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done what is most for his own glory, nor what was wisest and best to do; we must inevitably give up the absolute perfec. tion of the divine nature, which will overturn all religion by the roots.
To say, “ that secret things belong to God, and we ought not to think of this part of the divine conduct; nor is it our duty to believe it to be wise, or to acquiesce in it, as such ;" will not satisfy a pious judicious mind. Indeed, were it a secret thing, and had we no evidence of the fact, it might justly put an end to all our inquiries. But God's permitting sin is in truth no secret thing. It is revealed, it is as open and manifest as that God made and governs the world. It is often, very often, held up to our view in the holy Scriptures, by God himself, on purpose that we might think of it. And it is acknowledged on all hands, that it is our duty to search the scriptures, and take special notice of what we find written there, and meditate on every part of divine conduct therein held forth to our view ; since the whole is calculated and designed for our instruction. 2 Tim. iii. 16. And as it is an acknowledged fact, that God has permitted sin in millions of instances, from the beginning of the world to this day, and will continue to do so through eternal ages ; so there is no avoiding a view of his conduct, but by the greatest stupidity, or shutting our eyes in the most obstinate manner. Nay, this will not do it; we cannot but think of it soinetimes in this world, and shall for ever think of it in the world to come.
And we must approve or disapprove; for it is so interesting an affair, that we cannot stand neuter. If we disapprove pow, and for ever, we cannot acquiesce in God's ways in this world, nor join the heavenly bosts at the day of judgment, in saying, Amen Hallelujah. And God, of necessity, must look upon us as enemies to him and mal-contents in his kingdom, and treat us accordingly. It is therefore of the last importance that we approve. But if God's conduct is not wise, it is not our duty to approve of it. Rather we ought to be sorry, and lament that God has done as he has. Which would suppose him to be to blame. And wbich would imply that he is not an absolutely perfect being. And if so, he is not God. And if there is no God, all religion is overthrown. Therefore we must believe the divine conduct to be wise. But how shall this belief be obtained ? Firstly and chiefly, by, an implicit Faith in the absolute perfection of the dwine nature. Which, Secondly, may be strengthened, by a view of the wisdom of such parts of the divine conduct as we can more fully comprehend. Which, Thirdly, may be still more confirmed by right views of the true nature of God's universal plan. All these I have endeavoured to lead my readers to attend to, in my sermons on the wisdom of God in the permission of sin.
And had the author of the Attempt carefully attended the subject, as I had stated it, and entered thoroughly into my reasonings, I should naturally have been led to review the whole, and to retract or confirm, as light and truth appeared. But this he has not done; but rather, to use his own words, according to his professed design, he has exerted himself to the utmost to set out the doctrine, " if possible, in all its horror and deformity.” (p. 8.) So that what I have to do, is to take off this ill dress, and array it in its native beauty ; that the divine conduct in the permission of sin may not be blasphemed by ignorant and wicked men through his means; and the moral rectitude of the divine nature given up, to the subversion of all religion. Nor shall any thing in his piece that needs an answer, pass unconsidered.
Several particulars, wherein the author of the SERMONS on
the Wisdom of God in the permission of Sin, and the author of the Attempt, are agreed.
We should always exactly state the point in controversy before we begin to dispute. Wherefore let us see how far this author agrees with us ; that the point of difference may be made to stand out in clear view. And,
1. We agree, that sin is in the world, and that dreadful have been the consequences for above 5000 years. And it is likely to issue in the eternal ruin of great multitudes of God's creatures.
2. We agree, that sin is the very worst of evils in its own pature, and it naturally tends to evil, and only to evil ; to dishonour God, and ruin the system.
3. We agree, that the eternal ruin of such great multitudes of God's creatures, considered in itself, is an infinitely dreadful thing.
4. We agree, that all the sin and misery, that has, or ever will take place in the system through eternal ages, (how infinitely dreadful soever the whole must appear 'to one who has a perfect comprehensive view of it all at once,) even the whole lay open, full, and plain to the divine view, before God created the world. And that'he had as full, perfect, and lively an apprehension of it, before he began to create, as he ever will have to eternal ages.
