« PreviousContinue »
the mind. By unfolding the wisdom and rectitude of the divine proceedings, it represses rebellious thoughts and murmuring words, gently bending the suffering believer into a state of pious submission and obedience. Those who vigilantly keep themselves in this love, are qualified either for doing or suffering the divine will. In the rich and constant enjoyment of the loving-kindness of the Lord, adversity will rather increase than diminish their blessedness, delightfully discovering its suitability and preciousness, and triumphantly sustaining them under the accumulating pressure of calamity and distress. Here patience has its perfect work. The right of Jehovah to give or take away is cheerfully acknowledged; the example of the Saviour is approximated; their will is lost in the will of their heavenly Father. We will trust now, say they, and not be afraid; for the Lord Jehovah is our strength and our song, and he also is our salvation. Patience in suffering worketh experience, and experience hope, and hope maketh not ashamed, because the love of God is shed abroad in the heart.
It is lively and vigorous. Those who experience its sweet constraining influence will not bury their talents in the grave of supineness, nor slight and neglect the ordinances of God; his cause will be dear to their hearts, and it will be their highest ambition to promote its establishment and prosperity. It is a sacred fire enkindled on the altar of the believer's heart. It warms, cheers, refreshes, animates, fills the soul with energy, and excites it to most interesting effort. This sublime principle is strong as death, which conquers all. Jealousy of rivalship in the object of its attachment is cruel as the grave, which wastes and destroys. Many waters cannot quench love, nor can the floods drown it; its coals are coals of fire, which send forth a most vehement flame.
It burns up
the dross and tin of iniquity; consumes spiritual sloth, worldly-mindedness, and pride; invigorates and expands all the powers of the soul, enriches and sanctifies it to God.
It is constant. Those who possess it are said to be rooted and grounded in love. They resemble a large flourishing tree, which has taken deep root in rich soil; like a house which is built upon a solid, firm, sure foundation. The rains descend, the winds blow, the floods come in mighty torrents, but they remain the same, being rooted and grounded in love. Being ingrafted into Christ the living Vine, they grow up him their living Head in all things, perfecting holiness in his fear. They value Christ and his cause, the enjoyment of his favour, and the prospect of immortal glory, more than they fear the fiercest, the most powerfully combined efforts of earth and hell. It is the fickle and unsettled; those who are everything to-day and nothing to-morrow, who are successively either on Mount Pisgah or in the Slough of Despond, that are tossed to and fro with every wind that blows. The hearts of those who possess perfect love are well established with grace. Sitting in heavenly places in Christ Jesus, and blessed with all spiritual blessings in him, the tinselled errors and vain allurements which captivate the unwary, have no influence on their minds. Resting upon the immoveable rock of eternal truth, they triumphantly silence the enemy and the avenger, and continuing to tread the paths of righteousness, they shall remain steadfast, immoveable, always abounding in the work of the Lord.
It is visible in its effects. It always shows itself in the tempers and conversation of those who experience it. Christian principles having taken deep root in their hearts, under the genial rays of the Sun of
Righteousness they spring up, in pious thoughts, in gracious words, in a uniform course of holy obedience, throwing the lustre of rectitude and sacredness over the whole of their deportment, and delightfully constituting them the living epistles of Christ, read and known of all men. Being made free from sin, and servants of God, they have their fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life. Here we see the new creation of God unfolding its freshness and beauty, budding forth into fruitfulness, and ripening into glory and eternal joy. When perfect love exists in the soul in its life, and purity, and power, it moulds it into the divine likeness, fills it with assurance and peace, and the fruits of righteousness adorn the life. The man who had previously been morose and unyielding in his disposition; implacable in his resentments; a tyrant in his family; a terror to the neighbourhood in which he lived; a curse to the world, is now become gentle, patient, and kind. Perfect love having put her gentle hand on his spirit, he has laid aside malice, and envy, and hatred, and guile, and is now exemplifying the patience, the humility, the zeal, the love of Him who has said, “ Take my yoke upon you and learn of me, for I am meek and lowly in heart, and ye shall find rest to
Mere general views of Christian doctrine have a pernicious influence. They blunt the edge of the Spirit's sword, lower the standard of Christian character and enjoyment, produce leanness in the souls of the Lord's people, and supineness in the prosecution of their high and holy calling. Mr. Wesley in one of his sermons, says, “ Perfect love is the life of God in the believing soul, the image of God fresh stamped on the heart, the entire renewal of the mind in all its thoughts and tempers after the likeness of Him who created it.” When Christian doctrine is properly defined and clearly understood, and the privileges which belong to believers in Jesus exhibited in their fulness and glory, as procured for, and freely bestowed on, the church by her risen and exalted Lord, for the prime purpose of enjoyment and usefulness, they necessarily exert a stirring influence---an influence which will arouse and awaken the dormant energies of the saints, arrest the attention of thoughtless sinners, alarm the worldly-minded, humble the Pharisee, detect the hypocrite, encourage the penitent, increase the joy and holy exultation of every truly devoted soul. In the absence of these vital life-giving influences, the church is comparatively a wilderness. The sacred glow of heavenly feeling is unknown. The warmth of brotherly attachment cannot exist. Her graces languish and her efforts are paralyzed. She has put off her beautiful garments of purity, fervour, and love; in doing which she has so far disqualified herself for converting the world,
ALL THINGS COUNTED LOSS FOR CHRIST.
