Page images
PDF
EPUB

or obedience, or submission of mankind. It is his wise and benevolent purpose, in creating and disposing of all things, which lays the whole intelligent creation under indispensable obligations to love, obey and submit to their Creator, Preserver and Benefactor. It is impossible for any man to be religious, who does not believe in the being, perfections, and purposes of God. He can neither love, nor fear, nor exercise any other religious affection. If God has nothing to do with him, he can have nothing to do with God. Hence, says Solomon: “I know that whatsoever God doeth, it shall be for ever; nothing can be put to it, nor any thing taken from it; and God doeth it, that men should fear before him." It is the perfection and immutability of the purposes of God, that render him an object of religious worship and of every religious affection. If any doctrines are fundamental, are not these so ?

7. If God's foreknowledge and decrees are both true and inseparably connected, then these truths ought to be properly explained, and forcibly inculcated; not only because they are truths highly important and pleasing in themselves, but because they give meaning and force to all other doctrines and duties of religion. If these truths are not believed and felt, no other truths can have much influence upon the hearts and lives of men. This is evident from the nature of these truths, and from observation and experience. Do they who deny the foreknowledge and decrees of God appear to pay a proper regard to the doctrines and duties of piety?

8. If God's foreknowledge and decrees are inseparably connected, and God will always act agreeably to them, then all men have abundant reason to rejoice in him. For he will certainly treat every person in the world and every person in the universe, as well, as infinite wisdom, power and goodness can treat them. And who can reasonably desire that he should treat them better than this? Those who believe and love the foreknowledge and decrees of God, do rejoice in him, and derive the highest enjoyment from his purposes and promises to promote his own glory, and the highest good of them who love and fear him, and rejoice in him. And if any do not rejoice in God, let them believe and love his promises, and they cannot fail to rejoice and be happy; and this is their immediate duty.

ESSAY X X.

THE DOCTRINE OF THE DIVINE DECREES THE FUN

DAMENTAL DOCTRINE OF THE GOSPEL.

THE best definition of the doctrine of God's decrees that ever has been given, and perhaps the best that can be given, is found in the Westminster Catechism. In answer to the question,“ What are the decrees of God?” it is said, “ The decrees of God are his eternal purpose according to the counsel of his own will, whereby, for his own glory, he hath foreordained whatsoever comes to pass." In eternity it depended entirely upon the determination of God, wheiher any other being should ever exist; because no other being could exist without his power and agency. His determination, therefore, must infallibly have foreordained whatever should come to pass.

Of all events which were possible, the decrees of God rendered the existence of whatever comes to pass absolutely certain. God did not decree things because he saw that they would exist; but because he saw that they would not exist without his decrees. His decrees respected all future events, and precisely in the same manner, to make their existence certain. He decreed the existence, the character, the conduct and the state, of all moral beings, both in time and eternity. He decreed that some should be the monuments of his goodness, some the monuments of his justice, and some the monuments of his mercy. And he decreed all the means by which his rational creatures should be brought to their final and eternal condition. In his decrees, which respect all his creatures and all events, God had a supreme regard to his own glory, which is the greatest and best object that ever can exist. Nothing more and nothing less than what is now stated is to be understood by the doctrine of divine decrees.

It is now proposed to w that this doctrine is true. To prove this doctrine, I might draw my first argument from the foreknowledge of God. James declares that “known unto God are all his works from the beginning of the world.” And it is generally allowed that God foreknows all future events. From this divine foreknowledge, it might be easily demonstrated that God has decreed all things that ever have or ever will come to pass. I might draw a second argument in favor of the doctrine of divine decrees, from explicit declarations of scripture concerning the purpose of God, and the eternal counsel of his own will, respecting all his creatures and all their actions. But I will waive the consideration of these arguments, and insist only on a third argument, which may be drawn from the infinite wisdom of God.

It is universally granted that God is a being of infinite wisdom. But no wise being can begin to act, until he has determined what to do. To act without design, and without a good design, is the very essence of folly. But to act with design, and with a good design, is the very essence of wisdom. Hence it follows that God must have decreed all things, as the foundation of his beginning to act. He must have laid the foundation before he began to erect the superstructure. And he must have laid the foundation exactly according to the length, and breadth, and height of the edifice. Or, to speak without a figure, God must have determined in his own mind his whole system of conduct before he began to act. Without such a determination, it was impossible that his works should be absolutely perfect. If he had left any one thing undetermined, it might have frustrated his whole design. There are but two reasons why the works of men are imperfect. One is, that they are too ignorant to form a perfect plan. And the other is, that they are too weak to accomplish the plan they may form. But God can do any thing. He can accomplish any plan he forms, and he can form the best plan that is possible. Hence, knowing his own power and wisdom, he must have formed the most perfect plan before he began to operate.

