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CHAPTER XII.

DESIGNS AND PERMISSIONS.

“For either thy command or thy permission

Lay hands on all: they are thy right and left:
The first puts on with speed and expedition ;

The other curbes sinnes stealing pace and theft.

“Nothing escapes them both: all must appeare,

And be dispos’d, and dress’d, and tun'd by thee,
Who sweetly temper’st all. If we could heare

Thy skill and art, what musick would it be!Herbert.

ONE of the most important distinctions to be made in the subject of the Divine Providence, is that relating to what is designed and what is only permitted. Sometimes this distinction is summarily ignored by those who profess to view most deeply the ways of the Infinite; and where it is acknowledged, it is frequently the least apprehended, for it is not easily seen how any thing can be permitted by the Divine Being, which is not so involved in the councils of eternity and the foreseen course of events, as to amount to a thorough willingness that it should so transpire. And if a thorough willingness, why not a design ? why not an equal reconciliation to it in the Divine Mind? Does it not, in fact, amount to a division and conflict in the Deity, if some things are only permitted, which, on the whole, He would rather not have exist ?

These are certainly very serious questions. They strike at the foundation of the Divine Nature, and bring us again in direct contact with the “vexed question” of the sovereignty of God and the freedom of man. Let us inquire, then, into the precise nature of a divine permission. What is meant by it?

Is it to be understood that God permits simply because He is obliged to, or compelled to, - that is to say, because of any necessity in the Divine Nature by which He cannot prevent what is thus permitted? Or, is it to be understood that He has full

power to prevent, but will not, because the freedom of the creature must not be violated ? We answer, if the former only is understood, the term permission loses its significancy. It is not permission, but compulsion, or impulsion impossible to be withstood, which in effect amounts to the same thing. And however much the element of Necessity must be admitted into the Divine Nature, it cannot so be admitted as to deny the power of choice. As before said, it is the necessity of freedom and the freedom of necessity. Or, it is infinite will, acting according to infinite wisdom, which is its law. And although it may be said that God in a certain sense cannot prevent what is permitted, yet it is only in the sense that He has first chosen to make man free, because his greatest good is only consistent with that freedom. After such a choice, (the terms before and after, when applied to the Divinity, being only used in an accommodated sense, adapted to man's finite conception of eternity,) then it can no longer be said that God can prevent any thing that transpires. He could prevent it, if from eternity He had determined upon another plan or system of Divine Government: that is to say, He could have prevented it if in the first place He had chosen a system into which it could not enter; but having freely chosen this one, or this having of necessity existed in the Infinite Wisdom from eternity, then there is no possibility, or even power, on the part of God, to prevent the most grievous evil that is suffered to exist. Man might prevent it, if he would, but God cannot. Why? Simply because the system chosen is the best possible that can be, and as man would sin, it was best that he should be allowed to. God permits evil because man wills it, not because He wills it. He permits for the sake of the end, which is salvation. And the evils permitted cannot be prevented without violence offered to

that freedom which must be preserved at all events: for as before said, man's freedom to choose good involves an equal freedom to choose evil, that he may choose the one by rejecting the other. And it is this one thing—the freedom of the human will, that the Lord guards as the apple of the eye; it is watched on all sides, in the spiritual and natural worlds, and attended to by angels placed over man for the purpose, to remove any preponderance of evil, or any influence which may exist to destroy or infringe upon that freedom, by destroying the equilibrium in which it consists. God therefore permits many things which are not in themselves good, for the simple reason that they are the best that can be under the present system, and the present system is best. And when it is considered that all these evils are overruled for good, and end in good, of some kind or other, we have not the least possible reason to object to the established order.

