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If he do this deliberately, then is there an end to his entertaining the title of christian, believer, servant of God, and every other such name; and his condemnation will be just. If, in the next place, such disobedience be involuntary, or brought about accidentally, or by some sudden and overpowering temptation, still we may trust that mercy will be extended to the culprit. Chastisement from above, admonition from a friend, or the pangs of a wounded conscience, may bring the sinner to repentance and to prayer; and, in this case, faith and hope will never be exerted in vain. And, indeed, so long as a man can judge between right and wrong-can make the choice between good and bad, righteousness and sin, heaven and hell, he must continue to be a responsible creature; and, as such, reason requires that he be accordingly rewarded or punished. But, should his faculties fail him, of the sin then committed he cannot be justly charged as guilty; nor of this, as far as we can see, need he be afraid. So long as he retains his reasoning faculties, he must be responsible; and so long will he be enabled to appreciate and to employ the means of grace: but why he should make provision for a different state, it is hard to say, especially as He, whom he serves, has declared, that his “grace is sufficient:" or why such supposititious case should be resorted to, none, perhaps, but a being highly fantastical and ridiculously theoretic, can see any good reason. If it be intended, however, as it seems to be by this mode of arguing, to determine the exact point where the ordinary and extraordinary operations of Providence meet, the answer is: Revelation has not determined this point; and human reason is unequal to the task. Faith and hope stand in need of no such determination; and obedience prefers taking the naked command of its liege Sovereign, unencumbered and unexplained.
With regard to the last objection, that an unnecessary appeal is made to supernatural influences, I would answer: Although the power appealed to is evidently supernatural, it is no more unreasonable to expect it, than it is to look for success in life from a due exertion of our common energies. In the cultivation of the earth, as we have seen, success is almost universally attained to, and that by the exertion of a power evidently Divine. And, if religion be really a gift of the Deity, which our Scripture declares is the
case, it is but reasonable to believe, that the man who is sincere and active in its cultivation, will in some way or other receive similar encouragements -- blessings such as to secure an inward happiness, and to confirm him in the belief that “his labour is not in vain.” In this case, then, we expect powers no more miraculous, than those daily witnessed in the natural world; we are justified in expecting those only of a different kind, and such as are available to the end for which they are sought. In the one case, nature, which is an appointment of the Deity, warrants us in expecting an increase from a proper cultivation ; in the other, the Scripture, which we are taught is also an appointment of the Deity, positively declares that suitable assistance shall be afforded : not, let it be remembered, for the purpose of bringing about events which properly deserve the name of miracles; but to raise the believer to such a degree of faith and of hope, as can bring him within the reach of mercy from above, and of that peace which passeth all understanding here. The influences expected in this instance then, are such only as the nature of the case requires; and, as we find similar energies employed in the natural world for the purpose of bringing about certain necessary results, it is quite reasonable to look for these in the case of religion. Whether they be considered natural or supernatural, ordinary or extraordinary (points which we can never determine), it will signify nothing to our present purpose, which is to shew the reasonableness of such result, without attempting to account for it philosophically; and this, we affirm, is not only what we might expect would be the fact, but what it is absolutely necessary should, were man intended to fill his sphere of action here, in a manner worthy of his nature and capacities, and gradually to be prepared for a higher state of being in another.
ON THE NATURE OF SCRIPTURAL ELECTION AND REPROBATION.
Any question involving a certain portion of abstract or metaphysical reasoning, will, upon its being generally adopted and discussed, soon become entangled with difficulties, such
as will require no ordinary degree of patience and penetration to separate the true from the false; which however would, after all, be thrown away on the multitude, who can never be expected to be good metaphysicians. But, upon granting even this almost impossibility to take place, it may still be affirmed, that religious truths recommended on grounds no better, must be quite inadequate to secure the ends for which they had been given; because the human mind, however gifted in many respects, is still far from infallible, especially in cases where neither real knowledge of all the circumstances, nor experience sufficient to correct the errors of observation, is attainable. If, then, the doctrines above mentioned had been proposed on grounds of this sort, it may be asked, To what discordant and irreconcilable conclusions must not men have come ? — conclusions repugnant perhaps to the well-being of society, and consequently unsuitable to the ends for which religion had itself been given. On the character and operations of the human mind, a subject with which we are indeed conversant, and one proper enough for human investigation, What shadowy, groundless, and deceptive theories, it may be asked, have not been proposed? What then are we to expect either sound or satisfactory in the results arrived at, when we presume to make those of the Deity (matters totally removed from the reach of human observation) the subject of our researches ?* Can any thing less discordant than discord itself here be hoped for? — Any thing less convincing than the wildest dreams of the wildest enthusiast; or the more amusing, though equally groundless fictions, of the novelist or the poet?
