which have been mentioned; as that of God’s representing the king of Syria as sent by him to distress Israel and Judah; and as an axe or saw in his hand, directed and moved by Him to execute his will; his speaking of other kings as raised up and sent by Him, to be his servants to do his pleasure; and putting it into their hearts to fulfil his will, &c. But, in these words of Solomon this is asserted in the most express and strongest manner, of the heart of kings and of all men; so that it seems impossible not to understand, or to evade the truth here expressed: As no words, perhaps, can be devised to convey it in a more clear, unequivocal and decisive manner.145
All the objections made against God’s foreordaining all the moral evil that takes place, and his being, in this sense, and so far, the origin and cause of it, as has been asserted and explained above, do equally lie, and are as strong against this passage, and many others which have been mentioned, under this and former particulars.
4. In Divine Revelation an evil spirit which is in men and takes place among them, is said to be from God; and to be sent or caused by him.
“Then God sent an evil spirit, between Abimelech and the men of Shechem: And the men of Shechem dealt treacherously with Abimelech.”9999 Judges ix. 23. “But the Spirit of the Lord departed from Saul, and an evil spirit from the Lord troubled him. And it came to pass on the morrow that the evil spirit from God came upon Saul.”100100 1 Samuel xvi. 4. xviii. 10.“Now therefore the Lord hath put a lying spirit in the mouth of all these thy prophets.”101101 1 Kings xxii. 23. “The Lord hath mingled a perverse spirit in the midst thereof: And they have caused Egypt to err in every work thereof.”102102 Isaiah xix. 14. Whatever be meant by an evil, lying and perverse spirit, whether it be no more than the evil inclination and exercise of the hearts of men; or an evil agent, distinct from their spirits, exciting them to sinful exercises; God is in these scriptures represented as superintending and ordering this spirit to take place in men, as it did. And if he did this, and yet maintained his own infinitely holy character, and these men were notwithstanding, wholly free in their evil inclinations and conduct, and accountable and deserving of blame and punishment for them; which was most certainly the case: Then all the evil volitions of men may be, in the same sense, manner and degree, from God, consistent with all these. It is therefore easy to see, that all objections against the doctrine under consideration, may with equal reason be made against such declarations as these, which are found in the holy scriptures.
5. God is said, in the scriptures, to order, send and effect the sinful deceptions and delusions of men. “With him is strength and wisdom: The deceived and the deceiver are his.”103103 Job xii. 16. “O Lord, why hast thou made 146us to err from thy ways?”104104 Isaiah lxiii. 17. “And if the prophet be deceived when he hath spoken a thing, I the Lord have deceived that prophet.”105105 Ezekiel xiv. 9. “And for this cause God shall send them strong delusions, that they should believe a lie: That they all might be damned, who believed not the truth, but had pleasure in unrighteousness.”106106 2 Thes. ii. 11, 12. According to these passages, the divine hand and agency are concerned in all the errors and deceptions which take place among men, by which many of them run on to destruction.
6. In the scriptures, God is many times said to blind the minds, and harden the hearts of men. This is often ascribed to him, in the most express terms, without saying any thing to qualify, soften, or explain the expressions, or to intimate that they are not to be taken in their plain, natural meaning. These will be now produced, as worthy of particular attention.
“And he said, go and tell this people, hear ye indeed, but understand not; and see ye indeed, but perceive not. Make the heart of this people fat, and make their ears heavy, and shut their eyes: Lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and convert, and be healed.”107107 Isa. vi. 9, 10. We have this remarkable passage quoted in St. John’s gospel, in the following words, and applied to the Jews in his day. “Therefore they could not believe, because that Esaias said, He hath blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts; that they should not see with their eyes, nor understand with their heart, and be converted, and I should heal them.” Here those words in Isaiah, Make the heart of this people fat and shut their eyes, have the meaning of them given in the following words, He, that is God, hath blinded their eyes and hardened their hearts, God is here said to do what Isaiah was directed to do; for the prophet was infinitely unequal to produce the effect, and could be only the instrument by whom God caused it to take place. In this view, and in no other, the Evangelist appears to have given the true sense of the passage, while he uses these strong and pointed expressions.147
“For the Lord hath poured out upon you the spirit of deep sleep, and hath closed your eyes. They have not known, nor understood: For he hath shut their eyes, that they cannot see; and their hearts, that they cannot understand.”108108 Isaiah xxix. 10.—xliv. 15. “Israel hath not obtained that which he seeketh for: But the election hath obtained it, and the rest were blinded,” (or hardened, as it is in the original,) “According as it is written, God hath given them the spirit of slumber, eyes that they should not see, and ears that they should not hear unto this day.”109109 Romans xi. 7, 8.
Those passages are now to be produced, in which hardening the hearts of men is expressly ascribed to God. This is done more than ten times, in the history of Pharaoh and the Egyptians. “But I will harden his heart, that he shall not let the people go.”110110 Exodus iv. 21. “And I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, and multiply my signs and my wonders in the land of Egypt. But Pharaoh shall not hearken unto you.”111111 Chap. vii. 3. “And he hardened Pharaoh’s heart, that he hearkened not unto them, as the Lord had said.”112112 Ver. 13. “And the Lord hardened the heart of Pharaoh, and he harkened not unto them; as the Lord had spoken unto Moses.”113113 Chap ix. 12. “And the Lord said unto Moses, go in unto Pharaoh: For I have hardened his heart, and the heart of his servants, that I might show these my signs before him: and that thou mayest tell in the ears of thy son, and of thy son’s son, what things I have wrought in Egypt, and my signs which I have done among them; that ye may know how that I am the Lord,”114114 Chap. x. 1, 2. “But the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart, so that he would not let the children of Israel go.”115115 Ver. 20. “But the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart, and he would not let them go.”116116 Ver. 27. “And Moses and Aaron did all these wonders before Pharaoh: And the Lord hardened Pharaoh’s heart, so that he would not let the children of Israel go out of his land.”117117 Chap. xi. 10. “And I will harden Pharaoh’s heart, that he shall follow after them; and I will be honoured upon Pharaoh, and upon all his host; that the Egyptians may know that I am the Lord.”118118 Chap. xiv. 4: “And the Lord hardened the heart of Pharaoh king of 148 Egypt, and he pursued after the children of Israel.” ”And I, behold, I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians, and they shall follow them: And I will get me honour upon Pharaoh, and upon all his host.”119119 Exod. xiv. 8, 17.
There are other passages in which God is said to harden the hearts of men, which are now to be mentioned. “But Sihon, king of Heshbon, would not let us pass by him, For the Lord thy God hardened his spirit, and made his heart obstinate, that he might deliver him into thy hands as appeareth this day.”120120 Deut. ii. 30. “For it was of the Lord to harden their hearts, that they should come against Israel in battle, that he might destroy them utterly.”121121 Josh. xi. 20. “O Lord, why hast thou hardened our heart from thy fear?”122122 Isaiah lxiii. 17, It might be safely and with good reason argued from these instances of God’s hardening the hearts of men, that God hardens every heart that is hard and obstinate; as no reason can be given why he should do this, in one instance, and not in another; or there is the same reason why the hardness and obstinacy of men’s hearts in general, and wherever it takes place, should be as really ascribed to God, as these instances which are mentioned; and there can be no objection against his hardening the hearts of all men, whose hearts are hard, that may not with equal reason be made against his hardening the heart of Pharaoh, and others concerning whom it is expressly asserted. But this is made certain, as the consequence is drawn to our hand, by one under divine inspiration. “Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth.”123123 Rom. ix. 18. The apostle in these words has reference to God’s hardening the heart of Pharaoh, whom he mentions in the words immediately preceding; and from this instance of God’s raising him up and hardening his heart, to answer his own infinitely wise purposes, he makes this inference: “Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth.” Here every one of mankind is comprehended in those on whom God has mercy, and those whom he hardeneth; and it is asserted that he hardeneth all those on whom he will not have mercy, that is, all whose hearts are hardened. It must be farther observed,149
7. In the sacred scriptures, God is expressly said to form, make, or produce moral evil.
“The Lord hath made all things for himself: Yea, even the wicked for the day of evil.”124124 Prov. xvi. 4. Here God is said to make the wicked, not considered merely as men; but as wicked: for in this character, or as wicked only, are they the proper subjects of natural evil, or punishment. What less can his making the wicked mean, than his having some hand or agency, in some way or other, in forming their character as wicked? And is this any less or more, than his willing that there should be such existences as wicked men; because moral and natural evil are necessary, as necessary as any other existence, to answer the infinitely wise and important purposes of God, in the brightest display of his perfections? He has made them for himself, to put them to his own use, and by them to manifest his own character, his holiness, hatred of sin, &c.
“I am the Lord, and there is none else; there is no God besides me: I girded thee, though thou hast not known me: That they may know from the rising of the sun, and from the west, that there is none besides me. I am the Lord, and there is none else. I form light, and create darkness: I make peace, and create evil. I the Lord do all these things.”125125 Isaiah xlv. 5, 6, 7.
