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place of rest which they have in prospect; would the consequence be that the other ten must necessarily perish by the way ? Certainly not. The word of God, they add, assures us that whosoever shall call on the name of the Lord, shall be saved ; and we not only believe the words of Christ, “ All that the Father giveth me, shall come to me," but we receive those that follow with the same faith, “And him that cometh to me, I will in no wise cast out.” In short, we believe, say they, that the invitations and promises of God are as firm and certain as his decrees; and, if we are unable, in every instance, to investigate the awful depths of the latter, we leave the solution of all such difficulties to that day, in which God shall vindicate his ways to all intelligent beings.
To the doctrine of absolute decrees it has often been objected, that it is utterly irreconcilable with the freedom of human action, and has a tendency to introduce the principles of necessity and fatalism. Almost all Calvinists deny the consequence, and assert the freedom of human action, in language as pointed as that which is employed by those who range themselves on the opposite side of the question. They frankly acknowledge, that they are not able to show how the liberty of the human will, and the freedom of action, are consistent with decrees of God. But, as both these doctrines are taught in the word of God, they say they believe them to be perfectly consistent. When pressed on this subject, they observe that the very same difficulty attends the doctrine of Divine foreknowledge, which Mr. Locke confessed he could not reconcile with human liberty. It must be acknowledged, say they, that on these subjects, and even upon some principles of natural religion, there is a veil thrown, which human sagacity seeks, in vain, to penetrate, or to remove. But whoever acknowledges the freedom of human action, the essential difference between virtue and vice, between obedience and rebellion, allows all that is necessary to legislation and moral government.
It is likewise objected, that upon the doctrine of absolute decrees, all exertions of diligence in performing our duty, and in escaping from sin, are unnecessary, because they must needs be ineffectual. To this objection, Calvinists answer, that the connexion of means with the end, is just as necessary, upon their principles, as upon those of the opposite system. That as they expect no man to be saved, but in the way of continuing in well-doing, and in showing diligence to the full assurance of hope unto the end, that depending on the Divine blessing, in the use of means, they despair of no man's salvation. The most ordinary observer of what passes in society cannot, they think, but acknowledge, that with respect to all the affairs of this life, the belief of absolute decrees is never perceived to abate the diligent exertions of the man who entertains it. The farmer who belieres in predestination, tills his lands, sows his seed, and uses every means to secure a crop, as diligently as he who holds no such doctrine. Or, if there be any difference, it proceeds not from the doctrines he believes, but from the habits he has formed, or from his natural indolence. He cannot consistently believe, that his success, with respect to the blessings of the eternal world, is less connected with means, than the success of his hopes in the present life. The decrees of God, whatever they are, have just as much connexion with the affairs of this life, as they have with the concerns of eternity. “ If the counsels of God are absolutely fixed,” says a very sensible writer on this sub
ject, “ it has been said they shall be executed, whatever may happen, and, consequently, exhortations to duty, are preposterous, and the use of means to avoid one thing, and to obtain another, is idle labour. The objection has a specious appearance, which dazzles superficial thinkers; but it is founded on mistake, or in intentional misrepre. sentation. It proceeds upon the idea, that the decrees of God are determinations respecting certain ends or events, without a reference to the means, which is to attribute a procedure to Him who is wonderful in council, which would be unworthy of any of his creatures, endowed with only a small portion of reason. The objection first separates things, which cannot, in fact, be disjoined, the means and the end, and then holding up the doctrine of the Divine decrees, in this mangled and distorted light, pronounces it to be absurd. With whatever parade and confidence, therefore, it has been brought forward, it has no relation to the subject, and is only of use to destroy an extravagant and senseless theory, which has been substituted in the room of the doctrine of scripture.
< When God decreed an event, he, at the same time, decreed that it should take place, in consequence of a train of other events, or as the result of certain previous circumstances. Thus he did not purpose to save Paul, and his companions, unconditionally, but by means of the seamen remaining on board, to manage the ship, till it should be driven on the coast of Melita. In the same manner, he has not determined to save sinners, let them live as they will, but he has chosen them to salvation, “through sanctification of the spirit, and belief of the truth. To say, therefore, that unless the means be employed, the ends cannot be accomplished, is to assert a very simple and self-evident truth, that the purposes of God cannot be fulfilled, unless they be fulfilled. Had Paul and his company been preserved without the aid of the sailors, the decree of God would not have been executed, nor would it be executed, if it were possible for a sinner to escape eternal perdition, without faith and repentance. The same event is supposed in both cases, but it is brought to pass in a different way from what God had ordained. Let us always remember that the means make a part of the Divine decrees, as well as the end. The system of things is like a chain, composed of many links, on each of which the union and consistence of the whole depend. If one link were broken, the chain would be destroyed. None of his purposes, therefore, can be defeated, because the means of carrying them into effect are provided, and shall be brought into action at the proper season.”*
The doctrine of absolute decrees is charged with being at variance with the tender expostulations of the Gospel with sinners, and with those invitations of grace by which they are entreated to be reconciled to God, and with such declarations as shown that he has no pleasure in the death of the wicked, but that the wicked turn from his
Calvinists generally reply, that they believe the sincerity of those invitations, expostulations, and declarations, as readily and firmly, as they do in absolute decrees, and for the same reason, because they find them both in the word of God; and that they believe the latter to be perfectly consistent with the former, although they are not able to show that they are so. They affirm that it is not their business to clear up those difficulties which, in several instances, attend both the doctrines of natural
way and live.
• Mr. Dick's Lectures on some Passages of the Acts, Lect. 29.
religion, and the truths of Christianity. They can, they say, easily show that the doctrine of absolute decrees, is contained in the word of God, and having done this, they contend that they have nothing more to do.
With respect to the decrees of God, Calvinists have been divided into two opinions. We shall give the statement of these from a writer who was himself a Calvinist, and who possessed talents of the most respectable kind. “ Calvinists are divided upon this subject into two sorts, commonly called Supralapsarians and Sublapsarians. The reasons of the names are, from the one being of opinion that God in ordaining the elect and reprobate, considered man as before the fall; and the other as fallen, and in a state of guilt.
“The first say, that in laying down a plan, what is last in the execution is first in the intention; that God purposed to glorify his mercy and justice in the everlasting felicity of some, called vessels of mercy; and in the everlasting perdition of others, called vessels of wrath. That to accomplish this purpose he resolved to create the world, to put man into a condition in which he would certainly fall. To send the Redeemer in the fulness of time to carry on the whole plan of salvation, as we now find it in the oracles of truth.
“ The Sublapsarians say that the order of purposing, should be the same as the order of execution. That the decrees of God being eternal, there can no order of time be applied to them, but that which takes place in the execution. Therefore they say, that God proposed to make man innocent and holy, with powers to preserve his innocence, but liable to fall : that he foresaw the fall, and permitted it, and from the corrupted mass freely chose some as the objects of mercy, and left others to perish in the