« PreviousContinue »
place. It must therefore be admitted that men always have natural power to do whatever God has decreed they shall do. But,
2. When men have natural power to do any thing, they always have natural power to neglect it. Nothing can be plainer than that those who have a natural power to act, have the same natural power to refrain from acting. The seamen and master of the ship, who had natural power to set sail, had the same natural power to desist from that rash conduct, according to the good advice of Paul. The soldiers, who had natural power to guard the prisoners, had the same natural power to neglect their duty, and let them escape. So that it always holds. true, that when God gives men natural power to fulfil his decrees, they have the same natural power to neglect to fulfil them. Hence,
3. Men always have natural power to frustrate those divine decrees which they are appointed to fulfil. God decreed that Paul and his company should get safe to land by the instrumentality of the sailors; but they had natural power to frustrate that decree. So Paul told the centurion and the soldiers, "Except these abide in the ship ye cannot be saved." The sailors were about to leave the ship, and to fail of affording the company that assistance which was decreed, and which was absolutely necessary to preserve the lives of the passengers. This they had natural power to neglect, and had they neglected it, they would have frustrated the divine decree. As it is always true that men have natural power to fulfil any decree which they are appointed to fulfil, so it is equally true that they always have the same natural power to prevent its fulfilment. Their not acting, in every such case, would as effectually frustrate the purpose of God, as their acting would fulfil his purpose. And since he always gives men natural power to fulfil his decrees, they always have the same natural power to defeat them. This all those are conscious of, who attempt to frustrate his designs. Joseph's brethren thought they had natural power to defeat the divine purpose. Ahab, when he went to Ramoth-Gilead, had the same opinion. The soldiers supposed they had natural power to kill Paul, as they proposed, to prevent his escape. And all men are conscious that they have natural power to neglect whatever they have natural power to do. It hence follows that men have, and know they have, natural power to frustrate those decrees of God whose accomplishment depends upon their agency.
1. Since men always fulfil those decrees of God which they have natural power to frustrate, we must suppose that he always makes them willing to act agreeably to his decrees. Two things are absolutely necessary in order to men's acting; one is to be able, and the other is to be willing. By being able is meant a natural power to act; and by being willing a moral power to act. Whatever God determines men shall do, he not only gives them natural, but moral power to do; and when he gives them both a natural and moral power to do any thing, they are under a moral necessity of doing it. Hence there is always both a natural possibility, and a moral impossibility, of their defeating the divine purposes. In one sense it is always true that men can defeat the designs of God, and in another sense it is always equally true that they cannot defeat his designs. This distinction between natural and moral power, natural and moral necessity, and natural and moral impossibility, is agreeable to common sense, and to the whole tenor of scripture; and fully accounts for men's always fulfilling those purposes of God which they have natural power to frustrate. Though God knows that mankind have natural power to act contrary to his designs, yet he knows that he is able to make them willing to fulfil his purposes, and that he has determined to make them willing; and hence he knows that they always will fulfil his purposes, by voluntarily performing those actions which he has determined they shall perform. God has the hearts of all men in his hand, and can turn them whithersoever he pleases, as the rivers of water are turned. And it is by operating upon their hearts that he makes them the voluntary instruments of fulfilling those purposes of his, which they have natural power to counteract and defeat.
2. If men always have natural power to frustrate as well as fulfil the decrees of God, then they always act freely in fulfilling his decrees. If they were willing as well as able to defeat his purposes, they certainly would defeat them. Was there ever an instance known of a man's being both able and willing to do an action, and neglecting to do it? Or can we even conceive of a man's being both able and willing to do an action, and yet neglecting to do it? It is just as impossible to conceive of such a case of neglect, as to conceive of an effect without a cause. When a man is both able and willing to act, there is a sufficient cause for his acting, but no cause at all for his neglecting to act. Hence it is absolutely certain that men always act freely, while they act agreeably to the divine purposes which they are able to frustrate, because no reason can 39
be given why they act agreeably to those divine purposes, but that they choose to act agreeably to them. If the decrees of God prevented men from acting voluntarily, they would indeed destroy their free agency; but since they are consistent with their acting voluntarily, they are entirely consistent with their moral freedom. Paul, and all those who sailed with him on their voyage to Italy, acted agreeably to the decrees of God; yet they acted freely, because they acted voluntarily, in every instance of their conduct. Accordingly, when they came to land, Paul told them that they ought to have hearkened to him, and that if they had hearkened to him, as they might have done notwithstanding the divine decree, they would have escaped the harm and loss which they had unhappily sustained. This instance demonstrates that the decrees of God respecting the conduct of men are perfectly consistent with their free agency in fulfilling his decrees.