These words are addressed to Cyrus, who was not then born: But was to arise in the eastern world, to conquer the Babylonians, and to release the Jews from their captivity, and order the temple and Jerusalem to be rebuilt. He was born and educated where the God of Israel was not known, and where they were taught, that the good being who was the author of all good, was not the only power that reigned; but that there was an evil being or principle, which reigned so far as to counteract the good principle or being, and introduce all the evil, both moral and natural, which takes place; and of which he is the proper cause or author. The good principle, or being, they represented by light, and worshipped him before the sun or fire, considering it the brightest emblem of him, and in a peculiar manner possessed or inhabited by him. The evil being 150 and the evil of which they supposed him to be the cause and author, they represented by, and called, darkness. There is an evident reference to these false and hurtful notions, in which Cyrus was educated, in the address to him, part of which has now been cited; in which Jehovah declares them to be great and dangerous delusions, and repeatedly asserts, that he is the only Supreme God. “I am the Lord, and there is none else; there is no other God besides me. I am the Lord, and there is none besides me.” And then he asserts that he is the cause of all that which they ascribed to the evil being, which they believed in, and feared. “I form light, and create darkness; I make peace and create evil. I the Lord do all these things.”126126 The Magians began first in Persia, and there, and in India, were the only places where this sect was propagated, and there they remain unto this day. Their chief doctrine was, that there were two principles, one of which was the cause of all good, and the other the cause of all evil. That the former is represented by light, and the other by darkness, as their truest symbols, and that of the composition of these two, all things in the world are made. Therefore when Xerxes prayed for that evil upon his enemies, that it might be put into the minds of all of them to drive their best and bravest men from them, as the Athenians had Themistocles, he addressed his prayer to the evil god of the Persians, and not to their good god. The good god they always worshipped before the fire, as being the cause of light, and especially before the sun, as being in their opinion the perfectest fire, and causing the perfectest light Isaiah xlv. 5, 6, 7. “I am the Lord, and there is none else; there is no God besides me; I girded thee, though thou hast not known me, that they may know from the rising of the sun, and from the west, that there is none besides me. I form light and create darkness, I make peace and create evil. I the Lord do all these things.” These words, being directed to Cyrus king of Persia, must be understood as spoken in reference to the Persian sect of the Magians, who then held light and darkness, or good and evil, to be the supreme beings.” Dr. Prideaux Connection, 9 Edit. p. 252, 253, 304.
Does not God, in these words, expressly take to himself this character, and assert that he is the origin and cause of all evil? If so, then we have no reason to be afraid to think and speak of him- as such: but may consider ourselves as promoting true piety, and the honour of the only true God, while we believe and assert, that all evil is the consequence of his determination and will, that it shall exist, and is wholly dependent upon it; as without his will that it should take place, it could no more exist, than any thing else whatsoever. No one can devise stronger terms or language to express this, than that which is here used by God himself. How this appears to be consistent with the infinite wisdom and 151holiness of the divine character, and most honourable to God, has been repeatedly shown, in what has been already said on this subject: and therefore it need not be again repeated here.
But it has been said by many, -that moral evil is not meant by darkness and evil in this passage; but only natural evil, or calamity and pain. Of this God may be, and is, the cause, but not of sin. To this the following reply may be made.
1. The opinion to which this passage has reference had respect to moral evil as well as natural: yea, this was chiefly in view, as the former is the origin and occasion of the latter. And the evil being was considered as having the direction and disposal of moral evil; so that it originated from him as the cause. Therefore if this was designed to be excluded in the passage before us, which is spoken to Cyrus, and has reference to that notion in the east, respecting the cause of moral evil, as well as natural, it must have been done by an express exception: For without this, and as it now stands, Cyrus, and every one else, must consider it as included and intended, as well as natural evil. Nor can it be now excluded, without doing violence to the text; and at the same time really gaining nothing by it: For if it be allowed that moral evil is intended here, as well as natural, no more is really asserted than is expressed in many other passages in the Bible, as every one may be sensible, who will attend to what has been before produced from the scriptures, under this head.
2. If it be granted that natural evil only is directly intended here; yet this will necessarily involve moral evil; for a great part of the former which takes place among men, is the natural and necessary result of the latter. It is effected by the exercise of men’s selfishness and lusts. “From whence come wars and fightings among you? come they not hence, even of your lusts, that war in your members?”127127 James iv. 2. “But if ye bite and devour one another, take heed that ye be not consumed one of another.”128128 Gal. v. 15. If therefore the divine Being has no direction and government of the wills and evil conduct of men, he cannot be said to create or produce, or 152even to regulate and superintend natural evil. If God does not will, direct and order a war, which is wholly carried on by the exercise of men’s lusts; how can he be said to direct, will and order the attendant or consequent natural evil? How does he cause or produce the one, more than the other? In this view, we may turn to the words of the prophet Amos. “Shall there be evil in the city, and the Lord hath not done it?” Here evil is mentioned without restriction, confining it to natural evil: But if it be supposed that natural evil is particularly meant here; yet this implies moral evil: as the natural evil, the calamity, sufferings and distresses which take place in a city, are chiefly the concomitants or fruits of vice and folly. And if the Most High has no concern or hand in directing, ordering and producing the latter; how can he be said to produce or effect the former; or how can it be said to be done by him, since it is the necessary attendant and fruit of the sin of men; and it is really done by them, and they are as really the cause of natural evil, as they are of their own sin, as the former is involved in the latter?
3. It must farther be observed, that if natural evil only, be meant by evil in the above passages in Isaiah and Amos; yet there is as great, and the same difficulty, in accounting for God’s creating and doing this, as there is in accounting for his determining and willing the existence of moral evil: Or the same objections lie, and may be urged with as much reason, against God’s willing, causing and producing natural evil, which are or can be made against his willing that moral evil should exist.
If this proposition can be demonstrated, and made plain to every one who will allow himself to think calmly on the subject; then all the objections which have been made against God’s foreordaining whatsoever comes to pass, and all that is necessarily implied in this, will fall to the ground; and the ways and labour which have been taken to construe the scriptures mentioned above, so as not to imply that God is, in any sense, the origin and cause of moral evil, lest they should be understood in a sense dishonourable to him, will appear to be needless, and unreasonable. Let this matter, then, be carefully considered.153
Natural evil is as really contrary to infinite goodness, as moral evil is; infinite goodness cannot be reconciled to it, considered in and by itself, but is infinitely opposed to it: And to suppose that God wills and causes it to take place, for its own sake, and because he delights in it, in itself considered, is as dishonourable to him, and does as much impeach and deny his goodness, as to suppose that he wills and causes moral evil, for its own sake, and because he is pleased with it, and delights in it. Yea, to say that God causes natural evil to take place, for its own sake, and because he is pleased with it, in itself considered, is to charge him with moral evil, or that which is infinitely contrary to infinite holiness or goodness, as really as to say that he causes moral evil because he is pleased with moral evil, as such.
Therefore, if when God says in the passage under consideration, “I create darkness and evil, I the Lord do all these things,” this is to be understood of natural evil only; it cannot mean, that God causes this evil, for its own sake; for this necessarily supposes him to be an evil being; but he causes it to take place, he creates it, for some good end, and for the sake of the good, of which the evil is the occasion or means; and without which evil, the good could not possibly take place; so that on the whole, there is much more good or happiness, than could have been, had there been no natural evil. If natural evil could answer no good end, and were not necessary, in order to this, it could not be created or made to take place, or be permitted to take place, by an infinitely good Being who has the disposal of all things: But if it be necessary to answer the best end, and to promote and produce the greatest good of the whole; then it may be not only permitted, but created, or caused to take place, consistent with infinite goodness; yea, it is inconsistent with infinite goodness, not to do so.
And who does not now see, that God may determine, order and cause moral evil to take place, and, in this sense, create it, consistent with his infinite holiness and goodness, if this be necessary for the greatest good of the whole, both moral and natural; yea, that God could, not be infinitely wise and good, if, on this supposition, he did not order and cause it to take place? If the divine 154conduct can be vindicated in causing natural evil to take place; on the same ground it can be vindicated in causing moral evil to exist; and not one objection can be made against the latter, which may not equally, and with as good reason, be made against the former. For instance, if it should be objected against the latter, that to make God the origin and cause of sin, is to suppose moral evil is in him; for there can be nothing in the effect which is not in the cause: This may with equal truth and reason be said of natural evil. If God be die origin and cause of it, this supposes natural evil to be in him, and that he is infinitely unhappy and miserable; for there can be nothing in the effect which is not in the cause. Again, if it be objected, that if it be agreeable to the will of God that sin should exist, and he chose it should take place, and is therefore the origin and cause of its existence; then sin is agreeable to his will, and he is pleased with it: It may with as much propriety, and as good reason, be said, if God wills the existence of natural evil, and causes it to take place; then he is pleased with it, and delights in the misery of his creatures; consequently he cannot be a good, but a morally evil being. If the objector, to remove the difficulty that is urged upon him, should say, that God does not cause natural evil, for the sake of the evil, but for the sake of the good end to be answered by it; he may be asked, Why this, which is as true of moral evil, does not equally remove the difficulty respecting God’s being the cause and origin of that? If it solves the difficulty in one case, it must do so in the other. If God may order and cause natural evil, which, in itself, is infinitely contrary to his goodness, to exist, consistently with his goodness; then he may will and cause moral evil to exist, though it be, in itself considered, infinitely contrary to his holiness, and most odious to him: And no one can account for the former, without giving as good a reason for the latter. Is it not very unreasonable and most absurdly inconsistent, for men perpetually, and with great assurance to object and urge that against the supposition that God wills and chooses the existence of moral evil, which may be with as much reason urged against his willing the existence of natural evil; while 155they allow he does will and cause the latter: And at the same time cannot tell how this is consistent with the divine perfections, without offering a reason, which equally proves the other to be as consistent?
