The Rev. James M’Kinney,
Let me not, I pray you, accept any man’s person, neither let me give flattering titles unto man, for I know not to give flattering titles, in so doing my Maker would soon take me away. Job, xxxii. 21, 22.
What in me is dark,
Illumine; what is low, raise and support;
That to the height of this great argument
I may affect eternal Providence,
And justify the ways of God to Men.—MILTON.
Et Quorum pars magna fui. [In which I played a great part.]—VIRGIL.
Philadelphia: Printed for the Author, at Franklin’s Head, No. 41, Chestnut-street,
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Subscribers to this work, are informed, that though, through some unforeseen circumstances, it has been found necessary to divide the first number, into two parts, or else print it on different paper, and with a different type, (which would have much spoiled the look of the book) yet they will not be affected, as the original subscription will, in like manner, be divided. To all non-subscribers the price will be one quarter dollar the half number, or one dollar and a half the whole work. This regulation has become necessary, inasmuch as it is found, that the bulk was at first contemplated.—The remainder will be published with all convenient speed.
I SHALL not attempt to introduce myself to your acquaintance by long apologies, as I look upon apologizing, at best, a threadbare cloak, so long worn, that it is good for little or nothing. I know no right any man has to obtrude himself on the public under the stale pretence of conscious defects, importunity of friends, &c. and to close up his fawning tale by deprecating public censure, confessing imperfection, and begging pardon. Two or three remarks only, shall be here offered to the candid; and as for the rest of the world, I shall, in the present affair, give myself very little trouble about them.
Early in life, I became enamoured with a love of Liberty, which has been a source of some external inconvenience to me, in my intercourse with mankind. No difficulties, however, which have attached themselves to the pursuits of rational civil liberty, have ever seemed to me sufficient to warrant a retreat from the glorious conflict, where victory has already given so many intimations to which side her affections incline.—There is, nevertheless, one very sensible drawback upon the pleasures which the present dispensations of Providence exhibit, which ought not to be concealed. Much industry has been used to persuade men, that there is something in revealed religion contrary to, and inconsistent with, the just rights of man. This is a supposition so absolutely contrary to every view I can take of the subject, that I consider myself fully justified in casting my mite into the contrary scale. Was it not for the persuasion I entertain, that christianity will purify and support the rights of man, fond as I am of Liberty, I do not believe I would give a shilling to bring about a revolution in any nation upon earth. A man who earnestly breathes after the liberties of men on earth, and at the same time more earnestly longs to be with Christ in heaven, finds himself, if he takes an active part in present movements, between two fires. The robbers of the earth, who begin to tremble at their approaching fate, brand him as a disorganizer, a friend of conclusion and bloodshed, a pestilent fellow and a mover of sedition: On the other hand, he is sure to meet with many taunts and sneers from infidel reformers, as if he was unworthy to have a hand at the building. I have had abundant opportunities of hearing both sides of the question, and can hardly say which of the two gives me the greatest disgust. Under the influence which this contest produced upon my mind, I began some time ago, to collect together a few thoughts with a view of casting what light I could upon the subject. My plan, at first, was to have traced the rights of God and man through all their various relations, so far as I was able, in a more systematic manner; and had accordingly divided the discussion into chapters and sections, according as I conceived the nature of the enquiry led the way. Upon second thoughts, however, I determined to alter my plans, and in a few sermons exhibit to public view, in the most compendious form, some of these thoughts, at least, which I judge the state of the times, most loudly demands. I may safely say, I could have wished the matter had been undertaken by some other hand, but as nothing has fallen in my way, of a recent date, wherein any attempt is made to place christianity and its friends in their proper light, in respect to civil liberty, I thought I should essay the task. As to the subject, it is, in my persuasion, of infinite importance; As to the manner of its execution, I ought not to be the first to blame it. If any person thinks he can do better, I entreat him as a friend, to undertake the business with all convenient speed. I shall consider my labour not entirely lost, should I be so happy as to provoke any friend of God and man in the Christian world, to go more deeply into the subject, as I am fully convinced it will bear the most severe examination.
I intend to follow these two discourses, as soon as possible, with four more, two upon the rights of Christ, as mediator, and two upon the rights of the Church in particular, and of humanity in general. Any persons, therefore, who may think these sermons worth their notice, will do well to keep them in a state fit for binding, with those that are remaining, as the whole are intended to compose one octavo volume of moderate size.
I have only farther to add, that justice to myself, obliges me to say, that if any motive superior to the glory of God, the salvation of his church, and happiness of his rational family, has influenced this publication, it has escaped my most vigilant enquiry. May the beauty of the Lord be on his servants; and may be established the work of their hands.
Rights of God and Man.
RENDER—UNTO GOD, THE THINGS THAT ARE GOD’S.
IN that state of debasement into which religion had sunk among the Jews at the coming of Christ, it was not to be expected that his heavenly doctrine and severe morality should escape censure from the venal and time serving priests of the day. Their character and doctrine could not endure a comparison with that humility of life and spiritual deportment which adorned the meek Jesus through the whole of his work and labour of love upon earth. They were full of jealousy as excellencies which threatened such fatal consequences to their proud pretensions, and therefore recourse to the most deceitful expedients to support their declining credit; a work much more agreeable to their malignant hearts, than to imitate his modest and lowly example, from whom, had they been the true servants of God, they had nothing to fear. The history of Christ’s life is full of narratives which contain sufficient evidence of the most rooted enmity entertained and vented by those graceless husbandmen, against the heir of the vineyard. It might have seemed strange, had men so set upon mischief, neglected the weapon of persecution, that on so many occasions had done singular execution, in times part, against those of whom the world was not worthy; but we find on examination, that the mystery of rendering the ministers of heaven obnoxious to the rulers of the earth, was perfectly under-stood by the Jewish priesthood eighteen hundred years ago: a womb this which hath brought forth much bitterness to the people of God in all their generations. The text before us draws aside the veil a little from the seed of evildoers with whom the prince of peace had to conflict in the days of his flesh. It reports part of a conversation which took place between him and some of their hypocritical spies, who were sent to entangle him in his talk. The conversation was artfully turned to a topic on which these intriguers thought they could hardly fail to find matter upon which malice might be set at work. At the coming of Christ, and for some time before it, Judæa had become a tributary province of the Roman Empire. It is no way unlikely that many of the Jews submitted to the yoke of their conquerors with great reluctance. Nor was it wonderful it should be so; their conquests were made in general, in a manner very contrary to the laws of humanity, and must have been extremely galling to persons any ways acquainted with the sweets of rational liberty. It is reasonable therefore to suppose the question, “is it lawful to give tribute unto Cæsar, or not,” was frequently discussed among this oppressed people, who, with anguish of spirit, saw themselves sold into the hands of strangers who cruelly outraged their most precious rights. Had the earth been silently bedewed with their tears because they had no comforters, whilst there was power on the side of their oppressors, their fate might have saddened the humane even at this distant period of time: but when we see them bringing forth this popular question, to the impressions of which, the sensibility of the nation was, at that time, trembling alive, as an engine of torture by which they might involve an innocent person in the fangs of cruel persecution, or popular indignation; the springs of our sympathy are dried up, and by an involuntary impulse we are forced to consign those cowardly assassins to their just condemnation. They proposed this question to our Lord with no design of obtaining clearer views of their duty, but on the contrary, that thereby they might get the object of their envy out of the road. It doubtless appeared to them a reasonable supposition, that, let Christ’s answer be what it would, it would serve their purposes essentially, in either destroying his popularity with the multitude, or else drawing down upon his devoted head the vengeance of civil authority. The snare was well laid to answer this insidious purpose. If he answered in the affirmative, that it was lawful to pay tribute to Cæsar, he met indignation from an incensed people, who could hardly fail to execrate a teacher who would attempt to aid an arm which they heartily wished to be quickly broken. And though at another time, for their own ends, they could say, “we have no king but Cæsar,” yet they secretly hated him in their heart, and earnestly wished for someone who might restore the kingdom to Israel. If, on the other hand, he should answer in the negative, “It is not lawful to pay tribute to Cæsar,” however they might inwardly approve the sentiment, they are ready to drag him to Cæsar’s judgment seat, accuse him there, and swear perhaps ten times more than ever he uttered. Here was an occasion for displaying the wisdom of the serpent, and the innocence of the dove. But the Messiah’s wisdom easily climbed the mountain top, and shone with its usual splendor. He referred the querists to that law, in which they made their boast, to determine the boundary line between the obedience and tribute due to God in heaven, and to those who claim to be his vicegerents here upon earth. This decision left them a prey to their own disappointed malice. It is much to be lamented by the genuine friends of divine revelation, that, in the hands of time serving priests, it has rather become a source of lucrative employment, than real information about the boundaries of human obedience. What renders this matter the more worthy of notice, is, that no small share of that odium has been attached to revelation itself, which ought justly to have fallen on the head of its corrupt and partial expositors. It is however, one comfort that this trade seems to be wearing fast to an end. As I think it may reasonably be supposed, that the Cæsars of the earth have long ago, got all their rights and perhaps something more, served up to them in the most courtly sauce, we intend for the present to turn to a subject equally interesting, tho’ much less minded, and that is, to enquire after “the things of God.” The propriety of this will be the more obvious when it is considered that this path not only leads to the highest point of rational obligation, but also serves to shew Cæsar, where his claims commence. A due attention therefore to this discussion, may much shorten the labour of these narrow-souled triflers, who think Cæsar never can have enough while any right of either God or man remains undevoured.
In considering the subject, I would
I. Lay down a few explanatory remarks on the text at large.
II. Enquire what are the things of God here meant.
III. Conclude the subject.
It may not be amiss, at the entrance to apprise the reader, that in this discourse it is only intended to ascertain the nature and limits of the duty enjoined; what respects subjective compliance with this injunction, is reserved for a separate discussion.
Remark 1st. The inquisitive will find it worth their pains, to examine an assertion that has frequently been imposed upon the world at large and more especially on the church with an air of much assurance, namely, that “Christianity has nothing to do with the policy of this world.” The quarter from which this opinion has most commonly issued, has led the discerning part of mankind to receive it with suspicion. Those who bask about courts and make their living by fawning on the great, have been generally the most industrious in procuring disciples to this Cæsar-exalting doctrine. But the conduct of Christ, in the instance before us, seems to call in question the discernment of these sage disclaimers. Had there been truth in the opinion, Christ might have easily got rid of the Jews’ importunity, by informing them that it did not fall within the limits of his commission to say anything good or bad about civil authority. Had this been his decision, the Church would have naturally been led to enquire into the reasons of his conduct. To have justified such a declaration, had it been made, we might have expected to have heard him assigning some such reasons as the following, “my disciples, I clearly foresee that none of you to the end of the world shall ever be civil rulers, and so need no advice about the duties of a situation to which you are never to be called. Besides I also foresee that none of you will ever live under the jurisdiction of earthly potentates and therefore have no need of advice how to deport yourselves in these situations which often become so abundantly ruffling to the men of the world.” Moreover we might have expected that Christ would have added that neither his own nor his father’s glory were anyway affected by the administration of justice and righteousness upon earth. We might also, on the same principles, have expected to hear him adding; that the bride, the lamb’s wife, never could have her chastity attempted by the kings of the earth, nor was she under any obligation to concern herself about them. And finally we might have expected that Christ would have ordered his apostles, in completing the canon of divine revelation, not to drop a syllable on the subject. How contrary this imaginary state of things is to the real one, needs not be told to any man who has sense enough to discern his right hand from the left. There is also another consideration that can hardly have escaped the attentive part of our family. It is well known that those who urge us most vehemently to believe that the citizens of Zion have nothing to do with the civil government under which they live, are the most violent to have all men damned who will dare to call in question the right and authority by which the Cæsars of the earth wave their banners and sway their sceptres. It is seemingly a little hard that men should be damned by the thousand for not submitting most humbly to a thing with which they have nothing to do. It would certainly not be too much to ask these thunderbolts of power, where they found these awful sentences by which they thus attempt to affright the trembling consciences of believers in the bible. I have no doubt but it is the bible it-self to which these panders of power will make their appeal. But if so, it is to be hoped the will have the modest consistency to give up their favourite assertion, that “religion has nothing to do with politics.” Few men, taught in the school of christianity, will be hardy enough to assert that the bible is a great chain forged in heaven and sent down to the earth to bind hand and foot the lives and liberties of the weak and deliver them into the hands of strong and ambitious usurpers. Deism itself does not cast the affront upon heaven that such an abominable insinuation most certainly would. It might be expected that the professional ambassadors of Christ would have had so much respect to their masters honour, especially in this age of enquiry, as to bring forth his character clad in the garb of impartiality. But if it be the case that he has come to our miserable world to cast the weight of his doctrine and authority into the scale of physical power and overgrown ambition, to outweigh the rights of the poor and needy, it will not be easy for us to persuade either ourselves or the world that he possessed that benevolence of character to which his followers have thought him so well entitled.
But the truth of the matter is, the proposition which we are now investigating is entirely void of foundation; nay it contains as much untruth as it is perhaps possible to press into so few words, and is evidently obtruded upon mankind to serve the cause of despotism. The church being the lamp of the world, by her the clearest light is cast upon every article of human right and obligation. It therefore becomes an object with all who riot on the spoils of humanity, to put out, if possible the eyes of such as would be most likely to detect their shameful robbery. In opposition however to such fulsome deception, it may safely be asserted that the scriptures are a complete rule to direct us what we are to believe concerning God and what duty God requires of man. All, therefore, whose intentions are fair, will be willing by this unerring standard, to ascertain the boundaries of their duty to God, their neighbours and themselves; nor can we easily believe that the claims are valid which will not bear the severest trial before this august tribunal. The conduct of our Lord, if we do not greatly misunderstand it, in the case before us fully confirms the premises. And perhaps it will be found, upon examination, that in the present eventful posture of human affairs, there is more need of attending closely to the voice of scripture in guiding them to a peaceful harbour, than at first sight may appear. Whoever has viewed with care the camp of infidelity, must have observed that it principally directs its artillery against christianity on that side where it has been rendered vulnerable by its treacherous friends. Was it stripped of the fantastic dress with which it has been arrayed to attend upon the shabby train of earthly rulers, and presented in its own celestial attire, it would probably soften the heart of its most inveterate enemies and persuade them that they had already through mistake, treated their best friend with too much rudeness.