BASIL, an ancient Christian writer, relates the following history of a Christian lady named Julitta :
Julitta was a possessor of some property. One of the emperor's officers seized on her lands and goods. She complained to the judges, and on an appointed day the injured woman stated her grievances. He who had robbed her replied, that her action was of no force, for that she was an outlaw for not regarding the emperor's gods; and that she was a Christian. His allegation was allowed. Incense was prepared for her to offer to the idols, which if she refused to do, she was to have no protection from the laws of the empire, nor to have her life spared. Hearing this impious decision, she, supported by God, exclaimed, “Farewell, riches! welcome, poverty! Farewell, lifel welcome, death! All that I have, were it a thousand times more, would I lose, rather than speak one wicked word against God my Creator. I yield thee most hearty thanks, O my God! for this gift of grace, that I can contemn and despise this frail and transitory world, esteeming the profession of Christ above all treasures.” Thenceforth, when any question was proposed to her, her answer was, “ I am the servant of Jesus Christ.” Her kindred and friends vainly endeavoured by earnest entreaties to change her resolution. She continued firm and immoveable. The wicked judge condemned her to be burnt. She welcomed the sentence, and was committed to the flames, her words and countenance declaring the joy that filled her heart. Thus she died, and passed from earth to heaven.
THE DIVINE PRESCIENCE COMPATIBLE WITH THE FREE
DOM OF HUMAN ACTIONS.
IF Milton has rightly chronicled the history of hell, apostate angels, almost immediately after their fall, directed their attention to the very subject we propose briefly to discuss. On it and kindred topics, they thought and debated till their minds were all perplexity and confusion.
They reasoned high
This coincidence, I presume, will not require from me any justification of my choice of such a subject; though it strikes me I have somewhere passage
from the Paradise Lost” cited as condemnatory of the discussion of such matters. But surely to be like the "angels who kept not their first estate” on this point indicates nothing very criminal in our own nature and conduct, or we must forswear all intellectual exercises; for on what subject have they not thought and argued? Perhaps, however, it may be said, that the issue of their reasonings shows us the worthlessness of such investigations; and to satirize metaphysics, I believe, was Milton's object in writing the passage, as well as to intimate that the mind is generally set upon such speculations by a sense of danger and guilt. The truthfulness of this intimation I can readily admit. I can easily understand how the angels who have been steadfast in their loyalty never entertain these questions, because as pure and happy beings they have no personal interest in them. But we have. Transgression of God's law being charged upon us, and punishment awarded for the transgression, it becomes to us a momentous question whether the sin is a free or a necessary act; and till we have satisfactorily settled this question, the divine law, with its penalties, does not stand out to our view as holy, just, and good; nor can we intelligently acquiesce in God's will and justify his ways to man. Notwithstanding, then, the perplexity of Milton's angels, the subject is not necessarily dark and inexplicable, and our speculations, if they proceed from proper motives and are soberly conducted, are not "vain wisdom all and false philosophy.” “If the eye be single the whole body shall be full of light;" and here was the defect and error of the apostate spirits; they sought not by their reasonings to obtain clear views of God's character and government, or to revive their lost principles of virtue, but
“With a pleasing sorcery to charm
By the divine prescience I intend that knowledge which God has of future events; a knowledge which I take to be perfect, both as to the length of time it embraces, and the correctness with which it apprehends its objects. Creation was not an experiment with God. He did not make man the being he has made him, and place him in his present condition to ascertain how he would act; that he knew before he breathed into his nostrils the breath of life. From eternity_before the earth was formed or man created—God was perfectly acquainted with the history of our world. The actual unfolding of this history does not increase the amount or add to the correctness of his information; for all the circumstances comprised in it were present to his mind before the first pulse of life beat in the frame of the first man; and his knowledge of those circumstances was then as perfect as it will be when the last man has ceased to breathe.
This view of God's foreknowledge has been objected to on the ground that it involves the doctrine of necessity, or, in other words, destroys the free agency of man.