It has been said, that if it be best, on the whole, that sin should take place, as it is necessary to promote the general good, then sin is a good thing; and the more sin the better. Now, this may be with as much reason said of natural evil. If God order that, to answer a good end, then it is a good thing, and the more of it the better. The inference from the latter, is as well grounded, as from the former. In truth, it is in both instances utterly unreasonable. That which is in itself, in its own nature, evil, may by God be made the occasion of the greatest good; and this is so far from altering the nature of the evil, or making it less an evil, in itself considered, that if this should be the case, and it were possible, the end to be answered by it would be defeated, and there would be no evil, to be the occasion of good. It is indeed a good thing, that evil, both moral and natural, should take place; and the good of which this is the occasion swallows up the evil, and the whole taken together is the most complete, perfectly beautiful, and good system: But this alters not the nature of the evil, and it is still as evil, as contrary to all good, and as disagreeable and hateful, considered in itself, and as unconnected with the whole, as if it were not made the occasion of good; but of evil. But this has been often brought into view before. It is again introduced, to show the unreasonableness of the objection, and that it is as much against the existence of natural evil, in order to answer a good end, as it is against the existence of moral evil, for the same end. The infinitely wise Being most perfectly knows how much evil, both natural and moral, and what particular instances of it, are necessary, in order to accomplish the greatest possible good; and all this takes place by his decree and will, and no more. The existence of just so much, and no more, is desirable, as it is necessary to accomplish the best end: But God will not suffer any more to exist; the remainder he will effectually restrain. If he did not, and more than is necessary to answer the best ends should take place, 156 it would be infinitely undesirable and evil, and inconsistent with the divine perfections. How unreasonable then is it to say, “If evil be necessary for the good of the whole, and thus answers a good end, then the more evil the better!”
It has been farther objected, that if God wills the existence of sin, and it is therefore agreeable to his will that it should take place in every instance, when and wherever it does; then the sinner does not resist his will in sinning, nor can be blameable for it; but rather ought to sin, that good may come. Let it now be carefully and with impartiality considered, whether this objection may not with just as good reason be urged against God’s willing and causing all the natural evil which takes place. If any one, by his sin, cause natural evil to take place, by oppressing and afflicting the widow and fatherless, or by murdering his neighbour; or in any other instance; he voluntarily does that which is agreeable to the will of God, that it should take place. He has not resisted the will of God; but has complied with his will and designs: Therefore he cannot be blamed for it; but rather ought to do all this, since without his agency this natural evil would not take place, which God has determined should be done, because necessary to effect the greatest good, and accomplish his own wise design. In short, if God be pleased with the existence of that natural evil which is effected by the oppressor, murderer, &c. then he cannot blame or be displeased with the oppressor or murderer, for being also pleased with the existence of this evil, and exerting themselves to produce it. Is there any way to answer this objection, and remove the difficulty, unless it be in the words of Joseph to his brethren? “As for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good:”129129 Gen. l. 20. There was a direct and total opposition and contrariety between the will of God that this evil should take place, and the will and design of Joseph’s brethren, in desiring and effecting this natural evil, consisting in his being made a slave in Egypt. God ordered it, and took measures effectually to produce the evil, not from any pleasure in the evil itself; but in the exercise of his 157infinite goodness, because it was necessary to accomplish the greatest good of which this evil was the occasion. “He meant it unto good.” But the brethren of Joseph, thought and designed evil against him: They did it in the exercise of malevolence, or ill will towards him; which was most unreasonable, and was in the nature of it, enmity against that good, for the sake of which God ordered this evil to take place; and therefore was directly opposed to that benevolent will of God, which determined and ordered this evil. Their disposition and will in this affair were just as opposite to the disposition and will of God in determining and willing the existence of this evil, as malevolence is to benevolence and goodness, or as evil is to good; and therefore must be displeasing and hateful to God; and they as blameable in his sight, as if he had brought no good out of it, and nothing but evil had taken place. As this is the only solution of the difficulty, and fully removes the objection respecting God’s willing and causing natural evil; it is easy for every one who attends, to see that it equally answers the objection against his willing and causing moral evil: And shews how the existence of both may be chosen and caused by God, not for their own sake, but for the sake of the good end answered by them; and consistent with his hating them both, in themselves considered; so that in him it is an exercise of infinite benevolence; and therefore directly contrary to the disposition and will of the sinner in sinning, and in willing and producing natural evil. And consequently shews how justly God is displeased with the sinner, and blames him for willing and choosing, both moral and natural evil.
These things have been observed to show that when God says “I create evil,” in the passage above cited, moral evil as well as natural may be intended; as there can be no difficulty or objection thought of, if the former be included, which is not equally against the latter; and if the former must be excluded, as inconsistent with the divine perfections, in any sense and view, to form and create it; for the same reason must the latter be excluded: And that moral evil must be intended, as well as natural, not only because nothing is said to exclude it; 158 but because the occasion and design of the words do necessarily include both.
The words of St. Paul seem to claim a place under this head. “Thou wilt say then unto me, Why doth he yet find fault? For who hath resisted his will? Nay, but, O man, who art thou that repliest against God! Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it. Why hast thou made me thus? Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour?”130130 Rom. ix. 19, 20, 21. Upon these words the following observations may be made.
1. The objection here introduced by the Apostle has reference to his assertion in the preceding verse, and is grounded upon it, “And whom he will he hardeneth.” And this same objection is made now, and always has been made by men, against the truth here asserted; which is, that it is the will of God, that all the hardness and obstinacy of heart which is found amongst men, should exist just as it does; and therefore he has foreordained, according to the counsel of his own will, that it shall take place. So much, at least, is expressed in these words of the Apostle; and indeed no more than what is implied in this: For whatever God wills to take place, has a cause of its certain existence; and this can be found no where but in the divine will. The objection is, “If all the sins of men take place by the will of God, and according to his will; then there can be no crime in sin; and men cannot be justly blamed for that, the existence of which is agreeable to his w ill.
2. It is observable, that the Apostle in his answer to this objection, does not say that the objector had mistaken his meaning; and that he had not said that it was agreeable to the will of God that the hardness of men’s hearts, and every instance of obstinacy and sin, should take place just as it does; and therefore the divine purpose and agency was concerned in all this; but implicitly grants that this is a truth, and that he had asserted it; by not only not denying it; but proceeding to vindicate it in his answer; by which the meaning of his words is fixed beyond a doubt.159
3. In his answer he is so far from palliating what he had said, or softening down his expression, to which the objection is made, that he rather heightens it, and expresses himself in a stronger manner, if possible. “Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus? Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour?” The potter makes one vessel as really and as much as another; that which is made to dishonour, and that which is made unto honour. Therefore, if the similitude is any thing to the purpose, and does not give a very wrong idea of the matter, which it is designed to illustrate, all sinners whose hearts are hardened, who are represented by the vessels made unto dishonour, are as really formed and made such as they are, hardened sinners, as the vessel unto dishonour is made a dishonourable vessel, by the potter: And God’s sovereign right to do this is here asserted; and he who objects to this, the Apostle says, speaks against God. Besides, the Apostle expressly asserts that the hardened sinner is formed and made so by God. “Shall the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus?” Thus the Apostle speaks this out, and repeats it in the most express and pointed language, without fear of hurting any one by it; and with assurance that he is espousing the cause of God, and vindicating his rights and honour, in opposition to an apostate world.
The Apostle, having asserted the sovereign right of God to form his creatures as he pleases, in the next words gives the reason of this, and mentions the important end he has in view, and answers, by making the wicked for the day of evil. “What if God, willing (or determined) to show his wrath and make his power known, endured with much long suffering the vessels of wrath, fitted to destruction: And that he might make known the riches of his glory on the vessels of mercy, which he had afore prepared unto glory? “
The following things are suggested by these words.
1. That God does not harden sinners, or punish them, for the sake of hardening and making them miserable, or because he has any delight or pleasure in their sin 160and punishment, considered in themselves, and unconnected with the end to be answered by them: But he does this to answer a wise and important end, which could not be answered in any other way; and to produce a good, which infinitely overbalances the evil, which is necessary in order to it.