* In a work lately published, entitled “ Mahometanism Unveiled," evincing very great ingenuity, research, and piety, we have a remarkable instance of an appeal to one of the properties of the Divine mind, namely a particular Providence, in order to account for the origin, progress, and continuance of Mahommedanism; and, as this is followed by an endeavour to give a new interpretation to certain passages of Scripture, I may be excused if I notice the principle just adverted to here, and that of interpretation brought in to its aid, in a subsequent place. Mr. Forster is of opinion that no satisfactory reason has yet been assigned for the phenomenon just mentioned : he proposes, therefore, to settle this question by appealing at once to a special and superintending Providence. « The coming,” says he, “ of Mahomet at such a point of time, is a problem that can yield to no process of solution, which can shut out the idea of a special and superintending Providence.” (Introd. p. 63.) This may at first sight appear startling, because it may be made to inculcate the doctrine, that God is the author of evil. Mr. Forster, however, does not intend this; for at pages 74, 163, of the first volume of this work, he speaks of Providence in its permissive character only. He ought not, therefore, to be charged
It may be true, however, that these doctrines are proposed in our Scriptures on no such grounds, but that they stand on foundations totally different, much more easy to be understood, and more suitable to the purposes of human life: and, if this be the fact, to discuss them on these principles, or to object to them on their account, may in every case lead to mistake and error, and render them just as inapplicable to the purposes of promoting real piety, as the conclusions thus arrived at may be distant from the truth. For my own part, I believe this to be the case: my reasons will presently appear. To begin with the first.
any wilful intention of making God the author of evil. I cannot help thinking nevertheless, that he has unwarily involved himself in a most perplexing question. In the places just pointed out, he speaks, for instance, of Providence as permissive only; but in his argument from prophecy he makes it predictive; he represents it there as deliberately unfolding a plan, in which all the good and all the evil which have hitherto attended the true church are comprehended and palpably linked together; all the evils to be found either in Judaism, Christianity, or Mohammedanism, unconditionally provided for, fixed, and determined. Now, an ordinary reader may ask, To which of these views of Providence he ought to adhere,--to the permissive, or to the preordaining? because he may with truth affirm, that they are not only essentially different, but such as to involve in their application consequences the most irreconcilable possible. If Mr. Forster reply, the permissive, then will the grand principle upon which his work rests instantly disappear; but, if he answer, the preordaining, then we have fatalism with all its horrors; unless indeed he limit his principle to these events only; and in this case, God is at once made the author of all the evils which they involve. Mr. Forster appears to me to have had recourse to both these views on different occasions. In endeavouring to establish his theory, he recurs universally to the preordaining; but in defending it, to the permissive, as in his Vindication (pp. 30, 31). In the same work, p. 39, he makes a providential co-operation produce the Mahometan apostasy, just as the evil spirits of old were said to put lies in the mouths of certain prophets, 1 Kings, xxii. 19—23. But here I think Mr. Forster has mistaken bis context. It should be borne in mind, in the first place, that the language is here symbolical, as far as to the end of the 22d verse, (see Diss. ii. $ 1). It is not, therefore, at all necessary to suppose, that God actually commissioned any such spirits, but only had allowed these prophets to be deceived, or, as it is stated in plain terms in the 23d, that the Lord had made or pronounced these prophets liars; because, as it is added, the Lord had spoken evil, or determined that calamity should fall on this impious king. No precise doctrines, I will maintain, relating either to the hierarchy of heaven, or to the instruments of Satan, can be extracted from passages like this: they are merely a sort of highly figurative parable, which no one can argue ought to be pressed into such a service. In the next page (Vind. p. 40), St. Paul is also cited as affording a similar instance.
In that part of our Scripture which is termed the Old Testament, we never hear of election (which implies a preference given to some person or persons before others), until the family of Abraham had received a special call to dedicate themselves to the worship of the true God. Before this time, there seems to have been no other preference shewn than that which rose out of faith, exemplified in the practice
“God,” it is said, “ shall send them strong delusion, that they should believe a lie.” 2 Thess. ii. 11. Here I think Mr. Forster has been less felicitous than before. This verse begins with, “ And for this cause," plainly shewing that some previous reason existed for this proceeding; and this reason we have in the preceding verse: it is, “ Because they received not the love of the truth, that they might be saved.” For this commission, therefore, or rather permission (for this the term used occasionally signifies : compare Mark, v. 12, 13, with Luke, viii. 32, i. e. Tiutw with sritesTw), we have a good reason assigned ; and may therefore conclude, that nothing absolute or unconditional could have been intended by St. Paul. We have not, then, in any one of these instances, an example of God's absolute preordination of moral evil ; but, on the contrary, an exertion for the purpose of resisting evil. Another, and, as it appears to me fatal, objection to the doctrine of Divine Providence taken as a principle of scriptural interpretation is, that it is of too indefinite a character, or, rather, is too far removed from our powers to comprehend, to warrant any expectation of just and satisfactory conclusions generally. Take, for example, the commandment, “ Thou shalt do no murder.” This, in its verbal character, is easy, clear, and binding. If however we introduce the doctrine of a special Divine Providence, and proceed to interpret by facts, as Mr. Forster would in other cases have us, then it may be answered : But murders are frequently committed ; and, as Providence must not here be shut out, it will follow, that no one has resisted his will; and also that the provisions of the Almighty are actually opposed to his positive commands! To the pious Christian looking up to Providence for a happy result in all cases, there can be no objection; it is part of the work of faith, and therefore his duty: but, that he should take this as a metaphysical principle, and thence attempt to account for all the phenomena in the world, seems one of the strangest perversions of the office of human reason that has ever come to my knowledge. As a general principle of scriptural interpretation, therefore, the doctrine of a special Providence can by no means be admitted; to employ it in this particular case only will involve a petitio principii, or, what is the same thing, will be to argue in a circle; while particular Providence may safely be appealed to on the question, that all things shall finally work together for the good of the believer.