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We have offered the foregoing examples merely as specimens of those events which transpired through the free agency of men, and yet are overruled by the providence of God. On this subject we might enlarge, and show that God still exercises his prerogative to control the actions of men; but we forbear, and haste to the consideration of another point.
3. We have said that God's purposes have reference to events which would exist were they not prevented by him. He purposed that they should not exist, and therefore they do not exist. Indeed we have, in part, noticed this on our last head; but we may, in this place, profitably amplify our remarks. When none of those reasons obtain, which we have named, when speaking of those events which are permitted and controlled by God, then does he exercise his prerogative to prevent the existence of actions, which, otherwise, through the free agency of men, would exist. This is by no means an inconsistent or unjust invasion of their liberties; for, if properly understood, it would be seen that God has always some reason, founded in righteousness or mercy, to justify them in this procedure.
It was the will of the proud king of Egypt to perpetuate the slavery of the oppressed Israelites, or else to destroy them with a sore destruction.
Surely it was not improper for God to interpose, and to redeem his people with a high hand, and with an outstretched arm, from the tyranny of the Egyptian king. And when by reason of the hardness of his heart-which hardness was at first his crime, and afterward a part of his punishment-and his unparalleled impiety and determined opposition to the will of God, he was arrested by divine power, surely it was not inconsistent with any of his attributes for God to arrest the wrath of the impious monarch, and say, “Hitherto hast thou come, but thou shalt proceed no farther, and here shall thy proud waves be stayed.” Indeed the innocence, distress, and weakness of the Israelites, together with the wickedness, tyranny, and power of the Egyptians, called loudly to Heaven for the salvation of the former through the destruction of the latter.
We have produced this example as an extreme case-one in which the divine power is interposed to prevent the occurrence of events which otherwise would have occurred through the free agency of men; and one in which these events were prevented by the destruction of those by whose free agency the events would have taken place. And we have seen that it is not only not improper, but sometimes indispensable, that God should interpose in this signal manner to answer the prayer of his people, “Grant not, O Lord, the desires of the wicked !"
We present you another example in which the "wrath of man," through the controlling influence of providence, is made to "praise" him, and also “the remainder of wrath is restrained." I allude to the case of Herod Agrippa. had been permitted to commit a most diabolical murder, having killed James, the brother of John, with the edge of the sword; and because he saw that it pleased the Jews, he proceeded farther to take Peter also. He succeeded in apprehending the apostle, and in committing him to prison, in the custody of sixteen soldiers, intending after the passover to execute
him. But God had otherwise intended. And in answer to the prayers of the church, he sent his angel to release the apostle, and to restore him to the brethren, and thus to frustrate the designs of Herod. No doubt he had intended to kill Peter, and also the other apostles, and thus to crush the infantile church; but “he that sitteth in the heavens laughed at him, the Most High had him in derision !” When the madness and impiety of Herod had risen to the highest pitch, then were his crimes visited with a most condign punishment. His farther progress in iniquity was prevented by an ignominious death.
Sometimes God prevents the occurrence of events which would injure his cause, by so disposing circumstances that the events do not occur, although the free agents who had designed them are permitted to live. And this can be done without invading their moral liberty. If they do not voluntarily relinquish their purposes, as Saul of Tarsus relinquished his persecuting purpose, yet, by a thousand methods, God can take from them the physical ability to execute them, notwithstanding the disposition to do so may remain. It would be a pleasing task to pursue this subject, and to illustrate it by some of the examples with which the history of our world is replete ; but we must forbear.
4. We have now one pledge more to redeem ; viz.: to notice the character of those events which take place by the appointment of God. Now what events soever take place by the appointment of God, we have already seen that the sinful actions of men are not of the number. We have proved that if this were the case, God would be the author of sin,-his attributes, consequently, would be “set at jar ;'—his word would be falsified; the accountability of man would be destroyed; and the judgment of the great day would be, at best, but a farce. For God to judge the world, under those circumstances, would argue a total want of wisdom and justice. Of wisdom ; for it would be just as wise to arraign the sun and moon before the great white throne, to account for the spots upon their disks, as to arraign the sons of men to account for the actions of their lives, whether sinful or otherwise, which they were obliged to perform by the appointment of God. Of justice; for, as there would be no justice in rewarding the good for virtuous deeds which they were necessitated to perform, so there would be none in punishing sinners for denying a Lord that never bought them, rejecting grace never sincerely offered them, and acting out the workings of a carnal nature, brought with them into the world, which they could not, and which God would not regenerate. Instead of justice, this would be cruelty, scarcely to be predicated of Apollyon, the destroyer! And yet all these ugly features, and others of a like cast, belong to that scheme which makes all events transpire by the appointment of God.