2. We are here told what this great all important end is, which God designs to effect; the good which is produced by the persevering sin, and destruction of men, who are the vessels of wrath. It is the manifestation and display of his own perfection; “To show his wrath, and make his power known: And to make known the riches of his glory.” That is, he does this for himself, for his own glory. This perfectly coincides with the words of Solomon, which have been mentioned, and serves to fix the sense of them. “The Lord hath made all things for himself: Yea, even the wicked for the day of evil.”
3. It is here supposed, that what God does in hardening sinners, and making them vessels unto dishonour, and enduring with much long suffering these vessels of wrath, fitted for destruction, is consistent with their being blameable for their hardness, and every thing which renders them dishonourable: and with his being highly displeased with them for it; and that he may justly destroy them forever, for their hardness and obstinacy in sin. This is supposed, and really asserted, in the words; for, in any other view, they would be inconsistent and absurd; as otherwise, sinners could not be vessels of wrath, fitted to destruction. Whatever men have thought, and may think and assert, St. Paul, and he by whom he was inspired, knew that both these are perfectly consistent. How these things are consistent, does appear, it is hoped, from what has been said above, and may be yet farther offered, on this head.
Having thus considered what is the language of scripture on this point, and made particular remarks on the passages which have been adduced; some more general observations on the whole, in one general view of them, must now be made, hoping they may serve to throw farther light on the subject, and confirm the truth exhibited respecting it in divine revelation, which has been so difficult and intricate to many.161
1. It appears from these passages of scripture, that God has foreordained all the moral evil which does take place; and is, in such a sense, and so far, the origin and cause of it, that he is said to bring it to pass, by his own agency. Therefore it is not bold or dangerous to believe and assert this; but it is for the honour of God, and tends to promote the good of men: And to believe and assert the contrary, is directly the reverse, bold, dangerous, dishonourable to God, and hurtful to man. It is safe to speak according to the scriptures; and so far as any man does not, it is because, in that instance, there is no light in him.131131 “Beza well expresses it, Qui sequitur Deum, emendate fane loquitur. We need not fear falling into any impropriety of speech, when we use the language which God has taught.” Doddridge’s Note on Luke xxii. 22.
2. If these scriptures be understood, as many have chosen to understand them, as importing only that God permits sin, and so orders every thing respecting the event, that, he permitting, it will certainly take place just as it does; this really comes to die same thing, or if not, does not obviate any difficulty, which has been thought to attend the representation which has now been made of this matter. For they who choose this way of speaking do represent God as willing that sin should take place; or on die whole, preferring and choosing that it should exist, rather than not. And this, as has been shown, implies all that is intended by his being the origin and cause of sin; and ordering and doing every thing, that was necessary to be ordered and done, previous to the existence of sin, in order to render it certain, in every instance where it does take place. His decree turns the point in favour of the existence of sin: And his agency makes it certain, without which it could have no existence.
And if God determined to permit all the sin which does take place,
and by his agency orders things so, that, he permitting it, it will be done, this
is liable to all the objections that have been, or can be male against the assertion,
that all the sinful volitions of men are the effect of the divine agency. For the
former makes sin as certain and necessary as the latter; and it is no more consistent
with the holiness of God, and his 162
hatred of sin, to will the existence of it, and lay a plan to have it take place,
upon his permission, than it is, directly to cause it to exist in the creature,
by any agency or exertion whatever, which is previously necessary to the existence
of sinful volitions. And the former is not only liable to all the objections that
can be made against the latter; but, so far as it differs from the latter, supposes
an effect without any real origin or cause, and therefore involves the greatest
difficulty and absurdity imaginable, as has been shown above. Why then is it not
most reasonable, safe and best, to understand these scriptures in their most plain
and obvious meaning, since by a strained or forced interpretation, no difficulty
is removed, and nothing is obtained; and by explaining away the most easy and natural
meaning, new and inextricable difficulties are incurred?132132 Calvin represents those as very unreasonable,
and perverting the scriptures, who insist that no more is meant than a bare permission,
when God is said to harden the hearts of men, shut their eyes, &c. He speaks of
them as frigidi speculatores, diluti moderatores;
to whose delicate ears such .scripture expressions seem harsh, and are offensive.
They therefore, he observes, soften them down, by turning an action into a permission,
as if there were no difference between acting and suffering, i.e.
suffering others to act. He says, such who will admit of a permission only, suspend
the counsel and determination of God, wholly on the will of man. But that he is
not ashamed or afraid to speak as the Holy Spirit does: And does not hesitate to
approve and embrace what the scripture so often declares, viz. That God blinds the
minds of wicked men, and hardens thei4 hearts, &c. See Calvin’s
Commentary on Exodus iv 21. vii. 3.—Joshua
ix. 20—Rom. ix. 18. See also
West’s Essay on Moral Agency, page 241, 246.
When the apostle Paul says, “And whom he will he hardeneth,” he. refers to the words of God, when he repeatedly says to Moses, that he would, and actually did harden the heart of Pharaoh: And he does not attempt to soften or alter the expression in the least, when he applies it to all who are hardened.
In short, there appears to be no rational or consistent medium, between admitting that God, according to the scriptures, has chosen and determined that all the moral evil which does, or ever will exist, should take place, and consequently is so far the origin and cause of it: Or believing and asserting, that sin has taken place, in every view, and in all respects, contrary to his will, he having done all he could to prevent the existence of it; but was not able; and is therefore not the infinitely happy, uncontrollable, supreme Governor of the world; but is dependent, disappointed, and miserable! No one, 163surely, will adopt the latter: How then can he avoid admitting the former?
3. If the scriptures which have been mentioned, where hardening the hearts of men, blinding and shutting their eyes, and inclining and turning their hearts, when they practise moral evil, &c.—if these scriptures are to be understood, as meaning no more than that God orders their situation and external circumstances to be such, that, considering their disposition, and the evil bias of their minds, they will without any other influence, be blinded and hardened, &c. then all those scriptures, which speak of God’s changing and softening the heart, taking away the hard heart, and giving a heart of flesh; opening the eyes of men, and turning them from darkness to light, and from sin to holiness, working in them to will and to do, and causing them to walk in his ways, &c. may and must be understood in the same way, as not intending any special divine influence on the mind, as the origin and cause of virtuous, obedient, holy volitions; but only his using means with them in an external way; putting them under advantages, and setting motives before them; so that if they be well disposed, or will dispose themselves to obedience, they may be holy, &c. To be sure, it cannot be argued from the expressions themselves, that the latter express or intend any more real influence on the minds of men, or divine agency, by which God is the origin and cause of virtuous exercises; than the former do with respect to men’s sinful exercises; for the expressions are as unlimited, plain and strong, which speak of the former, as those which are used for the latter.
The Arminian, and all of his cast, understand the latter, as they do the former, as intending no internal, decisive influence on the mind, turning the heart or will one way, or the other; but ordering external circumstances, &c. And are they not herein more consistent, than the professed Calvinist, who insists that the latter cannot be understood as expressing less, than that God, by his agency and influence on the minds of men, does actually produce all virtuous volitions, as their real origin and cause; while he as confidently asserts, that the former cannot mean any such thing; but understands them as 164the Arminian does: Were they consistent, they would give up the cause to the Arminian, and own that the latter expressions may well be understood, as he understands them, and must mean no more, if the former do not. This is mentioned, it must be observed, as argumentum ad hominem, to convince these professed Calvinists, or whatever they choose to call themselves, that they are really inconsistent; and, in this point, are taking a measure to strengthen their opposers, rather than to convince or confute them. This leads to another observation.
4. They who object to the divine agency being the origin and cause of sinful volitions, because, in their view, this is inconsistent with freedom and moral agency, in such volitions, and with any blame or crime in that which is the effect of such a cause; must, if consistent with themselves, reject the doctrine of the divine agency, as the cause of virtuous volitions and exercises, on the same ground, and for the same reason.
If any kind or degree of supposed influence and agency, which is antecedent to a man’s volition, and the cause of its taking place, renders such volition not free, and not the man’s own volition and exercise, so that he is neither virtuous nor vicious in having and exerting such a choice; then there is no freedom or virtue in the exercises of those called good men, which are the effect of powerful divine influence, causing them to take place; But if such agency and influence, producing virtuous volitions in men, be consistent with the freedom of men, in such volitions; and they are as much their own exercises, and they are as virtuous, and as much their own virtue, as if they had taken place without such previous influence; or as they could be, on any possible supposition; then all this is as true of all contrary or sinful volitions of men, whatever kind or degree of influence and agency be exerted, antecedent to their existence, and as the cause of it.
This observation is made for the sake of those, who make the above objection against there being any origin or cause of sinful volitions, antecedent to their existence; supposing this is inconsistent with man’s freedom and blame in such exercises: And yet they believe and assert, 165that all virtuous exercises of men are the fruit and effect of divine influence, as their origin, which efficaciously causes them to take place; and that these exercises are as really and as much their own, and as virtuous, and praise worthy, as if they had taken place, without any such previous influence and cause, were this possible. It is desirable that this palpable, gross inconsistence of theirs might be discerned, and attended to by them; upon which they would drop this objection, as wholly without foundation, or urge it equally against the virtuous exercises of men, being the effect of any previous, divine, efficacious influence, as their origin and cause; and renounce it as inconsistent with the liberty a: id moral agency of men; by which they will be consistent with themselves in this point, however inconsistent they may be with the Bible.
