« AnteriorContinuar »
say that he will not be used as an instrument in the hand of his Maker to do an evil act! See Isaiah x. 15. And as man, in a certain sense, must be considered as an instrument in the hand of God to perform whatever he does (that is consistently with God's power and wisdom) so, in that sense, he is neither blameable nor praiseworthy for his actions. Nor is he, in that sense, at all accountable for them. For it depends wholly on God whether the actions of men answer his design or not: and if not, who must be considered accountable ? Not man, surely, for, in the sense that we are now speaking, he is only the instrument. I wish to have it understood that I am now speaking of the system of God; which is a perfect system ; in which every thing is subservient to the wise council of the GREAT ETERNAL, where God reigns Omnipotent without an opposer. As touching this system it is said of God, that, “ He hath not beheld iniquity in Jacob, neither hath he seen perverseness in Israel.” Why? Because they were not sinners? Because they were not a bellious and stiffnecked people ?" No. But because he meant all their actions for good, as he did those of Joseph's brethren ; and he knew that he should finally produce all the good that infinite wisdom designed.
If I am thus far understood, the way is now paved so that we can easily, and consistently with the premises laid down, draw a line of distinction between virtue and vice, sin and holiness, as they respect the actions of men.
Man, although an instrument in the hand of his Maker, is endued with moral faculties, so that, while possessed with reason and common sense, he is conscious of whatever he does. And although he is finite, so that he cannot foresee all the consequences of his own actions ; yet, as he can foresee, however imperfectly, some consequences, so he cannot act, in a moral · point of view, without a motive. And whether his actions terminate agreeably to his expectations or not, they are good or evil in a moral sense, according to the good or evil intention he has in view.
Thus we may say with propriety, and consistently with the premises laid down, that a man is always blameable whenever he violates the law of his understanding ; that is, acts contrary to the dictates of his own reason ; or does that which he thinks is unjust; or that which is improper for him to do ; and then only: For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he." Prov. xxiii. 7.
It is true a man may err in judgment, and consequently feel ustified in doing that, to day, which a further light and knowl
edge would not justify ; but there is no moral turpitude in such acts, it is an error of judgment, only, which produces no guilt. Such an act may, perhaps, produce shame, or remorse ; but guilt cannot be produced without an evil intention. And whenever this is the case the pangs of guilt are no less because the act was predetermined by infinite wisdom ; for the guilt may be as much predetermined as the act that produced it.
Therefore, if any body can inform me wherein Joseph's brethren were blameable for selling Joseph to the Ishmaelites ; when “ God meant it unto good ;" or wherein Herod and Pontius Pilate, with the Gentiles and the people of Israel, were blameable, for doing whatsoever God, by his hand and his counsel had “determined before to be done ; " then I shall be furnished with sufficient data to tell wherein every man is blameable for every sinful act, although all those acts were predetermined, and will finally be overruled, for good. And I presume that no one will attempt to exculpate those characters from blame, which I have named, for the sake of proving that man is a free agent !
It is now very easy to discover, that, agreeably to the premises laid down, the exhortations of the apostle are very proper. See 1 Tim. ii. 1, 2, “I exhort, therefore, that, first of all, supplications, prayers, intercessions, and giving of thanks, be made for all men, &c.” For these " supplications," &c. must be considered as means, in the hand of God, to produce the glorious end ; " that we may lead a quiet and peaceable life in all godliness and honesty." And all the exercises of the human heart, in faith and repentance, love and good works, are perfectly consistent with the universality of Divine operation; notwithstanding they are all made certain, in the economy of God, even from eternity.
In order to set this matter in a clear point of light, I am willing to take, for example, any sinner who has been brought from moral darkness into God's marvellous light, from a state of sin and condemnation into a state of newness of life in Christ Jesus, through the instrumentality of the preaching of the word, or any other means which God has been pleased to use.
I will agree that this man has experienced every thing, and every thing has been done and performed for him, which were necessary to fit and prepare him for heaven and bappiness. Now, let any one analyze these means, or causes, and their ends, or effects, and let it be demonstrated that such and such means or causes, produced such and such ends or effects, and I will agree that those means were necessary to produce these ends ; and it must first be made to appear, that man's " chief end,” which, as it has been very properly stated, “is to glorify God and enjoy him for ever;" is of no importance, before it can be granted that the means to obtain that end are unnecessary.
A circumstance full to my purpose is recorded in Acts xxvii. 22, 31, “ For there shall be no loss of any man's life among you, but of the ship.” – Except these abide in the ship ye cannot be saved."
If there were any propriety in Paul's telling the soldiers that they must abide in the ship or they could not be saved, after he had promised them all life by divine authority ; there is an equal propriety in telling sinners “ Except a inan be born again, or from abové, he cannot see the kingdom of God ;” notwithstanding we have positive testimony “ that God will have all men to be saved and come unto the knowledge of the truth.”