Furthermore, we must be careful how we attribute the actions of the righteous solely to the appointment of God. True, we have no natural power even to think a good thought of ourselves, so that we may well be addressed by the Divine Being, “From me is thy fruit found”-“Without me you can do nothing." But at the same time, while the power to act, and assistance in the exercise of that power, are both from God, the exercise itself iş ours. For thus says the apostle, “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling: for it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of his good pleasure,” Phil. ii, 12, 13. Let the two principles embraced in this quotation obtain, and we can readily perceive, first, how the good actions of the righteous can be the subjects of reward ; and, secondly, how that reward can be a gracious reward. But on any other scheme, one or both of these positions must be abandoned. And we are not prepared to abandon either, while it is written in the word of truth, “Blessed are they that do his commandments, that they may have right to the tree of life, and may enter in through the gates into the city," Rev. xxii, 14. “For the gift of God is eternal life,” Rom. vi, 23.
But what are some of those events which transpire as they are absolutely appointed by the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God? We have at hand a noble specimen. The redemption of the world by our Lord Jesus Christ. God, foreseeing the fall of man, purposed his redemption by Christ, and not all the powers of earth and hell could frustrate the gracious purpose. Accordingly when the fulness of time was come, God sent forth his Son to accomplish his designs, by tasting death for every man. Here was the grand event predetermined and superinduced by God. We do not say that all the means leading to its accomplishment were ordained by God, we have in another place seen that they were not, but were merely overruled by God to the fulfilment of his purposes-purposes which could very well be accomplished without the treachery of Judas, the malice of the Jews, or the cruelty of the Romans.
Another event which took place by the absolute appointment of God, was the election of the Israelites to peculiar privileges under the Mosaic dispensation. These privileges are largely stated in the ninth chapter of Paul's Epistle to the Romans. Speaking of his brethren and kinsmen according to the flesh, he says, “Who are Israelites; to whom pertaineth the adoption, and the glory, and the covenants, and the giving of the law, and the service of God, and the promises; whose are the fathers, and of whom, as concerning the flesh, Christ came, who is over all, God blessed for ever. Amen,” ver. 4,5. After thus marking their privileges, he goes on to state that they were conferred upon them, not because they were better than other nations, but because it was the will of God, who said to Abraham, “ In Isaac," to the exclusion of Ishmael, “shall thy seed be called.” And again, it was said to Rebecca, before the birth of Esau and Jacob, “ The elder shall serve the younger : as it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated.” Lest any should suppose that God had respect to their future moral character in this election and reprobation, the apostle says, “ For the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God, according to election, might stand, not of works, but of him that calleth.” Nothing is clearer than that this election and reprobation were unconditional, and consequently were not suspended upon the conduct of the subjects thereof. But as this matter has been greatly misunderstood, or strangely misrepresented, i may not be amiss to dwell for a moment on it in this place,
The grand question here is, In what sense were Ishmael and Esau reprobated, and Isaac and Jacob elected ? The whole scope of the apostle's argument, and the plain meaning of the historic paragraphs to which he refers, plainly show that this election and reprobation were not an election and reprobation of individuals to eternal life and eternal death. For when God says, “ Jacob have I loved and Esau have I hated,” and, " The elder shall serve the younger,”—we are to understand by this that the descendants of Jacob were chosen to be the covenant people of God, to the exclusion of the descendants of Esau, that the promised seed should spring from the former and not from the latter, and that those should rise to greater national dignity than these. To say that the prediction, " The elder shall serve the younger," is to be understood in a personal sense, is to falsify the prediction; for, from the history of Esau and Jacob, it is manifest that the former never was, in his own person, subject to the latter. Indeed, the converse proposition would seem to be more consistent with truth; for we find Jacob humbling himself before Esau, sending him presents, as, in the East, inferiors are wont to do to their superiors; and, above all, his calling him, My Lord Esau !
