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was grieved at this compassion and long-suffering—he probably considered it (as the defenders of absolute predestination sometimes seem to think of every supposition which implies any change in the Divine decrees or dispensations,) as falsifying the truth of prophecy, and implying a changeableness in the counsels of God, unsuitable to the glory of the Divine Name, or the reputation of his prophet. But he is made to feel for the sufferings of others by undergoing suffering in his own person ; and then silenced by the remarkable declaration; “ Doest thou well to be angry (at that slight suffering), and should not I spare Nineveh, that great city, wherein are more than six-score thousand persons, that cannot discern between their right hand and their left, and also much cattle ?”* Now, let me ask, can we, after such a declaration as this, believe that God could ever issue unconditional decrees, condemning countless millions of the human race, “ before they could discern their right hand from their left," even before their existence itself, to sink into irretrievable guilt and endless, misery, without vouchsafing them a day of grace, or any opportunity of working out their salvation ? Oh, no, let us rather believe with the prophet, “ that he is a gracious God, and merciful, slow to anger, and of great kindness, and repenteth him of the evil,”+ whenever his sinful creatures will use the free will they enjoy, and the gracious aid he proffers, that they may “forsake their evil way, and turn them to their God.” And if we thus magnify his long-suffering mercy on the one side, let us not disparage his justice on the other. Let us not believe, that any are elected to heaven, who do not, by repenting of their sins, humbling themselves before their God, and endeavouring to improve the talents committed to their charge, especially the aid of the Holy Spirit freely offered them, “give diligence to make their calling and election sure.”
* Jonah, iv. 9-11.
† Jonah, iv. 2.
THE CONDITIONALITY OF THE DIVINE DISPENSATIONS
LUKE, XIII. 34, 35. 60 Jerusalem, Jerusalem, which killest the prophets, and stonest them that are sent unto thee: how
often would I have gathered thy children together, as a hen doth gather her brood under her wings, and ye would not ! Behold your house is left unto you desolate: and verily I say unto you, ye shall not see me, until the time come when ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord.”
Exactly corresponding to this declaration of our divine Lord, is that of the great Jehovah to his chosen people, delivered by the inspired psalmist, recalling to their recollection the Divine mercies, with their disobedience, and all its fatal consequences ; “I am the Lord thy God, which brought thee out of the land of Egypt; open thy mouth wide, and I will fill it. But my people would not hearken to my voice, and Israel would none of me; so I gave them up unto their own hearts' lusts, and they walked in their own counsels. Oh, that my people had hearkened unto me, and Israel had walked in my ways ! I should soon have subdued their enemies, and turned my hand against their adversaries; the haters of the Lord should have submitted themselves unto him, but their time should have endured for ever.”*.
I have selected and combined these two remarkable passages, as illustrating and proving the conditional character of the Divine promises and dispensations. In both, it is most distinctly declared, that the conduct of the Jewish people, through every period of their history, was the effect, not of any previous decrees, determining the course of their actions by an unalterable predestination, but of their own free choice yielding to their own criminal desires, wilfully disregarding the commands, and
* Ps. lxxxi. 10.
obstinately abusing the long-suffering mercy of their God; until, in conformity to the laws of his moral government, the influence of his assisting grace was finally withdrawn, and these pertinacious offenders were abandoned to the sufferings and punishments they merited, and to which their own voluntary crimes alone exposed them.
Still further, these declarations state, (what is, if possible, more strongly repugnant to every idea of absolute predestination,) they state, that at every period of their history it was in the power of the chosen people to have acted a part directly opposite to that which they so criminally and obstinately chose ; and that if they had chosen thus to act, the Divine conduct towards them would have been directly opposite to that which in fact took place; and this in the most leading and important steps of the Divine economy. Israel might have hearkened to the voice of her God, and walked in his ways; and if she had, God would have subdued her enemies ; and instead of withdrawing his protection, and punishing them by the defeat and final ruin of their nation,-their “ time would have endured for ever.”
