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combinations of the decrees of God? The depth of these decrees, the obscure manner in which the scripture expresses them, and, if I may be allowed to say so, the darkness in which attempts to elucidate them have involved them, place them infinitely beyond our reach. As this method hath been impracticable to this day, probably it will continue so to the end of the world.
Let us try the second. The question is, whether, allowing the decrees of God, God doth any violence to sinners, compelling them to commit sin? Hath not this question been fully answered by a being, whose decisions are infallible oracles, and of whose testimony we cannot possibly form any reasonable doubt? Yes, my brethren, we know such a being; we know a being infinitely capable of deciding this question, and who hath actually decided it. This being is God himself.
To explain our meaning, and to shew the connection of the answer with the question, I will suppose you to put up this petition to God. Doth the eternal destination, which thou hast made of my soul before I had a being, force my will; do what they call predestination and reprobation in the schools, destroy this proposition, that if I perish, my destruction proceeds alone from myself? My God, remove this difficulty, and lay open to me this important truth. I suppose, my brethren, you have presented this question, and that God answers in the following manner. The frailty of your minds renders this matter incomprehensible to you. It is impossible for men finite as you are, to comprehend the whole extent of my decrees, and to see in a clear and distinct manner the influence they have on the destiny of man: but I who formed them perfectly understand them. I am truth itself, as I am wisdom. I do declare te you, then, that none of my decrees offer violence to my creatures, and that your destruction can proceed from none but yourselves. As to the rest, you shall one day perfectly understand what you now understand only in part, and then you shall see with your own eyes what you now see only with mine. Čease then to anticipate a period, which my wisdom defers, and laying aside this speculation, attend you to practice, fully persuaded that you are placed between reward and punishment, and may have a part in which you please. Is it not true, my brethren, that if God had answered in this manner, it would be carrying, I do not say rashness, but insolence, to the highest degree, to object against the testimony, or to desire more light into this subject at present ? Now, my brethren, we pretend that God hath given this answer, and in a manner infinitely more clear than we have stated it.
He hath given this answer in those pathetical expostulations, in those powerful applications, and in those exhortations, which he employs to reclaim the greatest sinners. Now, if the decrees of God forced sinners, if they did violence to their liberty, would the equity of God allow him to call men out of bondage, while he himself confined them in chains ?
God hath given this answer, by tender complaints, concerning the depravity of mankind, yea, by tears of love shed for their miseries. O that my people had hearkened unto me! O that thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace! Psal. lxxxi 14. Luke xix. 42. Now, if the decrees of God force sinners, if they offer violence to their liberty, I am not afraid to say, this sort of language would be a sport unworthy of the divine majesty.
He hath given this answer by express assurances, that he would have all men to be saved; that he hath no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his way, and live ; that he is not willing that any should perish, but that all should come to repentance. Now if the decrees of God force sinners, and do violence to their liberty, contrary propositions are true; it would be proper to say, God will not have all men to be saved; he will not have the sinner come to repentance; he is determined the sinner shall die.
He hath published this answer, by giving us high ideas of his mercy; when he prolongs the time of his patience and long sufferings, he calls it riches of goodness, forbearance, and long sufferings. Now, if the decrees of God force sinners, if they offer violence to their liberty, God would not be more merciful, if he grants fourscore years to a wicked man to repent in, than if he took him away suddenly on the commission of his first sin.
He hath given this answer expressly in the text, and in many other parallel passages, where he clearly tells us, that after what he had done to save us, there are no difficulties insurmountable in our salvation, except such as we choose to put there. For if the divine decrees force men to sin, and offer violence to their liberty, the proposition in the text would be utterly false, and the prophet could not say on the part of God, O Israel, thou hast destroyed thyself
As the first way of removing our difficulties is absolutely impassible, the second is fully open. God hath not thought proper to give us a distinct idea of the connection between his decrees and the liberty of sinners: but he hath openly declared, that they do not clash together. Let us make no mope vain efforts to explain mysteries, a clear de
monstration of which God hath reserved for another life: but let us attend to that law, which he hath required us to obey in the present state.
But men will run counter to the declarations of God in scripture. Things that are revealed, which belong unto us and our children forever, we leave, and we lay our rash hands on secret things, which belong unto the Lord our God. We lay aside charity, moderation, mutual patience, duties clearly revealed, powerfully pressed home, and repeated with the utmost fervor, and we set ourselves the task of removing insuperable difficulties, to read and turn over the book of God's decrees. We regulate and arrange the decrees of God, we elevate our pretended discoveries into articles essential to salvation and religion, and at length we generate doubts and fears, which distress us on a death bed, and oblige us to undergo the intolerable punishment of trying to reconcile doctrines, the clearing of which is beyond the capacity of all mankind.
No, no, it was not thy decree, O my God, that dug hell, and kindled the devouring fire, the smoke of which ascendeth up for ever and ever! In vain the sinner searches in a decree of reprobation for what comes only from his own depravity. Thou dost not say to thy creatures, yield, yield miserable wretches to my sovereign will, which first impels you to sin, in order to compel you to suffer that punishment, which I have decreed for you from all eternity
Thou reachest out thy charitable arms, thou appliest to us motives the most proper to affect intelligent minds. Thou openest the gates of heaven to us, and if we be lost amidst so many means of being saved, to thee belongeth righteousness, and to us shame and confusion of face. O Israel, thou hast destroyed thyself.
II. You will see the evidence of this proposition inuch better, my brethren, if you attend to the discussion of the second class of difficulties, to which the subject is liable. They are taken from the nature of religion. There are men so stupid, or rather so wicked, as to consider religion, that rich present which God in his great love made mankind, as a fatal present given in anger. The duties required seem to tliem vast vallies to fill up, and huge mountains to level, and attributing insuperable difficulties to religion, which are creatures only of their own cowardice and malice, they cannot comprehend how men can be punished for not performing such impossible conditions. examine this religion; nothing more is necessary to remove this odious objection.
1. Observe the first character of evangelical morality, how clearly it is revealed. Let heresy attack the truth of our mysteries. If demonstrative arguments cannot be produced, probable ones may; if the doctrines cannot be expunged from the letter of scripture, at least they may be disguised ; if they cannot be rendered contemptible, they may for a while be made difficult to understand: but propositions that concern moral virtue, are placed in a light so clear, that, far from extinguishing it, nothing can diminish its brightness. Religion clearly requires a magistrate to be equitable, and a subject obedient ; a father tender, and a son dutiful; a husband affectionate, and a wise faithful ; a master gentle, and a servant diligent ; a pastor vigilant, and a flock teachable. Religion clearly requires us to exercise moderation in prosperity, and patience in adversity. Religion clearly requires us to be wholly attentive to the ditine majesty, when we are at the foot of his throne, and never to lose sight of him after our devotions