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The evidence of this is complete in the example of Christ. Christ thus prayed, while yet he was perfectly resigned: we, of course, may thus pray, without lessening at all the degree, or affecting the genuineness, of our Resignation.
The obligations, which we are under to exercise this spirit, are founded both in the command of God, and the nature of things. The command of God carries with it, in all cases, an authority and obligation, which are without limits. With this authority he requires us to be resigned to his whole will; asserting it, with the most perfect propriety, to be His prerogative alone to prescribe, and our duty entirely to obey. We are his creatures ; and are, therefore, under all possible obligation to do his pleasure. At the same time, his will is perfectly right; and ought exactly to be obeyed, even if there were no authority to bind, and no reward to retribute, our obedience. Our own supreme good is entirely promoted by our obedience only; both as the obedience itself is delightful, and as it is followed by a glorious and divine reward.
Resignation is not merely a single act, but a general course of obedience; a general preparation of the heart to yield itself to God's known will, and his promised dispensations. I here include, and have all along included, what is commonly called Submission. Submission differs from Resignation in nothing but this : Submission is yielding the heart to the divine will, in that which has already taken place, or is now taking place; and Resignation, yielding the heart to that, which, it is foreseen, may, or will, hereafter take place. The spirit is exactly the same, as to its nature, in all instances ; and the difference is found only in regarding the past, present, or future, accomplishment of the divine will. This distinction is so nearly a nominal one only, that both names are used indiscriminately, and of so little importance, as to preclude any necessary regard to it in this discourse.
This disposition is the only becoming temper in suffering creatures, so far as their sufferings are concerned. The sufferings of mankind, in the present world, are all expressions of the will of God. There are but three dispositions, with which they can be regarded; impatience, indifference, or acquiescence. It cannot be necessary for me to show, that the last of these is the only spirit with which we can receive either profitably, or becomingly, the chastisements, inflicted by the hand of God.
To acquiesce in the divine pleasure under sufferings is a strong, an eminently excellent exercise of Love and Reverence to God. It is not easy to conceive how we can give a higher, or more decisive testimony of our delight in the divine character, or our approbation of the divine government, than by quietly yielding to that government in circumstances of suffering and sorrow; by testifying with the heart, that we have such a sense of the wisdom and goodness of God, as to be satisfied to undergo whatever afflictions he is pleased to send upon us; and to give up our own wishes and com
forts, that the pleasure of God may be done, and his glory promoted. This is an exercise of love to our Maker, which proves itself to be genuine, and excellent, by the willing self-denial, which it encounters ; and by the victory, which it gains over interest and pleasure powerfully present.
It is also to be remembered, that the Christian, notwithstanding he is a Christian, is still a sinful being. Afflictions are punishments of his sins, incomparably less, than he has deserved. Resignation to them is a candid, equitable, dutiful acknowledgment of the justice of God in sending them, and a humble confession of the sins, by which they have been deserved.
By this spirit the general selfishness of the mind is gradually wasted away; the strength of passion and appetite continually weakened; its impiety prevented; its ingratitude destroyed; and its rebellion broken down. The rebel is converted into a child. A serenity and quietness of disposition take possession of the soul; allay the bitterness of its distresses; sooth all its tumults into peace; mingle comfort in the cup of sorrow; and happily blend with all its sufferings the inherent delight of Resignation ; a supporting sense of the approbation and favour of God.
REMARKS. From this passage of Scripture, thus considered, it is evident,
1st. That willingness to suffer Perdition is no part of Christian Resignation.
It is well known to my audience, that the contrary doctrine to that which I have here asserted, has been taught by men of distinguished reputation for learning and piety: and it is equally well known, that no human learning and piety will furnish a sufficient security from error. All human opinions, therefore, may be warrantably questioned ; and none are to be received without evidence, upon the mere reputation of their authors. While, therefore, I would treat the authors with becoming respect; I shall take the liberty freely to question their opinions.