There is a very vicious mode of reasoning which is sometimes indulged in, by which it is supposed that the Divine Being has power to prevent certain evils, by the employment of extraordinary means, influencing man so powerfully in his spirit as that he must and shall freely desist from them. It is a kind of reasoning all the more specious and imposing, and readily adopted, because of the undoubted and appreciable existence of those very powers which it is supposed might be employed in such a work. For instance, it were very easy for the Divine Ruler to command his angels, or any company of spirits in the spiritual world, to flow into man on earth, and take possession of his affections, thoughts, and inclinations, and control his reason, in such a manner as to cause him to pause in his evil career, and forego the mischief which he was bent upon performing. No doubt that almost any one could be so arrested, as some have been, and thus the evil be prevented, which in so many cases is not, but freely permitted. But where evils are not prevented in this way, it is only because, all things considered, it is best that they should not be, and there

fore they cannot be. The Power is at one with the Goodness. It cannot be separate. Divine Power, in fact, is nothing but Goodness, in actuation. And as the Divine Being has seen and comprehended from eternity every possible combination of existence, and so established irrevocably the present order, embracing each individual case in all its particulars, such suppositions as the above mentioned are not admissible. God could not so come to man. He could with mere Power, if He were not so good as He is, but as He is He cannot. It would not be consistent with the creature's highest freedom, or his best good, or the pre-established order and wisdom of the Infinite. Where it can be done, it is done — done gently and imperceptibly. Sometimes, in cases admissible, it is done more manifestly. But in general, no such extraordinary means can be employed. The virtue that might be made to appear by such instrumentality, or the evil that might be desisted from, would not so exist when the unnatural force was withdrawn. A continual strain must be kept up by the unseen agencies in order to preserve it, which in the end, instead of permanently reforming or regenerating man, would destroy him. His freedom would be overborne and crushed out of him, and he reduced to an unhappy and inane creature, tending to nothing. Therefore, the evil that is permitted could not be prevented. It is contrary to the Divine Goodness, and thus to the Power. And therefore God's permissions, though different from his designs, are still in the most perfect harmony with them so far as the end is concerned, but the evil of man cannot be said in any way to accord with the design of God. not embraced in his plan of existence. It was only foreseen as a necessity which would grow from the freedom of the creature. We object, therefore, to the phraseology -“Will of design and will of permission.” God only wills the good, and permits the evil. He is willing that evil should exist, but for the end only — not for itself. If there appear, therefore, to be two wills in the Divine Being, his will of design and his

It was

will of permission, in reality it is not so.

There is but one will, and that is the will of good. Still He has the most perfect control over the evil, and in the end will not allow it to defeat his purposes at all. It is only in this sense that I can understand the passage

“ And all the inhabitants of the earth are reputed as nothing: and He doeth according to His will in the army of heaven, and among the inhabitants of the earth; and none can stay his hand, or say unto Him what doest thou ?” (Dan. 4:35). He causeth “ the wrath of man to praise Him, and the remainder of the wrath will He restrain.” That is to say, there are bounds and limits set to the perverse power of man, and to all evil angels. “ Thus far shalt thou go, and no farther, and here shall thy proud waves be stayed.” It is seen from eternity that man can only go a certain distance in his evil career; and this is permitted him in regard to his freedom. But he has not power to overthrow the Divine Government, in one single iota of its being, here or hereafter.

We have thus far only spoken of those evils which are of a moral or spiritual nature. We need not enlarge, in this general department of the subject, upon other evils of a physical nature. The disorders which are usually recognized as natural evils are capable indeed of a presentation from a spiritual point of view. This, in fact, is the true point of view from which to look most profoundly at any thing. We can make no progress in the just comprehension of the various disorders which afflict our earthly dwelling-place, without an interior and spiritual standpoint. All external confusion is to be viewed as an effect and outbirth from an interior cause. The internal always gets out of order first. It does not always appear so, in many superficial and physical aspects, but trace it back to its cause, and it will be found to be in the spiritual nature. Inasmuch as the whole material world is an outbirth from the spiritual, in creation and in historic procedure, so it is that no confusion or outbreak can exist in the material which has not somewhere a connection with spiritual causes

which has not,

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