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poses in relation to future events. He it is who says, “ For my deter. mination is to gather the nations.” Concerning man's continuation upon the earth it is said, “ His days are determined.” And when it is said in relation to the treachery of Judas, Truly the Son of man goeth as it was determined, it clearly implies a divine determination concerning the very way in which the Savior was to fall into the hands of his enemies. To such a determination reference is had in this passage, which relates to his crucifiers : they were “ gathered together for to do whatsoever thy hand and thy counsel determined before to be done." Acts iv. 28. Zeph. iii. 8. Job xiv. v. Luke xxii. 22.
Counsel is another word for decree. It not only intimates that God has a purpose concerning future events, but also supposes such pur. pose to be the result of wise contrivance. Herein the scripture doctrine of divine decrees differs essentially from fatalism. The Fates, according to the mythology of the pagans, were above their gods. The immutable fixedness, which they were thought to give to events, was not supposed to be the result of any wise and benevolent contrivance. The only reason which could be urged for submitting to fate, must have been derived from the impossibility of obtaining any alteration in its decrees. The ground of submission to the decrees of God, is altogether different; since this doctrine supposes, that, in the most perfect exercise of liberty, his infinitely capacious mind, looking through im. mensity and eternity, discovered, without the least liability to mistake, what would make the best display of his glory, by securing the greatest amount of good to the intelligent universe; or, in other words, the greatest sum of holiness and blessedness : and that the system of ope. ration which he saw would do this, he chose in preference to all others. Although the divine plan is from eternity, it is to be considered as the result of counsel. The being, wisdom, and purpose of God, are all eternal; and yet there is an order in which we must conceive of them ; and that order cannot be reversed. We form a conception, first, of his being, then of bis wisdom, and after that, of his purpose. Were there no God, there could be no divine wisdom to contrive; and were there no wisdom to contrive, there could be no contrivance—no plan could exist. In support of the sentiment, that God works by a plan, I shall adduce two or three plain proofs.
1. A plan of operation, and one that is perfect, is clearly to be in ferred froin the perfection of his nature. No wise being can act with. out some end in view ; nor without devising means to attain it; and this implies the existence of a plan. Is it not certain, that a being of infinite wisdom will never act without proposing to himself an object, nor without fixing on the means of accomplishing it? Admit the infi
. nite natural and moral perfection of the Deity, and you must also admit the doctrine of a perfect plan of divine operation. But let us hear what the scripture says on this point. The apostle speaks of the saints as being predestinated “ according to the purpose of him who worketh all things after the counsel of his own will.” Eph. i. 11. Having bere spoken of one thing of great importance, which God had brought to pass according to his eternal purpose, he was very naturally led to show that this was true in relation to every thing else; all things being wrought by him after the counsel of his own will. The sentiment
communicated in this text is something more than a prescience of fu. ture events; it imports a plan, and one which is the result of divine wisdom.
2. That God has a plan concerning things to come, is proved by scripture prophecies; which are nothing else than a development of his plan in relation to particular events. A great number of events, and events varying in character, are foretold; and they are spoken of, not merely as things which God foreknew, but as what he had purpo. sed to accomplish. The descent of the Assyrian army upon the land of Israel, together with the destruction which awaited that army, are predicted as things which were purposed, and not merely foreknown. İsa. x. 5,6; xiv. 24—27. The same is true concerning those predic. tions which relate to the conquest the Babylonians would gain over the Jews and the surrounding nations; and also those which relate to their being themselves conquered by the Persians. See Jer. xxv. 9–14: also the remaining part of the chapter. Indeed, prophesy in general has the complexion of a disclosure of divine purpose, rather than of things merely foreknown.
3. As the language with which the predictions are clothed induces us to believe that God has a purpose concerning future events, we are led to the same conclusion by what is said concerning those events that have already been brought to pass : they are spoken of as having taken place in accordance with a previous plan. The Jews, when under the oppression of the Chaldean monarchy, were taught to consider their afflictions as of divine appointment: “O Lord, thou hast ordained them for judgment; and O mighty God, thou hast established them for cor. rection.” Hab. i. 12. Peter told the Jews, that the crucifixion of Christ, which had been effected by their wicked hands, was in accordance with the determinate counsel of God. Acts ii. 23. The conver. sions which took place in the island of Cyprus, under the ministry of Paul and Barnabas, are spoken of as the fulfillment of an antecedent purpose in relation to them. “ As many as were ordained to eternal life believed.” Acts xiii. 48. Indeed all other conversions are spoken of in the same way: “ And we know,” said the apostle, “ that all things work together for good to them that love God, to them that are called according to his purpose.
