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near; and he said I am Joseph your brother, whom ye sold into Egypt. Now therefore be not grieved, nor angry with yourselves, that ye sold me hither; for God did send me before you to preserve life.” This was as much as to say, Though you meant to destroy a brother's life, and break a father's heart, yet I freely and heartily forgive you. And though you meant to defeat the design and control the hand of God, for which you ought to repent in dust and ashes, yet be not grieved that the event took place; for God was the supreme agent in it, and made use of you as instruments to accomplish the wise and benevolent purpose of preserving your lives, and the lives of millions in the midst of the present extensive and destructive famine. In this address to his brethren, Joseph represents God as doing what they had done. Though they sent him into Egypt, yet he represents God as sending him thither. He more fully expresses this idea in the words immediately succeeding the text. “ These two years hath the famine been in the land; and yet there are five years, in which there shall be neither earing nor harvest. And God sent me 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.” That is, God was the primary and supreme agent, in bringing about this great and most happy event. This is the truth which now naturally falls under our consideration:
That the scripture ascribes the actions of men both to themselves and to God.
I shall endeavor to illustrate the truth, the propriety, and the importance of this doctrine.
i. We are to consider, that the scripture does ascribe the actions of men, both to themselves and to God. It will be universally allowed that the scripture ascribes the actions of men to themselves. It ascribes to Abel his faith, to Cain his unbelief, to Job his patience, and to Moses his meekness. Having just premised this, I proceed to adduce instances in which the scripture ascribes the actions of men to God as well as to themselves. The first instance that occurs is in the history of Joseph. It is said his brethren sold him into Egypt, and at the same time God is said to send him thither. It is said God hardened the heart of Pharaoh, and Pharaoh is said to harden his own heart. The same mode of expression is used in reference to the Egyptians. They hardened their own hearts when they presumed to follow the Israelites into the midst of the sea, with a fixed design to overtake and destroy them. But God himself said he would harden their hearts on that occasion. “ And I, behold I will harden the hearts of the Egyptians, and they shall follow them and I will get me honor upon Pharaoh, and upon all his hosts, upon his chariots, and upon his horsemen." Saul went of his own accord to Samuel, yet God says he sent him. Shimei cursed David of his own accord, yet David ascribed his conduct to the divine agency. The Sabeans and Chaldeans stripped Job of his servants and substance; yet he says: “ the Lord gave, and the Lord hath taken away. God is said to do what the king of Assyria did. “ O Assyria, the rod of mine anger, and the staff in their hand is mine indignation. 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. 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. Wherefore it shall come to pass, that when the Lord hath accomplished his whole work upon Mount Zion, and on Jerusalem, I will punish the fruit of the stout heart of the king of Assyria, and the glory of his high looks.” God is said to blind the minds and harden the hearts of those who blinded their own minds and hardened their own hearts, in the days of Christ and the apostles. The prophet Isaiah, speaking of the sufferings of Christ, says, “It pleased the Lord to bruise him; he hath put him to grief.” But we know that it was Herod, Pontius Pilate, and the Jews, who insulted, buffeted, and crucified the Lord of glory. I might mention God's giving love to those that love, repentance to those that repent, faith to those that believe, and purification to those who purify themselves. But enough has been said to show that the scripture ascribes the actions of men both to themselves and to God. I proceed to show,
II. The propriety of ascribing human actions to both human and divine agency. This indeed looks like a paradox, and is considered by many as a palpable absurdity, or a profound mystery Accordingly, much ingenuity and learned labor have been employed to explain away those passages of scripture which ascribe the actions of men to God as well as to themselves. No pains have been spared to make it appear that all human actions are absolutely independent of, and unconnected with, any divine operation upon the human heart. And could this be established, it would be difficult to show the propriety of ascribing the actions of men both to God and themselves. But the truth is, reason and scripture unitedly afford a solid foundation for this mode of speaking.