Thus also our divine Lord declares most distinctly, that the last and greatest consummation of national guilt on the part of the Jewish people, even the rejection of the Messiah, and all the miseries which followed, was not so fore-ordained as to have been inevitable, but that his appearance among them was a day of trial and visitation, which they might have improved to secure their national prosperity and their individual salvation. And their criminal abuse of this trial to their destruction, is by our merciful Lord deplored, with all that sorrow which patriotism and mercy could inspire; for on his triumphant entrance into Jerusalem, when the multitude of his disciples began to “rejoice, and praise God with a loud voice, for all the mighty works which they had seen, saying, Blessed be the king that cometh in the name of the Lord, peace in heaven and glory in the highest ;"* and when the perverseness and pride, the envy and malignity of the Pharisees, indignant at this acknowledgment, called on him to rebuke his disciples, our Lord knowing that
* Luke, xix. 37, to the end.
the same spirit prevailed in the mass of the people, and would terminate in their guilt and their destruction, beheld the city, and wept over it, saying, If thou hadst known, even thou, at least in this thy day, the things which belong unto thy peace! but now they are hid from thine eyes. For the day shall come upon thee, that thine enemies shall cast a trench about thee, and compass thee round, and keep thee in on every side, and shall lay thee even with the ground, and thy children within thee; and they shall not leave in thee one stone upon another.”
Let us pause, and ask, why was this dreadful sentence pronounced, why was this extreme punishment inflicted : our divine Lord answers, “because thou knewest not the time of thy visitation.” Now, would not this language have been unmeaning and unintelligible, if the conduct of the Jews had been so foreordained as to have been inevitable—if the Divine decrees, in consequence of which this conduct of the Jews took place, and this punishment was inflicted, had been unconditional and unalterable-if it was, in fact, from all eternity determined, that they should not know “ the day of their visitation ?” Surely it must be admitted, that our divine Lord clearly ascribes, not to any unalterable predestination, but to their voluntary and obstinate disobedience, all the miseries of his unhappy countrymen. He ascribes them to that irreclaimable malignity, “which killed the prophets, and stoned those who were sent unto them;" he testifies his persevering anxiety to reclaim, his perpetual readiness to forgive, to protect, to cherish them; he would have gathered them as a hen doth gather her chickens under her wings, but they would not. Their own uncontrolled choice was the source of their disobedience, and their consequent misery. And it is clearly implied, that it had been within the power of the Jewish people, not to kill the prophets, but to hearken to them : not to reject, but to receive their expected Messiah ; and that if they had acted thus, Jerusalem would not have suffered such deplorable miseries and ruin: that the Divine arrangements would have been conducted in a different manner, and exhibited a different result from that which did in fact take place.
Finally—all these declarations repel every idea, that because the voluntary crimes of men appear ultimately to lead to effects, which manifest most signally the mercy, the wisdom, the all
directing providence of the supreme Moral Governor, they are therefore fore-chosen or predestined by God, or in any possible sense the objects of divine choice, or preference, or complacency. They repel most absolutely that idea so rashly conceived, “ that every sin we commit has in it something of the good work of God.”* They distinctly state that moral evil is the result, not in any degree of divine predestination or preference, but solely and exclusively of the abuse of those powers of free choice and uncontrolled action, which moral agents enjoy, and of which if they were deprived, they would cease to be the objects of moral government. These declarations in Scripture prove, that natural evil is introduced in consequence of moral evil, either to restrain, to reform, or to punish it; while the whole series of events is directed by the unspeakable wisdom and mercy of God, to produce ultimately the greatest attainable improvement and happiness of the entire moral creation, and to illustrate in the most signal manner, the perfection of the divine attributes, and the supremacy of the divine government.
It may be necessary further to remark, that these declarations of the inspired psalmist, and of our blessed Lord, not only embrace the entire progress of the divine economy, from the settlement of the chosen people in the promised land, to the rejection of the Messiah by that guilty and therefore unhappy race, but extend to the close of all the divine dispensations in this inferior world, and therefore prove, that the same conditional character, which belonged to them previous to the appearance and rejection of the Messiah, by the house of Israel, was still to continue during the ages which were to succeed that event, and which were to lead to the establishment of his kingdom over the nations of the earth, including the Jew and the Gentile, in one fold, under one Shepherd. The house of Israel was to be “ left desolate,” because they would not receive their Redeemer, and it was to continue desolate, until they should choose to acknowledge him, with a choice as free as that by which they had rejected him, “until the time come when ye shall say, Blessed is he that cometh in the name of the Lord.” And, surely, it cannot be doubted, that as the cry of “crucify
Vide supra, Introduction, p. 172.