« PreviousContinue »
by men or angels; or that this was possible, consistent with the holy law of God, and with wisdom and right
This was hid in God from all créatures, until he was pleased to reveal his design. This indeed was done immediately upon the apostasy of man ; and this important and glorious purpose of God has been opening more and more from that time to this : Which has been suited to excite and increase the attention and wonder of men and angels, through all ages.
In this revelation is comprehended what God has made known by declarations, promises and predictions in the holy scriptures, and by his providence, in ordering the events recorded in the historical part of scripture, and accomplishing many things which he has promised or predicted ; by which the declarations, promises and prophecies are opened and explained, and light is thrown upon this grand design ; while the word of God, and his providence in governing the world, and ordering all events, do most exactly agree and illustrate each other.
And the providence of God, as it respects the natural world, considered by itself, unconnected with his word in the holy scriptures, in preserving mankind, and giving them ease and health, and so many comforts and good things in this life, carries a language in it, and is a kind and degree of revelation of the disposition and will of God, declaring not only the being of God, and his universal and particular providence, and care of all his creatures ; but also that he is good and kind to man in a sense and degree which is inconsistent with his being cast off without hope; and is a standing evidence to all who have proper discerning, that God is propitious to the human race; and that there is some way in which he may be reconciled, and show mercy to sinners. This seems to be the sentiment expressed by St. Paul in the following words. “Who in times past suffered all nations to walk in their own ways. Nevertheless he left not himself without witness, in that he did good, and gave us rain from heaven, and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with food and gladness. *
The witness or testimony of which the apostle here speaks, which was given to mankind in general by God,
• Acts xiy, 16, 17.
in his doing them good, and which was constantly held up in divine providence, was not merely of his existence, but of his kind care of man, and his readiness to be reconciled to him, without particularly pointing out the
way and method in which this could be effected. This was a sufficient ground to excite their hope, and induce them to seek after him, and make all possible inquiries and search after the way in which they might obtain mercy ; and to find what was necessary in order to their being saved. And God has so ordered the situation and bounds of mankind, both under the Mosaic and christian dispensation, that all who would take proper notice of this witness in divine providence, and improve it as they ought, and might do, might come to the knowledge of the truth. They who lived before the incarnation of Christ could not fail of coming to the knowledge of the revelation given to the Israelites. And all mankind who have lived since might have come to the knowledge of the truth revealed by Christ and his apostles. This is asserted by St. Paul. " And hath made of one blood all nations of men, to dwell in all the face of the earth ; and hath determined the times before appointed, and the bounds of their habitation ; that they should seek the Lord, if haply they might feel after him, and find him."* Many who pay no regard to a written revelation have
a supposed that the dictates of reason, without any particular revelation from God, did assure them that he must pardon and receive to favour every penitent sinner, as it would be inconsistent with his goodness not to do it ; therefore mankind want no other revelation from God to give them a certainty of this. But they have never been able to give any satisfactory evidence of this to those who properly attend to the matter; and what they call reason, appears to be presumption, when examined by impartial enlightened reason. There is nothing within the reach of the reason and knowledge of creatures that can afford the least evidence that God will pardon the penitent sinner, merely because he repents ; or that this could be done consistent with the most perfect moral VOL. I.
39 • Acts xvii. 26, 27.
government; but the contrary appears most reasonable, viz. that the repentance of the criminal is not sufficient to give him any claim to forgiveness. And it is very evident and certain that such an opinion is inconsistent with real repentance ; and that while a sinner thinks that his repentance will give a claim to forgiveness and favour, he is a stranger to true repentance, and never will repent, until he gives it up. Nor can he have the least evidence that any of mankind will ever repent, if left to themselves, and are not the subjects of those divine in. Auences to which they have no claim, and which they have no reason to conclude God will grant. But this matter will be made more evident as we proceed on the subject of redemption.