Mankind are creatures, and by the law of nature absolutely dependent upon God. We cannot conceive that even Omnipotence is able to form independent agents, because this would be to endow them with divinity. And since all men are dependent agents, all their motions, exercises or actions, must originate from a divine efficiency. We can no more act, than we can exist, without the constant aid and influence of the Deity. This is the dictate of reason, which is confirmed by the declarations of scripture. We read that in God “we live, and move, and have our being." The wise man tells us,
“ The preparations of the heart in man, and the answer of the tongue, is from the Lord.” The apostle acknowledges that “we are not sufficient of ourselves to think any thing as of ourselves; but our sufficiency is of God.” This all good men believe to be true when they ask God to give them grace, and assist them in the performance of every duty. The apostle exhorts christians to live under a habitual sense of their dependence upon God in all their gracious exercises. He addresses them in this form: “Wherefore, my beloved, as ye have always obeyed, not in my presence only, but now much more in my absence, 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.” And he prays for believers in the same strain in which he exhorts them to duty. “Now the God of peace, that brought again from the dead our Lord Jesus, that great Shepherd of the sheep, through the blood of the everlasting covenant, make you perfect in every good work to do his will, working in you that which is well pleasing in his sight through Jesus Christ.” Now if men always act under a divine influence, then there is a great propriety in ascribing their actions to God as well as to themselves. If they do any thing whatever, it may be truly said it was done by the finger of God. If Joseph's brethren sold him into Egypt, God may be said to have sent him thither. If the Jews crucified Christ and put him to grief, it may
be said he was smitten of God and afflicted. If one nation destroys another, it may be said God destroyed that nation. If one man makes himself rich, God may be said to make him rich. If one man makes himself poor, God may be said to make him poor. If one man turn from sin, God may be said to turn him. If one man follow hard after God, God may be said to draw him. If one man grow
grace, God may be said to carry on the good work he had begun in his heart. There is no occasion, therefore, of rectifying that mode of speaking on this subject which runs through the Bible. It is strictly just and agreeable to truth. Human agency is always inseparably connected with divine agency. And though it may be proper in some cases to speak of man's agency alone, and of God's agency alone, yet it is always proper to ascribe the actions of men not only to themselves, but to God. The propriety of the scripture phraseology on this subject is so plain and obvious, that it is strange so many have objected against it, and endeavored to explain it away. But since this is the case, it seems very necessary to show,
III. The importance of ascribing the actions of men to God, as well as to themselves. We have no reason to suppose that the sacred writers would have used such a mode of speaking, unless it were necessary and important. They wrote with a view to instruct, and not to perplex mankind. And if we properly consider the natural tendency of this mode of speaking, we shall be convinced that it is of great importance, and answers very valuable purposes. It is the design of God, in all his works, to set his own character and the character of all his rational and accountable creatures in the truest and strongest light. This leads me observe,
1. It is a matter of importance that the actions of men should be ascribed to themselves. They are real and proper agents in all their voluntary exercises and exertions. Their actions are all their own, and as much their own as if they acted without any dependence upon God, or any other being in the universe. If a man loves God, his love is his own exercise, and a real virtue and beauty in his character. If a man hates God, his hatred is his own exercise, and a real sin and blemish in his character. All the actions of Adam, both before and after his fall, were the fruit of his own choice, and formed his character both as a good and a bad man. And this is true of all his descendants, whether saints or sinners. Their actions are all their own, and constitute them either holy or unholy, virtuous or vicious, and worthy of praise or blame, reward or punishment. Hence it is a matter of importance that the scripture should ascribe the actions of men to themselves. Unless God
represented men as authors of their own actions, he would not represent them in their true light. This clearly appears in the case of Joseph and his brethren. Though God foreordained and foretold their conduct, though he sent Joseph into Egypt, and made use of his brethren as means to convey him thither, yet he could not have set their amazing inhumanity, malice and criminality in a true light, unless he had ascribed these actions to themselves, and expressly said that they sold him into Egypt. This was their act and deed, which rendered them extremely criminal, not only in the sight of God and of their brother, but in the view of their own consciences. On the other hand, God could not have placed the amiable character of Joseph in a true light, if he had not ascribed his virtuous, mild and benevolent conduct to himself. It was important that the character of Joseph should be set in contrast with the character of his brethren; and for this reason, it was no less important that both he and they should be represented as the authors of their own actions. The same is true with respect to all mankind. Though God is as really concerned in all their conduct as he was in the conduct of Joseph and his brethren, yet their actions ought to be ascribed to themselves, in order that their character may be exhibited in a true light. This is important now, and will be still more important at the great and last day. Accordingly it is represented that God will ascribe the actions of the righteous to the righteous, and the actions of the wicked to the wicked, and reward the former and punish the latter according to their own works. God's government of moral agents never will destroy their agency; and therefore he will not only ascribe their own actions to themselves, but treat them according to their own free, voluntary conduct. It is just as important that God should ascribe the actions of men to themselves, as that he should finally judge the world in righteousness. And now it is easy to see,
2. The importance of ascribing men's actions to God as well as to themselves. He is really concerned in all their actions; and it is as important that his agency should be brought into view, as that theirs should be brought into view. For his character can no more be known without ascribing his agency to himself, than their characters can be known without ascribing their agency to themselves. God was as really concerned in the whole affair of selling Joseph into Egypt, as his brethren were. And his agency was of as much importance as theirs ; nay, it was of much greater importance; for he proposed the end, appointed the agents, and guided every step they took to bring it to pass. Joseph's brethren had a cruel and malignant design in their conduct, but God had a most wise and benevolent design in it. This Joseph believed, and told his brethren
“ As for you, ye thought evil against me; but God meant it unto good, to bring to pass, as it is this day, to save much people alive.” Had the whole story of this important event been related without once mentioning the agency of God in it, his astonishing wisdom and goodness in preserving Joseph, his father's family and the whole nation of Egypt, would have been kept out of sight; and of consequence he would have been robbed of the glory which was due to his name. In this view it was highly important that the actions of Joseph's brethren should be ascribed to the agency and overruling providence of God. And it is equally important that all the actions of both saints and sinners should be ascribed to the divine agency. Hence we find that the inspired writers every where represent all those graces and virtues by which saints are formed for