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THE CAUSE OF THE DESTRUCTION OF IM
O Israel, thou hast destroyed thyself, but in me is thine help.
THESE words are so concise in the Hebrew
I text, that no distinct idea can be affixed to them, unless we supply something. All expositors allow this. The only question is, what word ought to be supplied to express the prophet's meaning.
Some supply, thine idols, or thy calves, have destroyed thee: and by these they understand the images, which Jeroboam placed at Samaria, to prevent the ten tribes who had revolted under his direction from the government of Rehoboam, from returning to that prince, as probably they might have been tempted to do, had they gone to worship the true God at Jerusalem.
Others supply, thy king, hath destroyed thee, O Israel, meaning Jeroboam, who had led the people of Israel into idolatry.
But, not to trouble you with a list of the various opinions of expositors, I shall content myself with observing that, which I think best founded, that is, VOL, V.
the sense given by the ancient Latin version, Thy, destruction is of thyself, O Israel, or, thou art the author of thine own ruin. . This translation, which supplies less to the original, is also perfectly agreeable to the idiom of the Hebrew language. With this the version of our churches agrees, thou hast destroyed thyself, or thou art destroyed, which is much the same, because others cannot destroy us unless we contribute by our own negligence to our own destruction. This translation too is connected with what precedes, and what follows, and in general with the chief design of our prophet.
This chief design is very observable in most chapters of this prophecy. It is evident, the prophet intended to convince the Israelites, that God had discovered in all his dispensations, a desire to fix them in his service, to lead them to felicity by the path of virtue, and that they ought to blame none but themselves, if judgments from heaven should overwhelm them, giving them up to the Assyrians in this life, and to punishment after death. This design seems to me most fully discovered in the latter part of this chapter, a few verses after the text, I will ransom them from the power of the grave, I will redeem them from death. O death, I will be thy plagues, O grave, I will be thy destruction. You know, my bre. thren, St. Paul informs us, that this promise will not be accomplished till after the general resurrection. Then shall be brought to pass the saying that is written, death is swallowed up in victory. O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory? But, adds our prophet, Samaria shall become desolate, for she hath rebelled against her God. . The text is therefore connected with the foregoing and following words according to this translation, O Israel, thou hast destroyed thyself.
I class the text then among these passages of scripture, in which God condescends to exonerate his conduct in regard to sinners, by declaring, that they ought to take the whole blame of their own destruction on themselves; and in this point of view I am going to consider it. The difficulties of this subject chiefly proceed from three causes, either from our notion of the nature of God or the nature of religion-or the nature of man. We will examine these difficulties, and endeavor to remove them in the remaining part of this discourse.
1. O Israel, thou hast destroyed thyself. The first difficulties that seem to belong to this truth, are taken from the nature of God, who, having created nothing of which he had not an idea before, and having realized no idea, all the consequences of which he had not foreseen, is the author not only of every being that exists, but also of every thing that results from their existence, and seems for this very reason the only cause of the miseries of his creatures.
It is much to be wished, my brethren, that man-' kind were so apprized of the narrow limits of their own understandings, as not to plunge themselves into some deep subjects, which they are incapable of fathoming, and so as to attribute to their natural incapacity their incompetency to answer some objections against the perfections of God. Some pagans have been more aware of this than many christians; and the Persians, followers of Mohammed, have endeavored to make their disciples comprehend it by an ingenious fable.
« There were (say they) three brethren, who all died at the same time; the two first were far advanced in age; the elder had always lived in a habit
of obedience to God; the second, on the contrary, in a course of disobedience and sin, and the third was an infant incapable of distinguishing good from evil. These three brothers appeared before the tribunal of God, the first was received in paradise, the second was condemned to hell, the third was sent to a middle place, where there was neither pleasure nor pain, because he had not done either good or evil. When this youngest heard his sentence, and the reason on which the Supreme Judge grounded it, sorry to be excluded from paradise, he exclaimed, Ah, Lord, hadst thou preserved my life as thou didst that of my good brother, how much better would it have been for me? I should have lived as he did, and then I should have enjoyed, as he does, the happiness of eternal glory! My child, replied God to him, I knew thee, and I knew, hadst thou lived longer, thou wouldst have lived like thy wicked brother, and like him wouldst have rendered thyself deserying of the punishment of hell. The condemned brother, hearing this discourse of God, exclaimed, Ah, Lord, why didst thou not then confer the same favor upon me as upon iny younger brother, by depriving me of a life which I have so wickedly mispent, as to bring myself under a sentence of condemnation? I preserved thy life, said God, to give thee an opportunity of saving thyself. The younger brother, hearing this reply, exclaimed again, Ah! why then, my God, didst thou not preserve my life also, that I might have had an opportunity of saving myself? God, to put an end to complaining and disputing, replied, because my decree had determined otherways."
Were I to follow my own inclination, I should imitate this cautious reserve: but as silence on this subject is sometimes an occasion of imaginary triumph to the enemies of religion, and as it sometimes causes scruples in weak consciences, I think it absolutely necessary to say something toward removing this objection, and to prove, at least, that though we are incapable of fully satisfying ourselves on this subject, yet there is nothing in this incompetency favorable to the insults of infidels, or the doubts and fears of the scrupulous.
Now, my brethren, it seems to me, we cannot possibly imagine any more than two ways to satisfy ourselves on this subject : the one is, to obtain a complete idea of the decrees of God, and to compare them so exactly with the disposition of sinners, as to make it evident by this comparison, that sinners are not under a necessity of committing such crimes as cause their eternal destruction. The second is, to refer the subject to the determi, nation of a being of the most unsuspected knowledge and veracity, whose testimony we may persuade ourselves is unexceptionable, and whose declaration is an infallible oracle.
The first of these ways is impracticable. To be able to demonstrate, by an exact comparison of the decrees of God with the nature of man, that -sinners are not necessitated to commit such crimes as cause their eternal destruction, is, in my opinion, a work more than human. Many have attempled it, but though we cannot refuse the praise due to their piety, yet, it should seem, we owe this testimony to truth, that they have not removed all the objections to which the subject is liable. i
I say more: I venture to predict, without pretending to be a prophet, that all future efforts will be equally unsuccessful. The reason is, because it is an attempt to infer consequences from principles unknown. Who can boast of knowing the whole arrangement, all the extent, and all the