صور الصفحة
PDF
النشر الإلكتروني

God foresaw, also, that the Lord Jesus Christ would be success. ful in bringing "many sons to glory"-yea, a great multitude, which no man can number, of all nations, and kindreds, and people, and tongues! Now, if any one should ask, Why not bring these to glory without permitting the existence of those who shall be condemned to shame and everlasting contempt? I would answer, It is difficult to conceive how the human race could be perpetuated, if God precluded the existence of all whom he might foresee would reject the blessings of the Gospel. For many a pious man has wicked children, and many a wicked man has pious children; and upon this scheme neither the children of the one nor the other could have any existence-not the children of the pious man, for they being prospectively wicked, must not be called into being—not the children of the wicked man, for he himself would not be permitted to exist to propagate his species. If this course had been pursued, the race of man would soon have become ex. tinct, and but a few sons indeed would have been brought to glory, as stars to bedeck the Saviour's crown.

But why this argument? As God has made an ample provision of mercy and grace for the sins and miseries of the whole human family, he is not only free from all charge of blame if any refuse the proffered benefits, but his glory is exalted in their final condemnation.

From what we have said on this subject, we may plainly perceive the character of those events which God has merely permitted, not in any sense appointed, to exist. But more light will be shed upon this subject as we proceed to consider,

2. That the divine purposes extend to the control of events which are dependent upon the free agency of man.

Indeed, we have in part anticipated this point. Under our first head, we glanced at the glorious truth, that where sin hath abounded through the voluntary dereliction of man, grace hath much more abounded through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus. And thus our great moral defection has been so overruled as to display his glory, and to promote, conditionally, the good of the whole human family,

But that God does overrule the free actions of men, so as to bring good out of evil, is an important truth, and deserves a patient hearing

Some persons imagine a great difficulty in reconciling the controlling influence exerted by God to the doctrine of the freedom of human actions; but it is not a hard task to remove this difficulty, or, rather, to show that it exists nowhere except in the minds of those who imagine it.

Before we notice some Scriptural facts which we are about to adduce as illustrative of our subject, we will just state the following argument, which, being based upon Scriptural truth, recommends itself to the understanding and conscience of every man, in the sight of God. That men have performed sinful actions, which have been overruled by God, in such a manner as to promote his glory; and furthermore, that the perpetrators of those actions were held accountable to God for the violations of his law, which were involved in those actions, and that the actors themselves were

punished in consequence, are facts prominently presented in the word of God. Now God cannot but judge righteous judgmentfor, "shall not the judge of all the earth do right ?" But it would be a palpable violation of the rules of justice to punish-such persons for their crimes, if the controlling influence which God exerted over them, destroyed their freedom. Therefore, we are irresistibly drawn to the conclusion, that the mere fact that God brings good out of the evil actions of men, does not in the least impair their freedom.

We will now illustrate our subject, by the consideration of two or three Scripture examples. We advert, first, to the case of Joseph and his brethren. Joseph was sent by his father to visit his brethren, who were feeding their flocks in Dothan. They, having a grudge against their brother, as soon as they saw him approach toward them, conspired against him to slay him ; and they would have murdered hiin, had it not been for the seasonable interposition of one of their number, who advised them, as a preferable method of disposing of the youth, to cast him into a pit, thinking, at the same time, that he might "rid him out of their hands, and deliver him to his father again.” He was successful in averting the murder of Joseph, who was, instead of being murdered, cast into an empty pit. But in Reuben's absence, a company of Ishmaelites passed by, and, moved by avarice, the brethren sold Joseph unto them, for twenty pieces of silver. Joseph was now carried to Egypt, and sold by the Ishmaelites to Potiphar, one of the king's officers. But God was with him ; and in a strange manner delivered him from his bondage ; raised him to the first post of honor under Pharoah, the king; and made him the saviour of Egypt and the surrounding country, during the seven years of famine, with which they were visited. Now, that the course pursued by Joseph's brethren was an iniquitous course, and, consequently, could not have been dictated by God, cannot be called in question. For the most malignant, diabolical, and hateful passions, such as envy, malice, and ararice, prompted them to action. And surely such vile passions were not inspired by God. Nor could he dictate such a cruel and diabolical disposition of their brother as they were going to make, by murdering him, or such a one as they really did make, in selling him as a bondslave to foreigners. Nur could he dictate such cruel duplicity as characterized the course they pursued with regard to their aged father, whose heart they wrung with inexpressible anguish. And yet Joseph addresses his brethren in the following language : “God sent me hither before you to preserve you a posterity in the earth, and to save your lives, by a great deliverance. So now it was not you that sent me hither, but God," Gen. xlv, 7, 8.