That Christian Resignation does not at all involve a willingness to suffer perdition is, in my view, unanswerably clear from the text. To the arguments derived from this source, I shall, however, add a few, out of many, suggested by the nature of the subject.
In the first place, Christian Resignation is Resignation to nothing but the will of God. This position has, if I mistake not, been proved beyond debate, in the body of the discourse. The will of God, by which we are to be governed, is plainly that which is, or can be, known to us. The proof of this, both from reason and Scripture, is complete. Reason teaches us, or rather we know by intuition, that it is impossible for us to be governed by a rule, which we cannot know. Revelation informs us, that secret things belong to God; and that only the things which are revealed belong to us,
and to our children for ever; that we may do all the words of his law. That, then, which is not known to us, cannot belong to us,
any sense, as a rule, or part, of our duty.
But it is not known, and without a new and direct revelation it cannot be known, to any man living, to be the will of God, that he should suffer perdition. The Scriptures reveal to us, that the impenitent and unbelieving will indeed suffer this terrible punishment. But they do not reveal to any man, that he himself will be impenitent and unbelieving, when he leaves the world, or that he will finally be condemned. It is impossible, therefore, for any man to know in this world, that the will of God will require him to suffer perdition. If, then, he resigns himself to this dreadful allotment, as being a part of the will of God; he himself presumptuously establishes by his own contrivance, and conjecture, something as the will of God, which God has not declared to be such; which the man himself cannot know to be such, while in the present world; and which he cannot lawfully presume to be such. Instead, therefore, of resigning himself to the divine will, he resigns himself to a will, which his own imagination creates for God; and is guilty of intruding into the province and assuming the prerogatives of his Creator.
2dly. Every sincere Professor of Religion either knows or believes himself to be a Christian.
If he knows himself to be a Christian, then he knows it to be contrary to the will of God, that he should be finally condemned, or that he should suffer the miseries of perdition. To be willing in this case, to suffer these miseries, is to be willing to suffer that which is known by him to be contrary to the will of God. It is a consent to prevent Christ of one trophy of his Cross, one glorious fruit of his sufferings, and to take a gem from his crown of glory.
If the Professor believes himself to be a Christian; then, in being willing to suffer perdition, he is willing to suffer, in direct contradiction to what he believes to be the will of God. His belief here ought to have exactly the same influence on his disposition and conduct, as his knowledge in the former case. Wherever we have not, and, at the time when we are to act, cannot have, certainty, we are under absolute obligation to be governed by the highest probability. In this case, therefore, the duty of the Professor is exactly the same as in the former.
When we remember, that the sufferer becomes, of course, the eternal enemy of God and of all good, and that the Professor, in thus consenting to suffer, consents, in the same act, to be the eternal
enemy of God and of all good; and when this consent is yielded in direct contradiction to what he either knows, or believes, to be the will of God; it will, I think, be difficult to find a reason which will evince this conduct to be a part of the Christian's duty.
3dly. There is no precept in the Scriptures enjoining this conduct.
It certainly must seem strange, that a duty so extraordinary, and so fitted to perplex the minds of mere men, should, if it be really a duty, be no where expressly enjoined. Certainly it is not likely to be easily embraced by any man.
It can hardly be supposed, therefore, if it be really a part of the Evangelical system, to be left to inference, philosophy, and supposition. No precept, so far as we are able to judge, needs more to be clear, and express, than that which should require of us this singular mental effort. But such a precept cannot be found.
4thly. There is no example of such Resignation recorded in the Scriptures.
There are two examples, which are alleged in support of the Resignation in question. The first is in Ex. xxxii. 31, 32, And Moses returned unto the Lord; and said, Oh! this people have sinned a great sin, and have made them gods of gold. Yet now, if thou wilt, forgive their sin : and if not, blot me, I pray thee, out of thy book, which thou hast written. The part of this text, which is alleged in support of the doctrine here contended against, is contained in these expressions : Yet now, if thou wilt, forgive their sin : if not, blot me, I pray thee, out of thy book, which thou hast written. It is supposed, that Moses prayed to God to make him miserable, on the condition specified throughout eternity.
