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It is alledged, that the Supreme Being is alone entitled to the creatures he has made, and to all their services; that he possesses a perfect and unlimited right to do with any or all of them as he pleases in time and eternity; that in his dealings with them here, and in fixing their eternal state, he consults not what we call justice or benevolence, nor acts with the remotest reference to the felicity of individuals ;
and that he does nothing because it is right, but, every thing is right because he does it. Hence, the conclusion is drawn, that if all mankind had been left to perish eternally without remedy, it would have been right. But when God is pleased, in the exercise of sovereign grace, to elect and save a part, he does no wrong to those whom he leaves to perish. These, I believe are the leading and distinguishing traits in the character of the doctrine, as it has been, and is still understood by many. At the first view
of these ideas, we are spontaneously led to the following reflection; that they form the foundation upon which, in every age, tyranny and despotism have erected their systems, and carried them into operation with the greatest and most melancholy effect. I do not say this to prejudice you against the doctrine, before it has had a full trial, much less to give birth to feelings against those who maintain the doctrine, that are incompatible with the enlarged charity of the gospel: but to show that such ideas are presented under a very unpromising and most appalling aspect. Their abettors are as sensible of this as we can be ; and accordingly never fail to make large provision against the impression, that they feel their system must make upon tender and sympathetic minds. They are careful to furnish a salvo for this unfavorable impression, in the doctrine of an entire and unreserved submission to the sovereign will of God, though that will should be exercised in dooming to wrath the dearest charities of life, or even the believer of the doctrine himself. But here, the system appears to deviate from its great principles; for it makes this unqualified submission to the divine will, the prerequisite and proof of the subject's salvation. If, however, God saves the sinner in a completely sovereign way, we see not how there can be any reference at all to his feelings or dispositions, as in proportion as there is a reference to them, it takes so much from the doctrine of sovereignty, as it has been explained, and places salvation much upon the same ground as any other scheme, or even as Arminianism might predicate it.
But this doctrine has another characteristic that demands our notice. It either confounds right and wrong, or denies that they are recognized in the divine adininistration. Deity does nothing because it is right, in itself; but that which he does must necessarily be right, because he does it. Power is supposed to give the right to do any thing, and to sanction whatever is done. In expressing my own views of this point, I should say, that it is extremely unnatural to suppose that he, from whom all justice, equity and righteousness emanate, and from whom alone we derive our knowledge of the existence of these principles, should have no regard to them in the administration of his government. It would equally surprise me to learn, that justice, equity, and righteousness, are different things with God from what they are with man. Nor am I able to conceive, without indulging in feelings of impiety and irreverence, at which the soul ought to tremble, that the Great Legislator of the universe can ever counteract or violate his own laws. "It is impossible for God to lie," because he is the fountain of truth. It is equally impossible he should derogate, in his administration, from the rules and principles which we have received from him to govern our conduct; nor does he possess a sovereignty which can change the natures of right and wrong, or convert the one into the other. If it should be said, that the ideas that we oppose are necessary to the doctrine of sovereignty, we reply, that they miay be necessary to the doctrine which makes Deity an arbitrary being ; but arbitrary conduct and Divine sove
reignty are widely different, and ought not to be confounded.
As we have stated the doctrine in question, as it has generally been understood, and noticed its principal, objectionable parts, we have brought you to a point in the discourse, at which you will naturally inquire for the supposed evidenée of the truth of this system. This we shall lay before you, with such observations upon it, as will help to exhibit the doctrine of the sovereignty of God, in the light in which the scriptures and sound reason contemplate it; and this discussion will compose the last article of the discourse.