II. REDEMPTION does not extend to all sinful, fallen creatures, but many are left to suffer the just con. sequence of their rebellion, in everlasting punishment. No mercy has been extended to the fallen angels, of whom there are vast numbers. "For God spared not the angels that sinned, but cast them down to hell, and hath reserved them in everlasting chains of darkness, unto the judgment of the great day,”* when they are to receive their final sentence to eternal punishment.f And it is expressly and repeatedly declared in divine rev. elation that a part of mankind shall also be punished forev. er. To which they shall be sentenced, together with the fallen angels, at the judgment of the great day. I
This distinction, made between the fallen angels and mankind, and in favour of the latter, is not because man might not have been justly left to eternal ruin, or because he was less unworthy of mercy, and not so ill deserving, as the apostate angels ; but for reasons in the view of infinite wisdom, which may, at least the most of them, be wholly out of our sight at present. As light and knowledge shall increase in the church, the wisdom of God in this dispensation of sovereign grace will be more and more seen ; and there will be an increasing discovery of this to angels and the redeemed in the eternal kingdom of God.
# 2 Peter ii. 4.-Jude 6. † Matt. xxv. 41.-Rev. xx. 10.
Matt. xxv. 41. 46.--Rey. xx, 10, 15.-2 Thess. i. 8, 9.
. We are also certain that infinite wisdom saw it best that redemption should not extend to all mankind, so that every one of the human race should be actually saved, though we were not able to see the reason of this, and the contrary should appear to us to be most wise and best ; for we are infinitely far from being competent judges in this case ; and there is the highest reason that we should acquiesce, and be satisfied with the declaration and conduct of the infinitely wise and benevolent Being, who is able, and to whom it belonged to determine whether all the human race should be saved or not. For we are sure that it is determined perfectly right, and that all mankind could not be actu. ally redeemed, consistent with the good of the whole, or consistent with wisdom and goodness.
It also belongs to the supreme, infinitely wise and benevolent Being to determine what number and proportion of mankind shall be saved, and fix upon every individual person, since all this depends upon him, and he has a right to do as he pleases, and he only knows what is most wise and best.
« Hath not the potter power over the clay, of the same lump to make one vessel unto honour, and another unto dishonour ?”
We are not in express words of revelation informed what proportion of mankind shall be saved, whether the greater or less part of them, on the whole. But perhaps more is revealed with respect to this than has been supposed, and which is contrary to what has been generally thought to be asserted in the scriptures. It has been thought by many, that when Christ says, “ Strait is the gate, and narrow is the way which leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it. Many are called, but few chosen. Fear not little flock,” he declares that but few, a very small part of mankind, shall be saved. But when we attend to these words of Christ, we shall find that they are spoken of the then present time; and nothing is asserted concerning that which shall take place in future ages; and therefore have no relation to the point before us, and determine nothing about it. When this question was put to him, “Lord, are there few that shall be saved ?i He did not think proper to answer it then, by expressly affirming or denying'; but only said, that many should not be saved ; and improv. ed this truth to excite all to secure their own salva. tion, without delay : Which is consistent with there being many more saved than lost.
When we attend to the many predictions of the flourishing, greatness and extent of the church and kingdom of Christ in the last days, so as to fill the whole world, when “ the kingdom and dominion, and the greatness of the kingdom under the whole heaven, shall be given to the people of the saints of the Most High ;” and are assured that this state of prosperity shall continue, at least a thousand years, we shall find no reason to conclude that but few of mankind will be saved, in comparison with those who shall perish; but see ground to believe that the number of the former will far exceed that of the latter. * But were there nothing revealed by which we could determine any thing with respect to this, we might well rest satisfied that God, who is infi. nitely wise and good, has fixed the number of those who shall be saved, and of those who shall not be saved, so as exactly to answer the best end, and promote the greatest general good ; and may be as certain that many of mankind will perish forever, as we can be that the Bible is a revelation from God, since this is there so expressly, abundantly, and in such a variety of ways de. clared and established.
III. The Redemption of man is the greatest instance of the exercise and manifestation of the benevolence, or the love and goodness of God, that ever took place, or that ever will. It is the greatest possible exercise and display of divine benevolence ; in which there is the best and most ample ground and scope for the highest increasing and endless discovery of the love and goodness of the infinitely benevolent Being.
The benevolence of the Deity is exercised, and appears in all his works ; but in the work of redemption is the fullest, most perfect and bright display of the di,
The reader may see this more fully considered in Dr. Bellamy's discourse on the Millennium. Some attention is also paid to this point ; and the reasons are suggested, why redemption does not include the salva. tion of all men, in “An inquiry concerning the future state of those who die in their sins.” Page 182, &c.