3. If men have natural power to frustrate as well as to fulfil the decrees of God, then the non-elect have as fair an opportunity of being saved as the elect. The decree of reprobation leaves them in the full possession of all their natural power to choose or refuse the offers of mercy. They have as much strength, and as fair an opportunity, to embrace the gospel, as the elect have, before they embrace it. This may be clearly exemplified in the case of Judas, who was reprobated, and of Paul, who was elected. They were both for a long time in a state of impenitence and unbelief. Judas in that state was as able to embrace the gospel, as Paul was in the same state. Paul acted freely in rejecting the gospel, and as freely in embracing it; and Judas, if he had pleased, might have done the same. Though he refused the overtures of mercy, and betrayed his Master, yet after all, instead of destroying his own life, he might have repented and obtained forgiveness, notwithstanding the divine decree to the contrary. And this is true in regard to all the non-elect. God has provided an atonement for them as well as for the elect. He offers salvation to them as well as to the elect. He commands them to accept of salvation, as well as the elect. He promises salvation to them if they will accept it, as well as to the elect. Why then do they not enjoy as fair an opportunity to obtain eternal life as the elect? If they perish, they must necessarily perish by their own choice. God places all under the gospel in such a situation that the gospel must necessarily save them, if they only choose to be saved. The servant who received one talent was as able to improve it, and to obtain a reward from his master, as those who received and improved more talents. Those who were first invited to the gospel feast, and refused to go, were as
able to go as those were who went, and enjoyed the entertainment. The non-elect will for ever feel that they might have gone to heaven if they had chosen to go to that holy and happy place, and that their own choice, and not the decree of reprobation, shut them out of the kingdom of glory. And this will constrain them to justify God in freely offering salvation to them, and in condemning them for rejecting his gracious invitations.
4. If men have natural power to frustrate as well as to fulfil the decrees of God, then there is a propriety in the warnings, cautions and admonitions given to saints against falling away. Many imagine that such exhortations are inconsistent with the certainty of their final perseverance. We firmly believe that all those whom God has given to Christ in the covenant of redemption, shall certainly be renewed, sanctified and saved. But if this be true, many are ready to ask, Why should real saints be cautioned against falling away, and threatened with final ruin if they should fall away? This subject furnishes a complete answer to this question. It is because they have natural power to frustrate the divine decrees. They have natural power to apostatize from the faith, as well as to persevere in it. There is, therefore, a natural possibility of their falling away; and this natural possibility of falling away creates danger; and where there is danger, cautions and warnings against it are altogether proper and necessary. Men may be in danger of an evil which it is certain they will eventually escape. It was after Paul had been divinely assured that he and his company should get safe to land, that he said to the centurion and to the soldiers, "Except these abide in the ship, ye cannot be saved." This implies that the certainty of their safety was consistent with the danger of their being lost. Paul was chosen from eternity to be a believer and a preacher of the gospel; but while he remained an enemy to Christ and to his followers, there was danger of his never becoming either a believer or preacher. And after he became a believer and a preacher, he tells us that he still considered himself in danger of being finally cast away. 'Believers live in the same world in which they lived before they believed; they are surrounded by the same spiritual enemies by which they were surrounded before they believed; and they have the same natural power to renounce the gospel, which they had to reject it before they believed. Hence they stand in peculiar need of cautions and warnings to resist the devil, to overcome the world, to keep themselves in the love of God, to watch and pray against temptation, and at all times and under all circumstances to take heed lest they fall. Such warnings and cautions are not only
proper but necessary means to keep saints from falling, and conduct them safely to the kingdom of heaven.
Finally. Since God has determined to bring about great and important events by the instrumentality of men, it is of great importance that they should be active and diligent in carrying into execution his wise and holy designs. The means to promote any end are as necessary as the end to be promoted. It was as necessary that the shipmen should be restrained from leaving the ship, as that the lives of all on board should be saved. By employing men as means in carrying on his designs, God has made human agency exceedingly necessary and important. He has put it into the power of men to do unspeakable good, while they are acting their parts in this probationary state. How eminently useful were the patriarchs, the prophets, and other good men, before Christ's day; and how much good have the apostles, the ministers, and the followers of Christ done since! The field of usefulness is continually opening wider and wider. God has let us know that he has determined to extend his kingdom through the world, by the instrumentality of human agents. A door is open for all men of every age, character and condition, to employ all their abilities to bring about the most important and desirable events. All who cordially coöperate with God in fulfilling his purposes, shall meet with final success and an ample reward. These are the strongest motives to exertion that can be presented to the minds of men. And in the view of these, let all be steadfast and unmovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, forasmuch as they know that their labor shall not be in vain in the Lord. Amen.