" Rom. viii. 28. It appears from this pas. sage, that all who love God have been made the subjects of a call pecu. liar to themselves, and that this special call is in accordance with a
What can be more beneficial to the creation, or more honorable to the Creator, than to have every thing directed by his unerring counsel. The doctrine of a divinely concerted plan in relation to all existences and events, seems so harmonious with the perfection of the Supreme Being, that it is strange it should meet with such formidable objections, especially from those who profess to rejoice in his supremacy. It may be proper here to notice two or three of these objections.
1. It is objected, that decrees or purposes, when applied to God, stand opposed to the eternity of his existence. It is urged, that since he always existed in the time when the events take place, it must be improper to say, he determined on their existence by any previous counsel. What has already been advanced on this subject will do something to obviate this objection. There is no propriety in saying, that the creation has existed from eternity, because the purpose to give it existence is thus ancient. It is by no means true that passing events took place from eternity, or as soon as creation, or even as soon as the events of the last hour. Successive events are not simultaneous. They do not appear so to God, any more than to us. He existed before these events; and it is true that he always existed at the time of their happening, because he inhabits eternity. Isa. lvii. 15. Future events are present with him; yet he distinguishes between the present and the future, and speaks of the latter as existing, not in fact, but only in his purpose and counsel. The beginning and end of the world do not appear to him cotemporary, though he sees them both at once, and with equal clearess. The way in which we are to conceive of future events as present with God, is not by considering them as already ac. complished, but by considering him as omnipresent relative to duration, as well as to space; so that his present existence reaches forward to the period when they will be actually accomplished. It is, therefore, equally as proper to say, that the Infinite Being has a purpose respect. ing future events, as to apply such purpose to finite beings. In this manner does he himself speak on this subject, in that blessed volume which he designs should make us acquainted with his character and counsels.
2. It is objected, that a divine purpose in relation to all events, renders human effort useless. This objection arises from a misconception of the doctrine in question ; which does not suppose God to have fixed on the ultimate event, without including in his plan those subordinate events that are necessary to give it existence. For example: the doctrine does not suppose that a man shall live to a given age, without including a determination that he shall use the common supports of life : nor (as the case may be) that he shall use these supports, without procuring them by his own industry. The purpose of God embraces the whole affair—the age at which the man is to arrivethe supports by which his life is to be prolonged—also the means which he himself is to employ in obtaining them. Two things in relation to the matter God makes known ; First, That, in case the man's life is to be lengthened out, it is to be effected by the use of means. Secondly, That he is not without a purpose, as to the extent in which these means shall be used, and also their success in lengthening out the life of this individual : for, “is there not an appointed time to man upon the earth?” Job vii. 1.
What sense would there be in saying, If an artist has formed a plan for a piece of mechanism, composed of many parts, to accomplish a certain object—for instance, to point out the hour of the day—then every thing in this machine is useless, unless it be the pointers? The truth is, there is nothing useless: there is no spring, nor wheel, nor pin, that can be spared. Take these, or any one of them away, and the pointers would not move. The plan the artist has laid to accom. plish this object, by means of his whole machine, does not render a single part useless. And if there were any of the parts which could not be got into their place and perform their office, without their in. tending to do so, then certainly his plan could not make their voluntary
motion a matter of no importance, but would render it absolutely re. quisite.
3. It is urged with great vehemence, that the doctrine of decrees is repugnant to the holiness of God; since, if they include all things, they must include sin ;-—and how, (it is demanded) could God deter. mine the existence of a thing so contrary, not only to the happiness of his creatures, but also to the holiness of his own nature? This is but a seeming difficulty: the scripture contemplates no real difficulty in the case : but speaks freely, without any concealment, of that part of God's plan which relates to the existence of sin. So it speaks of the treach. ery of Judas, and of the malice of those who crucified the Lord of glory. The difficulty is removed when we are told, that what men have done from wicked motives, “God meant for good.” The psalmist says, “ The wrath of man shall praise thee; the remainder of wrath shalt thou restrain.” From this text we draw the conclusion, and that with great certainty, that the divine plan was so laid, as to suffer no more wrath of man, or of devils, to have existence, than what would be made to result in the glory of God and good of the intelligent system.