Both the one and the other is indeed equally and altogether consistent with human liberty, and with virtue and sin. No supposeable or possible influence or agency, previous to the exercises of the will, which is the origin and cause of such exercises, can render men less free in such voluntary exercises, or the less virtuous or vicious: And that because liberty consists, and is exercised in willing and choosing; and in nothing that does or can take place antecedent to the volitions of men, or as the consequence of them: And virtue and sin consist in the exercises of the will or heart, and in nothing else; and men are sinful or holy according to the nature and quality of these. These are most certain and evident truths, which has been in some measure shown above; and which ought to be always kept ill view, when attending to this subject.
5. There is a certain connection between God’s hardening the hearts of men, and shutting or blinding their eyes, whatever this may be, or imply; and their voluntarily hardening their own hearts, and shutting or closing their own eyes; so that when or wherever the one takes place, the other does also.
When God is said to harden Pharaoh’s heart, he is, at the same time, said to harden his own heart. God said to Moses, that he would harden the heart of Pharaoh.133133 Exod. iv. 21.—vii. 3.166 And it is repeatedly said, that he hardened his own heart, as the Lord had said,134134 Exod. viii. 15.—ix. 34, 35. referring to his saying, that he would harden the heart of Pharaoh. So it is said,135135 Chap. ix. 34. Pharaoh sinned yet more, and hardened his heart; and in the first verse of the tenth chapter, the Lord said unto Moses, Go in unto Pharaoh; for I have hardened his heart; referring to the instance just before mentioned, of Pharaoh’s hardening his own heart. Hence it appears, that whenever God hardened the heart of Pharaoh, he hardened his own heart; and whenever Pharaoh did harden his heart, God did also harden it: And that this is true of every instance of hardness or obstinacy of the heart, God hardens the heart, and the sinner himself hardens his own heart.
It does not follow from this, as some have thought it did, that God’s hardening the heart of Pharaoh, and his hardening his own heart, are one and the same thing. This supposition is contrary to the representation, and the express words. Here are two distinct agents, who are said to be concerned, and to act, in producing one and the same event, without which it could not take place, viz. the hardness of Pharaoh’s heart. As the agents are infinitely distinct and different, and their characters directly opposite to each other; so is their agency; that of God is holy, that of Pharaoh sinful. Yet the one necessarily supposes and involves the other. The agency ascribed to God, is the origin and cause of the hardness of the heart, without which it could not take place; and of which it is the certain consequence. The agency ascribed to Pharaoh, and which is to be ascribed to every sinner whose heart is hard, is the effect or consequence of divine agency, and consists wholly in this effect, that is, in hardness of heart. The heart cannot be hardened, or there cannot be a hard heart, without the agency of the sinner, hardening his own heart; for it consists in voluntary exercise; and therefore does not, and cannot take place, while men are wholly passive and do not act, or put forth those exertions in which hardness of heart doth consist.
When God made man a living soul, the effect produced consisted in man’s activity, he lived; for life is not 167merely a passive effect, but is itself action. Man could not be made a living soul, without life, or unless he lived, and he could not live, unless he were made to live; so that the one, is necessarily implied in the other. Yet life is as really life and activity, or man as really lives, and it is as much his own life and activity, as if he had lived without being created or made to live, were this possible. Every one cannot but see how false and absurd it would be to say, that God’s making man a living soul, and man’s agency in living, are one and the same thing, because one necessarily implies the other; so that to assert one, is, in effect, and really to assert the other: To say, that God breathed into man the breath of life, implies that man lived, and does really assert it: and to say that man became a living soul or lived, implies the divine agency in causing him to live, and does really assert it; though there be two different agents, and two very different kinds of agency, as distinct and different from each other, as if there were no connection between them, and the one did not imply the other.
This is applicable to the instance before us. When God hardens the heart of any man, that man certainly hardens his own heart, or that hardness is his own chosen obstinacy; and were it not so, he could have no hardness of heart, or his heart could not be hardened. To suppose the contrary, is an express contradiction. Audit is as much his own chosen obstinacy, and his own crime; and he is as odious and ill deserving, as if his Maker had no hand or concern in the matter. When God hardens the heart, or exerts any supposable or possible kind or degree of influence or power, of which sin or holiness in the creature is the consequence; this is so far from being or implying any necessitating influence, impelling or forcing men to sin, or obey, that it is absolutely impossible there should be any such thing, antecedent to the actual existence of will and choice; and it is necessarily implied, that the disposition, will and choice, in which the sinner’s obstinacy consists, is the exercise of freedom, and his own choice. The will or heart is not capable of any such necessitating influence, by which it is forced to act, in opposition to acting freely; 168because, as has been observed, exercise of choice or voluntary action and freedom, are the same thing. To talk of a necessitating influence by which the will is forced to act, which deprives a man of freedom, is just as absurd as to say, that a man is forced to live, without having any life; and so as utterly to exclude it.—But this has been considered before.
To return, The observation to which we are now attending, viz. That whenever God hardens the hearts and blinds the minds of men, they do harden their own hearts and shut their own eyes; and the latter is necessarily implied in the former, as the former is implied in the latter; may be farther illustrated and confirmed, by several other passages of scripture; which, at the same time, will serve to throw some light upon them.
The Lord says to Isaiah, “Go and tell this people, Hear ye indeed, but understand not; and see ye indeed, but perceive not. Make the heart of this people fat, and make their ears heavy, and shut their eyes: Lest they see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and understand with their heart, and convert, and be healed.” These remarkable words are quoted, or referred to, no less than six times in the New Testament; and oftener than any other text is quoted from the Old Testament. In St. John’s gospel it is expressed in the following words. “Therefore they could not believe, because that Isaiah said. He hath blinded their eyes, and hardened their hearts; that they should not see with their eyes, nor understand with their heart, and be converted, and I should heal them.” In this quotation the expressions are as they are in the Prophet, though stronger and more decisively plain, if possible, representing the agency of God in blinding the eyes of men, and hardening their hearts. He is said to do this, and it is ascribed to him, as the cause; and nothing is said expressly of the agency of men in die matter. St. Paul is supposed to refer to these words, together with other passages, in the following passage. “The election hath obtained it; but the rest were blinded: According as it is written, God hath given them the spirit of slumber, eyes that they should not see, and ears that they should not hear, unto this day.”136136 Rom. xi. 7, 8. Here he speaks, agreeable to the words in 169Isaiah, and as St. John quotes them, of God as the agent, and of what he does, and he is represented as blinding men, giving them the spirit of slumber, eyes that they should not see, &c. and nothing is expressly said of the agency of men. But he quotes these words on another occasion, in a different manner. “Well spake the Holy Ghost by Isaiah, the Prophet, unto our fathers, saying. Go unto this people and say. Hearing ye shall hear, and shall not understand; and seeing ye shall see, and not perceive. For the heart of this people is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing; and their eyes have they closed, lest they should see with their eyes, and hear with their ears, and should be converted, and I should heal them.”137137 Acts xxviii. 25, 26, 27. In Matthew xiii. 15, these same words are quoted by Christ himself, just as St. Paul quotes them here. “For this people’s heart is waxed gross, and their ears are dull of hearing, and their eyes have they closed.” Here they are said to close or blind their own eyes, they are represented as active in the matter, and their agency only is spoken of expressly; and the divine agency is not mentioned: Whereas in the passages above produced, these same words of Isaiah are made to express, not the agency of those who are blind, in making themselves so; but the divine agency in shutting their eyes; so that their being blind and unbelieving, is ascribed to God. It is a question worthy to be considered. How these words in Isaiah can be consistently quoted so differently, and be made to speak of the agency of the sinner hardening his own heart, and closing his own eyes, when the Prophet expresses nothing but the divine agency, in hardening and blinding them, as they are quoted by St. John, and once by St. Paul?
Is not the only solution, and satisfactory answer to this question, contained in the observation made above, viz. That whenever God hardens the heart, and closes the eyes of men, they harden their own hearts, and shut their own eyes, the one being necessarily implied and involved in the other; so that when it is expressly said that God hardens the heart of any man, or hath given 170 him eyes that he should not see, it is as really asserted, that the man himself hardens his own heart, and closes his own eyes, as the latter is necessarily implied, it being the very thing expressly said to be produced as the effect of the divine agency. Therefore when Isaiah speaks of God as hardening men’s hearts, and shutting their eyes, he equally asserts that these men harden their own hearts, and close their own eyes; and may justly, and with the greatest propriety be quoted, as asserting both of them, or either the one or the other.