There is nothing of which natural men are better judges than of the common rights with which humanity has been endowed by its bountiful author. When therefore they hear the nominal representatives of Jesus stand up in the face of the sun and tell the christian church that it has nothing to do with the political movements of the earth, it is not wonderful what a religion conceived to be so slavish should become the object of derision to men just escaped from the dreary dungeons of galling oppression. It is true, infidels are much to be blamed in not enquiring after christianity, where a true and infallible account of its genius may be obtained, yet so it is that few are at the pains to sit down and weigh dispassionately the oracles of heaven and thence hear with their own ears with what solemn attestations they confirm the inviolable rights of the human race. But then on the other hand it should be considered what temptations have been cast in the road of the indolent, thoughtless and profane by those, who by office were bound to be the salt of the world. Alas! this salt has long-since, in a great measure, lost its savour, and hence it is that the moral world presents at this day such a stinking smell. It is a piece perhaps of the most shameless effrontery that has ever been practiced, when the despots of the earth pretend to sob and sigh and blubber over their hypocritical face at the growth of infidelity, when their own wretched and abominable principles have been the true cause of at least nine tenths of all the evil that at present threatens the interest of Immanuel upon earth. Many are induced, and not without some apparent reason, to believe that this laying about so suddenly to the contrary tack, and attempting the vigorous defense of the christian faith, is from no heart love to its genuine principles, but from a mercenary fear of these rocks on which their time serving spirit has already nearly dashed the leaky weather beaten bark with its cowardly crew. The roaring lion of infidelity with all its yelping whelps is not so offensive to the ears of a pious honest hearted christian, as the melancholy croakings of these devouring ravens. The true friends of the bible need never be afraid of provoking its enemies to the most severe examination of its doctrine upon the head of human rights and wrongs. With this sacred treasure the church is intrusted; with it she is most essentially concerned; and it is a most sacrilegious robbery to deprive her of any portion of this precious wealth, or of the consequence it confers upon her. She is loudly called upon to assert her rights on that quarter at the present time. Perhaps she cannot render a more essential service to the general interests of religion, than disclaim all connection with the sons of slavery and their dreary train. This might do more towards procuring from modern unbelievers some patient attention to the word of God, than anything else with which they could, in their present temper of mind be rationally presented. In a crisis so violent as that which the world at present experiences, cool deliberation and dispassionate enquiry resign no small part of their functions into the hands of violent sensibilities. Alive as the public mind is to an exquisite sense of the wrongs which have been accumulating for ages, it is not to be wondered if in a paroxysm so violent it should bury in one common grave all the advocates without distinction, of an order of things under which the earth already groans being burdened and longing earnestly for redemption. Why should it be expected in an era so momentous, when God is evidently making a surprising overturning, that the livery of Christ should protect those who pretend to be his followers, while in reality they are the trusty drudges of the mammon of unrighteousness. No! the true church of Christ in justice to herself and her head is bound to disown their disgraceful connection. And the sooner this is done the better, as it probably will be a considerable step towards the spread of true religion in this lower world. Mankind neither can or ought to receive a religion that shuts them out from watching over these precious rights which they have received with their being, from God Almighty: and this must be done if it be true, that christianity and its subjects have nothing to with the politics of this world—did I find such a doctrine running through the bible, I would doubt whether the book was not an imposture; but I find no such thing, but the contrary and therefore I conclude they are not its true friends who would palm such falsehoods upon it.
Remark 2nd. This text informs us that God has rights; some things which are eminently called his. This assertion is not intended to extend to the comprehension of the whole relation in which created being at large stands connected with and dependent upon the perfections of God. It is true the right of God to all his creatures and all their powers without exception, is natural, perfect, and inalienable. But it is conceived the text here is not so much to be understood to assert the property God has in his creatures at large, as to distinguish the peculiar claims which he has upon the human family from these, which by him will and appointment, one part of the family may justly have upon another. It is clear that this family to which we belong is linked together internally by innumerable ties, not merely bound on the conscience by the immediate impression of God, but also by the intermediate agency of parents, masters, husbands, ministers of religion, or administrators of civil authority. From these connections must arise, in the social intercourses of mankind, many mutual communications of good offices and benevolent affections; nor are these workings of mutual dependence, when kept within proper boundaries, at all displeasing to God. On the contrary in his great goodness, he has cut out the regular channels in which these enriching streams are to be conducted to the most general advantage of the whole habitable world. Enlightened reason must at once perceive that such complex machinery as that which composes the aggregate mass of human interests, movements, and ends, must have a common center on which its stupendous revolutions may safely depend. This situation God has reserved for himself; from him all powers physical and moral emanate, by him they are fed, and to him they must return, as the rivers to the ocean. It seems therefore to be the honours inseparably annexed to this high station in the great system of creation, at which our text particularly points. The will of God and the dependent nature of all derived existence, mark out divinity as the common center to which their limits should be described. “Virtue is,” perhaps not improperly defined to be, “that consent, propensity and union of heart to being in general, that is, immediately exercised in a general good will.” According to this definition, the mind of man ought to survey being in all its states of respective perfection, carefully attaching suitable affections to each part according to its rank in the great and universal system. Every excellency whether physical or moral ought be estimated at its proper price. From the most inactive particle of sand that lies on the sea-washed shores, up to the highest archangel that ministers before the throne of God, there is discoverable a certain gradation of perfection or goodness which has been conferred on each distinct order to qualify it for its station in the general assembly of created existence. With all the links of this extended chain man is connected either more immediately or remotely. But this connection is absolutely limited by the will of God, which has marked out with great clearness all natural and necessary connections designed to subsist between the human family and the rank of creation; as also among the different branches of itself internally considered. No small part therefore of human virtue consists in guiding with care the exercise of our affections towards all created objects with which we are surrounded, according to these limitations which are imposed upon us by the Lord of all. The sphere of this duty is considerably enlarged by the deranged circumstances into which human nature has been brought by its fatal apostasy from God the only completely satisfactory good of an intelligent creature. Hereby innumerable wants have been created to which his nature would have been otherwise, an utter stranger. These wants urge on to gratification with constant teasings which increase both in their number and importunity as man recedes farther from his makers will. The miserable subject of these unreasonable demands looks to the nearest quarter from which he may be gratified and a temporary quiet procured. Hence arise the improper connections which are often formed between man and his fellow creatures in this lower world. This is called in scripture language a forsaking God, the fountain of living waters, and hewing out cisterns, broken cisterns, that can hold no water. Such is the nature of that delegated power which God has thought fit to lodge in the hands of one part of mankind over the rest, that it might reasonably be expected in the present disordered state of human affairs, to become subject to much abuse; nor has experience disappointed this expectation. The miseries under which a great part of the world at this day groans are a just effect of the misplaced affection which has been foolishly transferred from God to the creature. The instruments appointed by him to maintain peace and good will among men, have been exalted far be-yond their natural rank, to that which belongs to God alone. It is not therefore wonderful but every way congruous to the righteous government of Jehovah to write men's sins on their judgments by suffering this earth under such management, to become a miserable prison rather than that delightful habitation for his children for which it was originally intended, nor will ever these disorders be rectified to purpose until man becomes just to his Maker. Then and only then, will the distressed inhabitants of the earth find a guardian who will be both able and willing to defend their rights. This act of justice towards heaven, is what Christ demands in our text; a demand which equally accords with our duty and interest. As the physical power always resides in all nations with the mass of the people, it is clear that so soon as they come to act at large under the influence of refined moral principles, the face of the earth must speedily alter for the better.
3rdly. This text charges the Jews with forgetfulness of God: a very deformed feature of the human character in-deed, by which its aspects is lamentably changed from what it must have been when God had finished it. Hereby God and man became estranged from each other in a most alarming degree. This moral disorder arises from a combination of causes. Man by his fall lost his spiritual discernment, and therewith his spiritual taste and relish for intellectual pleasures; a void was made in the breath, to the filling of which, nothing but the creatures seemed to contribute: Hence connections became formed between the desires of man and the surrounding creation, utterly injurious to all pursuits after substantial happiness and true intellectual grandeur. God complains severely of the Jews on this head, even in an early period of their history. Of the rock that begat thee thou art unmindful and hast forgotten God that formed thee. Nor do they seem to have been reformed as they grew old. The same complaint is preferred against them eight hundred years after. Can a maid forget her ornaments, or a bride her attire? Yet my people have forgotten me days without number. On which conduct God pronounces judgment by the mouth of his servant David. Now consider this ye that forget God, lest I tear you in pieces and there be none to deliver. It is easy to see that God and his rights must either rise or fall together in human estimation. If God be forgotten, his rights will be despised—and if they be shuffled out of sight, his nature, perfections and providence must soon follow. To a sense of this fatal disease, Christ and his sent servants, have often called the stupid families of the earth. “Render to God, the things are God’s,” will remain a precept immovably inscribed in the everlasting records of reason and revelation.
Remark 4th. It is a matter of importance to a slumbering world to be reminded, that though God and his rights are too generally forgotten by senseless and stupid man, yet they are not forgotten by God himself. No: he records every omission with the most perfect exactness. His book of remembrance contains many accounts, which though long blotted out of human recollection, shall one day fearfully alarm an awakened world. Memorable to this purpose, is the 21st verse of the 50th Psalm. Thou thoughtest that I was altogether like thyself; but I will reprove thee, and set in order thy sins before thine eyes. To this head may justly be added the words of Psalm 94, from the 7th verse and downwards. They say the Lord shall not see; neither shall the God of Jacob regard it. But let us hear how differently God states this case. Understand, ye brutish among the people; and ye fools when will ye be wise? He that planted the ear, shall he not hear? He that formed the eye, shall he not see? He that chastiseth the Heathen, shall he not correct? He that teacheth men knowledge, shall he not know? The Lord knoweth the thoughts of man, that they are vanity. Blessed is the man whom thou chasteneth, O Lord, and teachest him out of thy law; that thou mayest give him rest from days of adversity, until the pit be digged for the wicked. It is an easy business to stifle conscience, blaspheme the scriptures, rob God, mock his ministers, detain his rights, and even turn them against himself; but what will men do in the end? Let all descriptions of the human race consider that the Lord is on his way to reckon with the servants to whom he has delivered his talents. Matt. 25:15, &c.
Remark 5th. Whether we should consider the interests of secret piety towards God, or of social intercourse among men, it will be found that an accurate examination into the boundaries of those rights which God has reserved peculiarly and exclusively in his own hand, from these, which, in their exercise, he has delegated to his creatures, is a study highly interesting to this lower world. In vain shall the modern boast of superior illumination, if they still continue equally dark, as the rudest ages, in those things which form the most weighty article of human concern. From some fatal defect in our nature, it comes to pass, that man makes the least progress in the knowledge of things which respect God and futurity, of any science to which his enquiries have hitherto been directed. From this slowness of heart to the most sublime of all studies, it comes to pass, that all the speculative powers of the human mind, slumber in a state of inglorious inactivity, the progress of refinement is impeded, and the summit of its happiness rendered inaccessible. It is the want of this intellectual cement that renders almost every fabric of happiness among nations and individuals, loose and unstable, and liable to be overset by the first rude blast of disorderly passion. All the principles of natural and revealed religion, evince, that whatever lawful powers mankind possess must have been derived from God, that they must ever remain in their execution, subject to his observation and control; and that consequently no exercise of these powers should be indulged but with a strict regard to his will from whom they have been derived.—If we leap over this battlement, we have nowhere to light, but in the abyss of gloomy and hopeless atheism. And it would seem very unreasonable to suppose that God is bound by any attribute of his nature, or by any act of his revealed will to unite his friendly intercourses with any acts or associations of men which willfully contemn these rights of divinity, by a veneration and respect to which, his ends in the kingdom of Providence can alone be answered, and the happiness of his dependents secured. Hence, every person of common discernment, may be enabled to prognosticate, with certainty, the fate of every scheme of human safety and aggrandizement which excludes the counsels of God and aspires at completion, in opposition to that glory which he will not give to another. The first step towards removing the evils by which this earth has already been sufficiently scourged, will be a careful study of the rights of God. These being once understood and recognized, will purify personal views and
national councils. By their intense operation, the scum of selfish pride and ambition will be boiled off, while the pure particles of pious subjection to God and good will towards men, will remain. Whatever darkness they may labour under, who are either altogether deprived of divine revelation, or who despise its friendly aids, yet nothing can excuse the church, if she remains ignorant on a subject so closely connected with her very existence on earth, and so eminently involving the consideration of all the can be looked forward unto as glorious beyond it. And it is from the Scriptures alone, which contain the code of her corporation laws, that she can obtain complete information, what man is to believe concerning God, and what duty God requires of man. No rational conception can be formed how compliance with this command of Christ can be otherwise yielded. How shall a dividend be made between God and his creatures, without knowing the foundation, nature, and extent of their respective claims. And where shall we find these boundaries settled with sufficient clearness, unless in the sacred volume? It, most satisfactorily determines all questions that can arise on this interesting subject, it, assigns to God’s rights the supreme place. His claim take the precedency of all others, nor can any competition be admitted until his are all satisfied, and provision made for their full discharge. The laws of decency have perhaps never been more shamefully outraged than by a succession of usurpers, who from one age to another have infested the earth, and who having agreed to kill the heir and seize his inheritance, are always crying out sedition and treason against the church and her children, if they only dare to say, render to God the things that are God’s; here the case of the bride, the lamb’s wife, is peculiarly hard. She has been left to keep the house in her Lord’s absence; if she silently looks on while she sees him robbed by lawless plunderers, it is at her peril; if she raises the alarm, she is likely to be knocked on the head.—Here is the patience and faith of the Saints. Nothing remains for her but to form her resolutions, and take her measures under a sense of the superior weight which God’s rights ought to have over her personal safety. The issue of all, is, that God’s rights form an essential branch of the church’s education; in proportion to her progress in this heavenly science, the polish of her manners becomes more bright and dazzling; and although the world that lies in wickedness can hardly be brought to think that they have any concern in such disquisitions, they are mistaken; and however averse they may be at present to open their eyes on objects seemingly so distant and difficult to be seen yet we may reasonably hope the day is not very distant when the knowledge of these things shall fill the earth as the waters cover the sea.
Remark 6th. It will perhaps do something towards smoothing the path of enquiry which leads to this important discovery, if we can with firmness ascertain the foundation whereupon the rights of God depend and by which they must ever be sustained. When we travel after him, whose ways are in the deep waters and the winds are his wings, peculiar degrees of modesty are required. Yet as the enquiry is of the utmost importance to mankind it is hoped that it may be approached in consistency with that humble respect which is due to him who is glorious in holiness.
The common sense of mankind seems to say that all rights among rational beings are referable to “moral excellency, moral rule, and moral powers.” Physical power taken apart from morality never can found any right. An induction of a few particulars founded on the common sentiments and practice of mankind, may illustrate this assertion and help us to direct its application to our present purpose. Few will venture to say that God, though infinite in power, might consign an obedient angel or the spirit of a just man made perfect, unto an eternal state of suffering, merely because the divine power, if exerted, could produce such an effect. Much of the stability of subjective religion in the hearts, both of angels and men, rests on this supposition, that there is no unrighteousness with God. It is their happiness to have been brought into being, not by an omnipotent tyrant, who has no other pleasure but to sport with the afflictions of his creatures, or at most dispense his favours upon capricious and wavering principles. Under such considerations no good mind could for a moment bear up with tranquil satisfactions. Good mind did, I say! On such a supposition no good mind could ever have existed. Could we conceive the idea of an eternal principle of power existing separate from that delightful moderating principle, moral beauty, the thought would abound with insupportable horror. But in such a case no good mind could exist to cast its joyless eye over the dreary desert. No! the want of a universally, an infinitely good moral government could be felt by no creatures emerging from a source covered with such eternal and impenetrable gloom. They could be supposed to possess no powers superior in excellency, to his, from whom they derived their being. But the whole intellectual creation bears witness that this is not the order of its existence nor the principle on which it expands its energies. That part of it which navigates the most boisterous seas, and whose patience runs the greatest risk of shipwreck, has always this sheet anchor to cast out, that the evils with which it is at present tossed, are only partial and temporary, and will certainly be over-topped in due time by the good skill of his hand who holds the helm. In the fullest persuasion of God’s immaculate justice, thousands of unfinished decisions are brought daily from all inferior tribunals, to his, in whom, as all good men suppose, resides the right of final appeal and an incorruptible disposition to open the obstructed channels of impartial justice to his subjects without respect of persons.