Concerning this subject, I observe, first, that the expression llot me out of thy book which thou has written, is wholly figurative; and, like most other figurative language, is capable of being understood in various senses. To say the most, then, it is ambiguous and uncertain. I need not say, that such a doctrine as this, ought not to be founded on an ambiguous passage of Scripture, nor on any uncertainty whatever.
Secondly. It will be admitted, that Moses, although he prayed in a violent state of emotion, yet spoke in some accordance with common sense. But the interpretation given to his words by those who teach this doctrine, make him speak the most arrant nonsense. His words are, Yet now, if thou wilt, forgive their sins : and if not, blot me, I pray thee, out of thy book which thou hast written. Here, according to the abbettors of this doctrine, Moses prays, that God would forgive their sin, if he was willing; and if he was unwilling, that he would blot him out of the book of life. They say, that the benevolence of Moses was so great, that he chose rather to suffer endless misery, in order to obtain the forgiveness of his country. men, than to be endlessly happy, and see them condemned. But they do not attend to the words of Moses. He himself says no such thing. On the contrary, he prays, that God would blot him out of his book, if he will not forgive their sin: choosing not to be happy himself, unless they may be happy with him; and choosing to be
; endlessly miserable, rather than to be endlessly happy, unless they
may be happy also. This, it must be acknowledged, if it be benevolence, is benevolence of a very extraordinary kind. Moses, according to this scheme, is desirous, if he cannot obtain all the good which he wishes, to have none; and, if his countrymen cannot be happy, to be miserable himself: to be endlessly miserable, without the least expectation of doing, without a possibility of doing, any good whatever to them: in plain language, to be endlessly miserable for the sake of being endlessly miserable.
It is also Resignation of an extraordinary kind. Instead of being Resignation to the will of God, it is resignation, directly opposed, and perfectly known by Moses himself to be directly opposed, to that will. Moses certainly knew, that he was destined to endless life; and therefore certainly knew, that this was the will of God. To this will, thus known, his prayer, interpreted according to this scheme, is directly contradictory. I hesitate not to say, that Moses never exercised Resignation of this nature.
Thirdly. The real meaning of this prayer is, that, on the condition specified, God would take away his life.
After the rebellion of the Israelites at the foot of the Mount, in which they made, and worshipped, the golden calf, God directed Moses to let him alone, that he might consume them; and promised to make of Moses himself a great nation. Alluring as this promise was, Moses loved Israel too well, to forsake them on this pressing occasion. He therefore besought God to forgive them, with great earnestness and anxiety; and prayed fervently also, that, if he would not forgive them, he would take away his own life; probably, that he might not witness the melancholy sight of the ruin of a people, for whom he had done, and suffered, so much, and in whose interests his heart was so entirely bound up. The book here cal. led the book which God had written, is a figurative allusion to a register, in which were recorded the names of living persons ; and in the present case, is considered as a register, written by God, in which were enrolled the names of all living men.
To blot out the name is equivalent to taking away the life of the person, thus registered. That this was what was intended by Moses must, I think, be unanswerably evident from the observations, which have been already made.
A similar prayer of the same illustrious man is recorded in Numb. xi. 14, 15, I am not able to bear all this people alone, because it is too heary for me. And, if thou deal thus with
kill I pray thee, out of hand, if I have found favour in thy sight; and let me not see my wretchedness. The only difference between the two cases seems to be, that in the former case, Moses prayed, that he might not live to see the ruin of his people, and in the latter, requested to be released from life, because he was unable to bear the burden of superintending, and providing for them.
The other passage is Rom. ix. 1---3, I say the truth in Christ; Ilie not; my conscience also bearing me witness in the Holy Ghost';