This is equally true of the light, wisdom and holiness; of good men, God is certainly the origin and cause of all this, according to the scripture. He circumcises the heart, to love him: He gives a new heart, and puts a new spirit in them; creates in them a clean heart, and renews in them a right spirit: He saves them by the washing of regeneration and the renewing of the Holy Ghost: He causes them to walk in his statutes, and to keep his judgments and do them.138138 Deut. xxx. 6. Psalm li. 10. Ezek. xxxvi. 26, 27. Tit. iii. 5.Yet the scripture speaks of them to whom God gives a new heart, and whose heart he circumcises, and whom he renews by his holy Spirit, as circumcising their own hearts; making themselves a new heart; as those who have put off the old man, and put on the new man; and renewed themselves in the spirit of their minds; and have cleansed and purified their own hearts.139139 Deut. x. 16. Ezek. xviii. 31. Rom. xii. 2. Eph. iv. 22, 23, 24. 1 Peter i. 22. 1 John iii. 3. Jam. iv. 8. Isai. i. 61.
These passages may be reconciled by observing, that the former speak expressly of the divine agency in the renovation of the hearts of sinful men, and forming them to true holiness. The latter speak of the agency and exercises of men, implied in their renovation and holiness, and in which their turning to God, and their obedience does consist: And which is necessarily connected with the former, and involved in it. Whenever and wherever God gives a new heart, the man makes himself a new heart, in that agency and those exercises, in which a new heart consists. He renews and cleanses his own heart, and circumcises it, by turning from sin to God; hating sin and loving God, and in all that 171agency, and those pure and holy exercises in which he conforms to the divine law, and to the gospel, and lives a holy life. All this is necessarily implied in what God does in giving a new heart, as it is the effect which he produces by his agency; and these are connected, and involved in each other, as are the cause and effect: So that to assert one, is equally to assert the existence of the other. The sinner’s heart cannot be made a clean heart, by the divine agency, in any other way, but by the sinner’s cleansing his own heart; because a clean heart consists in those exercises of the man, in which he does cleanse his own heart. It is a contradiction to say, that God has circumcised the heart of a man to love him; and yet the man does not love him, or, which is the same, has not circumcised his own heart to love the Lord: And so of the rest. Therefore when God says, he will give a new heart and put a new spirit within men; it is really asserted that they shall renew their own hearts, in the proper exercises and agency, in which a new heart and new spirit consists; or that they shall walk in his ways. And on the contrary, whenever a man makes him a new heart, and becomes obedient, this implies all that divine agency, by which God gives a new heart: And therefore by asserting the former to exist, the latter is really asserted. If a man purifies himself, and cleanses his own heart, in pure, holy exercises, it is certain that God has created in him a clean, a new heart; and to assert the former or the latter, is really to assert both.
Here are two distinct agents, infinitely different; God, absolutely independent, and almighty; and a creature absolutely dependent for every thought and volition, having no power and sufficiency, that is not derived immediately from his Maker: and the agency or operation is as distinct and different as the agents. The creature’s agency is as much his own as in the nature of things it can be, and as it could be, if it were not the effect of the divine agency, if this were possible. And the creature acts as freely, as if there were no agent concerned but himself; and his exercises are as virtuous and holy; and it is really and as much his own virtue and holiness, and he is as excellent and praise-worthy, 172as if he did not depend on divine influences for these exercises; and they were not the effect of the operation of God. All this, it is presumed, is plain, and must be evident to all who have attended to what has been said above, on this subject. And there can be no difficulty respecting God’s hardening the sinner’s heart, and his hardening his own heart, which does not equally attend God’s making a new and clean heart, and at the same time the man renewing and cleansing his own heart; and no objection can be made against the former, which is not as much against the latter: unless it be, that in the latter instance, moral good or holiness in the creature is the effect of the divine operation: but in the former, it is directly the reverse, and moral evil or sin takes place in consequence of the divine determination and agency; which has been thought by many to be inconsistent with the infinite purity and holiness of God. It is presumed that what has been said above to this point, is sufficient to obviate this objection, and show it to be wholly without foundation. But this leads to another observation.
6. Though it be as expressly asserted in the scriptures which have been cited, and particularly considered, that God has determined the existence of all the moral evil that takes place, and does by his own operation and agency cause it to take place, as it does; as it is, that true virtue and holiness which takes place in men, is the effect of divine operation: Yet it does not follow from this, that the manner and mode of divine operation, which is the cause of those different and opposite effects, is in all respects the same; and consequently no man has a right to assert this. Indeed, this, in both instances, is inscrutable by man, and cannot be particularly explained. We know that what is produced in the latter instance, is, as it consists in the exercises of the creature, conformable to the law and nature of God. In the former, what takes place in man, is directly the reverse, contrary to God’s nature and law: But as to the manner of operation, as the cause of either, we are wholly in the dark; as much as we are, with respect to the manner of the divine operation in the creation of the world, and the different and various existences. All we 173know is, that God willed their existence, to be just as they do exist, or said, Let them be, with which fiat their existence is infallibly connected. And he as really willed the existence of moral evil as of holiness in creatures; and the existence of both is equally the infallible consequence.
And though the effects, holiness and sin, are in their nature, and considered in themselves, so infinitely different and contrary to each other, and the latter most odious and abominable; yet the existence of them both may be equally important and desirable, and necessary for the glory of God, and the greatest possible good: And in this view God willed the existence of both, in the exercise of infinite wisdom and benevolence, even the same kind of benevolence which he requires of creatures in his holy law; and which is opposed by the sinner in every act of sin. It hence appears, that God’s disposition and will respecting the existence of sin, which is the origin and cause of it, and his disposition and w ill revealed in his law requiring benevolence, and all that is implied in it, and forbidding the contrary, are perfectly consistent, and one and the same: And were it possible for him to will and choose that sin should not exist, this would have been infinitely contrary to the divine law. Thus it appears that God is holy in all his works and ways, even while he wills the existence of moral evil: And that there neither is, nor possibly can be, any moral evil, in being thus the origin and cause of it.
The following questions and answers will conclude this subject.
Question. Does not the doctrine which has been advanced, serve to strengthen and confirm the infidel, and others, in their belief that man is not a moral agent, and is not capable of sin or blame, whatever he may do? Many who reject divine revelation profess to believe the doctrine of universal necessity; that all things and events, from the greatest to the least, are fixed, so that there can be no alteration: And hence they infer, that man has no liberty, and is not a moral agent, so as to be in any degree criminal. And many who do not professedly renounce revelation profess to believe the absolute and universal dependence of all creatures and things on 174 God; and hence infer and say, they are what God has made them to be; therefore they are not answerable for what they are, or do; nor are they justly blameable for any thing in their character or conduct. These will think themselves supported by the doctrine of the decrees of God, as it has been stated above. Is it wise or right to advance a doctrine which tends to produce such an evil effect? Had it not better be suppressed, if it: be true.
Answer 1. If the doctrine, as it has now been stated, be clearly and abundantly asserted in the scripture; and the whole be necessarily implied in the independence and supremacy of God, and the entire dependence of the creature, in all respects, which, it is presumed, has been made evident; then there can be no good reason why it should not be asserted and vindicated: And it is certain it does not tend to any evil, or to produce any bad effect. And if it be improved to any bad purpose, and any groundless inference be made from it, it must be an abuse of the truth, and perverting it to an end to which it has no tendency; but the contrary.
Ans. 2. There is no religious or moral truth revealed in the Bible, which may not be improved to some bad purpose; and has not been so improved by ignorant and wicked men. And if no truth ought to be explained and vindicated, or mentioned, which may be abused, and will be perverted by some, even to their own destruction, all religious truth must be suppressed, and the Bible must be shut up, and no more lie open to the world.
Ans. 3. At the same time that the doctrine of the divine decrees has been stated and vindicated, it has been equally proved from scripture and reason, that man is a free agent, and accountable for his moral conduct; and in all respects as much so, and is as real and as much a moral agent, as he could be on any supposition, and if this doctrine were not true; and no events or actions were fixed and certain before they actually took place: And he is as much the former and author of his own moral character, as he could be, were there no other agent concerned in them: And all his moral actions are as much his own, and his own virtue or sins, as they could be, if nothing were previously done or determined, 175 which rendered them certain. If any will abuse their own reason and the holy scriptures, so much as to believe but one of these equally evident truths, and reject the other, he must answer for it, and take the consequence. But must one or the other of them be given up or suppressed, lest men should abuse one, or both of them? Let the scripture and reason judge.
Ans. 4. All the difficulty in this matter appears to lie in reconciling the total, universal, and constant dependence of man on God, with his freedom and moral agency, and accountableness for his moral conduct. The scripture asserts both these in the strongest manner, from the beginning to the end, in a variety of ways. The instances are too numerous to be all mentioned here. This dependence is represented by the potter and the clay; and man is asserted to be as dependant on God for the manner of his existence, and in all his moral character and actions, as the clay is on the potter, for the shape, and kind of vessel into which it is to be formed.140140 Rom. ix. 19, 20, 21. And wicked men, in all their actions, are represented to be as much in the hand of God, and moved by him, as the saw, axe, rod or staff, are in the hand or power of a man, who uses and moves them.141141 Isaiah x. 15. The apostle Paul says,142142 Acts xvii. 28. “In him we live, and move, and have our being.”143143 Dr. Doddridge gives the following translation of this text. “In him we live, (Κινουμεθα) are moved, and exist.” And adds the following words. “No words can better express that continual and necessary dependence of all derived beings, in their existence, and all their operations, on their first and almighty cause; which, the truest philosophy, as well as theology teaches.”