The same idea pervades all intercourses which subsist in the moral creation. Why do we prefer the company of an Angel to that of a Devil? It is not from any supposed difference in their physical power of strength, for of this we are no judges. No. It is because, we are persuaded that good Angels are confirmed in their habits of holiness, so immovably, that no deviation therefrom is ever to be feared in the course of their ministrations among, and towards them who shall be heirs of salvation; whereas we are taught to believe that Devils, driven on by the malignity of their disorderly passions, are under no control, from doing the most atrocious mischief, except what is constantly imposed upon them by the omnipotent power of Jehovah. Human governments proceed on the same principle. No nations have joined together on the professed principle of delivering the weak over into the hands of the strong, for no other reason but because the rulers possess a greater degree of physical force than their helpless dependents. The common sense of mankind recoils from the idea of such systematic misery. Hence it is that the most tyrannical and despotic governments, which, at this day, scourge this miserable earth, pro-fess to repay their abject dependents for all their debasement, by benefits which are more than equivalent. Laws in well regulated governments interpose their authority between even husbands and wives, and between parents and children, least [lest] these relations, however tender and endearing, should not be sufficiently strong to guard the weak and helpless from unbridled power. Though there may perhaps be found here and there a wretch so dead to all the finer feelings of humanity as to sport with the life of his helpless slave, and shield himself by the superiority of his physical power, yet base as the moral sentiments of fallen human nature are found to be, such shameless cruelty would meet with almost universal contempt and indignation. On the contrary we see when men in any department of society, forego these advantages which force casts in their way, and appeal in their actions and demands, only to the righteousness of their cause, their conduct almost insensibly steals upon our hearts and produces a sentiment favourable to their interests. So common is this manner of thinking and such is its influence on social order, that almost every villain is fond to gild over his base design with the plausible colorings of justice, benevolence, and candor; and the few who lay aside all disguise, appear such monsters that the human family rise with general consent and hunt these beasts of prey from society. If in any case a man’s physical powers might be supposed to be at liberty with respect to moral rule, it would be in the exercise of that government which he has over himself, especially in these instances wherein his conduct may seem to have little or no influence on the happiness or misery of others. Yet few will assert the existence of any such right; and we may safely prognosticate that while the present order of sensation continues to govern human nature, the earth will not be much depopulated by the weapon of self destruction. To live a life of debauchery and finish it with suicide is considered as the most complete picture of human depravity and disgrace. The reason of this judgment, seems primarily founded in the dictates of our moral nature, which, however weak its voice may be at present, continues still to assert that dependent and accountable man is bound to have a due regard, not merely to what he can do, but to what ought to be done.
The diversity of sentiment about what is right and what is wrong, which in many cases prevails among mankind, is no just exception to the general principles now laid down. The difference is rather about the application than the existence of a real distinction, between the two ideas. We may often hear men defend as right, what we think is wrong; but we shall rarely, if ever, find men defend or inculcate a thing
because it is wrong in their own account. From these remarks it appears that we may justly conclude it to be agreeable to the moral feelings of mankind to found all real rights in moral rectitude. And I apprehend we shall be justified in asserting more particularly, “That the moral excellency of God is the original source and the supreme standard of all rights that do or can exist in the extent, of intellectual being, whether of God himself, or of his creatures.” I am far from thinking that the other attributes of God are inconsiderable in assisting our conceptions of the august rights of divinity; yet from the foregoing induction of particulars it would seem that the mind in all its enquiries after right, even in God himself, pursues an ascending course till it reaches this fountain head, and there fastens its humble, its pleasing submission, as on a nail, in a sure place. When we wish to enthrone God in our own hearts, or in the hearts of our fellow mortals, we do not say, love God because he can kill you, but love him because he is good. When he proclaims his own rights he seldom or never founds them in the infinite extent of his power, without a regard to his spotless holiness and love. We have a memorable instance of this in the 9th chap. of Ez[ekiel] the prophet had there a very melancholy vision of Jerusalem’s destruction; and in the bitterness of his spirit, ver. 8, tells us the intercommuning that passed between God and him on the awful occasion. And it came to pass while they were slaying them, and I was left, that I fell upon my face, and cried, and said Ah Lord God, wilt thou destroy all the residue of Israel, in the pouring out of thy fury upon Jerusalem? The answer of God to the prophet is wonderful: he does not appeal to his power, not assert the might of his arm. No! Then said he unto me, the iniquity of the house of Israel and Judah is exceeding great, and the land is full of blood, and the city full of perverseness; for they say, the Lord hath forsaken the earth, and the Lord seeth not. There Jehovah appeals to his judicial character. With what sensibility does the venerable Abraham express his faith in this doctrine, Gen. 18. v. 23, 25. And Abraham drew near, and said, wilt thou also destroy the righteous with the wicked? peradventure there be fifty righteous within the city: wilt thou also destroy and not spare the place for the fifty righteous that are therein? That be far from thee to do after this manner, to stay the righteous with the wicked: and that righteous should be as the wicked, that be far from thee: SHALL NOT THE JUDGE OF ALL THE EARTH DO RIGHT?
We now proceed to,
Head II. Which is to specify some few of these rights which are peculiar to divinity, and in the exercise of which, among his creatures, no small part of his glory, as God, consists.
The first of these rights which I shall mention, and that which I consider, at least in point of order, of primary magnitude, is the LIBERTY, which, as the all perfect Jehovah, he from all eternity possessed, of arranging his councils and forming, if I may so speak, the example and patron of all the works that he was by his power to execute until the mystery of his ways shall be completed. As there is a derived similitude of this divine right, apparent in all these transactions among men for which they are held to be accountable, it might have been expected, before this time of day, that their ideas would have been more clear, on the subject than we find has been the case. And yet plain as the principle may appear, we will find it combined with difficulties of no easy solution. These difficulties ought to be met in the strongest form and to receive the most dispassionate consideration, as no small part of the Arminian and Calvinistic controversies, are connected therewith. The matter will at least appear in this light to those who consider this controversy as closely combined with the very vitals of man’s salvation. Had evil never found a place among the works of God it is not likely that any controversy on this subject would have ever disturbed the repose of created intelligence. But evils of the most awful description, having discolored some of the fairest works of God, and being likely to do so without end, naturally recall the mind to look back to eternal counsels; reason, however, should here move with heedful steps and consider that the path is narrow and should a foot be missed the precipice over which it must tumble, is tremendous. As our ideas of God and his councils are in no small degree influenced by the experience we have of what passes within ourselves, it may be necessary in considering this subject to examine the term LIBERTY, as it has been used to express things found to exist in human nature. And without entangling ourselves in Arminian controversies about a freedom of indifference, which has no existence in nature, I understand freedom in a metaphysical sense, to express that spontaneity which we experience to accompany our voluntary actions when we are under no external restraint, but at perfect freedom to follow the inclinations of our own hearts. This is all that is essential to that freedom, which constitutes man an ac-countable being.
That the deity possesseth such a freedom or liberty in all his volitions, is such a reasonable supposition, that its contrary involves almost every absurdity imaginable. There can be no period conceived in the divine duration, if we may so speak, when his designs of creating the world did not exist. As far back as thought can waft us into eternity we find an uncaused cause, with a mind full of all these counsels, and that in their most complete state of maturity, which have moved the wheels of creation and providence since the world began. Can we for a moment contemplate a being capable of giving existence to all things and adjusting the almost infinitely variegated relations of one thing to another, without at the same time believing that he had viewed with the most penetrating inspection all the possible effects that could result from that impression of his power, wisdom, and goodness, with which he meant to stamp his works? Philosophers have supported, and perhaps with justice, that had there been one particle more or less of matter in our earth, than what it contains, that it might before this time, under that system of laws by which physical nature is governed, have produced very great disorders if not total confusion in the whole visible system. How much more variety in the moral system might have prevailed, had there existed one man more or less in the world, or had any one man lived a day longer or shorter, or in one place rather than another, is impossible to say. Are we therefore at liberty to suppose that the creator launched forth these mighty orbs with our eyes behold, with their infinitely variegated furniture and imperceptible dependencies which have eluded the most curious researches, without a complete adjustment of all their relations and a foresight when the wheels shall run down and their motions stand still. He that can believe this need, never be squeamish afterwards at the proposal of absurd doctrine. The reason that can swallow this mountainous absurdity will find, when compared to it, any difficulties that may accompany the doctrine we assert, to dwindle into mole hills.
But when we speak of this liberty as a matter of right, one should expect from its congeniality to human claims, that men could hardly deny to their creator what they claim to themselves as their natural, perfect and inalienable right. It would be thought a great act of injustice to force a man to act without giving him time to deliberate, and a great act of folly so to act of his own accord, if he had time.
How then could we account for the divine conduct, had he so acted. That evils exist in great abundance cannot be denied; but the question is, whether does it give a pious mind, anxious for the glory of its maker and its own safety, the greatest peace, to suppose that these evils stole into existence without God’s knowledge, design or expectation, in which case he could have no provision made for them until they appeared; or to suppose that however mysterious the business may appear to us, that all the evils which now do, or ever will exist, are no more than a result of divine order and contrivance. In one of these ways they must have come forth. If in the latter, then that wisdom which superintended their admission can most probably master their malignity and dispose of them to his honor and glory and the happiness of all his good subjects; but if in the former way, who knows but, as they came into the creation without God’s knowledge or design, they may stay there against his will and eternally brave the utmost exertions of his power. I apprehend, it would not be easy to prove that this is an over-strained supposition. Should we have recourse to the stoical doctrine of a fatal necessity, under which some suppose divinity to have counselled and acted, it would do nothing towards easing the present difficulty. For if the Deity was not free in giving that order of existence to the creation by which evil has come to be intimately mixed with its most essential parts, then the same fate must be supposed to bind up his hands from mastering it, now that it does exist. The only supposition that seems to agree most cordially with reason, revelation, and the pious experience and hopes of good men, is, that a wise God foresaw every effect that would arise from that organization which he intended to bestow on the work of his hands; and that he made complete and timely provision for subordinating to his own glory all the evil, whether physical or moral, that should ever find its way into his extensive dominions. An eternity of duration and an unbegun train of ideas, is a region of existence so far beyond any that we have ever explored, that it is by no means wonderful we should be liable to lose our road when we attempt an ascent to these heights, which are accessible only to Divinity. Our imbecility of thought eminently discovers itself in reducing the divine determinations to a fluctuation much like our own. This is particularly apparent in the view that Arminians give of indifferency as essential to the constitution of virtue. Was this position true, the consequences of it would be horrid, especially when applied to the divine nature. Though innumerable difficulties attend the present order of things on every side, yet their number never can be lessened, nor their magnitude diminished, by reducing the divine nature and determinations to a level with those of sinful men. In opposition thereunto we assert that God by a free spontaneous volition from an unbegun eternity, willed that order of things which now exists; not because there was any point in duration when his mind was in a state of indifferency, but because on the whole, the motives which influenced the divine determination were such, as to keep the will of the Creator eternally fixed upon the consummation of his designs through that intervening chain of causes and effects, which he thought proper to employ, in carrying this stupendous building to its topmost stone. Should we admit that there was a time when the scale was evenly poised and determination wavered, even in the divine mind, that main spring of all that is good or lovely in creation, how awful would the thought be! Shall we for a moment admit that there was a time when the good and benevolent mind of Jehovah halted between two opinions? a time when it was even beam whether he would give the best order or the worst order to his works? whether he would fill every channel of created capacity with streams of happiness, or make the whole on stagnating sink of lamentation, mourning and woe? Upon this supposition, we cannot tell but it may happen in the progress of created duration that a period may arrive, when some concealed tendency of the laws of creation which has hitherto slept under ground and eluded the most vigilant search of philosophers, might discover itself and bring to light the most unrelenting and regardless apathy in the Creator to all the interests of his depending subjects. Such an apprehension would dry up all the sources of created comfort, and render existence a curse. In opposition to such visionary systems, we lay it down as a truth, respecting the divine being, that he possessed an eternal spontaneity which has kept pace with his being itself, and has been an inseparable companion of all his thoughts and designs. He has ever spontaneously willed what he intended, not because he could have willed otherwise, but because he never saw meet, everything considered, to will otherwise than he has done. Every rising of thought, in the creatures, against the enjoyment and exercise of this eternal right of divinity is an act of the grossest rebellion.
But still it may be said, how shall we reconcile the eternal and unalterable decrees of God with the present appearances which exist in time? I grant this is a perplexing question; but the difficulties which seem to attach to the side we have chosen to adopt, are by no means equal to these which would follow any contrary supposition. The thing that interests our feelings and puzzles our reason most is, that when we cast our eye over the map of creation, we see a sovereignty exercised in the place, which each rank of creatures occupies, which utterly surpasses the most extensive stretch of our finite understandings. And among many things sufficiently full of mystery, we behold misery, eternal misery, look through the grate of her adamantine dungeon, and pro-claim with a voice louder than ten thousand thunders, here I and my hopeless subjects are destined to dwell forever! We go no more out! Tremendous thought! how the soul of sensibility shudders when it hears the massy bars seal up the doors forever on these hopeless sons of midnight darkness. But however awakening this awful sight ought to be to our tenderest emotions, we ought not to suffer reason to resign her empire in our minds to such weak effeminacy, as would disqualify us for forming a fair and impartial judgment on the ways of God with his creatures. The most likely way to attain to the truth in this interesting matter, is, to examine his works, piecemeal, so far as they fall under our cognizance, and try if we cannot collect such evidence from the whole, as ought to silence the pride of the turbulent and rebellious, and at the same time conciliate the friends of God and his Son, unto the most sweet and complacent repose, under the shadow of his wings for time and eternity.—A brief survey of all the parts of creation with which we are acquainted, may help us in collecting that kind of evidence which ought to satisfy us, of the divine justice and goodness, until the day shall more fully disclose to our enlarged understandings, things of which it is not perhaps proper that we should at present be more minutely informed.
We find the creatures of God placed in very different ranks. That the divine agency must have been supremely concerned in this arrangement is not to be doubted by any who believe that ever the world had a maker. The right he had to combine the exercise of his sovereignty with their temporal or eternal fate, seems at first sight to admit of little dispute; nor perhaps would there ever have been any on the subject, had evil never entered the fair palace of created nature. But this abominable thing, sin, has produced such sad overturnings of the pillars on which the happiness of the creatures was to rest, that every tongue is busy asking who let it out of the fatal box. The contemplator of this subject, whoever he is, ought to know that he is deciding on his own fate, and that he stands not on neutral ground. He ought therefore, neither to speak wickedly for God, nor unfeelingly about his own fate or that of his fellow-creatures. Let us listen to what all the inhabitants of peopled space have to say, for or against God, or the exercise of his justice in their particular cases.
We begin with the lowest rank, that is, inanimate mat-ter. And here we meet no difficulty of considerable magnitude. Being creatures void of sensation, they can be neither the better nor the worse of existence, and are to themselves as if they had never been. Could they however be for a moment endowed with consciousness, and have their choice to be or not to be, they would desire existence continued. Was a holy soul called out to receive information, that heaven had now served itself of his reasonable powers, and that he might have his choice of annihilation, on a continued existence in a state of insensibility; in such case, I have no doubt, but an innate desire of existence, a fear of absolute annihilation, and a love of God the highest good, would determine it to choose any function, though the lowest in creation, in which it could glorify any divine perfection. So that the large class of creatures who have passed into a state of insentient being, have no right to complain, unless we suppose that the whole regions of infinite space, have a right to find fault that they have not been peopled to their utmost boundaries.