How can we reconcile these apparent inconsistencies, but by acknowledging the controlling providence of God, by which even the wrath of man is caused to praise him. It was God, doubtless, that moved Reuben to interpose to prevent the murder; and it is not improbable that he overruled the journey of the Ishmaelites, so that they passed by Dothan, on their way to Egypt, at this juncture, when the avarice of Judah, freely exercised, was overruled in the transportation of Joseph to Egypt, to which place the brethren had no desire to send him ; so that Joseph could say with great propriety, “It was not you that sent me bither, but God." For, had it not been for the overruling providence of God, Joseph, in the first instance, would have been murdered; or, in the second instance, he would have been released from the pit by Reuben, and would still have remained at his father's house, as the object of his brethren's envy and malice, to which, undoubtedly, he would sooner or later have fallen a victim. We say nothing of the fact, that no provision would have been made in Egypt, for the seven years of famine, and, consequently, that a great mortality must have ensued. But, as the case stands, the wisdom, goodness, and justice of divine Providence, are strikingly displayed—the inhabitants of Egypt, Canaan, and other countries, are sared from the dreadful effects of a seven years' famine--Joseph's invincible virtue is, in more than one instance, tested to his unspeakable advantage--and his brethren, who acted freely in their diabolical conduct toward him, are brought to a sense of the evil of their doings, and to repent sincerely of their crimes.

There is, however, a passage in Joseph's address to his brethren, which seems to exculpate them. He says, Gen. xlv. 5, “Now, therefore, be not grieved, nor angry with yourselves, that ye sold me hither, for God did send me before you to preserve life." We say, it seems to exculpate them, but it does not really do so; for, if it did, it would be irreconcilable with a passage in Gen. 1, 20, in which Joseph says to his brethren, “ Ye thought evil toward me; but God meant it unto good.” And we should be thus led to conclude, that an excess of fraternal affection had induced him, in this instance, to overstep the bounds of truth. Joseph had evidence of the repentance of his brethren, not only in the concern which they manifested for his only uterine brother, Benjamin, and for their father, Jacob; but also in the remarkable conversation which took place in his presence, when “they knew not that Joseph understood them”_"and they said one to another, We are verily guilty concerning our brother, in that we saw the anguish of his soul, when he besought us, and we would not hear ; therefore, is this distress come upon us,” Gen. xlii, 22. When he heard this, he was so affected by their self-crimination, that “he turned himself about from them and wept!” ver. 24. And now being fearsul that their self-reproach and anguish of mind would be so great, that they would be “swallowed up of over-much sorrow," while he does not, by any means, free them from blame in selling him as a slave, yet he calls off their thoughts from this consideration, and endeavors to allay their grief, and calm their troubled minds, by adverting to the providence of God, which so overruled the events of his history, as to save life, and to save even them "by a great deliverance !" We cannot too much admire the piety, affection, and ingenuity of the address which Joseph made to his brethren, when he made himself known to them. "Nor can we fail, in tracing the variegated circumstances of his history, to notice the singular providence of God, which overruled such dark events, so as to bring so great good out of so great evil. And a devotional mind will be led to exclaim, in the language used by the apostle after a similar exercise, "O the depth of the riches, both of the knowledge and wisdom of God!"

Another remarkable instance of the overruling providence of

God, is furnished in the tenth chapter of Isaiah's prophecy. It is the case of Sennacherib, king of Assyria. We have it here in prophecy, but what was then prophecy soon became history. God thus addresses the Assyrian king : “ Assyrian, the rod of mine anger, and the staff in their hand is mine indignation.” Or, “the staff in whose hand,” Lowth—"and he is a staff in the day of mine indignation," Secker. “I will send him against a hypocritical nation, and against the people of my wrath will I give him a charge, to take the spoil, and to take the prey, and to tread them down like the mire of the streets,” ver. 5, 6.