If the scriptures had represented the Most High, as taking compla. cence in all that conduct of ours which fulfills his decrees; if they had represented him as having the same motive in decreeing our wicked actions, that we have in doing them, then would the decrees of God in relation to the existence of sin, have stood directly opposed to his holy character. But this is far from being the representation which the scriptures make on this subject. They speak of God as most wise, holy and benevolent, in those very determinations which involve the sin and misery of his creatures. If his creatures think evil, he means it for good ; if they gather together to fulfill the most wicked purpose, (as in the crucifixion of his Son,) he brings them together on this very occasion, to fulfill his most holy purpose of providing thereby an atone. ment for the sin of an apostate world.
II. I shall notice the doctrine of a universal divine agency. By this is meant, that God's agency is universally concerned in fulfilling his decrees; so that it is certain they will all be accomplished, and that whatever, on the whole, is for the best, will invariably be done. This was glanced at in the second Article, but it merits more particular attention. The Lord has not only laid his own plan ; but it is he himself who executes it. His counsel is his plan; and we are taught that He worketh all things after the counsel of his own will. He is as independent in the execution of his decrees, as in forming them. was as much the work of God to make the world, as to contrive how it should be made. In preserving and governing the world, he makes use of a great multitude of instruments; but these do not hinder him from preserving and governing according to his pleasure, and execu. ting all his decrees. The Assembly of Divines appear to have spoken correctly in the Shorter Catechism, when they said ; “God's works of providence are his most holy, wise, and powerful, preserving and gov. erning, all his creatures and all their actions ; " i. e. all created existence, whether persons or things; and all their actions and motions. Every thing which God has made, he holds in his hand, and manages at his pleasure.
The works of creation may be divided into four great divisions. 1. Inert matter. 2. That which has vegetable life. 3. That which has animal life. 4. That which has reason and accountableness. There is no man, except an atheist, who will withhold from God the honor of producing all these classes of creatures. “ Of Him are all things.” He chose to have all these kinds of creatures exist, and therefore he created them. And now they are created, does he not govern them all ? What class of creatures is it that he does not govern? It can not be inert matter. This certainly can effect nothing independently of him; for of itself it has no design at all. It must be God who moves the stars along ;" wbo guideth Arcturus with his sons.” Job xxxviii. 32. Things possessing vegetable life are equally dependent on the control of the Creator. He not only bringeth his cloud over the earth, and causeth the rain to descend to quicken the vegetable world; but by a more direct efficiency he causeth the grass, and all other vegetables, to grow. Ps. civ. 14. The scriptures represent the life and acti. vity of animals, as being under the perfect control of their Creator : " In his hand is the soul of every living thing, and the breath of all mankind.” Job 12. 10.
If there be any part of his creation which the Creator does not per. fectly govern and control, in subserviency to his ultimate designs, it must be the rational accountable part. But concerning this part of creation, more than any other, we hear him often asserting his unre. strained and efficient operation. Many suppose, in the management of rational creatures, the Most High confines himself to two things : (1.) The upholding of their rational powers: and (2.) Placing before them motives to duty. They suppose he never operates directly upon their minds, to incline them the one way or the other. If this opinion were correct, it would indeed be difficult to see how God could fulfill his decrees by the actions of rational creatures; or how he could make those actions form any part of his plan. And is it not commonly true, that they who discard the doctrine of a direct agency, do also discard the decrees of God, at least so far as the actions of his accounta. ble creatures are concerned ? I do not see why we should not be obliged to relinquish the idea of a divine purpose, in relation to the actions of rational creatures, if God's agency were not concerned in giving them an existence ; for we can not comprehend how he could make an unfailing decree concerning events, which he had wholly left to the undirected will of others to bring to pass. But it is matter of consolation, that nothing is left in this situation. The Lord of hosts hath purposed, and he will perform it. He declares, “My counsel shall stand, and I will do all my pleasure.” He not only has a counsel concerning all things, but it is he “ who worketh all things” after that counsel.
The scripture speaks very explicitly concerning God's managing the hearts of rational creatures. What can be more explicit than the language of the following passages : “ The preparation of the heart in man-is from the Lord. “ The king's heart” (i. e. the heart of the most independent and powerful among men) " is in the hand of the Lord, as the rivers of water: he turneth iť whithersoever he will.” “For it is God who worketh in you, both to will and to do of his good pleasure.” Prov. xvi. 1; xxi. 1. Phil. ii. 13. The scripture repre