The next class of creatures that meet us, are those who enjoy sensation without reason. Of these we have cause to believe that they all enjoy a degree of happiness, superior at least to the state of inactive matter. They all seem to give evidence of self-enjoyment, when in their own element, and in the free exercise of their natural powers. On the contrary, when anything seems to threaten their destructions, we evidently discover their most vigorous efforts directed to ward off the blow, and preserve the measure of pleasing sensation, which their Creator has assigned them. That their happiness is not so great, as that of higher enquiry. Besides observing that the chain of created existence, behooved to have such a link to render it complete, we may farther add, that these creatures have no idea of an felicity superior to their own, and consequently never can be supposed to look with a jealous eye at pleasures beyond their sphere. And moreover it is clear, that the quantity of their agreeable sensations, is still above any inconveniency, which we have any reason to believe they experience. And this is all clear gain to them, above either a state of non-existence, or lumpish inactivity. Nor have we any cause to apprehend that the pain which an animal experiences, in passing out of the regions of animal life, into a state of dissolution is very severe, or bears any great proportion to the quantity of pleasure it enjoyed during its lifetime. These circumstances, which render death so disagreeable to a rational animal, seem principally to arise from the relation, which, in that case, subsists between the animal and immortal parts, together with the consequences which are apprehended to await the emigrating spirit, passing to the untried regions of unalterable destination. Strip a person of that moral energy which deeply tinctures all his feelings about futurity, and the quantity of his pain in death, would be comparatively small. This is clear in the case of mad men, who approach every danger, death itself not excepted, without any seeming concern. The acrimony of pain to them, is removed. Therefore, upon the whole, this class of creatures have no right to complain. It was optional with God, whether they existed or not. And if the quantity of felicity which they have enjoyed, has done them little good, it has done them as little harm. Whilst they were in being, God payed them with a quantity of pleasure equal to their services, and when they retire to rest in the evening of their day, their case is not worse than it was before they existed, nor of other non-entities, which have eternally slept in the bed of undisturbed repose. Nay, though we are far enough from adopting the doctrine of transmigration in its full extent, yet as we have no reason to believe the annihilation of any creature that has once existed, it is not unreasonable to suppose, that many of these animals, after having regularly passed through the lower orders of existence, shall pass to heaven in the bodies of the saints, and shine in the brightest orbs of intellectual bliss without end. And as to those parts of them which shall not be so highly dignified, it is hard to say to what splendor or state they may be advanced, through that endless duration for which they are probably preserved. These observations may perhaps appear rather puerile or minute to some persons of a narrow, unphilosophical cast. But such ought to consider, that if it was not unworthy of God to make these things, and constitute them subjects of his care and government; it cannot be unworthy of our dignity to contemplate their existence, and trace with pleasure, their friendly relation to the common parent of all. And besides, it is by a minute investigation of particulars, that we are capable of bringing out a clear universal conclusion about that exercise of God’s rights, which his works, so far as we know them, exhibit.
That class of beings, who either now are, or shall hereafter be eternally happy, need not detain us long in this enquiry, not because they form an inconsiderable spot on the general map, but because their case affords not the color of complaint. They will forever afford the materials for filling up the most interesting page in the history of creatures; but as their felicity is secure, let us hail them with a cheer as we pass them on the great ocean of being, and though ourselves still rolling in the boiling deep, let us behold with benevolent joy their anchor safely cast within the vail. The eye of intellectual vision, can hardly descend from this pleasing eminence without looking beyond the limits of the human family. What immense regions of space may either now, or hereafter, be peopled with tribes to us hitherto un-known, who shall eternally bloom in a blessed immortality, is beyond us to say! Perhaps, on the great map of being, the regions of misery will scarcely from a perceptible point, when compared with those on which an unfading spring of everlasting glory shall pour forth its balmy sweets, with unbounded profusion. Should this conjecture prove true, it will in the end of the day, when all the children of divine bounty are gathered into one, afford a fresh argument that God is good.
We are now arrived at a precipice awful beyond expression, from which we behold the misery, the eternal misery of rationals! “a dismal situation, waste and wild; a dungeon horrible, which flames on all sides, as one great furnace, from whose flames no light proceeds, but rather dark-ness visible, which serves only to discover sights of woe, regions of sorrow, and doleful shades, where neither peace, nor rest, nor hope, can ever dwell; but torture without end still urges, and a fiery deluge ever fed with burning sulphur.” Such is the prison which eternal justice has purposed for the rebellious! Who can think of it without horror?
With the impious scoffs of Atheists, whose only hope is to die like asses, or the idle dreams of universal redemptionists, we have little to do in the present argument. We have a most sure word to which we shall do well to take heed, which declares to wicked men, and rebel angels, that the smoke of their torment ascends forever and ever, and that their worm dieth not, and their fire is not quenched. Were we set to make worlds, or settle the fate of rationals, they might address our passions and lay hold on our feelings, by all that is entendering in humanity. But this is not the case; worlds are made, and plans are eternally fixed beyond our control or power of alteration. These visionary dreamers, had therefore much better employ themselves, in finding out the truth of the divine counsels, and avoiding that place of endless torment, than thus spend their money for that which is not bread, and their labor for that which satisfieth not. They can never assure themselves, by any solid or rational arguments, that their awakening in eternity, will not be like that of sons of wine, who in the morning awake from their midnight debauch, with a state of feelings bitter beyond expression. And believers in the oracles of heaven, know to a certainty that it will be the case. In place, therefore, of building towers of sand, by which to mount to heaven, or sordidly consoling ourselves with the miserable hope that our immortal part shall steal into insensibility, with the infamy of a felon, and experience the burial of an ass, let us fear lest a promise being left us of entering into his rest, we come short through unbelief.
But still alas! we may say, who shall stand when God doeth this. That we may approach this enquiry, with the best prospect of finding the truth, let us keep our eye closely upon the scripture account of these hard fated prisoners. They consist of fallen angels and hopeless men. As to the first, it is sufficient to observe, that their state, whatever it is, is one into which they have voluntarily brought themselves. And when an act of the will is freely interposed between a creature and its fate, the blame must entirely rest upon that act, whereunto their miseries do immediately attach themselves. It is clear that to complete the volume of creation there behooved to be beings somewhere, professed of a freedom of will, such as we conceive angels to have enjoyed. Indeed it is justly questioned whether a moral agent could have existed without a freedom of spontaneity. Remove such a freedom from a rational being, and you remove that quality, which renders him accountable: and then, both praise and blame cease longer to unite themselves to any part of his conduct. So far as we are acquainted with the history of angelic nature, or can rationally conjecture anything concerning the circumstances in which it was at first placed, it enjoyed every advantage for the exertion of its freedom and the security of its happiness, that could have been reasonably desired. Animal nature is a machine much more complex, and consequently more liable to go out of order, than that of pure spirit; and from any inconveniency on this quarter we may suppose the angelic nature entirely exempted. Besides, it was not merely free of clogs from without, but enjoyed every advantage we can think of, for drawing into habitual exercise the latent propensities of the heart. I confess that placed as angels were, in a sphere of the most exalted enjoyment, with no temptation to annoy from without, nor any thing within upon which it could fasten, it is a matter not a little mysterious how to account for the first sinful volition, and mark with precision the circumstances of that fatal moment, when pure unspotted innocence took wing and fled away. That such a point however, in the eventful history of rationals existed, is plain; and it answers all ends with which we are concerned in the present disquisition, to know that their minds, in passing on to this awful catastrophe, were most perfectly free. In every period of their miserable existence, these exiled sons of the morning will be obliged to confess, as often as they revolve their fate, that what they now are as devils, they are by their own choice and consent. None bid them, none forced them, to lay aside the heavenly livery of their innocence and become clad in the sooty garments of black despair. The common sense of mankind, expressed in the civil constitutions and legal proceedings of all civilized nations, declares such a case to be without excuse. No laws require anything more to open their road for taking hold of criminal conduct, according to its demerit, but sufficient evidence that the agent acted voluntarily, without force, and without control. In all such cases, it has ever been supposed, that, the freedom of the act obliged the agent to abide the consequences. It is hard to say what these degraded spirits, were they admitted to a legal hearing, could advance in their own behalf. The height of Lucifer certainly cut off all just occasion of murmuring. His felicity was clogged with no galling conditions. Nay, his height is a plea against him. He should have been exemplary to the inferior children of the family. He was also a privy counsellor and having a high trust in the administration of the kingdom, a rebellion in him seemed to require an exemplary degree of severity. Besides, there is some reason that first transgressions should be marked with superior evidences of legal severity, to deter after times from such liberties. Perhaps it might be for this reason, and to produce a suitable awe on the public mind, that the apostles of our Lord were, at the first promulgation of the gospel, armed with such powers as that by which they made examples of Ananias, and Sapphira. The world has thereby received ever since, this useful information, that, though the gospel dispensation is externally mild and gentle, in comparison of that from Sinai, yet nevertheless, the divine eye is a vindictive witness of all base dissimulation, now, as well as then. These remarks set this transaction in a light, at least consonant to the dictates of impartial justice, as administered even among men; to attempt therefore still to find fault, is certainly gross presumption in the creature.
What, oh Lucifer! canst thou say to these things! Reflect that it was thy rash and impious hand, that lifted the lid off that which being let loose, has wasted lamentation, mourning, and woe from the highest heavens to the utmost boundaries of creation. Thou mayest say thy lot is hard in-deed, but never canst thou shew it to be unjust. Thou hast darkened heaven—attempted to pluck thy maker from his throne.—Seduced innumerable multitudes of thy murdered fellow servants, and brought them into thine own condemnation.—Thy evil, thy malicious eye, marked out thy innocent unsuspecting brother and sister, in the peaceful retreats of Paradise. Thou hast hurried them into the vortex of thine own ruin, and with them all their miserable posterity.—Thy bloody wars have soaked the earth with blood, for nearly six thousand years. And to complete the catalogue of thy crimes, as if all the mischief already done had been too little, thou hast plunged thy treacherous, thy cowardly dagger, into the heart of God’s own son, and laid him a lifeless corpse on the field of slaughter—and, in midst these ravages of thy unrelenting cruelty, continuest to march through thy usurped princedom, in this lower world, with all the haughty mien, and unsubdued pride of a devouring lion, ravening for thy prey, and filling the whole wilderness of this world with thy howlings, because there is a God, who, for all these things will bring thee into judgment.
The other class of miserables is a branch of our own family. Here the enquiry comes close to the door of self concern, and lays hold upon every feeling of the human heart. But still we should move on with a firm, yet humble step: our selfish sympathies ought not to blind our eyes from beholding the dazzling splendor of unspotted justice.
Concerning the existence of such an order of beings as man, scarce anything needs be added to that, which we have said of the existence of Angels. Such a page was required to complete the volume of creation. Freedom of will was as necessary to his moral agency, as it was, to that of the seraphic orders. And if he wanted some of their advantage, to keep the moral machinery of his frame in order, he had perhaps motives which they had not. His natural relation as a common parent, and his federal relation as a common representative, must have been powerful monitors to constant vigilance. Paternal affection, even in midst the wrecks of our fallen nature, is found a most efficient spring of action to those, who scarcely discover any other virtue. Yes! It will often subdue habits, which scorn to yield to any other control. How often has the man of wine been led to restrain his appetites, when he saw his miserable offspring sinking together with himself, in the gulf of his intemperance. And if this argument is so powerful on the mind of a sickly slave to sin and sensuality, what must have been its force upon the sinless, the strong, the unclouded faculties of our common father? He saw myriads without number, descend from his loins, and spread over the healthful plains which presented their verdure to his wondering eyes. He saw their life and happiness, for time and beyond time, wrapped up in his own. Can we suppose the first man still innocent, and not think, that this argument must have been powerfully felt to the center of his soul? The angels who fell, wanted this adamantine chain to bind them to obedience. They acted a solitary part and either stood or fell for themselves. So that, upon a fair estimation, it will perhaps be found, that Adam had as safe ground whereupon to entrench his innocence, as Lucifer himself. Nay, it is likely, had an inhabitant of distant worlds been informed of the fair prospects of these young heirs, at their beginning the world, he would probably have predicted that Adam’s cheeks would have worn the pledges of unfading immortality, as long as any son of the morning. Imagination fails us when we seek after anything more that could have been done for this young favorite, short of stripping him entirely of his freedom of action. And what an alteration this would have made in the whole order of his existence and operations, has been already seen. This same beneficiary of heaven joined with a rebel. He mingled stocks with a traitor.—He interposed an act of his own perverted will, between his maker’s goodness and himself, together with his whole posterity; and therefore, according to the principles already laid down in the case of angels, he stands justly condemned, and that under circumstances of additional aggravation. The secret designs of God about these matters, ought not to be blended with this enquiry. For it ought to be considered, that these were not then revealed; no command was laid on the rational creature, to forward their accomplishment. Nor will any of the fallen tribes, be ever able to shew, that there was any criminal or compulsive measures used with their freedom of choice, to direct it into any other part but that for which it was cleared out, when first launched forth on the wide ocean of immortal existence. The descendants of this fallen ancestor, may be considered either as Pagans, who have never heard the voice of reconciliation, or as christians who have, or infants who are supposed incapable of making any exertions in their own behalf. Let us look at each of their cases, in the light in which they appear to the eye of justice and impartiality, according to the principles already stated.
All men were represented in Adam, by a righteous constitution of God; and whatever the event has been, the prospect was, at the beginning, full, both of reason and hope. We find that the idea of representation has been judged, in all free countries, perfectly to accord with justice, and the rights of man: nay, it is judged the only guardian of men’s most precious rights. Modern demagogues are abundantly noisy on this topic. Let us try that representation which took place at the outset of the human family, and see whether we can discern anything in it, contrary to our most important interests, or alarming to our most hopeful prospects. In the first place, had all the children of the family, who shall descend from Adam’s loins to the end of time, been consulted, it is not unreasonable to suppose, that it would have been their unanimous wish to have had their own happiness, and that of their posterity, put as soon as possible, beyond a doubt. We know at what pains, most men and whole nations have been, to hand down valuable possessions to their heirs and successors. Entails and wills, have been set as sentinels, when fathers could no longer remain on earth, to guard their posterity from the paths of profligacy and ruin. But how could this end have been attained by the human family at large, if every individual, to the end of time, must wait to the last day of his earthly career, to have his passport into the regions of immortality, signed by his own personal act of perfect obedience?—If the alternative presented to such a convention as we have supposed, had been, personal responsibility, or federal representation, I have no doubt but the choice of federal representation would have been unanimous: especially if a representative could be found, and terms agreed upon, such, as to give a probable prospect of unquestionable safety to the party represented. Now it is a confessed fact, that in all representative governments, it is a point of primary magnitude, that the representatives should be under the strongest motives of self-interest, carefully to watch over the interests of their constituents. Many advocates for an aristocratical civil government, have conceived the above position, an inviolable argument in favor of their scheme, as hereby the representative’s property, running the same risk with that of others in the commonwealth, must be supposed to attach him to the general welfare in proportion to the magnitude of his own private interests. And it must be acknowledged, the argument would have no small weight, was it not for the corrupt and unbridled state of human passion, which most commonly sacrifices future prospects at the shrine of present gratification. But no such thing as this could take place in Adam’s case. He had as much of his own at stake, as any of his posterity had; besides, he had a motive to stability and watchfulness, peculiar to himself. He saw himself at the head of the whole family, as their common parent. I would ask any man upon earth, what he could have objected, upon reasonable grounds, if he had been present that day, when Adam was set up by God, as the common head of the human family. In the next place, his representative capacity must have been supposed a matter strongly impressive of watchfulness. We might also consider, perhaps as a favorable circumstance, the surprise with which he must have beheld all things when first he cast his wandering eye on the heavens, the earth, and on himself, which could not be expected soon to wear off; a case not likely to take place in any of his posterity, who should slip up by slow degrees, from the weakness of infancy to the maturity of reason. All these things must have had their weight, in pointing out the first man as a fit representative of all his posterity. I might finally add, that the terms of acceptance and approbation imposed on Adam, were abundantly easy, and such as no person could reasonably suppose likely to become a stumbling block. From these considerations, it is not easy to see upon what part of God’s treatment towards his creation, the reasonable imputation of blame can be fixed. Besides, how awfully have heathens abused the light of nature, and spurned at its most rational dictates?
If we attend to the case of gospel hearers, who perish, we shall find little to offer in their defence. They go into misery, not only without excuse, but under every circumstance of aggravated guilt, which imagination can suggest. Heaven did not take these children of disobedience, at their first word: they were dealt with more tenderly than the fallen angels. But they firmly abide by their first resolution. Still attached to a life of estrangement, and averse to the divine government, they determine on abiding the consequences as the lake which burns with fire, rather than, like returning prodigals, confess guilt, and flee believingly from the wrath to come. Out of the mouth, therefore, of two witnesses, they are condemned. The most just federal representation condemns them, and by its failure they are involved in the guilt of the covenant of works: The blood of sprinkling has been held out, but this they have trodden under foot, and accounted it an unholy thing. Both dispensations concur in their condemnation; and they perish without the shadow of excuse—and therefore in their case, divine justice cannot be blamed.