But it is immediately added, “Howbeit he meaneth not so, neither doth his heart think so; but it is in his heart to destroy and cut off nations not a few,” ver. 7. And he is then represented as boasting of his exploits in subduing various kingdoms, and as making his threatenings against Jerusalem, which he essayed also to subdue. Now from this it is manifest that, although God overruled the martial spirit of this proud monarch, to chastise those nations that had sinned against him, yet the Assyrian king acted perfectly free in all his belligerent enterprises. Indeed he must have acted with moral freedom, unless the sanguinary, proud, and arbitrary spirit which prompted him to action was inspired by God; but this is inconsistent with his character, and was not at all necessary, for it was already "in the heart of Sennacherib to destroy and cut off nations not a few." True, he could not have succeeded in his bloody enterprises, had not God delivered his enemies, on account of their sins, into his hands; so that there was no room for him to boast, as he did, of his superior bravery. But this boasting was characteristic; and for it, as well as his general impiety, he was severely punished by God, according to the prediction of the prophet, ver. 12. See also 2 Chron. xxxii, 10--22.

Very similar to the foregoing, and equally illustrative of the doctrine under consideration, are the examples of Nebuchadnezzar, the proud king of Babylon, and Cyrus, the Persian, whose love of warfare, and boundless ambition, were overruled by God to subserve his purposes toward those nations with whom these monarchs had to do.

We shall briefly notice another example illustrative of this subject. It is the case of the betraying and murdering of our blessed Lord. It was according to the determinate counsel of God that Christ should die-the redemption of the world made this event necessary. But who dare say that God made it necessary that the devil should enter into the heart of Judas, and succeed in instigating him to betray his Master ?—and that he, being thus betrayed, should be mocked and reviled by the Jews, and cruelly murdered by the Romans? Was it, indeed, so ordered by stern necessity, that nothing but the wrath of man could work the righteousness of God? Surely he could have carried out his gracious purposes toward the human family without the intervention of so much moral obliquity ; Christ's death was voluntary, as well as violent. The former was necessary, according to the appointment of God; but who can prove this of the latter ? Christ says, “I lay down my life, that I might take it again. No man taketh it from me, but I lay it down of myself. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take VOL. X.-Jan, 1839.

7

it again. This commandment have I received of my Father," John x. 17, 18.

But inasmuch as the Jews and Romans were malicious and cruel enough to murder him-for they did their worst, although, wheu “ it was finished,” he voluntarily “dismissed his spirit”-it was not inconsistent with the character of God to permit them so to do, and then to overrule the diabolical deed to subserve his glory, and the good of mankind.

If it should be said—It was necessary that Christ should be despised, rejected, and murdered by men, because it was so predicted by the prophets, who wrote as they were moved by the Holy Ghost-I answer, It is true that God foresaw these events, and accordingly revealed them to the prophets : and Christ might well say to his disciples, “ All things must be fulfilled which were written in the law of Moses, and in the Prophets, and in the Psalms, concerning me. And thus it is written, and thus it behooved Christ to suffer, and rise from the dead the third day,” Luke xxiv, 44, 46. He might well say these things to his disciples, to prove to them that he was the Messiah that should come, and that he would not have been the predicted Messiah, for whom they had been looking, and whom they " trusted would have redeemed Ísrael,” ver. 21, had he not thus suffered. But then the predictions were not the cause of his sufferings, but only, so to speak, their anticipated history; and were given for the edification of Old Testament believers, and also to serve as marks of the true Messiah, when he should appear to put away sin, by the sacrifice of himself. We say again, the prophecies were not the cause of the sufferings, although the latter took place in fulfilment of the former; but the sufferings were the cause of the prophecies. The future passion of Christ, being foreseen by God, gave existence to the prophecies thereof, in like manner as the same events, after they had transpired, made way for the history.

This may be considered rather digressive, but we deemed it necessary, in order the more successfully to assert eternal providence, and justify the ways of God to men.”

But that the parties engaged in the murder of Christ acted voluntarily, is manifest from their own confessions, and from the charges made upon them by the apostles. Thus, Judas confessed, saying, "I have sinned in that I have betrayed the innocent blood," Matt. xxvii. 4. And Peter tells the Jews, that it was with wicked hands that Christ was crucified and slain. And instead of exculpating them, even when he acknowledged that it was through ignorance they did it—not knowing that Christ was the Lord of life and glory-he exhorts them to " repent.” Now all this would have been impertinent, had they not acted voluntarily in the crucifixion of Christ. And yet this same apostle declares that “those things, which God before had showed by the mouth of all his prophets, that Christ should suffer, he hath so fulfilled,” Acts. iii, 18.

Thus it is clear from this example also, that God exerts a controlling influence over the free actions of men, in such a manner as not to vitiate their moral agency, and consequent accountability, and yet to accomplish his wise and gracious purposes, by bringing good out of evil, and causing the wrath of man to praise him

« السابقةمتابعة »