It is thought by some impossible that even the Divine Being should foreknow things that are contingent, and which depend for their existence on the volitions of a free acting agent. The argument has been thus stated: If God foreknows things, he foreknows them infallibly or certainly; if so, then they are certain, and if certain, then they are no longer matter of freedom.
We first offer a remark on the logical validity and conclusiveness of this argument. One fundamental rule of this art is, that the same term should have the same sense in all the members of an argument; which rule is here infringed. In the major proposition certainty is applied to God's apprehension of an action; in the inference it is made to form a quality of the action itself, and that in the sense of necessity. So that the position assumed in the argument is a mere sophism, and the conclusion is connected with the premises by a confused use of terms.
All foreknowledge as well as every other kind of knowledge is absolute; it is the mental apprehension of an object, and this cannot have an uncertain existence. If the object is apprehended it is apprehended, and it is just as sensible to talk of ignorant knowledge as uncertain knowledge; the first proposition then we admit. If God foreknows, he foreknows infallibly or certainly, for it is but tantamount to saying, if God foreknows he does foreknow. Neither will we quarrel with the second idea in the argument. What God certainly foreknows is certain to occur, or he would not foreknow it. But to deduce from this the inference that such actions are no longer matter of freedom in the agent who performs them, is most unwarrantable and preposterous. Certainty of event is no quality of an action, it only applies to the fact of its existence, and denotes that the action is or will be, but as to how it has been or will be done it is wholly silent. Whether voluntary or involuntary, free or necessitated, rational or mechanical, is left quite untouched by this circumstance. Certainty, therefore, is not necessity; and because a thing will be, it does not thence follow that it must be. The first fallacy in the argument, then, is making certainty and necessity identical.* But another fallacy seems to lurk in the syllogism, which we will just expose and then leave it. A hasty reader would suppose that God's foreknowledge of an action is the cause of its certainty. "God foresees things infallibly, therefore they are certain," is the first impression made upon the mind. Yet what wretched reasoning is this in which sequences are undistinguished, and cause and effect transposed. God foresees something, therefore something will be. True, but not because God foresees it, for the stream runs the other way. God foreknows that something because it will be. To ascribe the certainty of an action to God's foreknowledge of it is as rational as it would be to say, that the act of looking creates the object looked upon. The fact is, knowledge, whether fore, present, or after, has no influence upon, and does not affect in the least, the existence of its object. “If I see an object in a certain place, the veracity of my faculties admitted, it is certain that object is there; yet it cannot be said it is there because I see it there, or that my seeing it there is the cause of its being there. It is the object that determines my sensation.”
“ The certainty of a free action, then,” to cite à paragraph from R. Watson, “ cannot result from the knowledge of it, as that is no cause at all, but from the voluntary cause, that is, the determination of the will. Nor does it alter the case to say, that the voluntary action might have been otherwise. Had it been otherwise the knowledge of it would have been otherwise; but as the will which gives birth to the action is not dependent upon the previous knowledge of God, but the knowledge of the action upon the foresight of the choice of the will,
*“ They who suppose,” says Dr. S. Clarke, “that events which are called contingent cannot be certainly foreknown, must likewise suppose that when there is not a chain of necessary causes there can be no certainty of any future events. But this is a mistake; for let us suppose that there is in man a power of beginning motion and of acting with what of late has been called philosophical freedom; and let us suppose further, that the actions of such a man cannot possibly be foreknown; will there not yet be in the nature of things, notwithstanding this supposition, the same certainty of event in every one of the man's actions as if they were fatal and necessary ? For instance, suppose the man by an internal principle of motion, and an absolute freedom of mind, to do some particular action to-day, and suppose it was not possible that this action should have been foreseen yesterday, was there not, nevertheless, the same certainty of event as if it had been foreseen, and was absolutely necessary ? that is, would it not have been as certain a truth yesterday, and from eternity, that this action was to be performed to day, notwithstanding the supposed freedom, as it is now a certain and infallible truth, that it is performed ? Mere certainty of event, therefore, does not in any measure imply necessity.” To this extract from Dr. Clarke we add another from “Wollaston's Religion of Nature Delineated"--a book which we have seen and heard reviled, but which deserves rather to be read :-" Let us put two contradictory propositions, B (some particular man) will go to church next Sunday, and B will not go to church next Sunday; and let us suppose withal, that B is free, and that his going or not going depends entirely upon his own will. In this case he may do either, but yet he can do but one of these two things, either go or not go; and one he must do. One of these propositions, therefore, is now true (or certain), but yet it is not the truth of that proposition which forces him to do what is contained in it; on the contrary, the truth of the proposition arises from what he shall choose to do. And if that truth doth not force him, the foreknowledge of that truth will not.”