We have only to consider, lastly, the case of children who die in infancy. What has been said of federal representation in general, applies to them in particular. Besides, we know not how God may deal with the infants, of either Pagans, or Christians. We know not how many of them shall be saved; nor do we know of what mitigations their fate may admit, who shall not be saved. Therefore, no just argument can be drawn from them, in respect to God’s right. It is with the ostensible administrations of Jehovah, that our concern lies; with the idle dreams, or vain surmises of these, who make not revelation their guide, we have nothing to do. Besides, he who writes, and those who shall read these remarks, are passed beyond the regions of infancy, and therefore are not practically concerned with this part of the divine administration, which no doubt, God will conduct with justice, but which, however, is not to be the hinge whereupon our everlasting state is to turn. Let us duly at-tend to the ground on which we stand ourselves, and leave all the determinations, about the lot of others, to the Judge of all the earth, who can do no wrong.
A question might here be moved, which, before I dis-miss this article, I shall barely mention. It is this; could not God have organized a world, which would have answered all ends of creatures, without suffering moral and physical evil to become so lamentably intermingled with all its movements, as we now see is the case. This question, I grant, is high and mysterious, and perhaps may justly be considered as one of those deep things of God, of which our capacities are at present unable to judge with any great degree of precision. It is likely we commit many mistakes by asserting God could have done this or the other thing, other than he has done it, by not considering the import of such expressions. There is no doubt, had a different plan of creation dwelt eternally in the divine mind, recognized by his divine wisdom, and determined upon as a fit object of execution, that the almighty power of God could have carried it into effect with the utmost ease: but no such design ever, at any period, existed in the divine mind; and if no such design ever existed, how could he employ his power in doing a thing, which upon the whole, he never thought meet to do? From eternity God intended to make this world, as it is, and having so intended, I humbly conceive, it could have existed no other way than it is, unless we either suppose, that there was a period when God was unresolved what he would do, or else, that though he was from everlasting, well determined that the present order of things was upon the whole best; yet he could, notwithstanding this resolution, and it continuing in the divine mind in its full force, have made a world on a very different construction, and left the present one unmade. Such a supposition, I apprehend, will not stand the test of sound reason.
I have been the more minute in discussing this particular, as I apprehend many controversies in theology hinge upon it, which might be easily compromised, if once it was right understood.
The second right of God which I shall mention, is that of giving laws to his subjects. This will follow as a matter of course from what has been already established. If God had a right from eternity to resolve upon creating a world, he had a right to impose such laws upon it as his glory and its welfare required. The laws of God, so far at least as they respect rational creatures, are nothing else but the expression of the divine will, respecting the ends to be aimed at by his depending subjects, together with most proper means for their attainment. That God should possess a natural, inalienable right, to give such orders to the work of his hands, is a proposition so evident, that no words perhaps can render it much clearer than it appears at first sight. And yet plain and simple as the theory of moral duty, and the source of rational obedience is, there is probably nothing to the sense of which mankind are more lost, in the transactions of human life. And yet, however confused their ideas on this subject may be, in point of application to the important interests of morality, it appears among their most common notions, that there both is, and ought to be such a thing as law. We know of no nations, however savage, that subsist in society without some sort of laws or regulations, by which their mutual intercourses are limited and directed. The idea of law is most likely to be found in the original constitution of rational nature; it is most probable that it is here we ought to fix the first principle of that social intercourse which so generally draws the different tribes of the human race into these distinct national associations, which we see spread over the whole earth. How beings of such a texture, and possessing such versatility of character, as we find obtains in our own common family, could be brought so easily and universally to deliver themselves up to the restraints of civil authority, without some such principle implanted originally in their hearts, is hardly conceivable. In midst the great abundance of information, which our nature enjoys, of its origin and end, it is matter of the utmost surprise that we do not more frequently consider, that all laws and regulations among men, require some rule by which they ought to be moulded. All the laws that ever were, or can be made, are mere ropes of sand, unless they possess a certain portion of his authority, who is our lawgiver and king; and until men resort to this way of making laws, their fabrics of human order will not long brave the mouldering teeth of time. Had a little more attention been paid to this doctrine, the history of ancient and modern times would not have worn such a face of blood as it does at this day. We should not then have seen the miserable race of man outraged without end and without measure, mingling their tears with the dust, under the Iron hands of cruel taskmasters, while there is few or none to comfort the oppressed. It is highly probable God has given up, in just judgment, this earth to groan under the complicated miseries arising from tyranny and oppression, bloodshed and famine, on account of the contempt shewn to his legislative character; nor have we any reason to believe that the disease will be removed until its causes cease. This right, once practically restored to God, will serve as an immoveable mound to keep off the encroachments which pride and avarice have almost generally made upon all the securities of civil liberty, which in the depth of their wisdom, nations have been able to contrive. An infallible guardian of the rights of man, is in vain fought for in the wise maxims of philosophers, and patriotic statesmen: In vain do nations attempt to purchase liberty with the best blood of their citizens, while they deliver it into the keeping of men unacquainted with or regardless of the supreme legislative authority of God, under which his friends may fit securely and none to make them afraid. Infidelity and impiety are often forced to relinquish their strongholds, and openly confess that the darkened prisons of human wretchedness never can expect to be visited with a general jubilee, unless God should condescend to avenge the quarrel of humanity and let the prisoners shake off their chains; a strong evidence that though the remembrance of God’s legislative authority may for a time become feeble, it cannot entirely be abolished from the heart of man. Sceptical philosophers, who have been obliged to invent an atheistical language to serve the interests of their pride and vanity, have undesignedly been obliged to recognize God’s legislative character. Thus we frequently hear the appearances in the visible kingdom of creation, accounted for by the name of laws of nature. And what are the laws of nature, but the will of God, taking continued effect upon the different parts of his dependent empire? Can any person, guided by reason, conceive of laws without a lawgiver? Is nature, if the word has any meaning, anything more than that order of causes and effects which the only wise God at first established, and which he continually upholds? Now if philosophers, even of the infidel cast, are obliged to introduce the notion of laws for the government of the physical world, much more shall we need their aid for the regulation of the moral system.
Sundry considerations press on the human mind God’s legislative character as an object of interesting meditation. If he be a spirit, infinite, eternal, and unchangeable in his being, wisdom, power, holiness, justice, goodness, and truth, he was certainly entitled to display, or give scope to the exercise of these perfections in such manner as he saw to be conducive of his own glory. To deny man, a similar right, is judged to be insupportable tyranny, why then should it be denied to God? Events have made it evident, that he saw it every way worthy his majesty, to command a multitude of creatures into existence. An act stupendous beyond conception! and if once his right to do so is admitted, his legislative character follows of course; so necessarily are these things connected, that no man of thought can conceive the existence of creation a moment, without the continued application of a system of laws, suitable to regulate each of its component parts, and guide all their motions into one central point. The existence and operation of these wise regulations, which render this world a comfortable habitation for all its inhabitants, is apparent everywhere we turn our eyes. And he that would not believe the testimony of day and night, summer and winter, seed-time and harvest, would not believe though one rose from the dead. To deny God’s right of legislating over his creatures, is to assert that he never had any right to act at all. For if once his right to create be granted it will evidently follow that he behooved to govern the creatures made, confirmable to some end, or else declare by his carelessness about them, that he made them in sport, and as a trial of his skill, and for no good, most evident. Though these remarks, being general, will apply all these regulations under which inanimate, animal, or rational creatures are placed, yet it is principally to these moral regulations, unto which the moral nature of man was subjected, that we direct our present enquiries. And that such expressions of the moral nature of God have been made to man is clear, from his moral perceptive capacities. As well may we believe that the eye in animal nature, and the light in the heavens, have met and held sweet society together for thousands of years by chance, as believe a moral capacity in man, without moral objects with which it is designed to converse.
Man is distinguished in this property of his nature, from all inferior ranks of being, and is hereby enabled clearly to discover, that the Lord has required of him, that he should do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly with his God. This power, like all others of a derived nature, must be governed, unless we suppose that it neither needs, deserves, nor admits of such rule; the absurdity of which suppositions needs no remark.—The more of essence any creature possesses, it is the more capable of government. And according as dependent beings rise in the scale of excellency, legislative efficacy takes the more firm hold of their nature and operations. Will any man in his reason, say that moral nature, capable of such extensive employment among God’s works, needs not a government, sufficient to confine it within proper boundaries? The abuse of moral power has kindled the fires of hell, and still keeps them burning; and its proper application has embellished heaven with its most transparent lamps—in proportion as morality prevails on earth, it blossoms like the rose, and sends forth a scent like Lebanon. In proportion as it withers, this earth becomes desolate and bare, and puts on the attire of a mourner. Does not such a power need government? And when it is considered that a moral capacity in human nature, forms one of its principal ornaments, and is that wherein it makes it nearest approach to God, and on which he has spent much cost and pains since the world began, we will not think it unreasonable that it should be considered as a primary object of divine legislative authority.
God’s legislative right may also be argued, from his ends in creation. Whatever could move God to create, must move him to govern. It is a clear case, that creatures cannot exist a moment independent of their creator, and consequently, cannot move on to their point of final destination without constant direction. It must therefore follow that either God had no end in view, in forming the beautiful fabric of nature, or that he has dropped the end if ever he had any, or that he has missed the end and given over any farther prosecution thereof; or finally, that he had an end, that he has signified the same to his dependents, and will most certainly see to its accomplishment. It will be no difficulty with any pious mind, which of these suppositions ought to be adopted.
We may considerably strengthen this argument by taking into consideration the existence of civil society among men. Experience shews that this relation cannot exist, to any advantage, unless under the protecting shade of morality. An immoral society is a monster in nature; nor can anyone, completely such, ever exist, even among the most barbarous nations on earth, If murder, perjury, and theft were legitimated, society must be speedily dissolved. And therefore all nations have found it necessary to encircle themselves within the enclosure of criminals codes of law, by which the lives and properties of the community are preserved from the devouring jaws of these beasts of prey. God, the wise contriver of all things, has given such an order to the wheels of providence, especially in their motions through the human family and its concerns, that in proportion as the moral law incorporates its influences into the social compact of any collective society, that society enjoys happiness on earth, and progresses towards that which is better, beyond it. It is not to be concealed that our vicious nature, often thinks otherwise, and acts upon principles agreeable to its corrupt desires; but as certainly it follows, that such departures from the law of our natures drew after them national ruin, as has been verified in the history of all ages. The uniformity of similar effects following similar causes, clearly evidences this to be the constitution of heaven. These therefore, who think or imagine they can perfect constitutions by abridging the moral law’s operation in civil society, are mistaken in one of these points, wherein it is of the highest moment to be rightly informed. And if we admit moral considerations at all, to have a place in forming the bands of human society, no doubt then the more influences which are communicated thence, the social compact will be so much the stronger. So that it may appear from the impossibility of binding the human race together by any cords, but those of a moral nature, that God must have exercised his legislate right, in preparing that code by which our family may harmonize in the bonds of love, while sun and moon endure.
The conscience of man confirms this point, and declares him under law to God; else, whence arises the sense of blame, with which men are so severely lashed, notwithstanding all their pains to shield themselves therefrom, or cure the wounds when received. The instances of remorse which are on record, put it beyond a doubt that the heart of man by its constitution is rendered susceptible of such impressions. And however speculative and immoral men may, in their closets and upon paper, have attempted to reason themselves and others into a belief that there is no distinction between right and wrong, yet we see they have made no great progress in bringing their proselytes to act up uniformly to such a principle. Who, in his reason, has ever been known to commend the murders, that had just shed the blood of a father, or a child? Whoever beheld with transports of joy a beloved wife or daughter debauched before his eyes? It seems therefore, that however men may waft themselves on the wings of speculation, out of the regions of human intercourse and sensibility, when they descend and mingle in real life they cease not to feel, at least in cases interesting to themselves, as other men do, and to act on the same principles.
To this reasoning revelation sets its inviolable seal; and without doubt its testimony should be decisive. There is perhaps no one instance of all God’s intercourses with man, in which he has been so abundantly and especially circumstantial in giving line upon line, and precept upon precept, as in the case before us. What is the whole old testament but a history of the giving laws, the breaches made upon them, and the consequent punishment; or else of due obedience yielded thereunto, with the rewards annexed. The new, completes the business, by adding these sections which more immediately respect the methods by which God’s law has been honoured, and its credit preserved, together with the functions which it continues to perform in the hearts of all who are redeemed from under its curse. As also what its office to eternity will be in and over these who remain destitute of a covering from its awful demands. Wise men will often read this law as recorded in the scriptures, and meditate upon it day and night. For men, favoured with the clear copy thereof in the volume of divine revelation, to reject this fountain of life and go back to the dark and indistinct dictates of conscience to regulate any part of human conduct, is an act of gross stupidity, utterly inconsistent with the christian character. It is to the law and testimony of God we must bring all actions, and all relations; if they speak not according thereunto, it is because there is no light in them.
The third right of God, which I shall mention, is that of punishing sin. It may be called his punitive right. The existence of sin is essential to the exercise of this right, and sin once existing, the exercise of this right becomes essentially necessary.—I am not insensible that this last assertion has been much disputed; but it is not the less true on that account. Men whose hearts are corrupt, and who are thereby become enemies to God by wicked works, will endeavor to catch at everything, however weak and visionary, that promises to screen them from the wrath of God and the Lamb. We had however need, in all the fabrics of hope which we erect, to make truth the foundation, or else the consequence must be fatal in the end. If God has not a right of punishing the rebellious, his right of giving laws is of little use, as the disobedient will not much care with how many laws they are loaded, if no penal effects are to ensue. But the design of the assertion now under consideration, is to go farther than simply to maintain, that punishing is not inconsistent with divine goodness. It goes farther than even asserting that God may punish, if he pleases, or not punish, that is, remit the punishment altogether. The intention of the remark is, “that it is natural to God to punish sin.” If the contrary of this is true, it might then follow, that a rational creature might revolt from its maker, and continue to all eternity in that state, without ever being called to an account. How contrary this would be to all ideas we have been accustomed to entertain of good government, is too clear to require any illustration. There is much reason to believe that mistakes about divine vindictive justice lie at the foundation of most heresies, with which the church has been pestered since the days of the apostles. Certain it is, that Socinians lay the denial of this divine attribute, at the foundation of their blasphemous doctrine about the divinity and atonement of Christ. There are a vast variety of considerations and distinctions on this subject, noticed and marked out by divines, of which we take no notice in this remark, especially as they are not so much disputed; and as the establishment of this point, establishes at the same time, most other truths with which the doctrine of divine justice is connected. Unless we will deny to God all liberty of acting, we must allow that he might exercise his creative power in such manner as he judged agreeable to the honor of all his perfections. And he has chosen, in pursuance of this design, to create free rational, accountable creatures. So doing, it was requisite, to answer the end of their being, that this end should be laid before them by sufficient intimations: this has been done. To the completing this directive manifestation of the divine will, it was necessary it should be armed with such penalties as might strongly operate on the creature by way of motive to obedience, at the same time fairly forewarning it of its impending fate, in case of failure. This law so given and so armed, being once violated, presented an object to divine justice with which it become necessarily concerned. And our assertion goes to prove, that under such circumstances, God necessarily behooved to punish sin: or in other words, that not to punish sin, under such circumstances would have been a violation of the divine honour; that honour with which he never can part, that honor upon which he never can possibly make the smallest infringement. That this sentiment is not an arbitrary or ungrounded assertion will appear more clear if we impartially consider the following confirmatory considerations.
