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first sin was in consequence of his being left to himself? If he was then the subject of any moral propensity, it was to holiness, and not to sin. His being left, therefore, to the influence of an established propensity, must have perpetuated his innocence, rather than have plunged him into guilt. And if it was a necessary consequence of his being left to the freedom of his own will, then none can be preserved in a state of holiness, unless freedom of will is taken, or kept, from them. The bare permission of sin is, therefore, no principle at all, on which to account for it. Does God's sending Joseph into Egypt, and the Babylonians against Jerusalem, giving them a charge to take the spoil, &c. express no more than his bare permission, or not interposing to hinder those events? Or is there nothing implied, in his stirring up the spirit of the Medes against the Chaldeans, but merely not stopping them, or not laying upon them a positive restraint to prevent their going against the nation, which was to be subdued by their arms? How would this convey an idea of God's exercising government in these great revolutions and changes in the state of the world? To this it will, doubtless, be replied, that he overrules all the base conduct, which he permits, for important and wholesome purposes in his kingdom, and, in this way, governs by means of these unpropitious events. This idea may give some satisfaction, for aught I know, provided it can be determined what it is, precisely.
What do we mean by God's overruling sin, for his own glory, when none of it is brought to pass under the control, or direction, of his almighty hand? It is pretended, that all sin takes place by the permission and not by any positive influence, or interposition, of the divine will; and yet that it is all overruled for good. How is it overruled? How did God overrule the sin of Joseph's brethren, who sold him into Egypt, for good to him, to mankind, and the church? The answer will be, by bringing the young captive into a state of great dignity and preferment in the land of Egypt. And how did he ef fect this? Read the story, and you will find sin, of various names and aggravations, used as the grand instrument of conducting the affair, from the gross lasciviousness of Potiphar's wife to the ungrateful perfidy of the forgetful butler. But the present plea is, that these were all by permission, without a single iota of positive agency to cause them. But how a chain of bare permissions, extended to whatever length, can be considered as an overruling of some prior event, it will be difficult to imagine. Let us rather resolve the whole into the positive will and agency of the great Judge of all the earth, and then the final event will be sure, and not more sure than desirable and happy. Thus, after a long, and I am afraid you will deem it, a severe, exercise of your patience, upon the present subject, I have only to request leave at a future day to improve the subject. E E
Truths relating to God's character and government improved.
GENESIS, xviii, 25.
Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right?
WHAT this rectitude is, and how it applies to
God, the great sovereign of the world, we have seen. And to improve the subject I shall observe,
1. That the view we have taken of it tends to impress upon our minds an idea of its immense importance. The subject of Deity must be vastly great and interesting. Here lies the great corner-stone of all being and happiness. To be acquainted with ourselves, is a matter of And is it not also of first rate imvery weighty concern. portance, that we should have some just and clear notions of our origin, whence we sprang, who gave us being, and wherefore he has called us into existence, and governs us by the irresistible hand of his providence, in the manner he does? Man's relation to God is solemn and consequential in proportion to the dignity and majesty, under which the divine nature appears. They, who have de fective and narrow conceptions of God, will, in due proportion, be unawed by the consideration, that he is their sovereign King and Lord. So far as we fall short of
Truths relating to God's character &c. 339
truth, in what we hold and realize, respecting the kingdom of God, his character and glory, we are unfitted for religious devotion, and for all the duties of true evangelical piety.
It mocks and
Again; the greatness of our subject appears in the mystery and incomprehensibility of it. The mystery of godliness is the greatest of all mysteries. defies all human, nay, I ought to say, all created cornprehension. Should it be said, that for this very reason, such kind of discourse ought to be dispensed with and laid aside entirely; it may be answered, that when God and our own souls come to be of as little importance to us, as the most trivial. affairs in common life, it will be well to practise upon this hint. But if we may not make use of any metaphysical discourse upon religious subjects; why is it, that we are so often driven to it, by the metaphysical objections, which people bring against the plain doctrines of the gospel? If, for instance, you object against the doctrine of divine decrees, that it takes away the moral agency of the creature; have we no fight to explain moral agency, to prove that it is reconcilable with decrees? When people have become weary of abstruse, metaphysical reasonings, because they are unintelligible and unmeaning to them, let them be more cautious of opposing express scripture doctrines by metaphysical objections. Whenever it shall become sufficient for our faith to learn from the scriptures, that God has made all things for himself, and accordingly uses all creatures for his own glory, and does it by giving direction to universal being, and by rewarding some and punishing others; there will be no occasion for metaphysical arguments upon the subject. If, however, we cannot rest contented here, but must be told how these things can be; let us never complain, that we are plunged into an ocean of metaphysical discussion, where we can discover neither bottom, nor shore. It is the objector, who leads the way, and then repines at his fate, when he finds himself bewildered and lost. The subject of Deity, and our dependence upon him, is, indeed, a wonder; and it is not strange that it should swallow us up. But who would not be willing, with Moses, to enter into the cloud, in which
the Majesty of heaven is wrapped up, and which encir cles the throne of God?
2. The plan of doctrine, which I have been laying be fore you, shows the impartiality of the Divine Being, that he is no respecter of persons. God has not made angels, nor men, nor beings of any other grade, merely for the purpose of making them happy or honourable; but that his own glory may be promoted by them. And he makes them honourable and happy, or not, as is most conducive to the display of himself, to the perfecting of his own infinite dignity and blessedness. How, then, is he partial in raising up one to be a vessel of mercy, and another to be a vessel of wrath, when his whole conduct, in the matter, is guided by a design to exalt and magnify his own name, and not to exalt or dignify any creature? unless it be partiality for God to make himself the sole end of all his works. This will, perhaps, be an objec tion with some, against the theory which has been laid down in the foregoing discussion. It will be said, if God bas no other end in view, but to honour himself, to get glory to his own name, and bring out to view the intrinsic excellencies of his own nature, instead of being infinitely benevolent, he is infinitely selfish, and, of course, infin itely the most hateful being in the universe. To this I answer, that the sin of selfishness does not consist merely in one's loving himself to any degree whatever; but in loving himself so, that it will imply hatred to others. That being, who can love himself to an unlimited degree, without wrong, or injustice, to others, is so far from being criminal, that he is actually praise-worthy, in it. But God's supreme and ultimate regard to himself is so far from operating to the disadvantage of the universe, or any part of it, that it lies at the very foundation of all intelligent happiness, arising from confidence in the Divine Be ing.
3. From our subject we may gain a strong consolation. for the friends of God in troublous times, and in such scenes of adversity as often occur in providence. We live in an evil world, and in the midst of a depraved race of beings; and are called to witness and feel many severities ; to dwell under darkened and beclouded skies, and