And reason, or true philosophy, teaches the same. A creature cannot be made independent, in any the least degree or respect whatever; because this implies a contradiction. For if a creature can be independent with respect to any thing, or in any degree, he ma} be so in every degree, and in all respects; which is inconsistent with his being a creature. Therefore the constant and entire dependence of man, on God, his Creator, for existence; for every perception and thought, and every motion of body or mind, and every circumstance 176of these, from the least that is possible, to the greatest, is absolute and perfect, in the highest degree, and in every respect. According to scripture and right reason, this is perfectly consistent with the moral freedom and agency of man; and he is as virtuous or vicious, and as worthy of praise, or deserving of blame and punishment, as if he were not thus dependent, if this were possible; which it is hoped has been made evident. But apostate, proud man feels as if he were, in a great degree at least, self dependent, and inclines and aspires to be so. This tends to lead him to wrong ideas and speculations on this point, and to prevent his reasoning properly upon it. And it is no wonder that great mistakes are made, and that many are led aside by false reasoning on the subject; and cannot be convinced of the truth: Or if they be in some measure convinced in their judgment, or at least silenced by unanswerable arguments; yet they may feel as if it were not, and could not be true; and not submit to it, but oppose it in all the exercises of their hearts.
They who are humble, and feel their dependence on God, and are pleased with it, are most likely to understand these things, and to see the consistence of such dependence, and their freedom and accountableness to God for their moral conduct; and to be satisfied with it. And if they cannot remove every difficulty in speculation, and answer all the objections which are made to it; they nevertheless do acquiesce, and are pleased with being thus dependent, and yet wholly blameable for every deviation from the law of God; and have no doubt of the consistence of these, though they may not be able to show how, or to reason the matter out with others. “The meek will he guide in judgment; and the meek will he teach his way.”144144 Psalm xxv. 9. They will approve of the sentiments and exhortation of the apostle Paul, and feel and act accordingly. They will “work out their own salvation with fear and trembling;” that is, in the exercise of true humility, and a sense and acknowledgment of their entire, constant dependence on God for every exertion and motion of their will; knowing that “He worketh in them both to will and to do.”177
Ques. Do not the words of the apostle James expressly deny that the divine agency is concerned in the existence of moral evil, when he says, “Let no man say, when he is tempted, I am tempted of God. For God cannot be tempted with evil, neither tempteth he any man?”
Ans. To tempt, and be tempted, are to be understood in different senses, as they are used in the scripture. God is said to be tempted, and men are often said to tempt him. And it is said that he tempted Abraham: And in this sense he does tempt others, and may tempt all men. Sometimes to tempt, is taken in a bad sense, as it is in this passage, and means a sinful act, as it always does when Satan is said to tempt any one. In this sense God does not tempt any man; for he is holy in all his works. To be tempted, sometimes means only to be tried; and is consistent with the perfect innocence and holiness of him who is said to be tempted. In this sense God is said to be tempted, and Jesus Christ was tempted. Sometimes to be tempted implies moral evil, and actually filling into sin. In this sense, the word seems to be used in the following passages, “Considering thyself, lest thou also be tempted. Lest by some means the tempter have tempted you, and our labour be in vain.”145145 Gal. vi. 1.—1 Thess. iii. 5. In this sense the word is to be understood, when James says, “God cannot be tempted,” and in the same sense he uses the word, when he speaks of a man being tempted. This is evident from his own explanation of it in the following words: “But every man is tempted, when he is drawn away of his own lust, and enticed.” A man cannot be tempted, in this sense, but by the exercise and gratification of his own lusts; the existence of which is therefore supposed, and necessary, in order to his being tempted; without which he could not be so tempted. Therefore a man is not, nor can be tempted, in the sense here stated, by any thing that is, or can be done, antecedent to the existence of evil, or lust, in his heart. For the temptation applies to his lust, and is suited to excite sinful exercises, or lead men into sin. It is easy 178to see, that God does not so tempt any man; and that his foreordaining whatsoever comes to pass, and executing his decrees in ordering and governing all the actions of men, does not imply this. All that God does is infinitely wise and holy. And he does not exhibit any thing to the view of men, or set any thing before them, in his word or works, in false colours, or that has any tendency to deceive them, or draw them into sin; but every thing which he suggests to them, in his word and providence, has a contrary tendency, and is perfect truth. And if men view objects in a wrong and false light, it is wholly owing to their lusts, by which the light and truth which God sets before them, is perverted and abused.
Ques. Have not those who have been called Calvinists, and have professed their belief of the doctrine of the decrees of God, that he hath foreordained whatsoever comes to pass, denied the divine agency in the existence of moral evil, while they hold that God decreed to permit it? And is not this way of representing the matter safest and best, to avoid the charge of making God the author of sin? And others who hold that God is the cause of every act and volition of the sinner, have distinguished, and said that he is the cause of them, as natural actions and events, or so far as they are natural; but not of the moral depravity of them: That this is wholly from the sinner, and he alone is the cause of it? Is not this distinction proper and necessary, in order to avoid the above imputation?
Ans. 1. It has been observed, that Calvin, and the assembly of divines, at Westminster, assert that the divine decree and agency, respecting the existence of sin, imply more than a bare permission, viz. something positive and efficacious.146146 See page 162, Margin. They therefore who hold to only a bare permission, do depart from those who have been properly called Calvinists; and do not agree with the confession of faith composed by said Assembly of divines, or with those numerous churches and divines, who do assent, or have assented to that confession of faith, in England, Scotland, Ireland and America.179
Ans. 2. If by God’s permitting sin, be meant, that sin will exist, if God do not interpose and hinder the existence of it by a positive exertion; and he only forbears such exertion, and suffers it to take ])lace; this involves a real absurdity and impossibility, as it supposes sin to exist, without any proper cause, and wholly independent of the first cause. And if any one thing, or event, may come into existence, independent of the first cause, every existence may do so too , and there is no need of a first cause of all, and the being of God cannot be proved, from any existence which men behold. But if it did not involve this impossibility, and any should think such an inference not just, it does really remove no supposed difficulty with respect to making God the origin of sin: for if sin could not exist with out the will and decree of God to permit it, and nothing but a bare permission were necessary in order to its existence; yet God in determining to permit it, willed the existence of it; and this necessarily implies his choice and pleasure, that sin should exist, in every instance in which it does take place; and that he orders things so that, he permitting, it will certainly exist just as it does. And this implies the whole of the doctrine which has been advanced, as has been before observed. To decree to permit sin, in the case supposed, is to will the existence of it. And this is liable to all the objections which can be made to the doctrine which has been advanced in this chapter, as making God the author of sin, &c. And nothing worse, or more, can be said against this doctrine, as it has been stated above, which has not been said against the assertion, which has been espoused by all Calvinists, viz. That God has foreordained whatsoever comes to pass. This has always been loaded, by many, with the greatest opprobrium which they could invent, asserting that it is the most blasphemous, horrid doctrine, that was ever thought of, making God the sole author of all the sin in the world; and most unreasonable and cruel, in punishing men or devils, who, according to this doctrine, are perfectly innocent and incapable of sinning, &c. &c. And nothing will satisfy such objectors, but to give up the doctrine of the divine decrees, and admit man to be and act so as to form his own 180moral character, independent of God, and in every sense contrary to his purpose and will, if it be sinful.
Ans. 3. The attempt to distinguish between the sinful volitions or actions of man, as natural and moral actions, and making God the origin and cause of them, considered as natural actions, and men the cause and authors of the depravity and sin which is in them, is, it is believed, unintelligible, and has no consistent or real meaning, and gives no rational satisfaction to the inquiring mind; unless by making this distinction it be meant, that in every sinful action, God is not the sinful cause of it; but all he determines and does respecting these, is the exercise of holiness: And all the moral depravity and sin consists in the volitions and actions of men, and is their sin, and cannot be ascribed to God; men being as much the cause and authors of their own sins, as they could be, if God had not done or determined any thing respecting them. And this is the doctrine which has been vindicated in this chapter. And is it not reasonable and candid to suppose that those worthy men who have made this distinction, did really mean no more nor less than this?
On the whole, it is presumed there has nothing been advanced, as included in the doctrine of the decrees of God, which is not necessarily implied in his independence and supremacy, his infinite wisdom and goodness, or holiness; and man’s necessary dependence on him; or that is inconsistent with the most perfect freedom of man, and his moral agency, and accountableness for all his moral exercises, and being justly blameable for every thing in him which is contrary to the holy law of God: And that, consistent with this doctrine, as much depends on the will and conduct of men, as if they were not dependent, if this were possible, and nothing had been done or determined, respecting their volitions and conduct, previous thereto: And that their will and conduct is as much their own, and is as deserving of praise or blame; is as virtuous or vicious, as it could be, were they wholly independent: And that there is nothing contained in this doctrine that makes God the author of sin, in any bad sense, and so as to impeach the divine holiness: And that all this has been made evident, But 181if the contrary can be made to appear, this doctrine, with all that is implied in it, shall be given up and renounced.