The scripture everywhere attributes justice to God, both in respect to the state of his mind, or nature intrinsically, and also in respect to the state of his mind, or nature intrinsically, and also in respect to his visible administrations. As to the internal state of the divine nature, the following places are clear. The Lord God will by no means clear the guilty; visiting the iniquity of the father upon the children, and upon the children’s children unto the third, and to the fourth generation. Exod. 34:6, 7. Thou art of purer eyes an to behold evil, and canst not look on iniquity: Hab. 1:13. For thou art not a God that hath pleasure in wickedness: neither shall evil dwell with thee. Psal. 5:4. Whence it appears if the hatred of sin in God is necessary, justice is equally necessary, because the hatred of sin is a constant disposition to punish, which cannot want its effect in him whose power is infinite. In creatures there may be indeed often aversion and hatred without punishment, either be-cause our power is not adequate to the business, or because our doing so would infringe on the civil magistrate’s office; but in God the thing is quite otherwise: he is possessed with infinite power and unlimited authority. If therefore he necessarily hates sin, he ought necessarily to punish it. And that he does necessarily hate sin, appears from his love of justice. As therefore he so necessarily loves justice that he cannot do the contrary, so he must of necessity hate sin and manifest his hatred by suitable acts. Nor is the scripture less full in declaring God’s judicial character. Shall not the Judge of all the earth do right? Gen. 18:25. For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness, and unrighteousness of men. Rom. 1:18. It is a righteous thing with God to recompense tribulation to them who trouble you. 2 Thess. 1:6.
The conscience of man, in all nations, speaks the same language; hence these awful extremities to which, often wicked men have been driven, under a sense of guilt; some to confess, even before public magistrates, at the expense of their lives; others have taken away their lives by violent hands, vainly hoping thereby to get rid of conscience; others have pined away in wretched anguish until death called them to Jehovah’s august tribunal; others have invented human sacrifices, their own children not excepted, to appease their angry gods. These things clearly shew the sense of divine justice which is impressed on the human heart.
We are led to the same views by the moral and ceremonial laws. The former is generally allowed to be founded in and agreeable to the nature of God. So that we can have no idea that it would have been equally agreeable to God our lawgiver, to have commanded the contrary of what we find contained in the ten precepts of the decalogue. Who can possibly believe that God might equally have chosen, without any infringement of his glory, to command men to murder one another, what he said, thou shalt not kill. And if this law was founded in the nature of God, no doubt the sanction annexed is equally so; or in other words we have every reason, that our understandings can receive, to believe that there is a natural connection between moral and physical evil, as also between moral and physical good, or between virtue and happiness. The whole tendency of the ceremonial law is to confirm the genuine language of the moral law. The latter says the soul that sins shall surely die; the former, by the whole retinue of its sacrificial representations, shews the necessity of an expiation of sin in order to the satisfaction of divine justice. Common sense must shew that there was nothing of intrinsic value in these oblations which the ceremonial law required equal to purge away sin. Paul asserts this most explicitly, when shewing the necessity of a more excellent sacrifice. His words to this purpose in Heb. 10:3, 4. are worthy of minute observation. He there says, it was impossible that the blood of bulls or of goats could take away sin. But why could not the blood bulls and goats have taken away sin, without anything of greater value, seeing they were offered by divine appointment, if the expiation of sin had depended upon a mere arbitrary act of the divine will, and not upon the essential and immutable holiness and justice of his nature?
I might add to what has been said, a consideration borrowed from the death of Christ. And I must confess, that to me it appears, that this awful transaction speaks out the doctrine of God’s vindictive justice, whether we consider it in regard to God, to Christ, or to the church. If executing adequate punishment on sin was an act optional with God, suspended merely on his will, how could it comport with his infinite goodness to heap such a load of sufferings upon a dutiful and innocent person without any real necessity, seeing every end to be answered by such an event, could have been equally answered another way? this surely is not a supposition friendly to the honor of God’s infinite goodness and love to his creatures, not to say to his own eternal son. How will this view of things comport with God’s declaration when he says “as I live, saith the Lord, I have no delight in the death of sinners”? and if no delight in the unnecessary death of sinners how much less in that of an innocent person? As to Christ how must he have felt, when in his extreme agony he said, “Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me,” if in place of hearing his father say, I grant thy innocent request, and with good reason, seeing my glory loses nothing: he had heard him say, no. “Tho’ it makes no odds to me, yet I will not alter the ground which I have arbitrarily and unnecessarily taken.” How the son of God could have borne this, when nailed to the cross, and during the time his soul and body struggled under a pressure, such as no imagination besides, ever conceived, is beyond the power of rational conjecture. But if we suppose punitive justice essential to God, all things in this mysterious business become easy to the renewed mind. Not my will but thine be done, has then a glorious meaning. It is as much as to say; since there is no other honorable channel, oh! my father, through which thy love and pity to sinners can flow, but the rent veil of my flesh, “not my will but thine be done.” If all that was undertaken and conducted to its eventful period, in behalf of sinful man is to be considered as nothing more than an arbitrary effect of the divine will, and not a necessary sacrifice to offended justice, absolutely requisite to lay a permanent foundation for peace between God and man, then indeed the wonderful magnitude of the mercy will be amazingly diminished. On this supposition, a minister of the gospel finds the glad tidings of great joy, die away upon his tongue. The mighty ocean of divine love sinks almost underground. The astonishing words of Paul, in Rom. 5:7, 8. lose their emphasis. For scarcely for a righteous man will one die; yet peradventure for a good man some would even dare to die, but God commendeth his love towards us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. To the greater part of these born in christian countries, the doctrine of the cross has been familiar from their infancy, and in its continued discussion, passes over their ears without much attention. In what light it is to be viewed, is a matter that has never fallen under their thoughts. And therefore the messengers of a crucified Jesus are seldom troubled with any enquiries from a thoughtless world about the blood of the covenant, or the reasons why it was shed. It is not however likely that a missionary sent to explain the Christian dispensation to a well informed Pagan philosopher, unacquainted with God manifested in the flesh, would find it so easy to flip with decency through this interesting subject. In such a case, he would probably find himself entangled with sundry perplexing questions, which perhaps he had seldom or never considered before, with suitable attention. It is reasonable to suppose the teacher, in such a case, would dwell much on the death of Christ. Would it be too much then to expect that his pupil would enquire into the truth, reasonableness, and necessity of such an event, with the most minute investigation. The death of God’s eternal, and spotless son, is a fact which attaches to it too much magnitude to be passed over, by a serious enquirer after truth, without the most scrupulous examination. And I must acknowledge, upon the supposition that punitive justice is not essential to God, I am at a loss to think how this matter could be accounted for in a manner likely to procure veneration and esteem for the christian faith. I know of nothing could be said, if the truth was told, but something to the following purpose. The eternal son of God assumed flesh among men and with this flesh, a load of troubles utterly unparalleled in the history of humanity. For upwards of thirty years this matchless per-son spent his strength in the most unwearied piety and benevolence, though subjected to every indignity that malice could invent, or cruelty inflict; and in the prime of his life, and the midst of his tender and sympathising exertions for afflicted humanity, he became a prey to his murderous enemies, without the smallest visible intervention of heaven in his behalf. And all this scene was foreseen and contrived and carried into execution under God’s own eye, without the least necessity, as every end aimed at by this accumulated misery, could have been equally answered, if God would only have consented, without the falling of a tear, or the uttering of a groan. Would such a representation clothe christianity in a venerable dress to the eyes of reasonable men? No man of reflection can imagine any such thing. On the contrary, a man of delicacy would blush to subject the examination of such a sentiment, to the eye of even reason itself. But if a preacher of the gospel, in place of such a sanguinary despotism, presented the necessary relation be-tween sinning and adequate suffering, and the absolute need of the latter, to obtain the deliverance of mankind from everlasting ruin, I should consider his argument clad with the armor of truth, and well entitled to attention from the most contemplative enquirer in the whole school of human reason.
This view of the justice of God, does not abridge his royal prerogative in any necessary part of its exercise. We ought however, to beware of measuring this by the weak-ness that often accompanies judicial proceedings among men. One reason why it is not necessary to punish all crimes on earth, is, because there is a God in heaven to punish them, when the criminals leave this present world. And therefore, so far is it from being the case, that God should proceed to eternity, as the inferior administrators of justice have done in time, that to secure the honor of universal justice, the very contrary is necessary.—Besides, human laws are often too severe to be indiscriminately applied to all whose conduct may seem to fall within the letter of their penalties. This, however, is never the case with God’s laws. And, finally, the proof of crimes, owing to the weakness of our discernment, the mysteriousness of human conduct, and the uncertainty of human testimony, is often far from being full, clear, and completely satisfactory, and therefore humane judges lean, and perhaps not without reason, to the merciful side, especially as they know there is a judge to come after them, who cannot be deceived. Taking all these things into consideration, it will appear very improper to limit God’s judicial proceedings, by the imperfect acts of creatures, who occupy such a limited sphere, as that in which the human understanding at present moves. It is questionable whether the nature of man, in its present state of animal sensation, be capable of receiving the doctrine of inflexible justice, without shrinking. Like a judge passing the sentence of death upon a son or a brother, it is too much interested, to approach the subject with firmness and impartiality. The righteous administrations of God, are not however to leave their road for the sake of humoring our effeminate sensibility. Though the nature of God, the dictates of reason, and the testimony of revelation, agree that every sin which has been, or ever will be committed, must receive adequate punishment, yet God has manifested wonderful sovereignty in transferring the punishment of sin from its immediate subjects to Christ the redeemer, as also in suspending, for wise reasons, the complete punishment of the most guilty criminals, until their cup be made full, and the other mysterious ends of his divine wisdom be answered by such seasons of forbearance. We are no way fit to judge at present of that latitude requisite to be taken by God, in timing his holy administrations so as to have the most happy effects upon the general system. It should fully satisfy us “that justice and judgment are the everlasting habitations of his throne;” and that however slow and sometimes interrupted, the executions of judgment may be, during time, the end of time is reserved for finishing whatever shall then remain necessary to seal the honor of God’s justice and veracity to endless ages. It is not necessary on this subject to entangle it with any minute enquiries about the powers that shall be exercised by Christ is his mediatorial character, in the last general judgment. The most interesting truth, to those who are now going on in their trespasses, is, that from day to day they are adding to a load of guilt, which God, with reverence to his holy name be it spoken, cannot cancel any other way to eternity, but by faith in his son. And that he has appointed this son judge of the world, “who will take awful vengeance on them that obey not the gospel.”
It will be observed that in the preceding remarks on the rights of God, we have joined the legislative and judicial rights in the same hand. This is thought an imperfection in human governments, and accordingly, nations anxious for the safety of their liberties, have endeavoured to separate these powers as much as possible. It will however easily appear, that there is no need for, nor indeed any possibility of such an order of things in the divine government. The reason why such a precaution has been introduced into well ordered civil governments, is, to prevent more effectually that insolent usurpation which generally arises from the possession of extensive powers. Where the right of legislating, judging, an executing, reside in the same hands, we often find cruel and oppressive laws made for the sake of directing their judicial application to accomplish the black designs of malice, avarice, or pride. Was there no possible danger on this quarter, it is not evident that there would exist any necessity for dividing powers, and placing them in a situation favorable for counteracting each other. Now as there is not found the shadow of a doubt about God’s perfect rectitude, either in legislation, or execution, a good mind rests perfectly easy in beholding justice and judgment flow eternally through the channel of the divine perfections, a channel which never can corrupt its streams nor injure any but those who attempt to block it up.
The fourth and last article I shall mention, under this general head, shall be, God’s providential right of guiding all the motions in creation, not expecting even the most minute, to their final point of destination. The vessel of universal creation is richly laden, and requires infinite wisdom at the helm, to steer it against all winds and tides, to the destined harbor. That God keeps this business in his own hand is a happy consideration for his friends, who are often tossed about on the boisterous seas of this present life, where they can see neither sun nor stars, for many days, while such a tempest lies on them, that almost all hopes of safety are taken away. The hope of the believer in such cases, is, that all his interests are committed to his care, who slumbers not nor sleeps, who is perfect in wisdom, goodness, and power,—and who therefore may be confidently trusted to order and execute all things, according to the holy counsels of his unerring will. Here it is that we see the hopes of the Atheist in their true light. These hopes are the most feeble and sickly things in nature, more easily torn than the spider’s web. Could he even abolish God out of his thoughts, nay, could he with mathematical certainty, demonstrate that there is no God, nor future judgment; yet he never can be certain that there will be no Hell. How does he know but those wonderful dancing atoms, which he supposes, have produced all these strange appearances which we behold, may in some of their future dances, dance them-selves into the hottest hell, and dance himself to its lowest place? I only mention this, to shew what a gloomy life these miserable outcasts must spend, on whom hope never casts one joyous ray. It is true, in this present life, many and sore evils abound: but, can we reasonably hope to diminish their number, by thrusting out a wise and holy God from among the armies of heaven and earth? Their jarring motions would seem at least, to require some infinite arm to keep them from running into wild disorder, and rendering all nature an heap of endless confusion.
Though what has already been said, will necessarily establish the point under consideration; yet as it is of great importance to the believer’s peace, and the good order of this lower world, it may be proper to bestow upon it a few separate remarks. The church of God consoles herself abundantly under this comfortable shade. The wiser Heathens, have clearly seen that the system of creation cannot be separate a moment from the provident care of God. And the faith that is able to encounter the difficulties that would attend the contrary supposition, need not be afraid of meeting anything so shocking to reason, in the whole book of Providence, mysterious as it is. Yet though it be true, that the testimonies of men, guided merely by the light of reason, are worthy of our most attentive observation, it is from divine revelation alone, that true christians ought to derive their principal support, in believing the doctrine of Providence. Its testimonies on this subject are so numerous, that we might adduce them from almost every page: one or two may suffice. Memorable to this purpose are the words of Christ, Luke 12:6, 7. Are not five sparrows sold for two farthings, and not one of them is forgotten before God, but even the hairs of your head are all numbered. The Apostle Paul, bears ample testimony to this truth, on various occasions. Reasoning with the men of Lystra, he tells them, that the providence of God had been unweariedly exercised even among the Gentiles; so that he had not left himself without a witness, in that he did good, and gave us rain from heaven, and fruitful seasons, filling our hearts with good and gladness. Acts 14:17. And again, writing to the Ephesians, he said, “That, God worketh all things according to the counsel of his will.” Eph. 1:11. In no instance, is there a more striking analogy between the book of nature, and the book of scripture, than in the accounts that each give of the providence of God. The perfections displayed in creation, leave no room to doubt of a Providence, as no possible reasons can be given, why God should confer so much beauty and order on the visible creation, which will not equally prove the necessity of a Providence. All its harmonizing parts agree in their testimony, to confirm the glorious doctrine of one wise first cause, which gave existence at first, and still continues to give energy to all the wheels of creation, by an uninterrupted providential agency. These move on from day to day, with wonderful exactness, though utterly unconscious of their being or end, and though they contain a machinery almost infinite. If anything more than what appears on the very surface of these things was necessary, to persuade us that they are not the effect of chance, it may be found in these infallible predictions by which God has, with the most perfect exactness, foretold events depending on seemingly the most uncertain circumstances, so long before they come to pass, that the most confirmed infidelity cannot dream that these predictions could be founded on any possible conjectures of the wisest politicians and philosophers. No! this light which has been cast upon futurity, most evidently proceeds from his infinite understanding, who saw the end of all things from the beginning—who perfectly knew what latent tendencies he had lodged in every part of the general system, and on what occasions, and by what means, they should unfold themselves in producing these illustrious effects, upon which the manifestation of the divine glory should depend.