His infinite wisdom would not permit him to begin the work of creation, until he had decreed the nature, the number, the use and end of all created objects. The decrees of God must be the foundation of all his works. This is as certain as that he is the only wise God.

But I proceed to my main object, which is to show that the doctrine of the divine decrees is the fundamental doctrine of the gospel. The other essential doctrines of the gospel are founded upon the doctrine of divine decrees, and are supported by it. To deny or disprove this doctrine would be to deny or disprove the whole gospel. Every system of sentiments has some fundamental principle, without which it cannot exist. The fundamental principle in the Newtonian philosophy is, that no material body has a tendency to move of itself, without an external cause of motion. For remove this principle, and the Newtonian philosophy can be entirely overthrown. The first principle in civil government is, that all men have natural rights, which they ought to enjoy so far as is consistent with the general good of society. For remove this principle, and there will remain no foundation for civil government. The first principle in the scheme of salvation according to the gospel is, that God has decreed all things from eternity. For remove this doctrine, and no doctrine of the gospel can be maintained; there remains no foundation to support the gospel. The doctrine of divine decrees, therefore, lies at the foundation of the gospel, and supports all its essential doctrines. But I will enter more particularly into this subject, and mention a number of the most essential doctrines of the gospel, which wholly depend upon the doctrine of divine decrees.

1. It is a doctrine of the gospel, that God has a moral character, which is perfectly holy and amiable. We read that God is love; that he is good to all; that he is just and gracious. These are moral qualities, which form the most amiable moral character. But we cannot conceive that these moral perfections should belong to God, unless he has some purposes and designs. Take from God his decrees or intentions, and we cannot conceive that he would sustain any moral character; and much less a moral character of perfect goodness. There can be no goodness without good purposes and designs. And if God has never formed any good purposes, he has never exercised any real holiness, or goodness. Hence, Bolingbroke and other deists, who deny the decrees of God, equally deny his moral perfections. And in this respect they are consistent with themselves. For if God has never formed any purposes, he has never formed a good moral character. The doctrine of divine decrees is, therefore, fundamental to the doctrine of the moral persection of God.

2. It is a doctrine of the gospel, that the scriptures were written under divine inspiration. But how could God inspire the sacred writers to record those predictions which are contained in the Bible, if he had not foreordained whatsoever comes to pass? The Bible abounds in predictions of great, distant and important events. We find the prediction, that the seed of the woman should bruise the serpent's head; that the old world should be destroyed in a hundred and twenty years; that the seed of Abraham should be strangers in a strange land four hundred years; that the Jews should go into captivity in Babylon for seventy years; that after three score and two weeks Messiah should be cut off, but not for himself; that the Persians should destroy the Babylonians, the Greeks the Persians, and the Romans the Greeks; that Jerusalem should be totally destroyed, and the Jews scattered among all nations; and that Christ shall reign on earth a thousand years. These and many other great events have been foretold by the prophets, Jesus Christ and the apostles. But God could not inspire them to foretell these events, unless he had decreed that they should certainly take place. To deny the decrees of God is, therefore, to deny that the Bible is his word. If God has not decreed all things, it can be demonstrated that the scriptures are a cunningly devised fable.

3. It is an essential doctrine of the gospel, that Christ died on the cross to make an atonement for sin. But there is no truth in this doctrine, unless God decreed to save sinners. For Christ professed to come in the name of his father, to obey his Father, and to die at the express command of his Father. But if his Father never decreed the salvation of sinners, it is certain that his Father never sent him, and never commanded him to die in the room of sinners; so that Christ is found a false witness. And then, though he died on the cross, his death could make no atonement, and be of no avail to the salvation of sinners. But if he died according to the determinate counsel and foreknowledge of God; if he was obedient to his Father, even unto the death of the cross; then his dying, the just for the unjust, may avail to bring sinners unto God. The truth of Christ's mission, and the value of his death, depend upon the doctrine of the divine decrees. And the denial of this doctrine is virtually and necessarily the denial of the atonement of Christ, and the whole glory of the gospel.

4. It is a doctrine of the gospel, that multitudes, in future time, shall cordially embrace it. Our Lord spake many parables to illustrate the future prevalence of the gospel, and its happy influence

upon

the hearts of men. But there cannot be the smallest evidence that any sinner ever will embrace the gospel without the special grace of God. For all mankind naturally oppose the gospel, and reject it, as long as they can. And they can reject it, as long as their carnal mind remains. But there is no evidence that God will exercise his special grace for the salvation of sinners, if he has not decreed to save any of mankind. And it may be demonstrated that no impenitent sinner will ever be brought to repentance, if God has not de

« PreviousContinue »