The text that we have chosen is much relied upon to support the preceding scheme. “Therefore hath he mercy on whom he will have mercy, and whom he will he hardeneth.” This relates to the dealings of heaven with Pharaoh, particularly God's hardening his heart, that he should not let Israel
system before us supposes that Pharaoh's hardness of heart was superinduced, by divine agency, to render his misery in another world, more certain and dreadful. You will perceive that the text contains an antithesis, or presents two objects in contrast. These are, the exercise of mercy, and a state of hardness of heart. Now, to have the text prove the above scheme, the comparison or contrast ought to have been much stronger, and one of the objects compared should have been of a different character. It ought to have been, "he hath mercy on whom he will," and whom he will, he reprobates eternally. Besides, two things are here too evident to require proof; one is, that a man may be hardened, and yet not be cast off forever; and the other, that the text does not even imply any thing in reference to Pharaoh's future state ; nor so much as intimate that he would exist hereafter. The rational inference from the passage is, that in the sense in which Pharaoh was temporarily hardened, he did not receive mercy; and this would place this declaration in class with that which speaks of the past and present state of some converted heathens ; "who had not
mercy, but now have obtained mercy," and with that which speaks of Israel, at different times and in different circumstances, "I will have mercy upon her, that had not obtained mercy.” It is seen, moreover, from the context, that this mercy or hardness of heart was not the effect of an act merely sovereign or arbitrary, it referred to principles, and recognized events of universal interest; "for this same purpose have I raised thee up, that I might show my power in thee, and that my name might be declared throughout all the earth.” This purpose was not more extensive than benevolent; and to promote it, the hardness of Pharaoh's heart was rendered subservient.
The case of Jacob and Esau is cited in evidence of the truth of this system. “For the children being not yet born, neither having done any good or evil, that the purpose of God, according to election might stand, not of works, but of him that calleth, it was said unto her, the elder shall serve the younger. As it is written, Jacob have I loved, but Esau have I hated." These last words are a comment upon the words, "the elder shall serve the younger.” We are not told that one of these persons was loved and the other hated before they were born ; for this was not said of them till
many hundred years after they were both dead. Nor was it said of them at all in their individual capacities, but in their national characters. That the elder should serve the younger has been verified in the history of the descendants of Jacob and Esau. For vise and extensively benevolent ends, God gave one a superiority over the other, not only in rule and authority, but in relation to the countries they inhabited. “I loved Jacob and hated Esau, and laid his mountains and heritage waste for the dragons of the wilderness.” This is the plain and unsophisticated relation that the Bible gives of the dealings of God with the two nations, without the least allusion to their condition in a future life.
“Hath not the potter power over the clay, to make of the same lump, one vessel to honor and another to
dishonor p" Yes, we answer, he has the power, and he possesses the right to do this. An exemplification of this we have in these words of the apostle ; "for in a great house, there are not only vessels of gold and silver, but of wood and of earth, and some to honor and some te dishonor. If a man therefore purge himself from these, he shall be a vessel to honor, sanctified and meet for the master's use, and prepared unto every good work." You see by this, a man is not a vessel to dishonor in a sense which precludes all change of character. Even that vessel which is marred in the hands of the potter, may be reformed, and become honorable. The various orders of society, the different stations that men fill, and the opposite pursuits they follow, are proofs of the point in question. One dills an elevated station, another is employed in one less honorable. But the honor is relative or comparative. Both persons may be equally useful, and one as much as the other subserve the general and common interest of society.
The subject requires that we place the scripture doctrine of sovereignty before you, in such a way, that its grand outlines and most prominent features may be shown at once. This will enable you to decide between it, and the scheme we have presented before.
We have previously remarked, that sovereignty is not an arbitrary system of conduct; and hence it does not suppose but God may consult the universal good, and act with reference to all his attributes, and still be a sovereign. The true definition seems to be this, that, “in the plan and administration of his moral government, Deity does not consult the will, much less the fancy and caprice of any inferior being." This constitutes him a sovereign. This represents him an independent being. I am the more satisfied with this definition, because it appears to embrace all that the scriptures convey in respect to this article, while it frees the subject from all the extravagances and inconsistencies that the world has attached to it, and at the same time corresponds to what I conceive to be