It is evidently necessary, that in forming our ideas of a divine Providence, we should take into account that care which God exercises over these parts of creation, which to our eye may seem the least worthy of his notice. It argues the grossest ignorance of divinity to suppose that the Almighty is acquainted with great matters, but not with those that are more small and insignificant. If God be of infinite perfection, such a supposition is absolutely impossible. And was it one believed to be true, no considerate mind could enjoy a moment’s peace: the feeblest insect might soon deliver the message of death to the mightiest monarch. Who is it that has not heard what the worms did to vaunting Herod? Who is it that is ignorant how low the proud Pharaoh was brought by armies of frogs, lice, flies, and locusts? Yes! there is as real a necessary that God should govern the meanest worm as the highest angel. Nor can any person reasonably conceive it beneath his dignity, who made these things, to rule them in subordination to the general good of his universal empire. It is the weakest thing imaginable, to suppose, that the seemingly small and contemptible parts of God’s creation, are unworthy of subjects of his government, because we know not their use. Why should we suppose it either possible or necessary, that we, in our assuming arrogance, should know all the uses to which infinite wisdom employs creatures of whom perhaps we think so meanly, merely because we are not better informed concerning their history. It is far from being improbable, that a turkey buzzard, who employs itself in carrying away dead carrion out of the heat of the sun, and hiding it beneath the ground, is a more respectable member of the common family of creation, than either Julius Cæsar, Alexander the Great, or any hero of modern times, who can murder men by the thousand and pile up their rotting flesh upon heaps. The former useful laborer cleanses this earth of nuisances, and renders it thereby more comfortable and agreeable for the residence of man: but the latter make, both its physical and moral stink, insufferable. There is one lesson of great importance, which may be learned from God’s attention to the meanest members of his family, and that is, humble condescension to the most poor and needy of our brethren, partaking of the same common nature with ourselves. When we see a clod of the earth raise his haughty and disdainful eyes above the vulgar throng, as if unworthy of a look from his self-important countenance, and compare his conduct with that of the most high God, feeding the ravens that cry to him for their food, we are cast down to the dust with admiration. Nor is this all the use that may be derived from God’s care about these members of his family, that sit at the lower end of the table. It helps to raise the eyes of that trembling prodigal, man, to his father’s compassionate bosom. That, spotless seraphs should shine with unclouded splendor in their father’s house, is not the most wonderful thing in nature. No! It is much more wonderful to see the tabernacle of God with men on earth. A convinced sinner, just awakening from the slumbers of his horrid estrangement, can hardly believe such a thing possible. He thinks himself too inconsiderable to become an object of God’s special notice. But let this son of sorrows take a morning walk with God, through the lower departments of creation; let him behold with what infinite condescension divine benevolence calls forth the meanest, the feeblest of the family of brutal creation; with what ease he opens their mouth, and gives everyone his morsel in due season; let the trembling prodigal dwell on this strange sight, until it warms his heart—then let him retire within, and tell his soul what his eyes have seen—and let him learn to hope that his needs are not beneath the care of heaven. I have been the more particular on this part of the subject, because we are in most danger of overlooking it, in a general survey of God’s administrations.
Though the ground is abundantly firm, on which a believer in God’s providence, stands, when he turns aside to see this great sight, yet it cannot be beheld with too much lowliness and reverence of mind. The difficulties which combine themselves with this subject, are perhaps among the most perplexing of any, to be found in the Christian system. When we bring our thoughts to a point, and strive to fasten them upon that precise mode in which Jehovah constantly puts forth his agency upon his creatures, according to their respective natures, we shall soon find the weakness of our own understandings, and their present insufficiency to pursue this enquiry to any great length. A twilight dimness covers the subject, which renders our views extremely indistinct. What of all other things is most difficult to the church, is, to render a rational account to her own children, and to them that are without, of the influence which God is supposed to put forth in the production of sin.
The decrees of God in eternity, and their execution in time, when looked at through the medium of creature agency, seem very often to put on an extremely dark complexion. Many have labored, in all ages of the Christian church, to set this matter in a conspicuous point of view to the eye of reason; and yet after all their pains, it is much to be feared that while we tabernacle in houses of clay, we shall never get up so high in the mount of intellectual improvement, as to be beyond darkness and doubting. This felicity is probably reserved for Immanuel’s land. When death shall be swallowed up in victory, and faith be changed into open vision. We are not, however, hence to infer, that we are at liberty to consign our powers into a state of stupid inactivity, in respect to these deep things of God. Nothing is more distant from our duty. The works of God are great, and sought out of all that have pleasure therein; and how far the Lord may shew his secrets, even in this life, to them that fear him, is hard to say.
It is probable if we knew more about the metaphysical properties of being, we should find many of our doubts on this, and sundry other perplexing questions, easily resolved; but this very imperfection of understanding is one of the things under which God intends we should be exercised for the present. We shall therefore find that when reason has exerted herself to the uttermost, in these researches, much will remain for faith to do, in guiding our thoughts to a holy and quiet termination on God, in midst the disorders in which all things visible are seemingly involved. The reasonings which we are capable of applying to these moral, spiritual, and mysterious points, do not usually bring along with them that conviction with which mathematical, or philosophical demonstrations are more commonly attended. The reason is not, that the one are employed about truths, and the other about false or improbable conjectures. No. The reason is to be sought for in the state of the mind. That God governs all things in a most holy, wise, and powerful manner, is a proposition, though not more true, yet containing a great deal more truth, than the proposition which asserts, that two and two are equal to four, yet we perceive the truth contained in the latter, with the utmost ease, whereas the former, is sought after with much labour, and but darkly understood at the best. If we cannot therefore satisfy ourselves as to all doubts we ought to strengthen our faith, as Job, Jeremiah, and Asaph did, in the doctrine of the divine righteousness, which however obscured to our eye, must ever be most unspotted, in all the divine administrations.
It is not the action of sinning, so far as referable to efficiency of our natural powers, that can occasion much doubt in this enquiry. There is nothing in our exercising our natural powers, according to that organization which God at first gave them, which renders it unfit for him to continue the operation of these fixed laws by which strength is supplied to the rational creature conform to the designs of its original constitution. There was nothing evil in the action of stoning Stephen, abstractly considered, more than in the action of stoning, at the commandment of God, the man who had broken the sabbath. Num. 15:35, 36. The quarter on which we are most pressed, is, to account for the con-nection which the divine persecutions have with moral turpitude or disorder of sinful actions. And in respect to this immoral quality, actions may be considered either as to their beginning, their progress, or their end.
In respect to the commencement of such actions, God is concerned in them permissively, of which the scripture speaks, Psal. 81:12. I gave them up unto their own heart’s lust; and they walked in their own counsels. And in Acts. 14:16. We find a similar sentiment. God in times past suffered all nations to walk in their own ways. We are not however to think that this permission is a mere negation of energy, on the part of God, whereby he withdraws himself from creature agency, to look on as an idle spectator. And yet we have much reason to believe, that this is the idea which many people annex to God’s permissions: in which case they evidently borrow their conceptions from what they see taking place among men. When a man cannot pre-vent an evil action, notwithstanding all his efforts, we often see him retire and perhaps properly, from the scene of action, that he may not mingle his powers with the immorality of others, and thereby incur, a share at least, of their blame. But who is it that does not see that no such manner of action is competent to God? How can he who is essentially omnipotent withdraw from any part of space? How can he, by whom all things are upheld every moment and furnished with all their powers, leave the creature any moment to itself to act its own energies independent of its maker? No. The thing is improbable. We must therefore seek for some other idea to be annexed to the term permission, as applied to God. This permission is not to be understood simply of God’s not willing to hinder sin, which is an idle negation; “but of his positive and fixed volition, that he will not hinder sin.” God, oftentimes to punish men for sin, sometimes to try them, and sometimes to correct them, knowing the full extent of our powers, their bent, the positions in which we are placed, and the impressions to which in these situations we will become subject, positively wills that he will not put forth any intervening operation, that would turn our disposition or actions out of their natural channel; and not only so, but he mingles also his providential agency with sin and sinners, by presenting occasions; thus the passing by of the Midianites, became subservient to the wickedness of Joseph’s brethren; the wedge of gold, and the goodly garment, were occasions of exciting the inward avarice of Achan; the nakedness of Bathsheba inflamed the lust of David. In all these, it is easy to see that, there is no evil in the things mankind, behold such things as these without contracting any defilement. Nay, in their own proper nature, relations and complete connections, these things are calculated to produce the contrary effect, and only become occasions of evil, as they meet with a state of mind prepared to convert them to such pernicious purposes. Among multitudes of examples that might be given of the diverse effects, which one and the same cause may produce upon different hearts, according to the diversity of their subjective states, I shall present that of Phinehas, Num. 23. Thus stands the case.—The wicked, the avaricious Balaam, having failed in curing Israel, advised to entangle them, if possible, into the sins of whoredom and idolatry, which would answer more effectually the designs of Balak, than all the wizard’s enchantments. The snare took. Israel eat of the sacrifices of Moab, bowed to their gods, and committed whoredom with their women, the example of one emboldened another. On this occasion, “one of the children of Israel came, and brought unto his brethren a Midianitish woman, in the sight of Moses, and in the sight of all the congregation of the children of Israel, who were weeping before the door of the tabernacle of the congregation.” This action might have been inflaming to the lusts of many others, and no doubt it was. But it had not that effect on all. “All when Phinehas the son of Eleazar, the son of Aaron the priest, saw it, he rose up from amongst the congregation, and took a javelin in this hand; and he went after the man of Israel into the tent, and thrust both of them through, the man of Israel, and the woman through her belly: so the plague was stayed from the children of Israel.” We see how differently Phinehas was affected with these entangling sights, owing to the state of his mind, from that in which others were affected, who were under the influence of contrary passions.—So, presenting so many signs and wonders before Pharaoh, ought to have softened his heart: yet God knew that the contrary would be the case, in the then temper of this wretch’s mind. The evils that came upon him were not imputable to the objects with which he was presented, but to the evil affections with which he received them. In like manner, the Jews ought to have been deeply affected, and convinced by the miracles of Christ; but they were not, and what is more, God intended that they should be suffered to meet these miracles under such an unbelieving state of mind, as would effectually seal their ruin.—Moreover, Jehovah mingles his providential agency with sin, but giving up men to the influence of Satan’s temptations, together with the working of their own wretched lusts, so that from the conjunct operation of these powerful causes, they are carried on to fill up a great part of the moral evil which is in the world. It is perhaps not competent to us to judge with precision, of all Satan’s agency on the human mind; something, however, of it, may be learned from scripture and experience. An evil spirit from the Lord, is said to have troubled Saul, 1 Sam. 16:4. And a lying spirit is said to be put by the Lord, into the mouths of Ahab’s prophets. 1 Kings. 22:22. And Satan is said to work, in the children of disobedience, as a powerful prince. Ep. 2:2. In this business, sometimes Satan acts the accuser, and God exposes men to his temptations, as in the case of Job, chap. 1. and Joshua, Zech. 3:1. Sometimes Satan acts the tormentor, and God delivers men into his hand to be vexed, as in 1 Cor. 5:5. But, of all the concern that God has with sin, none is more mysterious than that internal operation, which he puts forth on the human heart, by turning it whithersoever he pleases, according to the adorable counsels of his own will. It is, perhaps, most proper that we should not pursue this remark too far, as it leads into a region with which we are so little acquainted. Yet to me it seems not beyond the truth to suppose that this operation may be carried on, at least in part, by the internal proposal of objects, which however good, or innocent in themselves, are calculated to work on the corrupt heart, to the production of evil. So the brethren of Joseph thought that he was beloved of his parents, and favored of God by dreams, which were facts, that had nothing of evil in themselves, but they had a very evil influence on these wickedly disposed minds, who were thereby driven to meditate murder.—Pharaoh, after the death of Joseph, thought how he might consult the safety of his kingdom: This thought was from God, and had nothing wrong in it. But it fell into a bad mind, and was abused to the destruction of Israel. It came into the mind of Caiaphas, that it was expedient that one should die for the people, but he abused it to compass the death of Christ. Again, God operates internally upon man when he causes objects to move him upon a certain quarter rather than any other, whence it comes, that man, inclined to every kind of evil naturally, is nevertheless carried out to someone rather than others, just as in forming a watercourse, the former of the canal, takes advantage of a general principle of fluidity in the water, to turn it in that direction which best answers his designs. Besides, when many ways of sinning present, God often shuts up all but one, and leaves it open for punishment or trial. Seeing therefore, that he has so many and various methods of conducting, even the wicked hearts of ungodly men to fulfil his will, we, certainly with justice, ascribe an extensive agency to his providence, in all the motions of the rational creature, however lawless or immoral they may be, as to their immediate production, by their sinful authors.
In respect to the progress of sin, we may add to what has been now said, that God sets limits to it, as he does to the sea, saying hitherto shalt thou go and no farther, whereby it is restrained from overflowing its banks, as it certainly would otherwise do, to a much greater degree, both in intensity and duration, than we find is the case. This moderating effect God puts forth, sometimes internally, by illuminating the mind so as to perceive the turpitude of sin, with the magnitude and bitterness of consequent punishment, as also by restraining wicked desires from running after their objects to their full extent. Sometimes this restraint operates externally, by repressing the fury of Satan and the world, removing occasions of evil, calling off from sin by commands or threatenings, of all which we have striking examples in Laban, Esau, Balaam, Sennacherib, and many others. And happy it is for the world, and especially for godly men, that the present course of visible and invisible creation, is under such control; for bad as the world is, it would be a great deal worse, was it not that God reigns. And as to the termination of sinful acts, God is deeply concerned, that by his ordination and direction, he may bend sin contrary to its own nature and the most malicious inclinations of the sinner, by the irresistible exertions of his wisdom and power, to the most glorious ends. “Ye thought evil against men,” says Joseph to his brethren, “but God meant it for good.”
Such powers, as these mentioned in the preceding discourse, are necessary to reside some somewhere in the system of universal being; and it appears not where they can be more safely placed than in the hands of the Lord God Omnipotent. Every pious mind traces up its concerns until it lands them in divinity, and then it rests satisfied. Having shortly described some of these first principles of universal and unlimited right, which are only competent to God, and which seem to exercise the faith, patience, and hope of the saints, we shall close this discourse with a few deductions from the whole.
Inference 1st. It would seem to follow from the premises that ignorance is not such a very harmless thing as some represent it to be. If mankind are under the most indispensable obligations to render to God the things that are God’s, it does not appear how they can ever comply with their duty unless they know it. How therefore it comes to be so positively asserted, that it is no matter what a man believes, is utterly incomprehensible. There is some reason to doubt, that many of those feelings upon which a great value is set, if weighed in the balance of truth, would be found wanting. If a man takes up an utterly mistaken apprehension about some of God’s rights, and forms, a practical system of thoughts and affections thereupon, it would seem to follow that when the system is found erroneous the affections dependent upon it must cease. For instance, if a man considers it absolutely necessary that God should save all men and devils at last from misery, in order to vindicate divine justice, goodness, and mercy from an everlasting odium; then it would seem, that if this opinion should prove false, and that it is no way necessary to such an end that every individual creature should be finally saved from ruin, and rendered happy in the full enjoyment of God to all eternity, it may be something doubtful whether the former imaginary love, founded upon mistaken ideas, may not turn to eternal hatred. Indeed it is not easy to see, how falsehood can be a proper medium, through which to represent any of God’s attributes, or the duties due him from his creatures. It will not therefore, to thinking men, appear an improper employment for the most serious hours of retirement, to examine the rights of God, by which all his administrations among his moral subjects are to be guided forever. Nor will it perhaps be found any great breach of charity to assert that those who remain ignorant, and inattentive to the great elementary principles of God’s government, after which we have been enquiring, are very unfit for sustaining with dignity or usefulness, these moral connections for which their moral nature was originally designed, and unto which they are generally called by their situations, in domestic, religious or civil society. Let us mind Paul’s advice, who says, Let your loins be girded with the girdle of truth.