I. From what has been said on this high and important subject, may be inferred the truth and divine original of the holy scriptures; in that the doctrine of the divine decrees is clearly revealed, and so abundantly asserted therein; and the whole Bible is evidently formed on this plan. This doctrine is so agreeable to reason, and so essential to rational and consistent conceptions of the character and perfections, the infinite felicity, and absolute independence and supremacy and dominion of the Most High: and it is so desirable and important, that infinite wisdom and goodness should dictate, and form the plan of all existences and events; making one harmonious, absolutely perfect system; of all possible ones, the wisest and the best; that it might be reasonably expected a revelation from heaven would contain this doctrine in all its length and breadth, exhibiting it in a clear and incontestible light; and expressly or implicitly asserting the perfect consistency of it, with every truth respecting the divine character and conduct; and the liberty and moral agency of man.
If this doctrine were not contained and asserted in divine revelation, it would be perfectly unaccountable: And if the holy scriptures were formed on a contrary plan, and in opposition to this doctrine, it would be an insuperable objection against them, as coming from God. But when the children of wisdom see this contained in the Bible, they approve and are satisfied, and discern the divine stamp, in this, as well as in other things; and a perfect harmony and consistence through the whole.
It is true, that many have supposed that if this doctrine were in the Bible, it would be an unanswerable objection against the authenticity and divine original of it; and have thought they have been supporting the credit of divine revelation, by attempting to explain away those passages in which it is most expressly asserted, and to 182put another meaning upon them. But what has been gained by these attempts? Has one professed deist been hereby brought to think more favourably of the Bible, or to believe this doctrine is not contained in it? Not one instance of this, it is presumed, can be produced. And have not impiety and infidelity prevailed most, when and where the doctrine of the divine decrees, as above asserted and explained, has been most opposed and discarded?
All professed deists see the doctrine of the divine decrees, and the fixed certainty of all events, plainly asserted in the Bible; and some of them dislike this doctrine, and make it an argument, that it is not a revelation from God. Others believe and embrace the doctrine, and hence infer, contrary to the scriptures, that there is no such thing as liberty, moral agency, virtue or vice: And therefore dislike and oppose divine revelation, as much as the other.
But in the Bible the doctrine of the divine decrees, foreordaining whatsoever comes to pass; and the consistency of this with human liberty, moral agency, praise and blame, reward and punishment, is asserted; and he who well attends to this, will not only acquiesce and approve; but in discerning the beauty and harmony of these truths, he will have evidence in his own mind, that this is a revelation from God; as the corrupt heart of man, not guided by heavenly illumination, would not have represented the matter in this light. Thus what the wisdom of man, the wisdom of this world, calls folly, and rejects as such, the children of wisdom embrace as wiser than men, even the wisdom of God; and see and adore the finger of God in forming such a revelation.
II. This view of the divine decrees and operations tends to enlarge the mind, in high and exalting thoughts of God, and leads to adore him as the first and the last, the Almighty, who worketh all things by the counsel of his own will, infinite in power and wisdom, doing what he pleases in heaven and on earth: And this view of the Deity tends to lead the mind of man to humbling views of himself, as absolutely dependent on God, in all respects, and as infinitely little and inconsiderable, in comparison with God; and to see the reasonableness and 183importance of being devoted to him, in seeking his glory as the supreme end. In this view, the words of St. Paul will be naturally suggested and espoused by the pious mind. “O the depth of the riches both of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable are his ways, and his judgments past finding out! For who hath known the mind of the Lord, or who hath been his counsellor? Or who hath first given to him, and it shall be recompensed unto him again? For of him, and through him, and to him, are all things: To whom be glory forever, Amen.”
III. This doctrine is the only foundation, and a sufficient and ample one, for the support, comfort and joy of the pious friends of God, in the midst of all the darkness, sin and misery that take place. “The Lord reigneth, let the people rejoice.” Infinite wisdom and goodness, clothed with omnipotence, reign, and nothing takes place but what is important and necessary to accomplish the wisest and best end, the glory of God, and the greatest possible good. God will bring infinite good out of all the evil; and for this end he hath foreordained whatsoever comes to pass. Was not this a most certain truth, and to be relied upon, the pious mind must sink in darkness, in the view of the evil that takes place, and could find no relief. But here is a source of comfort and joy, since all things are ordered in the wisest and best manner, nothing could be added, or taken away, without rendering the divine plan less wise, perfect, and excellent.
It belongs to the infinitely wise, almighty maker and owner of all things, and governor of all worlds, to order every event; especially the events of the moral world, and the moral actions of creatures, which are the most important: They must be determined and fixed by something, by undesigning chance, or by ignorance or folly, or by infinite wisdom. He who is infinitely wise and almighty can do it in a way perfectly consistent with the liberty and moral agency of his creatures; and this being every way most desirable, and the contrary supposition infinitely dreadful: when the friends of God see this is done by him, and that his counsel with respect to every event, and all actions, stands forever, and 184 the thoughts of his heart to all generations—they rest in this, and rejoice continually, and no man can take this comfort and joy from them. Though the earth be removed, or the mountains be carried into the midst of the sea, whatever events, and however evil in themselves, take place; yet they will not fear, but drink consolation at this river, the streams whereof make glad the city of God. “Let the righteous be glad; let them rejoice before God; yea, let them exceedingly rejoice.”147147 Psalm lxviii. 3.
IV. This affords a solid stable foundation, for the most unreserved, implicit confidence and trust in God. He superintends in all things. He is in the heavens, and hath done whatsoever he pleased; he will accomplish his own ends, and cannot be disappointed. Therefore his friends may trust in him with the greatest assurance, that, whatever appearances there may be against it, he will accomplish his own ends, glorify himself, fulfil all his promises to his people, and make them most happy forever. “O Lord of hosts, blessed is the man that trusteth in thee.” Therefore,
V. This doctrine is suited to promote true piety and holiness. For this consists in loving God, in trusting and rejoicing in him, and his government and works, acknowledging him in all our ways, in seeing his hand in all events, in submitting to him, and obeying him. This doctrine is so far from affording any just ground of encouragement to sin, that so far as it is understood and cordially embraced, it forms the heart to hate sin and love the law of God, and to the most hearty, cheerful submission to his government. Experience proves this to be true, and the reason of it is very obvious. For they who see and approve of the wisdom of God in making all things for himself, and ordering all things, even the sins of men, for his own glory; must themselves desire and seek the glory of God; and this necessarily implies an approbation of the law of God, and a cordial submission and obedience to it.
VI. Hence may be inferred the propriety and importance of preaching this doctrine, and of explaining and vindicating it, as it is revealed in the holy scriptures.185
Some who believe it is revealed in the Bible, yet think it ought not to be preached, or spoken of, as it is such a mysterious doctrine, and is so difficult and puzzling to many, and a stumbling block to them, rather than to their edification; and is liable to be misimproved to bad purposes.
But such must be under a great mistake. It is dishonourable to God, and to the Bible, to suppose any truth which he has there revealed, is of a bad tendency, and therefore ought not to be published; yea, it is implicitly denying that the Bible is from God, and taking sides with the deist. Besides, there is a contradiction and absurdity in the supposition, that it is a truth, and yet has a bad tendency; for this is impossible in the nature of things. That which has a bad tendency, is error and falsehood; but truth has a direct contrary tendency and effect, wherever it is received.
It is true, this doctrine may be preached imprudently, it may be represented in a partial and improper light; and so that the hearers will not understand it. No one can be justified for preaching this, or any other truth, in such a manner. But this is rather a reason why it should, with all other important truths, be thoroughly and fully preached, so that they who are disposed to attend, and willing to understand, may have opportunity to be instructed. It is doubtless better, if there can be a better in the case, not to preach it at all, than to do it to the halves, just mentioning it sometimes; for this is not the way to have it understood, but tends to raise prejudices against it. But the best and only wise way is, to preach it, and explain it clearly and fully, and give persons opportunity, more privately, to propose any objections they may have, that they may be removed.
And parents ought to be able and willing to teach it to their children; to explain it and show them the reason of it, and the evidence there is in the scripture of the truth of it. And though they might not fully understand it in early age; yet a foundation would be hereby laid for their making improvement in understanding, as they advance in years. It is not so difficult a doctrine, as many imagine, who perhaps never understood it themselves, through strong prejudices, which they imbibed, 186before they were well instructed in it. A child of twelve or fourteen years old, who is carefully instructed, and will attend, is capable of understanding and seeing the evidence and reasonableness of this doctrine; which must be believed as an important article of the christian faith, where the Bible is well understood; however it be now, and has been, rejected by many, with the greatest contempt, boldness and assurance.
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