Again, if we interpret, “Jacob have I loved, and Esau have I hated,” in a personal sense, we not only oppose the whole scope of the apostle's discourse, which was to show the unmerited and superior national privileges which the Jews had enjoyed, as the covenant people of God, but we have this infelicity to attend us, namely, that our interpretation is just contrary to that given us by God himself. This may be seen, by reference to the Prophet Malachi: “ The burden of the word of the Lord, to Israel, by Malachi. I have loved you, saith the Lord: yet ye say, Wherein hast thou loved us? Was not Esau Jacob's brother? saith the Lord : : yet I loved Jacob, and I hated Esau, and laid his mountains and his heritage waste for the dragons of the wilderness," Mal. i, 1-3. This is the passage alluded to by the apostle, and it shows plainly that we are not to understand the expression, “ Jacob have I loved, and Esau have I hated,” of the two brothers in a personal sense, but of their descendants, the Israelites and Edomites, in a national sense.
Once more. If the election and reprobation here spoken of were to eternal life and eternal death, then would it be easy to prove that the purpose of God, in these particulars, had, in numerous instances, most signally failed. For at certain periods of their history, the bulk of the Israelitish people became depraved to the last degree, and thousands of them, besides those whose carcasses fell in the wilderness, died in their sins, and were “turned into hell, with all the nations that forget God !" It was in vain that they cried, “ The temple of the Lord ! the temple of the Lord !” “We have Abraham to our father :" the prophets were commis. sioned to cry unto the rebellious house, “ The soul that sinneth it shall die!" While on the other hand, numbers of the heathen, who did not sustain a covenant relation to God, and who had by birth no title to the privileges of the visible church, nevertheless feared God and wrought righteousness, and were accepted of him. Among these was Job, a perfect man and upright; and some think
his four friends also. Now, these men appear to have been Idumeans, the descendants of that very Esau, the arch-reprobate of those who contend for the unscriptural interpretation which we oppose. Without including the numerous proselytes to the Jewish faith, it would be easy to produce good men, of different nations, who were “approved of God,” notwithstanding they were never brought within the pales of the ancient visible church; but this is unnecessary, for, if there were ever one, there might have been thousands; and of this fact we have no doubt. One instance of the damnation of a Jew and the salvation of a Gentile, is sufficient to establish our position, that the election and reprobation spoken of by the apostle in the ninth of Romans were not to eternal life and eternal death. The numerous instances which may be found in the Old Testament Srciptures, are sufficient to make the opposite position appear supremely ridiculous ; and thus we gladly leave it.
We have unequivocally stated, with the apostle, that God did, according to his purpose, choose the Israelites for his peculia people; and we have at the same time shown that this election of the Jews was no disparagement to the eternal interests of the Gentiles, who were, according to the same divine purpose, reprobated-not from the tender mercies of God-not from the pos. sibility of salvation—not from that grace which bringeth salration to all, and offereth it freely to their acceptance; but from the peculiar privileges with which the Jewish people were invested. But it may here be asked, "Why did God thus elect the Israelites to superior privileges ?" I answer,
First. That they themselves might be raised higher in the scale of moral excellence. For thus saith the apostle, “What advantage then hath the Jew? or what profit is there of circumcision ? Much every way; chiefly because that unto them were committed the oracles of God,” Rom. iii, 1, 2. And surely it was no small honor conferred upon them to be thus constituted the depositary of this invaluable treasure. The clearer light of revelation would direct their feet into the higher walks of piety and virtue. Nor were the Gentiles injured by this dispensation toward the Jews. True; the former were loved less than the latter-at least ostensibly so—but, as we have already seen, the Gentiles were not excluded from the divine beneficence. And as there was no injustice in this dispensation, so there was no caprice. For it is according to the whole analogy of providence and nature that there should be different ranks of beings in the moral world. And, doubtless, it is for the good of the whole that variety pervades the works of God. To ask, therefore, why the Gentiles were not exalted to equal privileges with the Jews, is as absurd and impertinent as to inquire why the vile and torpid worm was not made beautiful and sprightly as the bird of paradise- why the latter was not invested with human endowments—and why man was not made “ equal to the angels!" To all such impertinence and folly, we may legitimately apply the language of the apostle, which has been abused to other purposes, * Nay but, О man, who art thou that repliest against God? Shali the thing formed say to him that formed it, Why hast thou made me thus ?” Rom. ix, 20. Moreover, it is to be borne in mind, that as the