Inference 2nd. We may gather pretty certainly, from what has appeared in these enquiries, what the reason is, why men are so averse to study the rights of God. These rights are in a state of constant warfare with the disorderly passions of mankind, and abridge their unlawful pleasures, within much narrower limits than agree with their libertine education and pursuits. They therefore willfully remain ignorant of truths, which can only serve to interrupt their sensual enjoyments, or at least render their possession disquieting to an awakened conscience. Whatever vain dreamers may think to the contrary, mankind come into this world in a state unfriendly to all such studies; nor does age ripen their faculties into a more tractable form: on the contrary, as they advance in life and become more and more acquainted with the variety of sensual springs from which their thirst may be supplied, they become more irreclaimable, and desperately averse to any intercourse with God, which might bring them to a sense of their dependence upon him, and of the account which they must shortly render to him, for all the deeds done in the body. Our voluntary ignorance of God’s claims will not set them aside, or screen us from that wrath, which will be poured out on them, “that know not God, nor obey the gospel of his son.” He complained that his people Israel were destroyed for lack of knowledge; he also says, that they were a people of no understanding, therefore he that made them will not have mercy upon them. So much are the rights of God out of sight, that the man who would presume to mention them, as worthy of any notice in the social intercourses of mankind, would be considered as a babbler, or a setter forth of strange gods. It has, however, been made appear, I expect, beyond the power of contradiction, that God’s rights are supreme; that they claim the highest place from man, whether in his solitary or social capacity; all, therefore, who either choose to be ignorant, or maliciously stifle the light, which from the volume of creation, providence, and supernatural revelation, pours forth so plentifully on this subject, would do well to remember that God is neither ignorant, nor insensible, of such wrongs. He said to the Jews of Old, will a man rob God? This is an awful question. Neglecting its sacred import, ruined that devoted nation. And what it has done in the christian world, is already known and will be so more fully, by the time that God has finished the judgment of men and devils.
Inference 3rd. From the foregoing remarks, we may be enabled to detect an imposture, which seems to be practiced on the world, with but too much success. That visible things are at present in a state of unusual com-motion, is well known; the causes are also known. An accumulation of usurpations have been growing upon the human race for many ages, and almost in every habitable part of the earth. In no places have these oppressions become more insufferable than in countries professing some regard to christianity. Of this, the church of Christ was early apprised, by her head himself, and his apostles. It was clearly foreseen that pride, avarice, and despotism, would shroud themselves under the wings of our most amiable religion, the more artfully to enslave and pillage the unthinking part of mankind. The history of every nation in Christendom, bears ample testimony to this anti-christian plunder and insult. Though God was no doubt righteous in suffering men and nations, who neither knew how to estimate justly the protection of God, their own rights, nor the encroachments of fellow-mortals to be thus treated. Yet he is no less just in listening to the groans of outraged humanity, and searching out the blood of his murdered servants, who were always sure to drink deepest of the waters of Marah. The long expected time of judgment for these unnumbered wrongs, seems to be at length arrived. Glory to God for the news. But the nations are angry; yet who would believe, that these beasts of prey, would have the front to mingle their insufferable robberies with the rights of Jehovah, and attempt to make of it a common cause with that supreme God, and that blessed Jesus, whom they have outraged without intermission, for thousands of years? Or though we should suppose such effrontery no more than might be expected, from faces that never knew what it was to blush, would it be supposed that any virtuous citizen of Zion, or inhabitant of the world, could be longer duped with such intolerable insult, ? Yet strange as it may be to tell, all this is true—and now near the close of the 18th century, there are thousands, yea millions of these overgrown plunders, under whom the earth has groaned, who raised a lamentable cry, because they are likely to hunt down the taken in the net of divine vengeance, and made to account, both to God and to man, for the wanton manner in which they have sup-ported with all things, divine and human. And their people foolish enough to listen without indignation to these hardened murderers, while they make their defense, and accuse the dispensations of God, that have most justly found them out, enriched with the spoils of outraged humanity. If ever indignation was justly indulged among mortals, it seems to claim its place, when we behold, these common enemies of God and man, long since divested of everything God like or humane, of everything that could procure protection from God, or respect from good men, rally round religion and social order as if these divine gifts of heaven had been under their keeping and care, from the earliest ages until now!!! These, perhaps, exceeds anything to be found in the records of impudents. No! sordid, dastardly crew, religion turns her indignant face from you with infinite disdain. Your putrid breath pollutes her holy sanctuary. She abhors the help of your hands; yet reeking with murder and sacrilege. She recognizes the face of a Judas in your treacherous kisses. Miserable would be the fate of this heavenly virgin, if placed under your vile protection. No! cowardly, avaricious hypocrites! She knows you ever since the days of Balaam the son of Besor. She remembers you since the time when she saw you at school with Simon Magus. Many of you pretend to be the ministers of Jesus, and defenders of his holy honor on earth: but religion loathes your pretended friendship. If you were capable of wishing her honor; you could not serve it better, than by absconding from her presence. She loses, in the fight of reasonable men, every moment she is seen in your company. Can you suppose religion and social order would afford you a shelter, covered with the spoil of ages, which your despotism has rung from the miserable inhabitants of every clime, during the time when there was none to wipe away the tears of the oppressed! No, they laugh at your calamity, and mock when your fear comes. They rejoice that the day of God’s vengeance hastens, which already begins to burn such bramble from the earth. They know you would never have fled to their wings for protection, could you have obtained it from the Mammon of unrighteousness, which you have faithfully served. They bid you, get ye to the gods whom you and your fathers have so long followed, to shield you from the great day of God Almighty, which at length has found you out. You the friends of order!!! Your order perish with you; and let all the true friends of order, of God’s order, and Christ’s order, and the church’s order, say amen. Be it known to you once for all, that the veil of your hypocrisy is rent from the top to the bottom, and has clearly discovered the turpitude of your cause; and the saints of God have not a tear to shed over your calamity. They are so far from thinking you necessary to the support of religion, and they that know you must be taken out of the way and your pride and ambition trampled in the dust, to make way for the triumphs of Jehovah’s rights, and these of his son and church.—Amen.
Inference 4th. Impartiality obliges me to apply the preceding doctrine against a class of men, who in modern times attempt to set the rights of God and man at variance. Whilst religion discards from her train the bloody robbers of mankind, who begin to flee before the wrath of God and the Lamb, and who seem incapable of holding their usurped power over the human race, under the mock pretence of meek and unaffected piety, her sister liberty, whose name should be venerable, seems to hide her face in the dust, when she beholds what a shabby race of infidels follow her, in this day of her glorious triumph. Alas! that ever her honor and dignity should have been debased by these dregs of human nature. Satan could not have more effectually affronted her glorious cause, than by smuggling into her camp such inglorious defenders, who endeavor to withdraw her from the society of religion. But with generous disdain, she despises their aid on such terms. The twain sisters refuse to be separated. Genuine liberty can with no propriety, commit herself to their care, who have trampled under foot the son of God, and put him to open shame. No! though the ransomed of the Lord love liberty most tenderly, as one of the most precious gifts of Heaven, yet they are not disposed to barter their share in the everlasting covenant, to obtain it. They see through the arch designs of Satan, in this day, when his kingdom being full of darkness and consternation, begins to tremble to its center. Whilst they lament bitterly, that ever the sacred cause of liberty should be disgraced with the support of raging infidels; they nevertheless rejoice to behold the infinite wisdom of God, so illustriously displayed in bringing arrows out of his quiver, who has long been the enemy of our race, whereby his kingdom in this world, shall be finally overthrown. Though one syllable of apology should never be uttered in favor of infidelity, yet it is not without admiration, that we behold the righteous judgment of God, suffering it to bring matters to their present eventful issue.
The nations of the world have for ages, been so far from presenting true social order, civil justice, and peaceable security for human nature and its rights, that we see a set of the vilest of our race, goading the outraged victims of their despotism, to madness. And we see these madmen, in the paroxysm, of their rage, break their massy chains, with the utmost fury rent their unrelenting murderers in pieces. While we lament the hard fate of our family, and execrate the causes which have brought on the melancholy mortal diseases, we can hardly wonder at the effects which these causes have produced. What else in the present state of human nature, could have been expected, but that these victims of brutality, have escaped from their hopeless dungeon, would commit many excesses. But while the church should beware of mingling in the madness, it can hardly be expected, that on the other hand, she would interpose her influence, to save the babble of tyranny and superstition, from tumbling to its everlasting inhabitation in the blackness of darkness. No! no! The Lamb’s wife has no concern with such devoted works of darkness, unless triumphantly to follow their funeral procession, chanting loud the song of Moses and the Lamb. In the name of wisdom, let even infidelity, if heaven will have it so, tear in pieces the charm of hypocrisy, superstition and domineering pride, rather than that they should longer remain a scourge either to the church, or to the earth; and so hinder the triumphs of religion, or the glory of its author. When the besom [broom] of infidelity has swept these abominations from the earth, itself will be cast into the fire.
Inference 5th. This text and doctrine seem to drop a serious caution to all good men now on earth, whose destiny has reserved them to behold the wonders of providential administration, which pass over this visible stage in such rapid succession. Never perhaps was there a time, when they were more loudly called upon to study the rights of God, this study will enable all who make due progress therein, to tear the masque from the hypocritical despot on the one hand, who only keeps company with religion to give him an unexpected appearance, when the hue and cry is raised after him, as a robber of God and man; and on the other hand, this study will keep its votaries out of the road of mad raging infidels whom no bands can bind. The inquisitive will also hereby be taught to think the present appearances with due solemnity and composure. They will not think the worst of religion because the basest of men affect her company and acquaintance, nor will they think the worst of fair liberty the amiable benefactors of humanity, because many enemies of Jesus and the apostles and his spotless cause, have hailed her on her march, with their affectionate hosannas. Good christians have sufficient reason to hope, that in the short time, that furious storm with which all things in earth seem to be more or less affected, will be changed into a calm. The joint triumphs, of enlightened reason, and true religion, must soon become glorious. One thing that highly gratifies the friends of revelation, is, that they clearly see these struggles which liberty makes, when now come almost to the birth, can never be successful without the helping hand of religion. That liberty and equality, which infidels ignorantly worship, the scriptures and its friends declare unto men. It is only so far as the gospel of Jesus leavens individuals and communities, that ever they can clearly discern, or long maintain their just rights. This is a truth, of which men, and nations, through the whole earth, will one day, and that not long hence, be fully persuaded. It gives the friends of religion and liberty no pain to hear the modern reformers declaim as long as they please, against hypocrisy, superstition and priestcraft, provided these terms are justly understood. No christian is armed in their defense. No christian finds either his own feelings or his maker’s rights, suffer by the destruction of such monsters. But the heirs of the light have too much good sense to suffer the rights of God, of Christ, and of the church, together with all the hopes of glory beyond time, to be buried in one common grave, with tyranny and priestcraft. No, no, such tricks are too clumsy to be practiced on the most high, know well that fighting against designing priests and usurping tyrants, and fighting against God and his Christ, are very different things. The former is just and commendable: the latter is most abominably blasphemous and wicked. Whilst, perhaps it may be looked upon as a piece of adorable wisdom in God to commit a large share of agency in the execution of his wrath on the man of sin and his supporters, into the hands of men, whose unrelenting hearts render them to fit such services, it is nevertheless much to be lamented, that Satan’s scheme of dividing the interests of liberty and religion, has been in many instances shockingly successful, in tearing asunder from each other, both in opinion and exertion, men whose mutual co-operation is much needed, and might before this time, have left despotism uttering its last melancholy groan. True and well informed lovers of religion and liberty, who look on both as precious gifts of heaven, are ashamed to count kindred with many, whom otherwise they esteem when they see them so awfully left to themselves, as to lend their aid to the system of destruction on which God is evidently pouring out the vials of his consuming wrath. They are inclined to drop a sympathetic tear over the deception of many well disposed people, who in these times of con-fusion, to hide their religion from the fury of madmen, from bedlam, rush with it into a fabric on fire which already totters to its foundation and threatens every moment to bury all near it, in it’s ruins. On the other hand many who love liberty with a most enthusiastic affection, keep at a greater distance from movements of the present moment, then they could otherwise with, on account of the severe wounds, their feelings often receive from the horrid indignations offered to the son of God, by those who are employed in pulling corruption from its stinking kennel. An extensive knowledge of the rights of God, seems the most likely guardian of the human mind, against every extreme; men will thereby be prevented from dashing religion and liberty against each other to the ruin of both. Wise and good men will be taught to keep equally at a distant from all such, who would either snatch from them their just birthright in time or their glorious hopes beyond it.
Inference 6th. If it be so, as I think we have made it appear, that the eternal arrangements of God are of a nature such, as must necessarily transcend the limits of created understanding, beyond any possible degree of comparison, with what modesty and humility, ought we then to look into these things? Our most minute and painful researches after the divine counsels are daily baffled and left in such evident embarrassment and uncertainty as extorts from us a confession of human weakness, whether we will or not. Let us not in such moments, when human imbecility draws aside the veil of our pride and vain glory, and shows our nakedness and poverty, pretend to fit as judges, of the divine counsels and administrations. Let us on the contrary utter all expostulations with our eyes immovable, fixed on the unspotted justice of God. So did the pious the affected Jeremiah. Righteous art thou, O Lord, when I plead with thee, yet let me talk with thee of thy judgments; wherefore doth the way of the wicked prosper? Wherefore are they happy that deal treacherously? By following such as an example we shall be enabled to lay such restraints on our disordered passions, as under divine conduct will keep us from dashing ourselves against bosses of God’s buckler.
Lastly. From what has already appeared it may safely be concluded that the divine Providence, which involves in its exercise, the whole powers and glory of Divinity, must ever act as the guardian of divine rights and the avenger of divine wrongs. A comfortable consideration to all who are on heavens side, in this day of conflict between good and evil! Let it fare with the world as it will, it will be well with the righteous. All things however painful to the flesh, or offensive to the eye of reason are moving as fast as possible, in a direction most favorable to their most valuable and everlasting interests, who love God and wait for his appearance. They ought therefore in gratitude to their best friend, never to indulge a single murmur, at the past dispensations of providence, or an unbelieving apprehension about these that are to come. Let us rather turn the whole force of our powers to more rational and delightful achievements. If we conscientiously study a due regard and an inflexible adherence to the rights of God, we have little to fear from any power that can oppose us. We may depend that he will indulge us in this present life with as great degrees of outward prosperity, as our advantage and his glory can admit of. When therefore we are tenderly treated, we should learn most humbly to admire the agency of God, from whom every good gift descends; still however remembering that he seldom suffers the stream of visible and sensual good to flow long in one direction, especially to his church. When he is pleased to bring her to the waters of Marah, let her consider that it is the doing of the Lord, however wondrous in her eyes. With cheerful-ness let her children recognize his inalienable right to rule over them, a right which to their unspeakable comfort, never can be abused. To all that are called according to God’s purpose, everything must in due time work together for good. We should and will therefore, so far as genuine piety prevails in our hearts, fall down with most lowly admiration, when we consider how much happier we are under the direction of a good, a reconciled God, even amidst the most severe fatherly chastisement, than we could propose to be, on the supposition of running all the risques [risks] of that eternity, which the Atheist contemplates, covered with the most impenetrable gloom. His own principles afford him little comfort, even were they true. Let us therefore, study friendship with God, a sacred regard to his rights, and those of his son. The eventful moment being arrived, when the curtain must drop which at present conceals the world of spirits from our view; let that moment find us at our post, waiting to render an account of our stewardship, as we know not whether we should be called upon, at midnight, cock-crow, or the morning. Amen! so come Lord Jesus.