I might enlarge upon this subject, and perhaps it would be necessary, if I were writing for the public, or anticipated any serious objections to the premises as here stated ; but my present object is to give you my ideas upon the several queries which you proposed to me in our late conversation, and, if necessary, I shall vindicate them more fully hereafter.
3. Admitting that all mankind will eventually be brought to holiness and happiness, is it best to make it a leading point in preaching to prove this doctrine ? &c.
Barely to produce a kind of theoretical, or speculative, belief, in the doctrine of Universal Salvation, I conceive, would be of no essential service. Such ideas may reach the head, but they seldom affect the heart.
So long as mankind have no better understanding of the doctrine, than to embrace it under an infatuated notion that all men will be made happy in another world, whether they are made holy or not ; or to embrace it because they believe it can be better supported by scripture than the reverse ; or to believe it may be true in theory, without its being so in practice ; or to believe it true in any sense, without understanding what is necessary to make it true ; the doctrine under these views will have but very little influence upon their lives and conduct. And il by proving the doctrine be meant nothing more than to produce a belief that would gain such kind of proselytes, I conceive that a society would not receive much advantage by such kind of preaching. But if by proving the doctrine be understood the opening of the understanding into the nature of universal be. nevolence, and convincing mankind of the necessity of the doc. crine's being true in practice, as well as theory, in order to have it true in fact; then I think that the faithful ambassador foi
Christ has no other leading point to attend to but this ; that is, all our preaching should concentre in this all-important point. In fact, if the doctrine be understandingly preached, in its purity, I conceive it would have the greatest effect towards producing an inward principle of love and piety of any thing that could be preached.
The idea of setting people to work up a principle of love and piety in themselves, in their own strength, in my opinion, is like making an effect produce its cause ; or making the end produce the means.
A principle of love and piety at heart is the effect of being brought to the knowledge of the truth; and not the being brought to the knowledge of the truth the effect of havn ing a principle of love and piety. « We love him because he first loved us.'
The propriety of this statement will more fully appear, if we consider that there is no principle in man capable of loving and hating the same object at pleasure ; that is, to love at will, or or in obedience to superior authority, or for fear of some evil consequence for not loving ! Such love as this is not worthy the name; it is merely superficial, and not real. Something really lovely must be discovered in an object before it can be rationally loved.
If these premises are correct, as I conceive they are, then no man can have any real love for God until he discovers something really lovely in his character. And as “ God is love," and his character altogether lovely, man only need to be brought to the knowledge of the truth, to discover such a divine excellency in the character of God as to produce real love, in the understanding
Therefore, I know of nothing better to give mankind true faith : that is, to bring them into the possession of that faith which worketh by love, and purifieth the heart, than to preach to them the whole truth " to declare the whole counsel of God ;” and if this can be done, with the demonstration of the spirit, it will most assuredly produce true faith.
Every rational wanting being is in pursuit of happiness, how. ever widely they may have erred in their pursuit ; and the only primitive reason why their desires are not all equally directed to the great source of happiness, is because they are « alineated from the life of God, through the ignorance there is in them."
Does it not then behove every ambassador for Christ, into whatsoever town or parish he may enter, to do as the apostles did ? « To deliver anto them first of all that which we also have
received, how that Christ died for our sins according to the scriptures” who was delivered for our offences and rose again for our justification"_" who gave himself a ransom for all to be testified in due time" -- who is made unto us wisdom, righteousness, sanctification and redemption”-and of course« all things are our's and we are Christ's, and Christ is God's."
A belief in these things, rightly understood, would, in my humble opinion, have a much greater tendency towards producing real love and piety towards God, and benevolence and charity towards man, than all such exhortations as the following ; viz. “ You must watch"- _" you must seek"_" you must strive”
you must pray,” &c. unless the creature has had some further encouragement than to be led to think that he must first, by his own exertions, move the Holy Spirit to effect his ultimate desire. All exhortations to the creature are vain and nugatory, unless he is first taught where to look for all his strength and hope. Our prayers and strivings, instead of being the cause of our happiness, are rather the effect of our wants ; and to encourage people to strive with confidence, pray in faith, and run with patience, not uncertainly, like those who beat the air, let them be taught, that the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ « hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ ; according as he hath chosen us in him before the foundation of the world, that we should be holy, and without blame before him in love." See Eph. i. 3, 4.
4. Is it right for a man to forsake a meeting, and withdraw his support from a minister on account of difference of sentiment, &c. ?
Among the great variety of sects and denominations of professed christians, I know of but two, essentially different from each other. And where there is not an essential difference, but only circumstantial, I can see no good reason why they cannot harmonize together.
These two sects, which I deem to be essentially different, are, 1. All those who believe in the holiness and happiness (in the final ultimatum) of all God's rational creatures : and 2, All those who believe-in endless sin and misery.
For the sake of distinction, the one sect, I shall denominate Partialists (not meaning, however, to cast any reflection, but as being appropriate to their believing in partial salvation ; that is, the salvation of a part only); and the other Universalists, as bea ing appropriate to those who believe in universal salvation.