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of an absolute and particular predestination and election; and, in another, to that of the liberty of the human will, grounded nevertheless on the same metaphysical principles.* It is not my intention here to enter on any general discussion of these doctrines, or to shew in what difficulties each party has, nevertheless, found itself still involved ; because some of these topics will be noticed hereafter. + We shall now only remark, that it is exceedingly to be regretted, that recourse has ever been had to such expedients; particularly when we very well know, that all we can possibly discover on subjects of this sort, can never be worth the labour of inquiry to be bestowed upon them; and that they may finally leave us, like the wisest king of Israel, to exclaim, “ Vanity of vanities : all is vanity.”
But this is not all the evil we may here fairly calculate upon : in addition to difficulties no less formidable than those which our several systems were intended to provide for, we shall now have to contend with the consequences of being wise above that which is written, manifested in divisions, in the endless rancour of party spirit and feeling, in the unity of the spirit being broken; and, in many cases, we shall find not so much as one remaining vestige of the once glorious appendage of the Church, the bond of peace.
How far these things may have been experienced among ourselves, it is not my business now to determine ; that they have been experienced, and that to a considerable extent, is too obvious to require proof. It is enough for me to have pointed out the principles from which they have originated; we now hasten, therefore, to other matter.
* So the followers of John Calvin tell us, that as the Deity is omniscient and omnipotent, nothing can be matter of contingency; and, consequently, all things must have been predestinated, and are, therefore, uncontrollable. On the other hand, James Arminius with his followers will say : Yes, it is even so : but then the Deity foresaw who would be willing and obedient, and provided accordingly. I will only say : It is a great pity that philosophers have not had philosophy enough to see, that all this is the result of ignorance.
+ See Diss. I. Sect. viii. of the following sheets.
Our Scriptures, then, in informing us respecting the character of the Deity, proceed on grounds the most obvious, easy, unembarrassing, and practical possible; and these, it is clear, are those only which are suited to bring about the salutary ends they have in view.
Let us now proceed to consider in what way they speak of man; and, if it shall
appear that the method here pursued is equally intelligible and efficient, we shall have it in our power to conclude, that they are indeed, what they profess to be, well calculated to make wise the simple.
In the first place, then, our Revelation, here, as in the case we have been considering, enters into no erudite, profound, or subtle, disquisitions on the properties of the mind, on the liberty of the will, the origin, nature, progress of thought, or of volition ; nor does it indulge us with any accounts, as to how its operations fall in or not with those of the Divine appointments, how it is itself constituted, where exclusively situated, or how it acts upon the body in the exercise of its several functions. On subjects of this sort, we have not so much as one word either directly or indirectly; it is simply taken for granted, just as it is in the management of our worldly affairs, that instruction, effort, industry, control, encouragement, and chastisement, are necessary; and on these grounds (which experience, indeed, has shewn to be effectual, if not the only ones likely to prove useful to society in general,) all their instructions are applied, urged, and carried on. We will not now stop to inquire Whether
more effectual than these might not have been employed, or Whether a more scientific method of proceeding might or might not have been instituted, promising more in theory, at least, whatever might have been its results in practice : We will merely remark, that, constituted as we are, without any apparent limits assigned to our powers for mental and moral improvement,-without any measure being prescribed as to where the desire for truth, virtue, holiness, and happiness, may cease to operate; or, how much sin, disobedience, vanity, or vice, may be indulged in without endangering the soul (all of which could not but have been ruinous both to individuals and society,)—it will be difficult, if not impossible, to devise any thing at once so wise, efficient, and good, as the requirements of our Scriptures here are. The veil thrown over these questions is surely one of the greatest marks of wisdom and of mercy, with which the Creator of the universe could bless his rational creatures; because, while his word now calls for all the virtuous exertion of man, condemns the approach to every vice, and proscribes every sinner, however trifling his offences may seem ; mercy still forbids the greatest delinquent either to despair or to despond, and grace lays open a means, whereby not only pardon for the past, but strength for the future, shall be abundantly provided.
Under this system men are esteemed, what perhaps they may not exactly be in fact, either just or unjust, the children of God or of Belial, not exactly with reference to the quantity of moral good or evil which they may have done, or be capable of doing, but purely with regard to the obedience tendered to their heavenly Father and King. All is here (without instituting any inquiry about the moral tendency of this or that disposition) referred at once to the measure of obedience demanded in the word of God; and, in conformity with this principle, the man is pronounced to be either in a state of justification or of condemnation in the estimation of his God; because, we are told,“ obedience is better than sacrifice.” The question is not, whether the shades of character may not be very various and different, and have very different effects on society in general. Certain moral properties may, it is not denied, be, in some sense, good and valuable (and these, let it be remembered, seldom fail to find their reward). The question at issue purely is, (not, let it also be remembered, for the purpose of lowering moral feeling, or of cramping its best exertions on society, but quite the contrary), How does man stand in the estimation of God? Whether he is like Cain, actuated by his own pride and self-sufficiency, bringing, it may be, a valuable offering to the altar, but forgetting that the only incense which can make it acceptable must arise out of a subdued and humble heart, and consist of the aspirations of faith, meekness, and contrition? Whether the merits of the Redeemer held and appreciated by faith do, as in the service of Abel, afford the sweet-smelling savour which alone can insure acceptance ; and the holy influences of His Spirit prepare and sanctify the heart of the obedient offerer? And is this too much for the God of nature and of grace to require ? Can any thing short of obedience such as this constitute a religious service, when in the concerns of life every thing else is, in the eyes of a superior, justly believed to be rebellious ? Whatever therefore may be said on this subject, in other respects, obedience constant and sincere, must at least be called for in true religion ; every other offering, however valuable it may be in itself, cannot reasonably be deemed valuable here. How such a service will assuredly be met on the part of God, will be matter for future consideration. We may, therefore, now conclude on this subject, that the law of the Lord is perfect, and that it is such truly as to make wise the simple.
We shall now only remark in conclusion: If the Scriptures are thus direct, plain, and practical ; if their rich and eternal provisions of grace, mercy, and peace, are thus obvious, heart-searching, simple, and efficient; where, let it be asked, is the teacher or the hearer who can be said to have drunk sufficiently deep of their pure and refreshing streams ? and where the Church, the Family, or the Individual, who has not, in some degree or other, had recourse to those turbid and agitated waters, which, driven by storms and tempests without, and presenting nothing better than corruption within, cast up hourly to the view and for the sustenance, nothing but mire and dirt ? Is it not then incumbent upon us to redeem the time, seeing that the days are really evil; and to confirm that which remaineth, lest it also be taken out of the way? To rely on system, on secular wisdom, or on secular power, has from the first been the great bane of the Church of God; and, it is more than probable, that these sins, with their consequent chastisements, will never entirely forsake it. Perfection is, indeed, never to be expected; yet it may be true (and of this the Scriptures abundantly assure us), that there are placed within our reach far higher degrees of religious knowledge and experience than any generally found among men; and a far greater meetness for the inheritance of the saints in light, capable of being realised here on earth, than is either known or sought, and which could not but be, both in its exercise and effects, as advantageous to society, as it would be acceptable to Almighty God. Obedience, Simplicity, Faith, are the great qualifications called for ; without these, can never extensively profit; but with them we can never fail.