5. We agree, that, if God had pleased, he could have hindered the existence of sin, and caused misery to have been for ever unknown in his dominions, with as much ease, as to have suffered things to take their present course.
6. We agree, that God knew with infallible certainty, that things would take their present course, and issue as they will issue, in the eternal ruin of millions, unless he himself should interpose, and effectually binder it.
7. We agree, that God did, as it were, stand by, and take a perfect view of the whole cbain of events, in which his honour and the good of his creation was infinitely interested : and in a full view, and under a most lively sense of the whole, did deliberately forbear to interpose effectually to hinder the introduction of sin into his world, when he could have hindered it, as easily as not.
8. We agree, that angels and men were under the grealest obligations to love and obey God, and were left to their own free choice : and that God was not obliged, in point of justice, to do any more for them than he did. And that the whole blame lies at the creature's door : and that God is rightcous in punishing his sinning creatures, according to the declarations of his word. All these particulars I had asserted. None of them has he denied. Nor does it appear that we differ in any of these things.
The grand point in controversy exactly stated.
THE grand point of difference is precisely this :“ I believe that the infinitely holy and wise God, in every part of his conduct, relative to the intellectual system, does that which is really wisest and best for him to do; most for his glory and the good of the system, in the whole; and therefore, that God's present plan is, of all possible plans, the best ; most for his glory, and the good of the system.” On the contrary, the author of the Attempt believes, that “God is not obliged to do, and that in fact he does not do, that which is most for his own glory, or most for the good of the system ; and is fully persuaded that the present plan is so far from being the best, that it had been infinitely more for the glory of God, and the good of the system, if sin had never happened.”
In the sermons he objects against (p. 95, 96.) It had been said, that “from the perfections of the divine nature alone, we have such full evidence, that he must always act in the wisest and best manner, as that we ought not in the least to doubt it. Before the foundation of the world, this system now in existence, and all other possible systems, equally lay open to the divine view, and one as easy to the almighty as another. He had his choice; he had none to please but himself, Besides him there was no Being : be had a perfectly good taste, and nothing to bias his judgment, and was infinite in wisdom, This he chose: and this, of all possible systems, therefore was the best, infinite wisdom and perfect rectitude being judges."
But the author of the Attempt esteems this reasoning quite inconclusive, as it proceeds on a false hypothesis. “A fallacy,” he says, to suppose that God “must necessarily always will and do that which is most for his own glory." A point he does not believe, “ that in fact he always does," or that “ be is obliged to do it.” He thinks it plain in the works of creation, that God has not done what would have been most for his own glory, and that he might have done much better. Which emboldens him to argue, that in the works of providence, he did not mean to do his best. (p. 12, 13.) And he attempts to prove at large by 9 arguments, that it had been much better, in the whole, more for God's glory and the general good of the system, if sin and misery had been for ever unknown. (p. 20-24.) And if it had been better for God to have hindered sin, it was not wise in God to permit it.
So that this is the fundamental and most essential point of difference, and that on which the whole controversy, between hi a and ine, turns, viz, Whether the whole, and every part of the divine conduct, be agreeable to infinite wisdom. Or, in other words, whetker God means in the whole, and every part of his conduct, to do that which he knows to be for the best, most for his glory, and the good of the system on the whole. For we both agree, that God always knows what is for the best, and never acts under mistake. So that the only question really is, whether God always means to do, what he knows to be for the best on the whole? For if he does, the grand point is proved. The wisdom of God in the permission of sin is demonstrated. And it is in vain to raise objections against that which infinite wisdom knows to be best. It is proud and arrogant, it is impious and blasphemous, for a worm of the dust to dispute against bis Maker. Isai. xlv. 9. Rom. ix. 20.
God, who is a Being of infinite wisdom and perfect rectitude,
always conducts agreeably to his own most glorious perfections ; that is, in the most wise, holy, and perfect munner.Particularly in this case.
We are agreed, that this affair of the permission of sin was an infinitely important affair. And, indeed, considering it in all its consequences, there, perbaps, never was a more important affair that God ever had to decide. It involved in it the welfare of the angelic world, and the welfare of the whole human race; the honour of God was infinitely concerned in the affair ; yea, the very life of God's own Son did, as it were,